- Author: Shane Feirer
This is the 42nd ESRI User Conference yet in some ways it felt like the first. This is the first in-person user conference since the COVID—19 outbreak after almost 2 and a half years. All in-person participants had to have proof of vaccination to attend, even with that requirement there are over 14,000 participants. I heard more than once that it was nice to be meeting again in person.
The tag line from ESRI this year is ‘GIS – Mapping Common Ground'. They are making the case that GIS will help us as a society meet/share data on Common Ground. This can be when addressing complex issues such as Climate Change, Conservation Planning, Urban Planning etc. All these activities need us all to meet on common ground and mapping helps with that. We heard about the development and use of Geospatial data from Deanne Criswell the Director of FEMA and California's Natural Resources Secretary - Wade Crowfoot Crowfoot and Nate Roth from the Department of Conservation's Chief Science and Data Advisor, they described the data and the tools created for the California 30x30 initiative these data will be available in a web app developed in concert with ESRI https://www.californianature.ca.gov/.
I the coming days I am looking forward to hearing about the new tools that ESRI have been developing. These tools include ArcGIS Insights, Spatial Analysis of Big Data, Knowledge Graphs, etc, I look forward to writing more about the advancements as the week progresses.
- Author: Shane Feirer
Normally at this time of Year, I am getting ready to travel to San Diego for the ESRI User Conference. At the user conference 20,000 people from all over the world gather to hear about what new GIS tools and functionality ESRI is building into their GIS products. The participants also attend hundreds of technical sessions and workshops to improve their GIS Skills and they also network and discuss how they are using GIS in their fields of interests.
This year with COVID-19 the in-person user conference is not occurring, and the User Conference is going to be presented as a virtual conference (see agenda) with plenary sessions, technical sessions, and technical support. This is unfortunate, but it provides for a broader community to attend the plenary and learn about how GIS is currently being used and what GIS can be used for.
The plenary session is always an eye-opener! It typically has examples of impactful ways in which GIS is changing the world - examples from education, environment, planning, health, and so much more! It is really a great experience, and I recommend it.
If you are curious about what GIS can do or to get ideas about how else GIS could be used in our Organization please register and attend the plenary sessions of the ESRI Virtual User Conference. If you want to talk about GIS or about what you saw at the Virtual User Conference, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Get access to the Plenary Session livestream
Watch powerful stories about how GIS is making a difference in the world. See demonstrations of Esri technology and learn about the newest upgrades. Hear a keynote from Jack Dangermond and presentations from other thought-provoking speakers.
Plenary Session access is complimentary for everyone'
Registration Now for the Plenary:
For many people, the winter holidays are a good time to catch up on things that you've put off the entire year - that article you've been working on since last summer, your merit and promotion package, and taking your GIS skills to the next level! Fortunately, no matter what you want to learn, there are a number of great online resources you can turn to.
Knowing what you want to learn is often half the battle. If you're just starting out, perhaps exploring some of the basic concepts and learning how they apply in your field would be a good place to start before jumping into software tutorials. Or maybe you've been stuck for a while on a specific task, like importing data, fixing the labels on your map, or turning your paper map into an interactive web map. If you'd like to chat with a GIS consultant to clarify your goals, feel free to sign-up for the IGIS online office hours, and we'll get you pointed in the right direction.
The IGIS team put together some of our favorite "go to" online GIS training resources that we use ourselves all the time. If you don't see what you're looking for below, or have another other site you'd recommend, please leave a comment or drop us an email and we'll add it to the list.
Happy Holidays, and Happy Mapping!
Andy, Shane, Sean, Robert, and Maggi
ESRI Web Courses, Training Seminars, and Tutorials
A little known fact about the University of California's site license with ESRI (including ANR) is that it includes virtually unlimited access to their entire catalog of web courses and online training seminars. Instructor led classes still require a fee, but there are literally hundreds of high-quality recorded e-courses you can take, ranging from introductory to advanced topics, from basic concepts to specific software steps. ESRI web courses are typically 3 hours long, while training seminars are 1 hour, so you can fit them in on a slow day. Check out the course catalog, and remember to filter by "E-Learning" as the format and what you would like to learn in the "GIS Capabilities" box.
To take most of ESRI's online training, you need a UC sponsored ArcGIS.com account (note that ESRI.com accounts are different and won't do you any good here). If you don't already have an enterprise ArcGIS.com account and you work for ANR, IGIS can hook you up with one. Just fill in the software request form and check the box for an ArcGIS.com account. You'll also have the option to download the latest desktop GIS software, which might be a good idea if you're still using an older version of ArcGIS Desktop.
TIP: If you're brand new to GIS, consider starting with the 3-hour web course called Getting Started with ArcGIS Pro. ArcGIS Pro is relatively new, has a much more intuitive interface, and will eventually replace the venerable ArcGIS Desktop.
For additional hands-on experience, ESRI also has a number of self-paced guided exercises you can work through for most of its products.
Recorded GIS Webinars from Extension.org
Connected to eXtension.org, a national resource network for US Cooperative Extension professionals, is a GIS training and support group called Map@Syst. They have published a number of recorded webinars on applications of GIS for cooperative extension work, including using maps to engage your audience, story maps, working with Lidar data, Landsat imagery, etc. A great resource definitely worth checking out.
ESRI Hacker Labs
If you've got a little experience with web mapping (perhaps from taking an IGIS workshop?), the exercises in the ESRI Geodev Hacker Labs library are a great way to learn / remember the basic steps. Lots of code examples and explanations take you from A to Z, and everything is on GitHub so they're completely free!
(anything to add here?)
Technical Workshops from the 2016 ESRI User Conference
ESRI holds a ginormous user conference every July, which is a great place to move your GIS skills to the next level. If you can't wait until next summer, there are recordings of over 50 technical workshops from the 2016 User Conference available on YouTube.
QGIS and ESRI Courses on Lynda.com
Another under-utilized resource available to all ANR staff is the virtually unlimited access to the thousands of online courses at Lynda.com. These professionally made courses include a number of GIS subjects, including Up and Running with QGIS, ArcGIS Pro Essential Training, and GIS on the Web. Courses are generally 2-3 hours long.
If you have a little more time and would like a little stronger foundation, consider taking a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). UC Davis sponsors a series of five GIS courses on the e-learning platform Coursera.com. These are four-week courses requiring about 5 hours per week, so they cover a lot of territory and are generally very good. For a fee you can complete all five courses and earn a certificate, or you can audit them for free. Check out the syllabus and reviews if you're not sure.
ESRI also has a handful of MOOCs, including "Going Places with Spatial Analysis", "Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps", and "Earth Imagery at Work". They also keep a list of links to other GIS MOOCs offered by Universities. See http://www.esri.com/mooc for details.
Modeling Ecosystem Services with InVEST
While not GIS software per se, InVEST is probably the most developed multi-purpose ecosystem modeling software out there. Our friends at the Natural Capital Project have developed a 4-hour online course that introduces the main ideas behind ecosystem services and gets you started with InVEST. Both the course and the software are free. See An Introduction to the Natural Capital Approach.
There are many other great learning resources out there including a lot of tutorials on YouTube, but these are a few that we know from organizations who have put some real time and thought into it.
So there you have it - no more excuses for not knowing enough GIS to do what you want! If you don't like online training, then we'd love to see you at an IGIS workshop in 2017, or stop by our online office hours for some free tips.
- Author: Andy Lyons
I must confess when I first thought about a GIS-themed poster for the California Naturalist conference last weekend, the two topics seemed like somewhat odd bedfellows. The central character of naturalists, it seemed to me, is a deep-seated passion for nature, rooted in direct experiences in the outdoors, keen powers of observation, and lots of reflection on the connections to our deeper selves, our personal and collective histories, and our communities. The big insights from GIS, on the other hand, stem from slicing and dicing the real world into abstracted layers that can be stored, shared, and manipulated in a digital realm. How could these two vastly different ways of knowing, epistemologies if you will, complement each other? At best I thought GIS might be useful to make navigation maps to help naturalists find their way through a forest. At worst, I thought the technological mediation of experience that GIS brings to bear could dilute the essence of what draws people to natural history.
It reminds me of …
Questions about Connection
At this level, a cell phone app may not be what you want to record or structure your thoughts. However I also saw that many of the questions that come out of observations and reflection are exactly the kinds of questions that GIS shines in answering. What is the history of this thing? Why is it here? Where else is it found? And how is it connected to the things around it?
Natural history has been around much longer than GIS, but already there are some spectacular examples of technology enabling the work of naturalists. The mobile app iNaturalist shines in this space, because it not only is an incredibly useful tool for recording observations, but also extends the value of making observations by creating connections across a vast online community of other naturalists. Nature watchers can learn from each other, as well as aggregate their observations so the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
In bringing people and data together, iNaturalist is a good example of what is more generically known as community and citizen science, of which there are hundreds of examples. The CalNat conference featured several presentations about citizen science, which highlighted another connection between naturalists and technology -- in many cases citizen science has provided the motivation or on-ramp for people to venture into the field in the first place. Guided to a meadow or wetland by a citizen science program, they can then develop observation, curiosity, and connection which are the hallmarks of naturalists.
Spatial and Temporal Scale
Seeing things at different scales is another part of GIS, and large scale datasets such as satellite images or topo maps can highlight patterns and relationships not visible from a worms-eye view. GIS is also a good tool to “see” important characteristics that are not visible to the naked eye, such as the annual temperature range, precipitation levels, or soil types. Naturalists are also curious about the history of species, and how thing will change in the future. Through GIS, we can access the observations of naturalists who went before us, such as the Wieslander photos and vegetation maps from the 1920s and 30s. To some degree we can also “see” into the future, using tools like Cal-Adapt or the California Climate Console, which present different models of the impacts of climate change.
One of the most thought-provoking talks during the conference was given by Charles Convis from ESRI, the makers of the popular ArcGIS software. Convis has a unique perspective on the connection between naturalists and GIS, with a degree in Natural History from UC Santa Cruz and almost three decades at the helm of the ESRI Conservation Program. His talk wove together anecdotes from his own history with reflections on how landscape images and mapping have precipitated paradigm shifts over time, and the evolution of GIS. I was intrigued by an ambitious metaphor Charles made when he argued that GIS is “the Calculus of Natural History and Landscape Ecology”. What he meant by this was that in the same way that Newton's invention of calculus made all sorts of observational data about the planets fit together under one paradigm, GIS is a tool and way of thinking that can bring together many types of environmental data, questions, and models under one roof. I like this way of thinking, because draws attention to GIS as both a conceptual paradigm that connects diverse environmental data and questions through simple but powerful principles (things are situated in space and time, there are different types of connectivity, close things tend to be more related than distant things, etc.), as well as GIS as an increasingly powerful set of tools that can store, manipulate, fuse, analyze, and visualize many types of data.
I saw a great example of the unifying power of GIS during a conference field trip to the Santa Ana River watershed, where we learned about a Habitat Conservation Plan for the upper part of the watershed. Heather Dyer from the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and Jeff Beehler from the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District took us on a tour of the watershed and described the very long but ultimately fruitful effort to develop a HCP that will allow the water utility to continue managing the watershed for groundwater recharge and flood protection, while also protecting endangered species and allowing for other uses including recreation and transportation. Successful collaboration around water and endangered species is a rarity in California, but in this case was made possible by some enlightened thinking on the part of the utilities, a handful of strong leaders in key agencies, lots and lots of dialogue, and craftful application of the carrots and sticks in the ESA.
However they also told us it also would not have been possible without GIS, which became the main tool for planning and communication (the calculus if you will). The process of assembling and collecting new spatial data was itself collaborative, and built relationships among the stakeholders that provided a foundation for the more difficult conversations about tradeoffs and compromises. In the coming months as the HCP begins a formal review process, the groups will release the geodatabase behind the HCP, which will enable additional updates, analyses, and discussions.
We should always be reflective about how technology is affecting our work and lives, but the California Naturalist conference gave me a lot of insights about how GIS and online tools can be used to enhance the work of naturalists, expand their vision, and broaden their communities. If you have other ideas or examples of how naturalists have productively used (or could use) mapping technologies, we would love to read about it in the comments.
- Author: Andy Lyons
I recently attended a really useful ANR training from the office of Program Planning and Evaluation (PPE) on needs assessment. Incorporating needs assessments into research and extension makes a lot of sense for many reasons. We all want to address issues and problems that are significant and pressing, and develop programs that are effective. A needs assessment can help flush out the challenges in our areas, prioritize needs, and build relationships with key stakeholders. As stewards of public resources, we also want our programs to be as efficient as possible. ANR expects all program staff to do needs assessments as part of program development, and the PPE has put together a great set of training and resources.
How GIS can be useful in a Needs Assessment
During the workshop, it was also exciting to hear how GIS can be a useful tool in many stages of a needs assessment. For example:
A needs assessment often requires talking to people in the program area, which can be daunting because we work with a lot of people. GIS maps can sometimes provide a sampling frame, in other words a master list of all the potential people one might want to talk to. For example Margaret Lloyd, Small Farms Advisor for Sacramento and Yolo Counties, described how a Google Map of strawberry farm stalls in Sacramento County was the starting point for a needs assessment tour of strawberry growers. In other cases, you may get a spreadsheet of growers' addresses in a county. These can be turned to points on a map with GIS using a process called geocoding. This can be particularly helpful to an Advisor who is new to an area.
If there are more stakeholders than one can personally contact (often the case), taking a sub-sample may be a practical necessity. A simple random sample is easy to do, but a GIS also allows spatial sampling. This could be useful, for example, if you want to ensure an even geographic distribution across the county, or a distribution across other units, such as watersheds, municipalities, school districts, etc. Even if sampling is more opportunistic (e.g., meeting attendees), a map can show the distribution of the people you talked to, so you can tell if any areas were over or under represented.
Maps from a GIS can be an effective way to communicate the results of a needs assessment. Whether a simple map in a report, or an interactive web map, maps can show a lot of information at once by manipulating the size, shape, and color of symbols. Geographic patterns jump out in a way you don't get in a table or regression coefficients.
With a little more work, the data you collect can be enriched with other useful datasets, such as census or environmental data. Imagine for example displaying the results of an email survey in a map form, overlaid for example with a map layer showing food security, or climate vulnerability. This type of fusion is helpful not only for understanding the nitty-gritty of the challenge, but also opportunities for extension and collaboration.
Building a Foundation for Innovation
Incorporating GIS in a needs assessment may be a little more work for those who aren't familiar with the technology (but see the services offered by IGIS below), however this investment can pave the way for all sorts of additional outreach and analysis. Putting your baseline data in a GIS simplifies ongoing monitoring and tracking, so you can see if your efforts are working. It also enables further technical analyses, such as testing spatially explicit models of a process, which can help you publish your work. On the non-technical side, getting your data into GIS formats dramatically simplifies the process of developing innovative communication tools down the road, such as story maps or web GIS.