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"For most GIS analysts, work is always a bottom-up push: to get departments to share data, to get others to understand the capabilities and value of GIS, to make it part of the normal way government goes about its business. Time and time again representatives from various governments remarked that the problem boiled down to the fact that their peers simply “don’t know what they don’t know.” Essentially, the ignorance of many governments’ officials regarding GIS’s capabilities is self-perpetuating. A lack of knowledge keeps government workers from taking advantage of GIS, and without a history of success, interest in engaging with GIS technologies can’t grow. Even if housed within an IT department, GIS is often relegated to a supplemental role with little agency, and thus has fewer chances to prove its effectiveness and need for more investment.
The key then, perhaps, is revisiting the role GIS is playing in one’s government by looking at where its staff sits within the larger organization. Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia shifted his City’s GIS analysts under his Chief Innovation Officer - a sensible approach that appreciates the interdepartmental usefulness of GIS, while bringing it closer to top layers government leadership. This means GIS can be included from the ground-up on new initiatives or incorporated into existing programs, facilitating efficiency, reliability, and novelty. Others wondered if GIS could be shifted into their budgeting department, bringing it closer to the money and perhaps tying it to the processes oversight that department leads.
Others have found success by always ensuring their efforts are being translated for the layman, in other words for the elected official. Never assume any technicality is simple enough that it is understood, especially when an embarrassed official may feign understanding but then simply not utilize GIS, having no real idea as to its usage or capabilities. A three-letter acronym that is associated with maps, a number of GIS analysts murmured in agreement when another expressed frustration that many in their government still thought GIS meant GPS. With no conception of what GIS can do, or even what it means, the likelihood of a top-down push from an official with power if not the technical know-how because next-to-impossible. Translation is key to obtaining this necessary buy-in.
GIS isn’t really about mapping. It’s about creating, storing, analyzing, and sharing information in more powerful and efficient ways. It’s capable of massively transforming every area in which the government works. But that can only happen if we can get that top-down push to make GIS the integral tool in the business of doing government that it is quite capable of being."
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