At Data Catalyst, we’ve long been interested in data capacity and data literacy in the entire population. GeoAlliance Canada, a new umbrella organization for Canada’s geocommunity, believes that better geospatial data literacy will create a more engaged “spatial citizen.” We’ve reposted excerpts from Caitlin Blundell’s original post about the topic below; check out the GeoAlliance Canada website for more developments and thoughts about the spatial citizen. —Ed.

Recently, I asked leaders in the Canadian geospatial community to comment on what GeoAlliance Canada membership would mean to them as individuals and to the organizations they represent. (You can read their answers here.) Taken together, their answers are a wonderful collection of insights and ideas for the future of “geo” in this country, and we’re all grateful to everyone who participated.

One of the themes that emerged in every response was the importance of outreach as a primary function of GeoAlliance Canada. There’s a surprising consensus across the country that we could quite easily do a much better job of communicating the value of our work to our children, peers, decision-makers and the general population.

When I took on the communications contract with the Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table (CGCRT), one of the first things I did was read up on the history of the CGCRT, including a white paper published in 2013. This paper walks through the process that was used to create the Team Canada 2020 scenario, which informed the creation of the Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy and the Action and Implementation Plan. Essentially, everything that has been accomplished over the past few years has been built on top of the vision of the future laid out by this study. To create it, the authors identified several key drivers of change—things that are expected to seriously impact the sector over the next decade or so. They reduced these down to five “axes of uncertainty” (which to me sounds like a board game we should definitely play at the next conference), and chose two, aligned orthogonally, to create four quadrants. Here it is, straight from page 18.

CGCRT Scenario Framework

As you can see, the two axes of uncertainty that were developed were Degree of Cohesion (from highly fragmented to strong common vision) and Industry Position (from declining international competitiveness to global leader with a strategic focus on value-added products and services). What you don’t see here are the three other axes of uncertainty that were left out—one of which was Role of the Citizen. Given the emerging importance of outreach as a key function of GeoAlliance Canada, I think that one might be worth revisiting.

By highlighting this axis of uncertainty, we can uncover several key questions. What should the role of the citizen be? What sort of “ideal future” are we steering toward by taking this issue on? Should we be emulating the European Spatial Citizenship program, or creating our own? What does it mean to do outreach, and what are the metrics of success—how will we know whether we’ve done it well?

We must also determine what it takes to establish someone as a “spatial citizen.” I mean, aren’t we all, to some extent? Most people use more location data now than they did 10 years ago, whether they know to call it that or not. How spatially aware would we like a person to be? And who is this future spatial citizen we’re imagining? My sense is that we’re talking about a bunch of different groups (K-12 students, our industry peers, people in related professions, decision-makers and the general public are some examples), and if that’s the case, an effective outreach strategy will have to find ways to address each one.

Some of the outreach actions that have been put forward by our community leaders include suggesting changes to the K-12 curriculum, creating a map-themed public art exhibit, producing videos to show at career fairs, promoting International Map Year, marking the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation by celebrating our cartographic tradition, and mapping the uncharted Arctic.

What do you think? If, as per the white paper, the Role of the Citizen axis of uncertainty ranges from:

A) An inward-looking sector with a strong focus on the delivery of information and services to the public,

to

B) Citizens who contribute to the capture and maintenance of location data and use the data to improve public services, manage local amenities and engage with global issues such as climate change, sustainable natural resources and food security;

How do we begin to measure our success? Will the suggested actions have the desired impact? Did the white paper come up with the correct definition, or should it be changed? I, for one, can’t wait to see GeoAlliance Canada begin to capitalize on this sense that we could all be doing a better job at communicating our work and our value.

Caitlin Blundell

Caitlin Blundell provides freelance mapping and spatial analysis through her GIS consultancy Geographic Design. She is currently on contract to NRCan as communications lead for GeoAlliance Canada.