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Frame Your GIS Needs

This section describes how to develop a GIS needs analysis, from which the technology can be appropriately implemented.

To make best use of GIS, it's a good idea to develop a plan before trying to do too much with the technology.  This is normally done in two steps - a GIS needs assessment, and a GIS design and implementation plan. Each can be done a varying levels of thoroughness, but both are important steps to take.

Key Questions

The key questions to ask in a needs assessment are:

  • What do we do that can be helped by GIS, and
  • How prepared are we to undertake that work?

Inventorying what you do (or want to do) is best approached by looking at the outcomes you work to create:  the scale and type of land conservation, the extent and nature of donor development, the degree of public education, and how you administer your work as an organization.

How prepared you are to do work has to do with the skills of the staff, trustees/volunteers and consultants you have (and their estimated longevity with your land trust), the overall approach of your organization to technology and organized data, your budget, and the broad timing of introducing any significant changes into your organization.

How to Determine Your Needs

The process of answering these questions is equally important.  Just introducing GIS through the enthusiasm of a single person can end up creating "push back" from others, as well as challenges with budgets and work flow.

On the other hand, identifying the key stakeholders in your land trust and working with them to define needs and implementation steps can build consensus within the entire organization, making a smoother path to using GIS effectively.

It often helps to have stakeholders first go through a presentation by a person who knows how GIS works and how it can be applied to land trusts, to get everyone on a common footing.

A Sample Needs Assessment

The content of a relatively simple needs assessment typically includes:

  • Summary - A short summary that boils down your entire assessment into a well-presented single page.
  • Context - Description of the context of your organization - where are you now in your overall efforts, and what your history is with GIS and computer technology.
  • Program Functions - An evaluation of each of the major functions (or programs) of your land trust - land conservation, stewardship, fundraising, outreach, administration, etc., describing how the program works now, its near-term needs (next six months to one year) and long-term needs (more than a year).  This evaluation is not yet about GIS, but focuses on what the programs do (or want to do).
  • Existing Capacity and Technology – An assessment of staffing and computing capacity in the organization, generally and in relation to GIS.
  • GIS Options - Program by program, and for the organization as a whole, a review of what role GIS could play in the organization.  This is not a plan for GIS, but an imagining of how it could be useful.
  • GIS Priorities - Based on discussion of options, the top functions should be called out, including indications about how these priorities relate to your capacities. 
  • Recommendations and Next Steps – Based on agreements reached in the above process, the steps and schedule that will be followed to design and implement a GIS.

In a small organization (1-2 staff, small board), a needs assessment can be done more informally and may not need extended discussion.  In larger groups, it may take a couple of rounds of review and intensive research to ensure it reflects key views.  The importance of stakeholder buy-in is great – if GIS is to be more than just an occasional map, it will need the engagement and support of many in the trust, and it may require them to work somewhat differently.

For some groups, integrating the GIS design with the needs assessment is a good choice, as it brings together needs and costs. However, it can be useful to separate these, to allow for stakeholders to imagine their needs and possible responses without immediately feeling constrained by possible costs.

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