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Lecturer on GIS Development and Practices in the US: A GISCorps Mission in Russia

By: Bill Huxhold

The GISCorps has collaborated with the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI) in its Small Grants Program since 2005.  In November 2011, South Ural State University in Chelyabinsk (SUSU), Russia, applied to the GSDI, seeking the assistance of a seasoned GIS expert to lead a discussion of GIS practices in the United States. The goal was to have the volunteer participate in a two-to-three day international seminar, presenting an overview of how GIS is practiced in the U.S. in regard to major application areas, particularly in land management, cadastral data, surveying, and geodesy. Of particular interest was a discussion of issues and trends in how GIS technology and GIS cadastral data systems have developed and been deployed within organizational, institutional, and governments settings.  GSDI turned to the GISCorps to find a volunteer.

In July, the GISCorps sent out a call to seasoned GIS professionals in the U.S. to request a volunteer to deliver the requested seminar.  William Huxhold, GISP, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Department of Urban Planning, responded affirmatively and the GISCorps’ 101st mission commenced its planning phase.

The seminar proposed by Lyudmila Shestakova, Associate Professor and Vice-director for Research Educational Center “Geoinformation Systems” and Valentina Nikolaevna, Associate Professor and Director of Scientific and Educational Center “Geoinformation Systems”   included the following topics:

  1. History of geographic information systems in the U.S.
  2. Overview of in the US., including federal, state, local government activities and the for-profit vendor place and role in the industry
  3. GIS development issues at the present stage of development in the U.S.
  4. Use of GIS in land management and cadastral databases
  5. Examples of municipal/county enterprise GIS organizations, including functions/applications, organizational structures, funding resources, data integration, software issues, staffing and training, etc.
  6. The role of universities in the U.S. GIS industry
  7. Major public and privately provided GIS databases such as local cadastral systems, TIGER, and environmental, economic, and transportation databases, remotely sensed data
  8. Comparisons and examples of major GIS software systems
  9. Application geoportals and web-based mapping, including issues of updating content data and metadata
  10. GIS service providers in the public sector
  11. Spatial data infrastructure, geodata exchange standards.
  12. Integration of various GIS, distributed storage of geodata
  13. Usage of remote sensing of Earth (satellite scanning, aerophotography, usage of unmanned aircrafts)

The participants of the seminar consisted of university professors, IT graduate students from South Ural State University, and Chelyabinsk region core ministries representatives. An earlier seminar in May, 2012, had been conducted on campus so the participants had already been exposed to GIS and its use in land management.  This seminar was to focus on issues and strategies for GIS development, drawing on experiences encountered in the United States.  Its title was: “Geoinformation technologies: topical issues and strategies for development” (see program) and was held on November 1-2, 2012 at the Business center “Sigma” at South Ural State University (see photo).

Joining the volunteer in presenting would be I. B. Fetisov, Deputy Minister for Information Technologies and Communication of the Chelyabinsk region (“Concepts for satellite technology GLONASS on the territory of the Chelyabinsk region and foundation of the joint regional center of monitoring”); S. V. Serebryakov, vice-director for strategic development of Llc “Technologies 2000” (“Interactive GIS, used in geoportal of the Sverdlovsk region GeoUrFD”); Dr. Olga Ogneva-Himmelberger, professor of Geography at Clark University (“Application of geoinformation technologies in territory management”); and A.R. Iskhakov, lead system analyst , Integro Corporation (“Development of automatic information systems for urban planning support of a regional and municipal levels”).

The GISCorps volunteer was briefed early on by the seminar organizers that the need for the seminar was based upon their belief that the cadastre records contained in the real estate data base built in the 1990s for all land parcels in Russia were flawed.  They explained that the portal contained outdated maps that had been scanned from manually drawn maps and that there were no rules about information exchange among the different levels of government: federal, state (oblask), and municipal.  Their desire was to hear how the United States has dealt with similar problems.

In preparing the material for the seminar, the volunteer contacted Dr. Ogneva-Himmelberger to gain an understanding of the content presented in the May seminar and also to gain an insight into the ability of the seminar participants to understand the English language. She informed him that the May participants were very impressed with a demonstration of a portal from the town of Newton (MA) when she entered the last name of a property owner and the ease with which it was to receive the cadastral data. She suggested more demonstrations such as that would be appropriate. She had presented in Russian, so she was unable to provide information about English-Russian language interpretation.

The volunteer was scheduled for four ninety minute time slots. The first session consisted of an introductory video produced by Esri (“Our World – A New View”, no spoken English), a slide presentation about the GISCorps, and two lectures: “GIS: An Introduction to the Technology” and “GIS Adoption in the United States”. The second session consisted of two parts:  a lecture emphasizing GIS in Planning (“GIS Potentials in Planning”), and a series of project examples taken from municipal and non-profit agency projects that his advanced GIS students had recently completed at the university.  Based upon questions and discussions by the participants during the first day of the seminar, the volunteer modified what was planned for the third session to focus on GIS planning and management issues rather than state and private databases. Two lectures were presented: “A Management Perspective on GIS” and “GIS Needs Assessment”.  This session was well-received by the audience. The last session consisted of demonstrations of Internet-based GIS, using examples from the City of Milwaukee ( and COMPASS which is entered through a link in Map Milwaukee).  Both examples show Internet GIS capabilities on parcel-level municipal data including land records, crime, health, and traffic.

The seminar facility was excellent (see photo of the seating arrangement).  Not only did the presentation technology meet the needs of the presenters, but the student technicians supporting the technology were quite helpful and skillful.  The translation was also excellent.  The volunteer had supplied hard copies of the slides ahead of time.  That may have helped prevent any delays in translation.  It was very simultaneous.  Of particular value was a personal translator for the volunteer (to understand the Russian presenters) as well as another translator in the mornings as we sipped coffee and planned the day.  It was particularly thoughtful of the seminar organizers to arrange for a personal translator for the volunteer’s wife who was not involved in the seminar.  Her personal translator devoted about three and a half days to escort her around, visiting sites and also meeting with school children at a nearby school.

The volunteer and his wife were fortunate to be treated to a day of site seeing by the seminar organizers after arriving at Chelyabinsk in order to become familiar with the region and also to adjust to the time change after a long airline flight.  After meeting in the morning with the SUSU Vice Rector for Research, Dr. Sergey D. Vaulin, they were driven to Miass, about an hour drive west to the Ural mountains.  There, they received a personal tour of the Museum of Regional Studies at the Institute of Mineralogy (Miass), observing many of the interesting minerals from the region and also receiving a briefing by O.S. Telenkov regarding the geoinformation technology activities of the institute.  Later, an excursion around Lake Turgoyak, adjacent to the Ural mountains (see photo), and a feast of a lunch (see photo) completed the day.

The mission was successful.  The seminar organizers and presenters (see photo) were not only professional, but also very appreciative of the GIS experience that was transferred in the seminar.  The volunteer gained an appreciation, not only of the status of GIS development of GIS in Russia, but also of the needs for improvements in the future.   It set the stage for future sharing of information of geoinformation technology in local governments in Russia.

“GIS is a universal tool that has benefit across the world – regardless of culture. Having this expertise and sharing it with others who are just beginning the GIS journey is a very rewarding experience to the volunteer. GISCorps is about the only way to make that happen.”

Professor Bill Huxhold

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