Key problems that arise in starting GIS in a land trust
best laid plans can become shaky in a GIS project. Here are some pitfalls to
Things vs. People: Some groups define their GIS budget in terms of what computers, printers, software and data cost. But these are increasingly small compared to what a skilled person costs. For example, a very competent computer costs about $1,500 these days and GIS software for land trusts can be acquired through grants – but the salary, benefits and other related costs for the GIS portion of a staff member’s time (or a consultant) could add up to $10-20,000 or more per year, depending on how much time the person devotes to GIS.
Turnover: Many groups begin to use GIS inside because a skilled (or at least enthusiastic) person is available to them, as staff or volunteer. Many such people make major contributions and some stay for long periods of time. But more frequently, good people leave unpredictably – if they are skilled in GIS, they may move to a job where that is the full-time focus; if they are part-time with GIS, they may work toward a role in the land trust that makes it hard for them to do the GIS work; if they are a volunteer, their availability may change with their outside job or interests. Replacing this knowledge can take major efforts.
Documentation and system: In small organizations, GIS data and projects can be stored in very idiosyncratic ways. Cryptic notes, unusual file structures and temporary files left from past operations can all be very clear to the person who created them, but virtually impossible for a new person or consultant to understand. Developing very clear documentation of projects and data is critical, even if it seems to make projects cost a bit more – it will pay back if you ever have a staffing transition
Expectations: People who are not knowledgeable about GIS often have a hard time getting used to what it can and can’t do. Some people think of it as a graphics program, where images are stored and then printed on demand. Others think of it like an internet-based mapping service, able to give quick queries. Still others imagine it to be simple enough for anyone to quickly master. GIS is all of these, but it is much more – it pays to develop a well thought-out strategy for using it beforehand, and to inform yourself about what GIS can do early
Staffing vs. Consultants: With very part-time GIS staffer costing as much as $10-20,000 per year, using a consultant can be an economical choice. If the consultant costs $60 per hour (equal to about a $45,000 salary, after considering down time and other consulting costs), $10,000 buys over 150 hours of time – a large amount for basic GIS work, from a skilled person. Consultants can also be problematic, of course, unless they are very familiar with land trusts and your area. See Implementation for more on consultants.
NEXT – Frame your GIS needs >>>