Welcome

April 16, 2012 5 comments

Welcome to the Spatial Reserves blog.

The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data was written to provide GIS practitioners and instructors with the essential skills to find, acquire, format, and analyze public domain spatial data. Some of the themes discussed in the book include open data access and spatial law, the importance of metadata, the fee vs. free debate, data and national security, the efficacy of spatial data infrastructures, the impact of cloud computing and the emergence of the GIS-as-a-Service (GaaS) business model. Recent technological innovations have radically altered how both data users and data providers work with spatial information to help address a diverse range of social, economic and environmental issues.

This blog was established to follow up on some of these themes, promote a discussion of the issues raised, and host a copy of the exercises that accompany the book.  This story map provides a brief description of the exercises.

pdd

Advertisements

The ArcGIS Solutions Templates as a Data Source

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment

“ArcGIS solution templates” located here  are ready-to-use maps and apps targeted for specific industries.  They are grouped into categories according to GIS industry sectors–local government, state government, emergency management, water, electric, gas, defense, telecommunication, and parks and gardens.  These solution templates cover a wide variety of themes and scales.  Under each categories are subcategories, such as land records and water utilities under local government, and transportation and fish and wildlife under state government, and so on.  Another convenient way to browse for the solutions of interest to you is to visit the gallery.  The gallery allows for searching on keywords, industries, products, and implementation patterns (such as field mobility and operational awareness).

Why include these solution templates in our blog as a data source?  Particularly for professors of GIS in universities, and those who conduct GIS training for a wide variety of persons, these templates include sample data.  For example, the electric facility templates include a sample geodatabase with an electric utility network, and a map document used to publish the service territory service.  The Tree Assessor template includes a living plant collection dataset, a map document with defined cartography, a toolbox containing analysis tools, and detailed documentation with details of the map properties.

Admittedly, the primary purpose of these templates is not data, per se, but to help avoid the age-old problem in GIS of requiring each organization to create everything they need from scratch.  The solutions templates provide a practical framework, including maps, graphics, workflows, apps, and much more–for an organization to get started, or if they’ve already started with GIS, to follow some best practices.  But the fact that the templates include data and tools make them an excellent source of data particularly for the GIS instructor.  And, many of the data sets, such as water, parcels, and utilities, are those that typically are difficult to obtain, chiefly because they are not distributed by most data portals.  The solutions templates can also, of course, be used with other data sets that can be found via this blog or via other sources.

solutions

A section of the Esri Solutions Gallery.

Categories: Public Domain Data

A One Stop Shop? A Map and List of all open data portals around the world

October 22, 2017 5 comments

Data company OpenDataSoft has published a map that claims to be a comprehensive list of all open data portals around the world.  Since we in this blog are focused on being critical of data, I wondered if perhaps this map was too good to be true, so I did some investigating.  First, the map lives up to its claim of being straightforward, and is rich with data–thousands of points exist on it.  The text in the pop-up boxes is truncated, requiring the user to click for more, but other than that, the map is easy to navigate.  OpenDataSoft is concerned with data far beyond geospatial data, so it is understandable that the map sometimes points to sites that are not specific to geospatial information, though sometimes they are. For example, the Bismarck North Dakota points list the office of the state government and their data, and not specifically the North Dakota geospatial data portal, but I have no doubt that I could eventually find the geospatial data portal from the main state portal.  However, the point on the map to the north, in Minot, does point to the Ward County open GIS data portal.  Below the map is a very helpful text listing with links to these portals so that the user is not limited to simply searching on a map, which (counterintuitively to some of us in the GIS industry who naturally go for the map first) sometimes can be the slowest way to search.

The OpenDataSoft staff wrote an article explaining how they put together the map, and the article reveals some very interesting coding work and also much manual labor and therefore, dedication.  They are open to feedback from the user community.  As we have written about in the past, the chief challenge with maps and listings like this has always been – who will maintain it in the future?  The site https://opendatainception.io/ allows data users to add a portal to the map, which gives some indication that the site could be in part, crowdsourced.  If so, and if OpenDataSoft is committed to maintaining this resource, it could indeed become a very valued resource for the GIS community.  A map-based way of finding portals makes perfect sense, particularly for the geo-data user.   Whether the map contains your favorite data portal is not as important as what this map represents–the fruits of the open data movement.  I applaud the efforts of OpenDataSoft and encourage them to keep this resource updated.

opendatasites.JPG

Map from OpenDataSoft of “all the open data sites around the world.”

Categories: Public Domain Data

A review of the North Dakota State GIS Portal

October 9, 2017 2 comments

I recently had the honor of co-keynoting the North Dakota GIS conference.  While preparing for the conference, I re-acquainted myself with the North Dakota State GIS portal.  The timing was perfect because a team of dedicated and expert collaborators from many organizations had just completed work on a new portal that replaced their old Hub Explorer resource.  The new portal, accessible here, includes information on how to connect with the state’s GIS community through events and networking.  More germane to our topic in this blog, though, it also contains a link to the data sets themselves via the Hub Data Portal.   The portal is thoughtfully laid out, with the ability to view data by content type and topics.  The North Dakota GIS Hub Data Portal uses DKAN, the Drupal-based version of CKAN, the world’s leading open-source open data publishing platform. It provides a complete open source software solution for data publishers, and adheres to the API, data, and functionality standards of CKAN. The goal of this project is to combine the utility of CKAN with the ease of maintenance and extensibility of Drupal.

The portal is designed with the data user in mind:  It doesn’t include a lot of bandwidth-consuming, unnecessary graphics and maps, but allows the user to quickly go to what he or she needs.  The site also provides many options for the data user–the raw data to download, CSVs, HTMLs, XMLs, and even rest endpoints that allow the data to be consumed in web GIS platforms such as ArcGIS Online.  See the example for wildlife management areas here.  And the data sets can be very detailed, too, such as the recent addition of one-foot contours for Bismarck and Mandan.

This portal is unique in that the site includes stories about interesting projects involving people and the land in the state, with links to infographics, maps, and data.  These stories in my opinion provide good “elevator speeches” as to the positive benefits that are derived from the use of GIS, and they also provide good case studies to give students and others ideas for research projects.  The Groups tab gives useful links to “who’s who” in the state.

The site also includes a “Visual ND” site with a rich set of applications, maps, data, documents, and web sites.  The historical aerial photographs of North Dakota are also being scanned, and are available here in TIFF format.  It is my hope that these photos will eventually have REST endpoints that will allow them to be displayed directly into ArcGIS Online and other web mapping applications, such as the resource that we reviewed in Iowa, here.

We have reviewed many data portals in our book and on this blog–some good, some not-so-useful.  The North Dakota GIS Hub data portal is one of the most useful I have ever seen.

ndndndnd

The front page of the North Dakota GIS Hub Data Portal.

Categories: Public Domain Data

Review of the Spatial Reserves Exercises

September 26, 2017 Leave a comment

We’re currently reviewing the exercises that were developed to illustrate some of the issues discussed in the GIS Guide to Public Domain Data publication and here on the Spatial Reserves blog, with the intention of releasing an updated set of exercises next year. The proposed style and format of the updated exercises is the subject of my dissertation as part of a M.Sc. in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh.

Here’s where you can help …  I’m looking for volunteers to review a presentation on two exercises and complete four short questionnaires. This should only take 10-15 minutes of your time.

The study is available at Digital Education – Multi-media study

Thanks in advance,

Jill C.

 

Era of Big Data is Here: But Caution Is Needed

September 25, 2017 Leave a comment

As this blog and our book are focused on geospatial data, it makes sense that we discuss trends in data–such as laws, standards, attitudes, and tools that gradually helping more users to more quickly find the data that they need.  But with all of these advancements we continue to implore decision makers to think carefully about and investigate the data sources they are using.  This becomes especially critical–and at times difficult–when that data is in the “big data” category.  The difficulty arises when big data is seen as so complex that often it is cited and used in an unquestioned manner.

Equally challenging and at times troublesome is when the algorithms based on that data are unchallenged, and when access to those algorithms are blocked to those who seek to understand who created them and what data and formulas they are based on.  As these data and algorithms increasingly affect our everyday lives, this can become a major concern, as explained in data scientist Cathy O’Neil’s TED talk,  who says “the era of blind faith in big data must end.”

In addition, the ability to gain information from mapping social media is amazing and has potential to help in so many sectors of society.  This was clearly evident with the usefulness of social media posts that emergency managers in Texas and Florida USA mapped during the August-September 2017 hurricanes there.  However, with mapping social media comes an equal if not greater need for caution, as this article that points out the limitations of such data for understanding health and mitigating the flu.  And from a marketing standpoint, Paul Goad cautioned here against relying on data alone.

It is easy to overlook an important point in all this discussion on data, big data, and data science. We tend to refer to these phenomena in abstract terms but these data largely represent us – our lives, our habits, our shopping preferences, our choice of route on the way to work, the companies and organisations we work for and so on. Perhaps less data and data science and more humanity and humanity science.  As Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, has said, “We must remember that technology remains a tool of humanity.  How can we, and corporate giants, then use these big data archives as a tool to serve humanity?”

Understanding your data

Use caution in making decisions from data–even if you’re using “Big Data” and algorithms derived from it.    Photograph by Joseph Kerski. 

Categories: Public Domain Data

Ethics in Geospatial Decision-Making

September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Our book and this blog frequently focus on the importance of making wise decisions when using geospatial data.  We often discuss the two-edged sword in which we are living with regard to the modern GIS era:  ‘Tis wonderful to have a plethora of geospatial data services at our fingertips, many of which are in real time, many are capable of being visualized in 3-D, and many are updated and curated with regularity.  Coupled with these services are a variety of easy-to-use spatial analysis tools that come coupled with desktop and web-based GIS software platforms.  But with this availability of data and easy-to-use tools brings increasing likelihood that decisions will be made based on them without regard to the data’s sources, scales, update frequency, map projection, completeness of attributes, and other measures of quality.

Decisions are still in large part made by humans, and the human element has always been laden with ethical decisions, whether we realize it or not.  Adding to the ethical element is the fact that geospatial decisions involve land, which has economic but also personal and inherent value, and affects people who live on that land.  Geospatial decisions also affect the very air we breathe and water we drink.

How can we be more purposefully aware of ethical elements in our decisions based on geospatial data?  Some insightful chapters and articles will, I think, be of help.  One is the new chapter on Professional and Practical Ethics of GIS&T in the UCGIS GIS&T Body of Knowledge project by David DiBiase.  Another is a 7-Step guide to ethical decision-making, written in 1999 but still incredibly relevant.  I particularly like the tests that the author describes–the harm test, the publicity test, the defensibility test, the reversibility test, the colleague test, and the organization test.

Another excellent resource is Penn State’s ethics education resource for geospatial professionals, which lists interesting and pertinent case studies, codes of ethics, university course syllabi, and other resources.  In a recent article in Directions Magazine, Dr Diana S. Sinton explores how ethics can be integrated into geospatial education.   She advocates that ethics be threaded throughout even an introductory GIS course rather than be relegated to one lecture, as is often the case.

What are your thoughts regarding ethics in GIS?

jjk_question.PNGGeospatial decisions are ethical decisions as well.

Categories: Public Domain Data

Evaluating GIS costs and benefits

August 28, 2017 1 comment

One of the themes in our book and this blog is to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of geospatial data.  This should be considered if you are a consumer of data, and are debating whether to purchase data that may be “cleaned up”, thereby saving you time, or to download a free “pre-processed” version of that data, which saves you up-front money but may require quite a few hours or your time or your staff’s time.  However, a data producing organization should also evaluate costs and benefits when they decide how to serve it, and if and how to charge for it.

Chapter 4 of our book delves into these questions: “What is the true cost and value of spatial data?  How can the cost and value of spatial data be measured?  How do the policies determining cost and access ultimately affect the availability, quality, and use of spatial data?”

Other resources might be helpful:  One of my favorite pieces is this essay from Geospatial World on the Economic Value of Geospatial Data–The Great Enabler as is this economic studies for GIS operations document from NSGIC.  A series of 10 case studies are summarized in an e-book from Esri entitled Return on Investment, and here is the results of research of 82 cost-benefit assessments across multiple countries.  One of my favorite “benefits from GIS implementation” pieces is this recent brief but pointed document from Ozaukee County.  A dated but still solid chapter on this topic from Obermeyer is here, with a case study in Ghana here.  The economic impact infographic that has probably received the most attention is from Oxera’s well-done “Economic impact of Geo Services” study.

oxera

The top of the “Economic Impact of Geo Services” infographic from Oxera’s study.

What are your thoughts?  Should organizations still be charging for data in the 21st Century?  Should all geospatial data be open for anyone to use?  How should organizations pay for the creation and curation of geospatial data as the audience and uses for that data continue to expand?  Once geospatial data services are online, how can they best be updated and curated?