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Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan
Matt holds an MSc in Geography and GIS. He has been working with clients solving problems with GIS for over 17 years. Matt founded WebMapSolutions whose mission is to put innovative, intuitive GIS driven applications into the hands of new and existing users.

With GIS today we are all to some degree groping in the dark

June 23rd, 2015 by Matt Sheehan

With GIS today we are all learning together. That is a statement not a question. And in making that statement, I want to make my suggestions on how we make this learning process easier.

With GIS today we are all to some degree groping in the dark

1. Lets all working harder at asking questions

Its time to step back and ask questions. Lots of questions. Too often we make presumptions. We believe what we read. Challenge your pre-conceived notions by asking questions. I’ll give you an example. I presumed, because ArcGIS Online had made it so much simpler to publish maps and apps, that many barriers to adoption had come down. So I went to some local cities and asked the question of their GIS folks. And what did I find: time, money, data, education and intransigence were still key barriers.

2. Really talk to users and clients ……. and listen

I hate to use a car dealers billboard to illustrate, but I believe the above rings true. We need to be better listeners. What are the problems and challenges? Too often we are trying put a square peg into a round hole. Thierry Gregorius GeoHipsters interview is well worth reading, in it he states:

“Much of my job involves talking to stakeholders across an organisation to find out what they’re really trying to achieve, what data they need to achieve it”

Or put differently, at the core of Thierry’s job is listening. How good are you at discovery through listening?

Listening to clients, managers, field staff: both to the organization and across the organization

3. Your goal is mutual understanding

Asking questions and listening is all about understanding. And that is mutual. Explaining a problem, just like writing, helps provide clarity in ones own mind. Sharing and understanding a problem, is the first step to finding a solution.

4. Educate

GIS is complicated. It’s different. In working with those new to the technology EDUCATION IS CRUCIAL. And that is ongoing. Again here we are talking about maintenance staff moving away from pen and paper, managers familiar only with business intelligence tools, commercial clients new to the world of GIS on and on.

The importance of education is reiterated in this response to one of our blog posts: GIS education, data and management bottom line.

5. Share what you discover.

Don’t lock what you learn in your own head. Share. Let us all benefit from what you learned. In our last blog post I wrote about What we learned from a failed ArcGIS Implementation

The last line in the post sums up my feelings “avoid shunning failure; be stronger and better for the knowledge you gleaned from the experience.”

Let’s share both success and failure. What are your clients or users telling you about ArcGIS Online? Tell Esri. Help them evolve their products.

At the end of the day we all benefit.

6. Don’t presume others know better than you.

When I started writing about GIS, many year ago, my intention was to simply try to understand. GIS is confusing. The GIS market is changing. Putting things down on (digital) paper, can often provide clarity. So for me it was a personal.

My presumption was others knew better than me. That I was merely in catch up mode, using writing to link the pieces. You know what I have realised?

Nobody has all the answers.

More than that, given the dramatic changes underway, we are all to some degree groping in the dark. So don’t feel stupid asking the question. Give your feedback on what you think might be an answer. Make suggestions.

The single worst thing you can do is presume others know better than you and SAY NOTHING!

7. Get out of the selling your product or idea only mentality

I’ll quote from Jeff Thurston’s excellent article on Geospatial or Geomatics: The Headaches of Terminology”

“We need to more adept at discriminating the ingredients that build foundations, awareness and enlightenment, from pitch, popularity and shine.”

None of us want to read your infomercials dressed up as information. As Peter Mercator puts it, in his own special way:

“industry …. articles as of late …all push software, or are just poorly written or poorly thought out concepts, or both”

With blogs posts, tweets, articles we should be starting conversations, asking questions, providing feedback, educating. See Joseph Kerski’s thought provoking articles as one example.

I’ll finish again by quoting Jeff Thurston:

“Think outside of the box and (to) construct new ideas, dreams and notions for realizing spatial data opportunities … both individually and together – and we should not wait around to begin.”

I could not agree more.

Categories: ArcGIS Online, cloud GIS, Mobile ArcGIS, Mobile GIS, Web and mobile GIS

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