Geospatially connected

February 26, 2008
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The use of GIS in local government is a reality that can no longer be denied. Parcel-based information systems are being compiled and stored in GIS formats for many in-house and public uses. The development of GIS benefits local government most when agencies get the best professional help.


To help surveyors see the connection between GIS theory and their daily surveying practices, the education subcommittee of the NJSPLS GIS committee developed hands-on GIS seminars and workshops.


The use of GIS in local government is a reality that can no longer be denied. Parcel-based information systems are being compiled and stored in GIS formats for many in-house and public uses. The development of GIS benefits local government most when agencies get the best professional help. Many state agencies and local government officers look to their surveying communities to develop elements of GIS successfully. If surveyors do not respond to this call for help, other professional groups will.

In POB’s February issue, I illustrated the involvement of surveyors and surveying associations in local GIS activities (see “GIS: Get Involved, Surveyors!”). The findings from two independent surveys on this issue were not particularly encouraging. This is a concern especially since 46 U.S. states have established GIS offices and/or councils that are empowered to make important decisions on the characteristics of each state’s GIS. But, surveying input is minimal or absent.

Three surveying associations, however, have become involved in their state’s GIS efforts and are making a notable impact: New Jersey, Texas and Massachusetts. Let’s examine each one.



An illustration of the power of involvement: The NJ CORS network established by a cooperative effort between NJIT, manufacturer Leica Geosystems and the GIS committee of NJSPLS.

Notable in New Jersey

New Jersey’s Office of GIS (OGIS)1 was formed to coordinate and oversee GIS activities in the state’s government agencies. One of the responsibilities of OGIS is to coordinate the activities of the New Jersey Geospatial Forum (NJGF)2, where stakeholders of spatial information collaborate and exchange ideas--some of which turn into public standards. Some of the objectives of the NJGF are to:

• Stimulate and encourage the advancement of an interdisciplinary, professional approach to the planning, design, operation and use of GIS and related technology to meet the needs of public and private information providers, stewards and users in New Jersey;

• Provide a forum for communication and coordination among the various professional disciplines that comprise the membership of the Forum;

• Bridge the gap between information producers, stewards and users;

• Promote professional and educational development of the membership by providing opportunities for the exchange of knowledge and information;

• Provide a conduit through which the membership can reach consensus on GIS policies and standards as they relate to New Jersey’s spatial data infrastructure;

• Provide a mechanism through which the interests and concerns of New Jersey’s GIS community can be directed to appropriate policymakers.



These objectives are representative of many GIS councils around the country.

NJGF has several task forces including one for the efforts of the CORS network, parcels (including the work performed on a statewide digital parcel inventory), elevations and orthoimagery. The task forces provide valuable in-depth information on specific issues, which often serve as a basis for decisions made by OGIS. For example, the determination of the scale, resolution and format of the statewide orthoimagery coverage was made by an NJGF task force.

Surveyors should be involved in discussions leading to the recommendations made by these task forces. The GIS committee of the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors (NJSPLS) is committed to ensuring that their representatives are active members of each NJGF task force. The representatives voice NJSPLS’ opinions on the issues at hand and report back to NJSPLS on the activities of the task forces. This closes the loop of communication between the GIS and surveying communities. It is important to note that the chairs of the CORS Network and the Parcels Task Forces are members of the GIS committee of NJSPLS.

The NJGF is governed by an executive committee made up of 10 representatives of distinct sectors of the state’s geospatial communities. These sectors include federal, state, county and municipal agencies, as well as elected representatives from the private non-governmental transportation and surveying sectors. The representative of the surveying sector is an active member of the GIS committee of NJSPLS. With this representation, the surveying community has a voting privilege in NJGF decisions. Further, that voice represents surveyors as a group, not as an individual person.

The GIS committee of NJSPLS has five subcommittees that deal with GIS issues pertinent to surveyors: standards, parcel/digital tax mapping, municipal boundaries, CORS network and education. To illustrate the importance of the GIS committee, let’s review the activities of the parcel/digital tax mapping and the education subcommittees.

In the state of New Jersey, only licensed surveyors are permitted to prepare tax maps. In recent years, the New Jersey division of taxation has looked at requiring submission of tax maps in a digital (GIS-enabled) format. This requirement will alow the state to compile a seamless parcel-based GIS for the entire state. Instead of waiting for the state to draft the submission standards, the parcel/digital tax mapping subcommittee has prepared a proposed standard and submitted it to the division of taxation. This proactive approach is very important because the discussions about the standards start from the surveying community’s proposal, not standards developed by bureaucrats.

Important work is also done by the education subcommittee of the GIS committee. In the past 15 years, GIS education for surveyors was offered at the annual NJSPLS conference in the form of four- to eight-hour seminars. While these seminars are important, their effectiveness is not always apparent. This is true especially when the seminars are theoretical and surveyors do not see the connection between GIS theory and their daily surveying practice. To address this concern, the education subcommittee has developed hands-on GIS seminars and workshops. Some of the hands-on seminars were provided by software vendors, while others were developed by surveyors.

The most ambitious educational activity of the GIS committee was a three-day hands-on workshop conducted in 2001. Ten such workshops were conducted around the states with more than 100 participants. The workshop was composed of a half-day introduction to GIS and a day and a half of hands-on exercises in which participants built a working GIS from a hard-copy map. On the last day of the workshop, teams of two to three participants were asked to create and present a GIS application from one of their own survey projects. No instructions were provided as to how to accomplish the task. The participants had to put to action what they had learned in the first two days of the workshop.

Currently, the education committee is developing an updated workshop for novice GIS users as well as one for those who have some working knowledge in GIS.

Another effective approach to enable surveyors to understand GIS is to learn from the experiences of fellow surveyors. Each year for the past five years, a special session titled “Real-world experiences with GIS” is conducted at the annual NJSPLS conference. The objective of this seminar is to present three to four actual GIS projects carried out by professional surveyors. The presentations include discussions on project development, execution, deliverables and the important role of the surveyor in meeting the project’s objectives.

Finally, the GIS committee is involved in the local conference of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA). NJSPLS participates in the conference with presenters and as an event sponsor. Most importantly, it is involved in the conference planning committee, giving the organization the opportunity to have an impact on the conference program and gain access to the agenda of the GIS community. The committee is also involved in National GIS Day.



Surveyors participate in discussions at the annual ESRI Survey & Engineering GIS Summit.

Turning Around Texas

In Texas, the official GIS coordinator for the state is the Texas Geographic Information Council (TGIC)3. As in New Jersey, the purpose of the council is to direct interagency coordination. The council establishes objectives to develop a mutually supportive environment for the use of geospatial systems in the state of Texas and it directs these efforts. The council is assisted by the Technical Advisory Committee, which is composed of members from the same agencies represented on the council. Since it is a government-centered council, no private or professional entities are represented.

One of the goals of TGIC is to establish GIS standards. Section e.3.E of the published standards states:



Geographic information system map product disclaimer. Any map product, in paper or electronic format, produced using geographic information system technology and intended for official use and/or distribution outside the agency, shall include a disclaimer statement advising against inappropriate use. If the nature of the map product is such that a user could incorrectly consider it to be a survey product, the disclaimer shall clearly state that the map is not a survey product.4



It is reasonable to assume that this disclaimer would not have been included in the standards if surveyors were not involved in the process of adopting them. In fact, in the minutes of the GIS committee meeting of the Texas Society of Professional Surveyors (TSPS) in August 2006, there was an announcement on upcoming TGIC meetings. Two individuals were named as representatives of TSPS to the council meeting. However, according to a survey conducted by the National State Geographic Information Council (NSGIC)5, the surveying community is invited to participate in the meetings of TGIC, but no active participation of surveyors or TSPS was indicated. This suggests either lack of participation or lack of visibility. Based on the above, it seems that the latter is correct.

TSPS has a very active GIS committee. The committee tasks are to:

• Work with the standards committee to establish guidelines for use of GPS in GIS projects. To include a checklist that could be used by client and provider to determine the scope of the work, deliverables, procedures and anticipated levels of accuracy;

• Continue the development of GIS curriculum for use by the education committee;

• Continue to monitor the relationship between the GIS and surveying industries;

• Work with TBPLS (Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying) after its legislative session to create and adopt rules for inclusion and exclusions.



The TSPS GIS committee is very involved in GIS education for surveyors and has developed a GIS 101 course. Since 2004, almost 100 students have attended this introductory course. In general, members of the committee are available for any mapping or GIS needs.

Specific tasks the TSPS GIS committee worked on in 2007 were to:

• Create a GIS Development course for those who attended the GIS 101 course. The GIS Development course was later changed to a four-hour course titled “Managing your Surveying Business with GIS.” It was designed to teach attendees how to implement an in-house GIS at any typical surveying operation. A subsequent course, GIS III, will teach attendees how to develop systems for clients.

• Work with the membership committee to recruit GIS members and to investigate a possible GIS membership category. This task includes:

a. Defining details of the membership category such as wording of category, fees, etc.

b. Listing the benefits to TSPS for creation of this category including monetary increase, membership increase, greater course offering to TSPS members by affiliating themselves with events such as the Texas GIS Forum, and having more qualified GIS members to volunteer for things such as course development.

c. Listing the benefits to GIS members including a possible annual award, availability of scholarships, aid with legislative issues and all the benefits a regular TSPS member incurs.

d. The committee will use the Arizona Professional Land Surveyors Geo-spatial Professional Membership category as a model for this task.

• Work with the Government Affairs Committee to include GIS in the definition of surveying. The committee will be working on draft legislation regarding a disclaimer for GIS or mapping products that appear to represent property boundaries, such as Appraisal District maps.





Making it Work in Massachusetts

MassGIS6 is the commonwealth’s Office of Geographic and Environmental Information. Through MassGIS, the commonwealth has created a comprehensive statewide database of spatial information for environmental planning and management. The state Legislature has established MassGIS as the official state agency assigned to the collection, storage and dissemination of geographic data. In addition, MassGIS coordinates GIS activity within the commonwealth and sets standards for geographic data to ensure universal compatibility.

The Massachusetts Geographic Information Council (MGIC) is an advisory body to MassGIS. As a legislatively mandated advisory group, MGIC meetings provide an opportunity for the Massachusetts geospatial community to express their views and concerns. It also provides an opportunity for MassGIS staff to seek advice from individuals representing the many constituencies of MassGIS.

Because the legislature did not provide guidance on the membership of the advisory group, membership in the council is based on interest and attendance. According to the NSGIC survey, the surveying community does not actively participate in MGIC meetings. However, as in Texas, it is evident from the “Standard for Digital Plan Submission to Municipalities”7 that surveyors did participate actively, and their impact on the document is very clear.

The two purposes of the MassGIS “Standard for Digital Plan Submission to Municipalities” are to:

1. Enable municipalities to avoid the time-consuming process of developing their own digital submission standard and to avoid the risk of creating a standard that is flawed because they lack sufficient expertise in the issues involved.

2. Enable those in the surveying and civil engineering communities to standardize their work processes, if this standard is being used. To the extent that communities implement this standard, standardized requirements for digital plan submittals will save time and money.

According to the published standards, many people reviewed and contributed to its development. In fact, the GIS committee of the Massachusetts Association of Land Surveyors and Civil Engineers (MALSCE) was formed for this purpose. A very important caveat that is included in the standards states that:

In implementing this standard municipalities will be obtaining a digital version of boundaries and locations. However, MassGIS reminds anyone implementing this standard that, regardless of the sources of the information they include in their GIS databases, the authoritative determination of boundary or other physical locations remains the purview of the professional land surveyor. Obtaining data from a municipal GIS database is not a substitute for the work of a professional land surveyor.8



This is a clear demonstration of the value of surveyors getting involved in GIS. MALSCE’s participation in the process of developing these standards protects the welfare of the public as well as the interests of the surveying profession.

The GIS committee of MALSCE is also involved in developing GIS education for its membership. For example, the purpose of the seminar titled “Technical Considerations in Small GIS Development” is to provide insight into how to create a small GIS like those commonly used by businesses, schools, hospitals and other similar public and private entities. This seminar covers the various technical considerations in small GIS development including intended use, survey control, imagery, datums and interoperability. The presentation will be hands-on and interactive and will rely heavily on case study materials from successful GIS development projects.





Taking It Nationwide

One impediment holding surveyors and surveying associations back from becoming involved in GIS affairs is the lack of knowledge and understanding as to why and how to become involved. The objective of last month’s article was to answer the “why” question. This month we attempted to answer the “how” question with examples from three states actively connecting their surveying and GIS activities. These state associations are not necessarily the most active in the country in the GIS arena, but they can be used as case studies to learn from. The active efforts of surveyors in New Jersey, Texas and Massachusetts are role models for surveying associations to promote their state GIS, both internally and externally. It is time to form an agenda for surveyor involvement in GIS and implement it nationally.



Joshua Greenfeld, PhD, is the surveying program coordinator at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J.<

References

1. Located on the Web at www.state.nj.us/ogis/gis_office.html.

2. Located on the Web at https://njgin.state.nj.us/OIT_NJGF/index.jsp.

3. Located on the Web at www.dir.state.tx.us/tgic/.

4. Located on the Web at www.dir.state.tx.us/tgic/pubs/gis-standards.htm.

5. The NSGIC survey can be found at www.nsgic.org/states/index.cfm.

6. Located on the Web at www.mass.gov/mgis/.

7. Located on the Web at www.mass.gov/mgis/standards.htm#Planstandard.  

8. Located on the Web at www.mass.gov/mgis/ParstndrdVer1_5_1.pdf , page 3.

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