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DecisionSupport_cvr_lrg.jpgRecent economic events have plunged governments into the center of changing economic circumstances that require efficient and effective decision making. These challenges have become even more critical just as this book was released. Governments worldwide at all levels from local to national are increasingly finding that they are being called upon to initiate and participate more closely with other government agencies and private industry at the same time. To expedite growth and implement effective planning GIS can play a central role.



GIS For Decision Support and Public Policy Making


Christopher Thomas

Nancy Humenik- Sappington

ESRI Press

204 pages; 2009

ISBN: 978-1-58948-231-9

Review by Jeff Thurston



This book aims to help those involved in decision making for agencies involved in planning for these changes who are faced with competing interests for budgets where compromises and resource allocations depend upon approaches suitable to engage these issues and to empower agencies and people toward achieving suitable outcomes.

Twenty-seven examples are provided within the book. The authors include cases such as a natural disaster in Canada,  environmental vulnerability in Boston harbour, tracking code compliance issues in California and priortizing waterline repairs in Texas.

Jack Dangermond, president and founder of ESRI states in the Foreword, ” the book can serve as a guide as you look for ways to
measure performance and accountability while improving efficiency, customer service , and resource allocation. This point is made clear early on as the opening pages of the book include a return-on-investment (ROI) matrix – a table showing a list chapter by chapter referenced to different return on investment topics.  This is a quick reference to get your bearings for the book on the issues that matter most.

This book correctly notes that people make their first (and usually most accurate) impressions of organisations in the first contacts. For this reason accurate data and presentation can be enhanced through using GIS. Let’s face it, most politicans and higher level decision makers are drawn to quick and essential pieces of information. That is a primary point that this book aims to share and explains how GIS can make that happen. The book is organised around a series of examples by chapter. The topics are outlined, including organisation involved, location, contact person, project title, software used and the ROI.

I found myself reading this book as a series of techical exercises oriented toward step-by-step efficiencies rather than the wider topics of decision support and policy making the title indicates. While most applications using GIS will include a need to maintain flexibility and to alter course as projects demand, decision support is more often associated with strategic planning goals in support of policy making.

There are also mixed messages on ROI. For example, the City of Denver project says the project, “was able to commit large portions of time for project-management staff which fluctuated between three and six GIS people throughout the project.” Later it indicates that the project was able to avoid hiring a Quality Control (QC) vendor, citing that as a cost saving assigned to ROI. In considering the two, I wonder how many people would see the saving and actually wonder if better costs could have be realised through out-sourcing?

A good example of GIS for use in immunization registry data is outlined for Salt Lake City, Utah. The technology was used in that state to identify where immunization efforts have been (and need to be) focused. Several maps provide readers with some ideas as to how they might go about using the technology for this purpose.

In the chapter ‘Making Decisions On the Fly’ a case involving Jacksonville, Florida begins to point toward the connection of GIS technology to management decision making, but once again remains focused on the technology aspects. It discusses an Auto Vehicle Locator example that, while interesting, does not connect to decision support or policy making. While it tells us about better risk management and resource allocation, I found myself wanting to know answers to questions like, “how does all this help my overall department mobility plan?” Or, “now that I know where all these cars are, what else can I do with that information?”

The authors do cover a wide cross-section of examples where GIS has been used in local and state governments. Indeed, almost all of the examples in this book have greater applicability for readers in the United States who are likely to identify with the cases and understand them more fully in the context they are written. This should not take away from the fact that other readers will find this book useful and be able to glean some new knowledge.

GIS For Decision Support and Public Policy Making could be a lead book for a Technical Series that provides existing government and non-government agencies serving the public with alternative ideas for positioning their already existing technologies toward new objectives. In this way new ROI may also be gained and changing economic or political circumstances could be realised.

But the wider issue that this book leads toward, is that people want to know, is not only what data is being collected, but why we would want to collect it to begin with? Many people want to know what we can do with GIS data but also why we would want to do it – and that directly links to the question, why we are making certain policies?

In summary, I see GIS For Decision Support and Public Policy Making as a collection of cases where GIS is being used. More discussion of the benefits, and why they are benefits, would have been helpful. The book does start to open doors and begin to ask some of these questions, but it needs to go beyond simply stating “saving resources” or “saving money” to explain the detail.

This book fits into a wider need that exists globally to discuss the strategic aims of a GIS – in any organisation. The nature of a GIS warrants deeper reflection and discussion on the linkage between policy-design-technology. In this role decision support is integral to the setting of policies, the generation of alternate ideas and investments and the monitoring of those policies. And, under these circumstances a GIS is flexible to adapt with strategic goals and reveal ROI continually.

For more information on this book.

Jeff Thurston is editor at V1 Magazine and V1 Energy magazine.

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