At the annual conference of Public Technology Inc. (PTI) in Atlanta last spring, Government Technology Editor Wayne Hanson moderated a roundtable discussion of local government officials. A portion of the roundtable - concerning workforce issues - ran in the May issue of Visions. Here is a continuation of that roundtable, discussing GIS in local government.

Participants:

  • Javier Gonzales, commissioner, Santa Fe County, N.M., and president-elect of the National Association of Counties (NACo)
  • James Ley, Sarasota County, Fla., administrator, and chair of the PTI Urban Consortium Steering Committee (UCSC)
  • Karen Anderson, mayor of Minnetonka, Minn., and first vice president of the National League of Cities (NLC)
  • Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc.

  • Bruce Romer, chief administrative officer, Montgomery County, Md., and president of the International City/County Management Association
  • Gordon Anderson, assistant city manager, Santa Monica, Calif., and small communities representative to UCSC
  • Randy Johnson, commissioner, Hennepin County, Minn., former NACo president
  • Alan Beals, Alan Beals & Co., Savanna, Ga., former executive director of the NLC.
  • Wayne Hanson: What are some of the obstacles preventing wide adoption of GIS?

    Randy Johnson: Money is always an obstacle in local government. And elected officials' degree of comfort with technology, including GIS, is often directly related to how old they are. If you are over 50, you are probably not into it very much. And if you are under 30, you don't think twice about it. There are a lot of exceptions to that. But as elected officials start to be more in that technologically proficient age group, we will see them [become] much more comfortable with [technology].

    Interoperability is a big problem. The whole concept is collect it once and share it and [don't] collect it over and over again. We've had some success in our region with a Metro GIS Council, which works with our seven-county area with 200 jurisdictions. A lot of it is just agreeing on standards.

    Hanson: Is there any hope for an open-GIS movement where standards will merge so GIS will work everywhere, like HTML?

    Johnson: The Open GIS Consortium has made great progress. They set out certain standards. The GeoData Alliance, around Secretary [Bruce] Babbit's personal interest in GIS, may or may not be on the right course on how to collect this, but at least it's a start to try to do something and draw attention to it.

    Bruce Romer: There is a management challenge that we can't miss. We need to challenge ourselves as managers to understand what the internal capabilities of our organizations really are. We need to be sure that we have at least one PC in our own office that has the software that can take what's in the database and interpret it for the decision-making in which we're engaging. Sometimes it resides in the technological reaches of our organization and we shouldn't be letting that happen. If that's the case, management is failing to take advantage of a key resource that could be used for good decision-making and may be passed on to the elected officials for their policy guidance.

    Costis Toregas: GIS has for a long time labored as an end, and is now becoming more of a means to an end. The second problem is how we develop GIS systems. Most GIS developments are long-term efforts where you pay up front and you go away for a year and something happens a year later. That development cycle takes too long. If elected officials don't see immediate results, it leads to fragmentation and dissipation of energy in GIS development. There are some membership organizations with PTI that have attempted something

    Wayne Hanson  |  Senior Executive Editor, Center For Digital Government