Design Your GIS
This section describes how to prepare a GIS design plan for your land trust.
a needs statement is agreed to, a design can be developed for how to best
establish GIS capacity in the organization.
GIS Design Basics
A GIS design uses the priorities and context from the needs assessment and develops basic work plans and budgets for the cost of what is needed. A GIS design can be focused on just near-term work or on both near and long-term work. The advantage of a long-term focus is that it better captures a full range of costs and benefits, but organizations new to GIS may find that within six months of using GIS they change their plans in response to their experience.
The fundamental choices in a GIS design are: a) the overall strategy being pursued - what are the driving purposes of having GIS (what value will it create for the land trust)?, and b) as previously noted, whether to use staff or outside consulting or a combination to do GIS.
There is no single right approach to creating GIS in your land trust. It often helps to talk with those in land trusts similar to yours, especially if they are using GIS, and/or with GIS consultants who can help you evaluate your choices.
The GIS Design Document
Key elements in a GIS design document are as follows. For most land trusts, 5-10 pages should be sufficient - in some cases more extensive documents might be needed.
- Summary – one page highlighting basic elements and budget of GIS design.
- Introduction –
organizational and technical context, indicating the state of your land trust, why it wants to do GIS, and its capacities for such work.
- Priorities - summarize these from your needs assessment.
- Strategy - overall description of how you are going to proceed with GIS. This should be in plain and direct language, not focused on technical items - the purpose is to engage your key stakeholders with a common understanding of what you are going to do and what results it will bring.
- Task descriptions – for each major task in your strategy, state the task objective, results to be created, GIS methods and resources (time/costs) required. Complex GIS designs may have more detailed task descriptions.
- Infrastructure description – people, equipment, space, data, software, etc. to support the entire project.
- Budget – A spreadsheet or table showing the revenues and costs (including the imputed value of staff time, as well as direct and indirect costs) for each task, plus the total of all.
- Implementation - Summary of steps need to carry out the plan, including securing any funding needed, plus responsibilities and time deadlines.
- Appendix: Staff/consultant
requirements – statement of qualifications for either/both, plus other information you want to attach to the design document.
the GIS design is in draft, it should be reviewed by key stakeholders, revised
as needed and prepared for adoption. The process required for this will vary
greatly – for some groups, approval will be simple, for others it will be
A critical part of a GIS design is likely to be its budget. While budgeting is always inexact, it helps to think in terms of the hours required for each major task and to use these to create personnel costs (hours times hourly rate of full salary/benefits) plus any overhead costs and then direct expenses. For many land trusts, funds are tight and it's important to present accurate GIS budget plans.
Making the Case for Your GIS
For most land trusts, adding expenses requires a good case. Here are some of the rationales for applying GIS to your work:
- Effectiveness: GIS allows land trusts to be far more effective in securing protection for
properties, by providing accurate visualization and more comprehensive
assessment of resource values and threats. It also allows for better record-keeping, adding geographic accuracy to other due-diligence data about property holdings.
- Linkage: GIS is increasingly used by public agencies and private companies to manage land, and a land trust’s GIS usage can take good advantage of this as well as allow for easier transaction negotiations with agency and other partners.
- Eventuality: Most successful land trusts end up using GIS eventually. By starting early
with an appropriate project, you can broaden the value of what GIS can offer.
- Fundraising: Good GIS systems reassure donors and funding agencies that a land trust is
doing careful assessment of its options and choosing a proper course for the
conservation of a particular property. GIS maps can also be very impressive to individual donors.
- Competitiveness: If more than one land trust is seeking funding from any
foundation or other donor, good GIS work can help tilt the decision in your favor. As
more and more land trusts adopt GIS, those without it may not appear as
- Access: GIS can improve how information is provided to the public for properties that
are open for public use.
investment: Most land trusts use specialized technology to prepare key
reports, design brochures and other publications, manage funds and members, and
communicate with the public. GIS is another element of this infrastructure, and requires a startup investment, just as these others did.
Next – Implement It! >>>