While government agencies are already making wide use of geographic information systems, the Obama administration's Open Government Directive provides an opportunity to do even more with GIS, according to market pioneer Jack Dangermond. At the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., next week, Dangermond will outline new initiatives aimed at helping agencies use GIS to make information more transparent and easier to grasp.
Dangermond, president and founder of GIS software provider ESRI, will speak in a session titled "Open Data and the Future of Mapping and Location-Based Services." Gov 2.0 Summit runs Sept. 7 and 8 at the Grand Hyatt Washington. The event is co-produced by O'Reilly Conferences and UBM TechWeb.
GIS systems use geographic information to generate maps that can be used in a variety of ways. Governments around the world use GIS for a range of tasks, such as managing land use, responding to disasters, and making decisions about where to place landmarks and highways, Dangermond said. As the U.S. government aims to be more transparent through open government initiatives, GIS can play an even more pivotal role, Dangermond said in an interview previewing his Gov 2.0 Summit presentation.
"While I'm very excited about what Data.gov has accomplished, I think we need to now evolve our thinking from 'Data.gov' to 'Understanding.gov,' " Dangermond said. "This would require more thinking and some additional work on the government side. . . but the results will be enormous."
ESRI plans to help Uncle Sam add more data-integrated maps to the Data.gov site, which provides government data on spending, regulatory activities and more, to make that information easier to understand and be manipulated by the public.
As it exists now, Data.gov provides a geoviewer that lets users view data sets on an interactive map, overlay them and look more closely at the data. However, it's not a full-fledged GIS, which would give people the ability to do deeper analysis with the data sets, Dangermond said.
"With the exception of programmers or technical people, it is very hard for normal people -- i.e., citizens -- to take government data sets, manipulate them and turn them into useful information products," he said.
"By using GIS, people can look at the map or map service and immediately have an understanding of the data -- the patterns and relationships that the information is portraying," Dangermond said
ESRI plans to launch a new Web-based tool called Community Analyst that takes data sets from federal, state and local government and integrates the data into a mapping application. Government agencies and others can use the data to do policy planning and community analysis, among other things, Dangermond said. The site is a companion to one ESRI already offers for business users called Business Analyst.
Community Analyst will show that GIS "can be very easy to use and accessible by anyone, even if they have absolutely no background in geography or GIS technology," he said.
Also along the lines of making GIS more user-friendly, Dangermond will introduce ArcGIS.com, a social-networking site that lets people share maps and data sets, and lets others discover them in a similar way to finding photos on Flickr. Users can download the data and maps or use them as Web services. When data is available as a map service, it becomes easier to understand and to combine data sets for analysis, Dangermond said.
When data is available as map-based Web services, users can become amateur scientists, he said. "Citizens could look at the relationship between cancer and a particular pollution in the environment," Dangermond said. "They could see these patterns and understand things in new ways."
GIS-enabled data can also be used by governments to work together, Dangermond added. "Map services provide a powerful framework for government-to-government collaboration," he said.