From discussion with companies, governments, and other end-users who are interested in using geospatial tools, applications, and data to improve their organization, it becomes obvious the number one barrier is money. This should come to you as no surprise because any quality geospatial endeavor requires significant funds.
This leads to an obvious question, “What am I to do if I have a great mapping idea, but no money budgeted or currently available?” Here are a few ideas about how you might be able to convince your peers to add it to next year’s budget or release some discretional funds.
Mockup possible uses for different possible end-users
Start out by spending ample time thinking about all of the possible applications of your project for the perspective of every possible user in your organization. Make sufficient notes of all the ideas you come up with.
Be sure to think outside the box and note all possible uses, even if you do not know how they will be implemented or if the users will buy-in. You are just trying to think about how the project you want to do may affect others in a positive way.
After you complete your brainstorming session, contact leaders in each area and schedule meetings to discuss your concepts.
Meet and discuss real world applications
When you meet with potential end-users, bring your mapping concepts down to their level by connecting the dots between what the project does and how they can use it in their operations to solve their problems easier, cheaper, or both. This will be different for each user, so you may need to spend some time ahead of each meeting to work out how you will explain it to them so they really get it. Communicate you are not interested in just building your department, but making the entire organization able to do more work more efficiently and with less hassle.
For instance, let’s say you were in an Iowa city and affected by the 2008 floods. You are trying to pitch an update to your aerial photography for your GIS base map to your emergency management department. You could explain how “if we had updated photos, rather than 5 year old images, we would be able to create better flood response plans during the event. Plus, the entire team could be given access to view the images via a webpage, similar to the Google Maps site, but with highly accurate and up-to-date images to do a variety of useful tasks.”
Also, be sure to ask your possible end-user if there are any other ways, which you may not have thought of, they could foresee their department using the services from your project.
Estimate return on investment (ROI) within organization
Before concluding your meeting with each end-user, ask them “if this project proceeded, how much money a year do you think you could save?” Right down their answer and ask them to confirm it is accurate.
After the meeting, create a spreadsheet adding up all the possible end-user figures. While the figures may not be 100% accurate, they will give you some real numbers to compare against the cost of your project. A well-conceived, designed, and implemented project will often prove to require expenditures up front, but will pay off in big savings across the organization later.
Report your findings & clearly explain your project’s concept to non-geospatial people
Take every aspect of your preparation so far and include it in your report. Include your initial brainstorm concepts, the ideas and information provided from your end-user meetings, and estimated ROI numbers.
Be sure to include charts, graphics, and images to easily explain the aspects of your project so non-geospatial readers can understand it, especially if it is highly technical. It is not uncommon decision makers are not geospatial or highly technical professionals. Therefore, you will need to properly frame the concepts so they can understand them.
Governments, make it public
If you are a government entity, as part of your report you may wish to clarify the project will have a public component. For instance, you may want to make acquired data (like orthophotography, GIS layers, etc.) freely available to the public. This provides two benefits:
- You can estimate the ROI impact of your project on the community if your services were publicly accessible. This could be significant, especially if you are a community which can claim economic development, tax assessment, or other additional benefits.
- If successful and used by the public, your project will become an expected service from your agency. If constituents are finding value via your project or department, you are provided with some insulation from budget cuts as well as additional leverage to gain future funds for new projects.
Promise to report back on how efficient your project was
Since you planned and reported so well prior to the project, promise to do the same after it is implemented. Think of this report as a chance to evaluate the project, get more suggestions, and review your initial assumptions.
Regardless of outcomes, the fact you accounted for the funds you requested in a proactive way will put you in a good light. Building trust and creating transparency can only benefit your endeavors. This should allow you to come back more easily in the future for additional funds.
By brainstorming, meeting with possible users, completing ROI data, making data public, and reporting on your success, you can raise your chances of receiving the funds you need to proceed on your next project. This may take elbow grease, some number crunching, and a collection of meetings, but with this type of preparation you will show decision-makers you are dedication to the concept. Further, many of the other requestors of funds may not have planned as well, adding more of a case to your project’s importance.
Spend the time to plan properly and even the smallest budget can be attainable for your geospatial concepts!
Joshua McNary serves as Marketing Manager at Aerial Services, Inc. Joshua has ample experience in marketing, public relations, and graphic design coupled with a formal degree in Political Science attained from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Joshua is an active part of the geospatial community in Iowa and online with specific interests in GIS, user-interface & design, open-source projects, and data visualization.