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A Shared Vision

Every year, a small team of Esri staff come to COGS to recruit new talent. As part of the interview process, they give a demonstration of current ArcGIS functionality.

Arriving home from Haida Gwaii,  (February 2016) I was interested see the new developments ( I had been far removed from the detailed  GIS functionality for several years). This led to a reconnection with Clint Brown at Esri Redlands, and a couriered copy of the ArcGIS Book ( see www.TheArcGISBook.com). What struck me from the demonstration, was that the new software tools seem to allow for closer collaboration between community groups, government agencies, educational institutions and industry. These tools include the ability to manage different layers, with different access rights, stored either on the server or in the cloud

Reading the ArcGISBook, the last of the ten ‘big ideas’ is that ‘GIS is social. GIS is collaborative’ and that ‘Geography is key for integrating work across communities’.It seems that the time is right to test the ‘collaborative’ hypothesis. Coincidentally, the provincial government was announcing a new open data policy. This would include access to base maps through GeoNova. In Nova Scotia, the Geomatics Association of Nova Scotia (GANS) is promoting the concept of an online digital atlas of Nova Scotia.An online digital atlas means that it is possible for community groups to develop web and mobile apps. which access their own data base, as well as maps held by other agencies. Each layer (or map) in the online atlas would have terms and conditions for sharing information.  Some layers would be read only, other layers can be updated by the user community under certain conditions.The significant role proposed by GANS is to obtain  the technology resources so that the apps and the associated maps are supported and remain sustainable into the future. This is one pillar of the shared vision.

What is the next step in the process, as we move forward ?

Community groups must have the resources to develop their applications. We need the next generation of application developers. Through training, mentoring and curriculum changes in our educational institutions, we can address this shortcoming.On Haida Gwaii, John Broadhead at the Gowgaia Institute has talked about the need for an online atlas of the natural and cultural resources. GANS is promoting a similar concept in Nova Scotia. At the community level, groups appreciate the need for application development to meet the needs of citizens, visitors, as well as the municipal government. This follows five years after the work by Paul Beach in Sault Ste Marie. He championed the concept of a ‘community information utility’, Today, the tools are readily available, in a more collaborative world.We can imagine a nested set of geographies. The Annapolis Valley lies within the region of Southwest Nova, within the province of Nova Scotia. Each region recognizes its geographic context. The same approach can be applied to Cape Breton, the South shore. Indeed, it could be part of the standard infrastructure for existing Regional Enterprise Network (REN) and could be linked to existing products e.g. i-valley.ca

What are the steps to turn  the ‘idea’  into ‘action’ ?

  1.  Determine the extent of the geography
  2. Obtain digital base maps at the appropriate scale
  3. Decide on the community mapping need: Land use, tourism facilities, trails, historic properties
  4. Design the ‘look and feel’ of the user interface
  5. Determine whether web/mobile app. or both
  6. Hire application developer
  7. Prototype application
  8. Testing
  9. Marketing and sales
  10. Product release

Why now ?

The technology has matured so that a properly monitored portal can serve up the different data sets, and yet meet the security needs of the data providers.
There is recognition that to successfully apply these technologies we need more collaboration.
The need to visualize the geography of rural Nova Scotia is important to economic development. The skills and products developed through this process are transferable to other geographies, applications and markets.


For information on Esri Community Mapping in Canada, check maps.esri.ca

For the California view on the digital atlas, check  http://doc.arcgis.com/en/living-atlas/about 

To read about the ten ‘big ideas’, read  online, www.TheArcGISBook.com


Access to a digital atlas is a prerequisite for groups to develop apps. that meet the local needs of citizens. Whether the underlying technology is Esri, Google, Open Source or a combination, we are seeing a shared vision of digital geography.

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