Continuing our theme of talking with the future of geospatial, today our guest is Carolyn Koestner. Carolyn is currently a Strategic Conservation Planner for the Lake Placid Land Conservancy in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Her introduction to GIS came from taking the few courses required in it while pursuing her Environmental Science degree. While she did not love the courses in the moment, she saw the potential for the technology in her field (and on her resume). The early pursuit of knowledge culminated into a passion for integrating GIS to better serve her roles in the conservation field.
GIS and Conservation Planning
GIS and the environmental and conservation fields have had a love affair since the beginning. Maps provide the perfect medium for communicating changes in the landscape to stakeholders, making GIS a solid investment for a conservancy looking to maximize their impact.
Aside from making maps, GIS is essential for a number of other supporting roles in conservation. Field work is a significant part of the work to be expected. Raw geospatial data collection is the base for all the steps that come to follow. Marking of riparian corridors, collection of the locations where invasive species have been found, and monitoring changes in forest growth are all potential needs for field work with a geospatial element in the conservation planning field.
Another large aspect of conservation and environmental planning is processing and maintaining permit records. It is possible to strictly manage this data in a database management system (DBMS), but the integration of geospatial visualization creates a much more user friendly experience, especially if you intend for that experience to be public facing.
Considering the wide applications of GIS to the environmental consulting industry, it should come as no surprise that geospatial skills are in demand. It is common for conservation based jobs to have “some GIS experience preferred” as it is likely that the day-to-day work will require some low level skills.
If you are seeking to make yourself a more competitive candidate for these roles, demonstrating your value in this area could be highly beneficial. The trick here has always been communicating the value of GIS to those outside the industry.
Closing the GIS Knowledge Communication Gap
We have all battled with how to answer the question, “So, what do you do for a living?”. While GIS has slowly gained more visibility as an industry, it is still a foreign language to many. It is, however, worth remembering that everyone has experience, and stake in, place.
Place is a common medium that can have practically endless information layered on top of it. As gatekeepers of this marriage, it is our responsibility to expand the layman’s understanding of it, and to help demonstrate its value and ability to create value.
GIS has the ability to help people make better, more informed decisions. As a tool, it can help people answer spatial questions with a remarkable amount of precision and detail. Practically every industry has these questions, however, they may not be aware that GIS has the answer.
Communicating large amounts of complicated information is difficult, that is why the world created visualizations. A picture tells a thousand words, and a map can communicate thousands of data points.
This means one of the best ways to communicate the value of GIS to someone, is just to show them what it can do for them.
This might mean taking some initiative to create a product without being asked.
Is someone in your office working on a project that could be enhanced with a map?
Take some time out of your day to create that product and share it with them (bonus points if it’s your boss).
If people do not know what is possible, they are never going to be able to ask for it. Once you introduce them to what GIS can do for them, it can help spark future applications, and hopefully blossom into a vibrant symbiotic relationship.
Everyone inherently has some level of geospatial knowledge. They have a mental map of their neighborhood, the woods behind their home, or that hidden natural gem by the river. Untapped, this knowledge remains relatively static. By promoting an interdisciplinary conversation, we can promote more dynamic use of this knowledge and build stronger communities based on a geospatially enabled ethic, and continue to reap the rewards for years to come.
Self-Teaching the Technology
Four years (or more for the particularly ambitious) is not a very long time to decide exactly what you want to do, let alone to identify the tools needed to be exceptional at it.
If you are late to the game in learning about the value that GIS can inject into your work, do not fear! As mentioned, everyone has some geospatial experience, whether they know it or not.
Tapping into the vast wealth of resources available for expanding your knowledge is an excellent decision at any stage of your career, even if you have already been contributing to the GIS field for decades.
Online learning resources provide fantastic flexibility for working professionals, and students alike.
You can learn from anywhere, on your own schedule, so there is little room for excuses to avoid continuing education (you know that though, because you listen to this podcast. Good job!). Some popular resources are LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and Esri’s Training catalog.
Considering Esri holds the lion’s share of the market in the non-profit space due to the software discounts and resources they provide to those in the industry, it may be more beneficial to focus on advancing your ArcGIS skills than open-source ones.
In the Esri-verse, their MOOCs (massive open online courses) are very popular. They are free (software included!) structured deep dives into various topics, such as imagery, cartography, or data science, you even get a certificate at the end. You can find all of the currently scheduled MOOCs, and register for them here.
If you find yourself struggling to self-study, you can always check if your local community college offers GIS courses so you can benefit from the structure that comes with in-person programs.
One of our most commonly recurring pieces of advice for advancing in the field, and your own search for knowledge, is to expand your network.
Seek out quality connections in the field, especially if you are the only GIS person in your company. When you hit a roadblock in a workflow, or need some advice, you can reach out for the help you need. Just as importantly, the connections in a network go both ways. In addition to seeking help, be sure to provide help to others.
The best way to learn something, is to teach it to someone else. Become a resource for those outside the geospatial realm, and continue to expose possible applications for GIS.
The future of GIS is dependent on its participants. Be an advocate for it, and it will advocate for you.