Washington GIS leaders establish a new group

Managing a GIS is a difficult job. If you doubt it, take a look at the list of 74 individual competencies identified in the Geospatial Management Competency Model developed by URISA’s GIS Management Institute and adopted by the US Department of Labor.


Josh Greenburg

On May 16, at the Washington GIS Conference in Tacoma, Josh Greenburg, President of the Washington Chapter of URISA (WAURISA), convened a daylong Washington Government GIS Leaders (WGGL) Workshop to bring together GIS managers and leaders.

Wikipedia describes management as…

“…the administration of an organization, whether it be a business, a not-for-profit organization, or government body. Management includes the activities of setting the strategy of an organization and coordinating the efforts of its employees or volunteers to accomplish its objectives through the application of available resources, such as financial, natural, technological, and human resources.”

Management may be perceived as easy or glamorous, but for the person who is a manager, it often seems to be a lonely job. There is pressure from the top (we all have bosses), pressure from the bottom (You want me to do what? And get it done when?), and pressure from customers, vendors, HR, unions…the list goes on. And some managers try to have personal lives too.

Where can a GIS manager get some help? I know–read a book! But an Amazon search on the keyword ‘management’ returns 87,354 items. It’s probably five to ten more by the time you read this. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone.

Josh formed the Washington Government GIS Leaders group as a Special Interest Group within WAURISA. The May 16 WGGL session included a few presentations geared toward issues GIS managers face. There were several breaks and an offsite lunch where attendees could discuss problems they face and solutions they have tried, and get to know each other better.

About 40 people registered for the event, with about 70% representing cities and counties, and then handfuls from universities, private companies, non-profits, tribes, regional agencies, and utilities. Josh introduced a set of goals that he had conceived for the group:

  1. Increase communication between local government GIS leaders
  2. Increase accessibility and sharing of management skills and knowledge
  3. Increase the representation of county and city GIS interests to state officials
  4. Increase opportunities to provide education/training for city and county GIS managers on roles, responsibilities, and requirements of GIS departments

The event included a few presentations by speakers recruited by Josh.


Joy Paulus

Joy Paulus, for many years our GIS voice in Olympia as the Senior Policy & Program Manager in the Office of the State CIO, spoke about the work of the Washington Geospatial Program Office and her recommendations on how GIS managers can use these resources for effective programs that also support statewide geospatial program goals. A key theme was that any progress, and certainly progress in GIS, is easier and more sustainable when people are willing to collaborate across jurisdictional boundaries. By the time that you read this, Joy will be retired, but everyone agreed that she has left a solid legacy for building geospatial capability throughout the state.

Charlie Spear, City of Seattle GIS Coordinator, provided an in-depth look at how the City prioritizes the many initiatives that are proposed and requested (that pressure from the top and from customers and stakeholders). Seattle uses a slick system called Decision Lens to evaluate potential priority work initiatives. Then members of their governance committee vote to develop priorities. Charlie also shared Seattle’s practices for GIS service level agreements, metrics and performance targets, and customer survey practices.


I gave a presentation called “No GIS is an Island: How (and why) we should compare ourselves and share our solutions.” I reviewed WAURISA’s history of bringing GIS managers together at the Washington GIS Conference, going back to 2004 when I presented research on GIS operations staff numbers and configuration in Washington state. The 2005, 2006, and 2007 conferences included GIS manager panel discussions on Pacific Northwest GIS professional organizations, city GIS challenges, county GIS challenges, and funding challenges for local agency GIS operations in Washington. In 2008 I presented my research on web-mapping application usage metrics across Washington and nationwide.

Washington took the lead in the initial development of the Geospatial Management Competency Model and the GIS Capability Maturity Model, as presented at the 2009 Conference. I urged the group to take a long-term view for the future of the Washington Government GIS Leaders. Specific ideas that I proposed included:

  • create a GIS managers’ listserv like the Association of County and City Information Systems listserv
  • create a GIS managers’ searchable online repository of GIS operational policies, procedures, architecture, metrics, etc.,
  • pursue a statewide license for the URISA GIS Management Institute GIS Capability Maturity Model assessment service
  • do not limit the discussion and idea sharing to only Washington State.

Later in the afternoon, Lee Johnston from Esri provided his views on the future of GIS and key considerations for GIS managers to prepare their agencies and their careers for that future. Esri seems to be better positioned than ever to help local agency GIS leaders turn their cities into “Smart Communities” by leveraging GIS data and deploying applications.


The presentations by Joy, Lee, Charlie, and me can be found in the Washington GIS Conference Program.

Josh wrapped up the day by facilitating a discussion of next steps and priority issues for the group. Using a vote-by-dot process, Josh identified these key priorities.

No. of Dots Topic
34 Information repository
32 Opportunities to collaborate
26 Utility Asset Management (e.g. integration with work management systems)
24 Emergency preparedness / business continuity
23 ArcGIS Pro migration. When? We’ve invested heavily in ArcMap-based applications. What is their life span?
22 Data quality improvement
20 Cost recovery models–What options are out there for tracking usage and value?
19 Shared use of services (e.g., should we contribute all our data to the State’s MAF and move to using that?)
17 City/county merger of GIS teams? Are there examples in Washington State?
16 Use of common data models such as the Local Government Information Model
14 Career development for GIS staff
13 Public records requests
12 Open Data
11 Funding, marketing & ROI
9 Data Security / Protection of critical infrastructure (linked to the above)
7 Manage other spatial tools
6 AVL data management
5 Security

Josh will be reporting back to the participants in the Washington Government GIS Leaders Group workshop within a few weeks to start planning how to keep the momentum going from the May 16 event in Tacoma. Josh also reported that there will soon be information about WGGL on a newly designed WAURISA web site. Stayed tuned both to WAURISA and here at GIS & You for news about this exciting development.

Josh will be reporting back to the participants in the Washington Government GIS Leaders Group workshop within a few weeks, to start planning how to keep the momentum going from the May 16 event in Tacoma. Josh also reported that there will soon be information about WGGL on a newly designed WAURISA web site. Stayed tuned to both WAURISA and here at GIS & You for news about this exciting development.

Greg Babinski is KCGIS Center Marketing and Business Development Manager.

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