FGDC GIS Workshops: A newcomer's perspective

Hi Everyone!

I just wanted to talk a little bit about my experience at the Little Rock workshop yesterday. First of all, I want to say that it was so nice to meet some of you! I’ve been writing these articles and blurbs to an “invisible” audience, and I’m glad I got to actually see some faces and know who I’m talking to!

I’m pretty new to the GIS community, but I feel like I’ve absorbed so much in the almost two months I’ve been working at the AGIO. While I know little about the technology itself, I’ve learned the gist of what GIS technologies are used for and what the process for gathering all of this data is. What I was not fully aware of, however, is just how much of an impact GIS has on the progression and economic development of our state. Hearing everyone’s comments, experiences, and concerns at the workshop yesterday really enlightened me on this subject. I feel like I’m finally starting to comprehend the bits of knowledge I’ve been gathering, and recognize just how important it is to gather funding to improve and maintain GIS data in Arkansas. I heard people like Faye Tate describe how understaffed their office was when they tried to draw a county map and get parcels together, which greatly delays the process of collecting and compiling data. People like Ms. Tate already have their tasks laid out for them, and collecting/maintaining GIS data is something that has been added on top of the pile. Because of this predicament, it takes much more time and energy to complete this task than it would if an extra person, who is competent of the programs and processes, were hired to do the job. However, many state and county offices are surviving on the limited resources granted to them, which often means that hiring a new employee is out of the question.

Senator Shane Broadway, the guest speaker at yesterday’s workshop, made several valid points as to why it’s important to have data parcels completed both accurately and in a timely fashion. In his words, “You have to respond to requests right now. Not tomorrow, right now. GIS provides an economic return that outweighs the cost…Without GIS data we (Saline County) would not have been able to respond to a $200M proposal.” People who are seeking to establish their businesses or attractions in Arkansas aren’t going to wait a few years for the counties to finish collecting or updating data. That’s why it’s so important for the members of the GIS community to come up with solutions to the funding issue. If state and county offices can gather more funding for GIS development and maintenance, then new employees could be hired to ensure that the data is accurate, up-to-date, and easily distributed. This would provide a greater chance for Arkansas to reach its full potential, and receive economical stimulus (the way it’s supposed to happen.)

If you haven’t signed up for a workshop yet, there are still three more coming up and I highly recommend anyone who can attend to do so.  Even if you’re like me and you don’t feel like you could contribute very much to the workshop, it’s really valuable to sit and listen. Several people from all sectors showed up yesterday, but if more people from the academia sector could participate it could enrich the discussions in the upcoming workshops so much more. Senator Jimmy Jeffress will be the guest speaker at the Monticello workshop on August 31; State Representative Stephanie Mallone will speak at the Fort Smith workshop on September 1; and State Representative Steve Harrelson will speak at the workshop in Hope on September 2. I’m sure our guest speakers will shed as much of a practical perspective on the subject as Senator Broadway did yesterday, and Mr. Chadwell did in Jonesboro Monday.
Again, it was so good to see so many of you yesterday and I hope you found the meeting to be as productive and enlightening as I did! Let’s make the next three just as powerful.

Rachel E. Hood- Staff Writer
Arkansas Geographic Information Office – Putting Arkansas on the Map