Geographic information systems (GIS) can be used for a multitude of purposes and in different ways to create, manage, analyze and represent spatial information. The nature of GIS is built upon a willingness, interest and expectation to solve a specific problem using both geodata and GIS. With so many definitions floating around about what a GIS is together with opinions about right or wrong use of the technology, what do you consider to be practicing good GIS?”
Let’s be clear from the start. There is no one ‘right’ way for using a GIS. There are, however, approaches that maximize the benefits when using them. If one uses a GIS to solve a problem and obtains the answer to their question, then that constitutes good GIS in my view — plain and simple.
To achieve the solution can take many routes and alternative directions. This is analagous to reaching a destination from many different routes. Even so, although the route may be different, how you make the trip is critical to realizing a pleasureable, enjoyable and useful trip, or a nightmare that ends up costing boat loads of cash and taking up valuable time — and generally annoying a lot of other people.
Practicing good GIS means several things. Even the most immaculate and dazzling technical solution must be justified against a budget, client needs and durability over time, usually. Roger Tomlinson wrote a book entitled ‘Thinking About GIS’ that aptly summarises many considerations for GIS projects.
One of the questions that students often ask me is,“how do I know I am doing GIS right?” Many of them have not had the experience to make mistakes, experience application development or to use GIS within a business setting. They sometimes feel GIS is daunting because of all the vying resources and knowledge involved. Here are a few guidelines that I think may help. These are things anyone can consider when developing a project or participating in GIS application development.
While it is critical to understand what a GIS can do; because then it can be implemented or aligned to problems, notice that I focused on understanding the problem — and understanding how the solution might look.
Being able to critically analyze the problem, interpreting it’s nature and to build a case or direction on solving it is an important step. This can involve the realization that more talent, education and experience is needed, or more resources of a different kind. These are all steps toward good GIS. I would suggest that comparing one project to another is another valuable approach for creating alternate solutions.
Keep your goal in mind. Don’t lose track of it and don’t get lost in the buzz around a technology without understanding what it can actually do. Expect people who are selling you a technology or service to describe or show you how it can work and be used for your problem. That is fair to expect. Again, this is why you need to know (understand) the problem and what you expect to gain from the technology so you can describe it.
Have fun while solving your spatial problem, try alternate ideas, brainstorm and ask for advice. This is all ‘good’ GIS. If at the end of the day you are drained and unsure of the result, try a different approach the next day. Remember — all those people doing it the same way — are doing it the same way. Be different and push toward new possibilities.
While there are certain techniques and methods for achieving specific results, many of the things that go into good GIS are related to how you think, how you work with other people and how you analyze a problem. Once these are aligned then you are doing it a useful way, and that will get you to the destination.
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Jeff Thursotn is editor for V1 Magazine and V1 Energy Magazine for Europe, Middle East and Africa and is based in Berlin.