Today is GIS Day, a day when GIS practitioners celebrate the technology and applications of geographic information systems (GIS). GIS Day reminds us to educate others about GIS science and technology and demonstrate how GIS is utilized to help make a difference – whether that difference is for an organization, the community, society, or the world. The world-leader in GIS, Esri, first celebrated this day in 1999. However the president and co-founder Jack Dangermond credits Ralph Nader as the person who inspired what we now call GIS Day. Nader wanted to see a grassroots event where people could come to learn about geography and GIS. [link]
Originally sponsored by Esri, The National Geographic Society, and the American Association of Geographers, GIS Day has since grown to a global event with hundreds of organizations holding open houses, making presentations, visiting schools, and conducting other types of events to showcase what each is doing with GIS and why geography matters.
GIS Day is also part of The National Geographic Society’s “Geography Awareness Week”, an event the Society started in 1993 to raise awareness to geography’s “dangerous deficiency in American education and excite people about geography as both a discipline and as a part of everyday life.” This year’s Geography Week runs from November 11–17, 2018. [link]
As GIS practitioners, we know that GIS technology underpins nearly every aspect of our daily lives:
- GIS is used by companies to look at which customers shop at which stores and the competitors in the same areas. It helps businesses breakdown information to plan locations for new stores and new regions to expand.
- GIS is used by city planners and planning consultants to design better cities and properly plan for urban growth, accommodating the housing and employment needs of expanding populations while protecting the sensitive animal and plant species that also reside in the region.
- GIS is used by transportation departments to study accident patterns and plan for better roads. GIS is also used by automakers to make our cars smarter and more aware of roadway conditions and potential routes to destinations.
- GIS is used by county and municipal governments to manage constituent property rights, design infrastructure improvements, maintain essential services, and improve the social and human health and services of its residents.
- GIS is used by public safety departments to respond to incidents, understand the factors that caused them, and plan how best to respond to future incidents we hope will never happen.
- GIS is used within federal agencies to manage the Country’s land and natural resources, administer disaster relief programs, and predict population and demographic changes that will inform decisions about where to invest federal budgets in infrastructure, education, industry, housing, and conservation.
- GIS is used by non-profit organizations throughout the world to help organize relief and medical aid missions, help stop the spread of diseases, and help study and conserve endangered species.
- GIS is used by smartphone users, who are largely unaware of the powerful geographic technology and geographic data that lies at the heart of most apps run on the device they hold in their hands.
GIS practitioners understand that the average person does not fully understand the magnitude of utilizing this information. The average person still considers geography the study of memorizing the capitals of states and countries. GIS practitioners know better. We know that geography matters and we can help people understand how using geographic techniques and geographic data can make lots of things better.
Why Geography matters and how GIS is used in our everyday lives is part of every GIS student’s curricula. So our minimum responsibility as GIS practitioners is to help the people within our own organizations understand the benefits that GIS technology provides the enterprise. The best GIS practitioners will look for opportunities to also shape the public perception of geography and GIS.
As GIS practitioners, every day IS, and SHOULD BE, GIS Day. Every day has the potential to at least try to educate someone about why geography matters not just on GIS Day, but whenever a new staff member joins your organization; whenever you see a field crew member who doesn’t understand how the data they collect matters; whenever you know there’s an easier way to do something in GIS; whenever there’s an opportunity to educate someone about GIS – have that well-polished “What is GIS” elevator pitch ready! Every day is an opportunity to educate people and every day is an opportunity to make the world a better place using GIS.