Spatial Sciences Institute
Geographic information science and technology have a long history with both federal and regional government. In fact, the Library of Congress contains the world’s most comprehensive collection of maps, and geospatial intelligence has played a vital role in resolving numerous historical conflicts between nations. But how does the government use GIS today?
Government GIS Data Sharing Continues to Grow
One of the common challenges for how the government uses GIS has been in sharing spatial data among different agencies. This has been a key problem even when considering state and local government organizations, but it can be even more difficult to determine how to effectively share information across the local, state and federal level.
As noted by some researchers, as much as 80% of data stored by the government has a spatial component. However, differences in operational processes, the structure of the data itself and different policies regarding sharing have contributed to complexity in creating standardized ways for governments to implement spatial data sharing practices.
Many of the examples for organizations implementing sharing programs and building out spatial data infrastructures come from individual organizations. However, organizational leaders have started to look toward particularly effective practices to use as a model for larger scale sharing.
For example, the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor was recognized with the 2018 URISA Exemplary Systems in Government Award in the enterprise systems category. The organization developed an Assessor Portal that showcases an abundance of information about real estate and property values, including square footage, type of building (e.g. single-family, multi-family), year built, address and numerous other data points. Users may search either by address, legal assessment description or via a map-based interface.
Government GIS Applications for Public Health and Safety
One of the major shifts in the government using GIS is the push toward publishing GIS applications and data for both government and non-government users to view. This can be especially useful for bringing awareness to multifaceted problems that might be difficult to understand without a visualization of the scale or potential consequences if issues are left unaddressed.
For example, research published in 2018 by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that residents living in the Appalachian Region were not as healthy as other Americans, on average. To help others truly feel the impact of this finding, the organizations published a series of reports in the form of interactive maps, which allow users to filter a range of spatial and health information, such as morbidity rates, poverty and other indicators of health. The ability to identify specific problems and key areas of strength for specific regions can be invaluable in improving the effectiveness of outreach. For example, one of the published maps shows the density of mental health providers, which can be instrumental in determining which communities may be in the greatest need of additional counselors or therapists.
Note: The USC online M.S. in GIST program curriculum includes a spatial data acquisition and integration track as well as a data visualization track; GIS master programs is for those professionals who are interested in solving some of the challenges related to data sharing.
Federal Government GIS Applications for Disaster and Air Quality Mapping
One of the popular examples of GIS in government is the mapping of national problems. For example, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) publishes a robust set of earthquake data. This information can then be used to assess the risk of major earthquakes in specific regions and develop strategies for mitigating damage before a disaster occurs.
The National Park Service also leverages GIS for monitoring air quality across its parks. The NPS overlays spatial information with a variety of environmental measures, including ozone, visibility, particulate matter, nitrogen and sulfur deposition, as well as atmospheric mercury. This is helpful for stakeholders ranging from environmental researchers to public health officials, since the visualizations provide an easy way to view areas with problematic air quality, including the issues that impact specific regions.
Note: USC’s online M.S. in Geospatial Intelligence and Human Security is an ideal fit for professionals interested in solving geospatial challenges in domains ranging from earthquake relief to terrorist threat response.
The Future of Government Using GIS
There are a few current trends that offer clues as to how the government will use GIS moving forward. As illustrated in an infographic published by Gov 2020, key links between current GIS technology and the future include:
As all of these trends evolve together, it will likely elevate the importance of data sharing and of open data practices between agencies at the local, regional and federal levels. The availability of more spatial information and the push toward real-time GIS data will necessitate automated sharing, and platforms that multiple agencies can access, since the volume of data and speed at which it is collected will become unmanageable for over reliance on manual processes.
The application of Geographic Information Sciences (GIS) continues to grow as a global research tool for understanding the world around us. Cartography, the process of making maps, has benefited greatly from advancements in GIS technology in recent years.
The number of students earning degrees in cartography has risen 40% in the past decade to keep pace with the demands of technology and consumer needs. Modern cartography influences our lives in ways that probably don’t seem obvious to most of us. Services that are simple for users, such as ordering rideshare from apps like UBER or LYFT, are only possible due to innovations in modern cartography.
What is Modern Cartography?
Modern cartography might seem like a contradiction when considering the historical origins of cartography and traditional map-making. However, cartography remains as relevant as it was centuries ago thanks to the advent of GPS, data globalization, and location analytics.
Modern cartography allows GIS professionals to understand everything from climate change to where companies should open businesses. And, the possible applications extend far beyond our own planet. For example, this interactive map shows how new star charts and celestial coordinates can be discovered all through modern cartography techniques.
Modern Cartography Tools
Modern cartography has led to the creation of numerous digital tools that enhance the accuracy of traditional maps. One example is new technology that addresses color blindness by allowing GIS experts to see what a map looks like to a color-blind individual. Color-coding technology takes the guesswork out of designing maps that are accessible to a larger audience.
Modern cartography tools have also contributed to greater accessibility in urban planning, public education, public safety programs and more. For example, the accessibility index is a geo-processing tool and script that calculates an accessibility score for destinations. Information from the accessibility index can be used to plan where to build new schools and libraries, or which locations to host after-school programs.
Location intelligence is also an integral piece of modern cartography and disaster management. In understanding how to respond to natural disasters, GIS Certification specialists use location analytics to determine evacuation routes for areas impacted by hurricanes. By using digital maps in conjunction with evacuation route data, GIS professionals can overlay evacuation routes across maps of affected cities or keep visualizations up-to-date for much larger regions. The collection of this data began in the early 2000’s to deal with the influx of hurricanes in the United States, and now provides visualizations of clear and safe routes inland.
Modern Trends in Cartography
Electronic cartography has been rapidly growing in the current marketplace as GPS technology becomes more intuitive. Marine electronic cartography specifically has taken off as GIS technology is used to map marine ecosystems and travel patterns.
The goal of marine electronic cartography is to make transportation via bodies of water more efficient than it was in the past with only paper charts because this area of GIS technology is still growing, there’s an increasing need for professionals in the field with an expertise in cartography.
GIS professionals also have the opportunity to go into the commercial or defense markets to put their skills to use. According to Persistence Market Research, demand for marine electronic cartography is expected to increase worldwide meaning international positions will be readily available. The firm expects growth in the following areas through 2026:
Modern Techniques in Cartography
One of the key techniques used in modern cartography has its roots in 17th century map-making. Relief shading techniques give dimension and depth to maps so individuals can better understand terrain. GIS specialists can use applications like Photoshop and other digital software to create relief shading online.
For example, this map of Mars uses elevation data that lets visitors explore terrain across the red planet. This interactive map not only implements relief shading, it also uses the essential tool of color-coding to help users understand how Mars might look with bodies of water.
USC students interested in cartography have multiple paths toward enhancing their knowledge. The online M.S. in Geographic Information Science & Technology offers a comprehensive education in advanced GIST techniques, applications and practices, with a specialized track for creating maps and visualizations. Students in the online graduate certificate in GIST program gain a foundation in spatial data acquisition, and they can select cartography and visualization as an elective.
With each passing year, Geographic Information Science (GIS) technology offers new insights for businesses and organizations. From using geospatial analytics to analyze crime, to the development of drones, GIS technology offers seemingly endless opportunities for growth and innovation.
One of the key areas where GIS has become an invaluable resource is the nonprofit sector. GIS technology in the nonprofit sector offers numerous advantages, such as aiding organizations in optimizing their development strategies for specific donors and patrons or better communicating their missions to the general public.
For example, GIS professionals can analyze the communities where humanitarian work is being done to better allocate resources or map success stories related to their organization’s goals.
GIS Technology in the Non-Profit Sector
The growth of GIS technology has drastically changed the way nonprofits identify and communicate with patrons and donors. While GIS might seem better suited to large nonprofits with a national reach, it can be equally useful to community-based nonprofits with a focused mission.
Using GIS to Track Donor Relations
The sustainability of nonprofits relies in large part on corporate and private donations. While GIS can be used to identify donors for the purposes of marketing and fundraising campaigns, the technology is also beneficial in showing need.
For example, the nonprofit Direct Relief used GIS mapping to provide medical care to Syrian refugees and shared the mapping information with their donors to demonstrate where and how resources were allocated. This information was beneficial to building a healthy, transparent relationship with both corporate and private donors.
Using GIS to Track Progress
At the end of the day, the goal of any nonprofit is to determine whether or not it’s meeting its mission. That means providing the right type of programming, effectively reaching out to patrons, and tracking the success of their strategies.
GIS applications offer a way of not only monitoring this success but communicating complex information related to an organization’s goals.
For example, digital mapping can lay out this information in a visual way, so that stakeholders can see where they’re succeeding, the areas where they may be falling short, and places where there is opportunity for growth.
Recently, the National Audubon Society used GIS mapping as part of a grassroots effort to share data among local chapters in New York State. The organization was able to link numerous disconnected databases through GIS and ultimately produce better science. This initiative was tied into the Society’s core mission of giving local chapters the tools they need to be experts in conservation within their communities.
Non-Profit GIS Jobs
The application of GIS technology in the nonprofit sector offers a variety of paths for recent graduates. Professionals within numerous GIS career disciplines can apply their skills at environmental organizations, museums, and community-based groups where it’s crucial to have an understanding of the surrounding area that the organization serves.
Museums provide ample job opportunities for GIS specialists, particularly in areas of conservation and ecology. Specialists can work within a GIS team at larger institutions and study ecological trends in the community. On the curatorial side of museums, larger audiences are being reached by providing online collections that leverage interactive spatial information to paint a clearer picture of the collection’s cultural and historical significance.
One recent example comes from the Rome Reborn project, which used GIS technology to create 3D models of ancient Rome based off archeological and geographic data. This type of 3D mapping gives museums a tangible way for patrons to interact with ancient civilizations.
Organizations specializing in land and animal conservation regularly seek GIS mapping certification online to help carry out their mission. In fact, any nonprofit job related to the environment will require some knowledge of GIS, and that trend will continue to grow in the coming years. If you’re already skilled in a field of science, adding a degree in GIS creates a pathway to senior-level jobs at environmental nonprofits.
Many current and former USC GIST master’s students have done significant work contributing to the environment and conservation. Visit our library of master’s theses to read more on the types of projects students have worked on.
Network With GIS Professional
A great way to network with fellow professionals in the field is to join a GIS organization. Due to the growing demand and variety of ways in which GIS can be applied, there are a number of groups for specific industries and nonprofits.
Students in USC’s GIST and HSGI programs have a unique opportunity to begin networking with GIS professionals during the weeklong field excursion at USC’s Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. The program offers opportunities to meet with a global team of researchers and work closely with USC’s faculty while conducting GIS fieldwork. Students conduct and present findings on spatial data and collection during this immersive experience.
Outside of USC’s program, The American Association of Geographers (AAG) offers a number of opportunities to network with fellow professionals at different stages of their careers. Their annual conference and publications allow GIS specialists to stay informed and marketable in their field. AAG also has a substantive grants program allowing for further professional development.
The Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA) is ideal for professional who are just starting in the field. The association offers events throughout the year, and varying rates depending on where you are in your career path. GITA’s professional development materials includes industry-related articles, a reference site, and webinars.
Finally, The Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS) focuses on bringing together an understanding of cartography and geographic information in order to improve quality of life. In addition to publications and an annual conference, CaGIS offers awards and scholarships to students who showcase excellence while studying GIS.
Whatever GIS organizations you decide to join or contribute to, remember that the end goal is connection. Professionals in the field of GIS are passionate about what they do and can help you find work that is most meaningful to you.