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Developing a Plan for a Successful GIS
By Barry Waite, City of Carson, California

Many managers and elected officials believe a GIS must begin with a detailed and comprehensive implementation plan. This plan should specify exactly what data will be collected at what level of accuracy, describe models for this data, list the applications that will be provided to each person in the organization, include job descriptions, and outline a five-year funding plan.

Many managers and officials also see the development of such a plan as an unattainable goal. However, developing a plan for a GIS is not such a formidable undertaking if the work is broken down into well-defined tasks.

New technologies require a champion, and GIS is no exception. This person promotes the system to others in the organization and lobbies for needed resources. The most important qualifications for this position are enthusiasm and the ability to get the attention of decision makers.

Where do you find such a person? Look in the mirror. If you have read thus far, you may be just the person to take up the cause of GIS in your organization.

The project manager is another key player. The project manager handles the organizational side of GIS, while the champion serves as the cheerleader. The champion and the project manager are often the same person. If two people fill these roles, how tasks will be divided depends on their respective abilities, knowledge, and positions within the organization.

Involve not only potential users but also any other people in the organization who will impact or be impacted by GIS. Extending the scope of participation is a good idea because the people who end up becoming users are frequently not the people originally envisioned as users. Gaining participation from different parts of an organization will help broaden support for the GIS and may also lead to the creation of an enterprise system that serves and connects multiple divisions within an organization.

The most important qualifications for this position are enthusiasm and the ability to get the attention of decision makers. Where do you find such a person? Look in the mirror.

The core group of supporters can also form the basis of a user group that will guide planning and implementation of the system. They can also help gain support from senior management and elected officials. The user group can be an ongoing part of any GIS program and can provide overall guidance and act as a forum for sharing ideas and resources.

To develop a successful user group:

  • Form the group early in the implementation process.
  • Make sure members know they have the backing of upper management, even if initial support is only for an exploratory effort.

Keep the user group and management informed as the process moves forward to help ensure their continuing support.

A user group need not have a formal structure. It serves as a forum for sharing ideas and seeking solutions to shared problems. In some cases, the group acts as a steering committee that sets policy and allocates resources. In other cases, it meets occasionally and informally to share ideas and discuss issues faced by employees who use GIS or whose work is impacted by GIS. Either type of group can help develop a plan for a GIS. When given the opportunity for innovative action that has an impact on the organization, previously unenthusiastic staff members may get excited about GIS. In the long run, initial skeptics can become the program's biggest supporters.

The planning process needs people from all levels of the organization. Any new information technology project can be a cause for concern for employees. Involving them early will help them better understand what GIS can do and how it will impact them. If they have a voice in developing the plan, it will be easier to get their cooperation in implementing and maintaining the system later. Getting input from across the organization-from directors to line workers-can ensure the plan is comprehensive.

About the Author

Barry Waite is the GIS administrator for the city of Carson, California. During more than 17 years with the city, he has worked for nearly every department including four years in the city manager's office and four years as a city planner. He has a master's degree in public administration from the University of Southern California and a GIS certificate from California State University, Long Beach. He is a planning commissioner for the city of Lomita, serves on the board of a not-for-profit development company in downtown Los Angeles, and teaches at his children's elementary school.

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