June 28, 2004
Interactive Decision Support for Communities
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly!When CommunityViz was first founded, it was designed for rural America, where small towns don't have their own GIS departments and must depend upon consultants or councils of governments. The founders didn't anticipate how it would grow into such a useful tool for big cities developing community scale projects and for counties. The programs are now used additionally by several federal agencies, consulting firms, and a growing academic market.

This week we take a look at the latest release of Scenario 360, a second generation GIS-based decision support software program from CommunityViz, designed for planners and resource managers.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Alliances/Agreements, Announcements, New Products, Going on Around the Web, and Upcoming Events.

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Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Interactive Decision Support for Communities

By Susan Smith

CommunityViz is a program of the Orton Family Foundation (founded in 1995), a nonprofit organization based in Rutland, Vermont, that is dedicated to helping communities make decisions about their futures. The most recent tool CommunityViz is shipping, Scenario 360, is a second generation GIS-based decision support software program for planners and resource managers.

This ArcMap extension adds interactive analysis tools and a decision-making component to ArcGIS that allows you to view, analyze and process potential impacts and alternatives to community planning by creating alternative visual scenarios that can be compared side by side.

When CommunityViz was first founded, it was designed for rural America, where small towns don't have their own GIS departments and must depend upon consultants or councils of governments. The founders didn't anticipate how it would grow into such a useful tool for big cities developing community scale projects and for counties. The programs are now used additionally by several federal agencies, consulting firms, and a growing academic market.

Half the usership of CommunityViz applications are community planners who need to make public presentations and the other half are those who are stakeholders in a project who need to look at alternatives, such as team leaders. The products do not require that you be a GIS specialist or programmer. With just a rudimentary understanding of GIS, users can create scenarios and formulas, and illustrate various alternatives side by side.

I spoke with Marcy Allen of the Boulder, Colorado CommunityViz office this week, who took me through a web demo of Scenario 360.

The Demo

A Scenario 360 toolbar is displayed in the ArcMap environment allowing for different functionality, just like the ArcMap toolbar. There is also a Sitebuilder 3D toolbar, for the 3D component, built by MultiGen Paradigm, that integrates with Scenario 360. There are two different tabs: Setup and Analysis. The Analysis tab at the bottom left of the screen next to the display and source tabs is intended for the end user. The Analysis tab is to be used by the person who might want to look at impacts that changing different assumptions cause, or simply wants to look at charts and reports or look at side-by-side maps.

The Setup Tab is for the person actually creating the model. “In the 3.2 version we realized a lot of people didn't know how to make a model and didn't know how to make alternative scenarios,” explained Allen. “They had a vision for what they wanted to do but didn't know how to go about it. We've created a workflow model that is easy to follow and allows the user to input the data they need to set up a model. The workflow says: first you input your data, then you create variables (which would be like cost of road per linear foot), then you create scenarios.” Allen showed an analysis with two different scenarios (“data frames” in ArcMap terminology).
“We can activate a rural scenario and
another one which shows a village scenario - both these alternative scenarios have the same data layers. The things that make them different are their assumption values and features.”

Then the next step is to make dynamic attributes. Dynamic attributes are attributes that are automatically updated as changes are made in the analysis. The attributes are driven by formulas. Dynamic attributes are indicated by a unique icon. “If we open up the attribute table for proposed buildings, there are features that are dynamically driven by formulas, such as distance to bus stop, scenic rating, distance to cover, wetlands impact, etc. These are dynamic -- they change on the fly, as the user changes assumptions or features,” explained Allen.

The next step is to create indicators -- value measures of your project. “You may want to know: What is the total projected sewer use for a proposed community? Maybe there are different varieties of houses in this community with different sewer needs. Maybe some are single family. Maybe some are mixed use with retail and apartment above. You may want to sum the sewage uses of all the single family houses or you might want to sum the sewage uses of all the residences on road X. With your indicators you can actually filter data and sum individual components. There are also alerts that are formula driven. If you've created your budget and want to be warned if you exceed it, or if you
have restrictions on where you can place fill out."

Once you've set up the analysis, there are multiple ways to look at it using the Analysis tab, which even a non-GIS end user can use to play around and experiment with assumptions and alternatives. The Scenario 360 editing tool allows you to easily choose to edit a particular scenario vs. the process of when you start editing in ArcMap and it shows you numerous geodatabases or folders to that are available to edit, which can be confusing to a novice user. "This allows you to work with multiple scenarios and work with what is intended to be manipulated," explained Allen. "So if you go in the 'village' scenario you basically now are in ArcMap editing mode, and the idea is the same -- you're
in editor, select, create new feature, target, and the target drop down list will be only those layers that are dynamic in your scenarios."

In previous versions of the product, charting was "a little raw," according to Allen. "You can now turn many different charts on, move things up to the top, filter, click on one kind of chart, like environmental, andevelopment, an alert will pop up to tell you when you've done something that is against your pre-set rules.” Allen gave this example: “Joe Smith comes to the planning office and says, 'I want to put in this mixed use building on my property.' The planning department could actually draw in freehand where he's going to put the building, then show the acceptable uses for that site, and pop up a list of forms he will have to d open it up. With a right click you can make
that chart a
full screen for presentation purposes. You can show previous values if you've just changed something, or clear the previous values, or even make the charts 3D. This is great for people who want to quantify things. You can simply right click, and you have a chart image, and it will let you put it anywhere you want, including in external reports, etc. You can also view all the assumptions that influence a particular indicator chart. Before, the assumptions were individual slider bars. Now we have more of a dashboard view, where you can see multiple assumptions at one time. Assumptions can also now be
drop down lists or radio “yes/no” buttons."

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