Extending Electronic Meeting Systems for Collaborative Spatial Decision Making: Obstacles and Opportunities

Brenda G. Faber
Senior Research Analyst
CIESIN
1201 Oakridge Drive, Suite 100
Fort Collins, CO 80525
(970) 282-5488
(970) 282-5499 (FAX)
bfaber@terra.colostate.edu

Introduction

This paper discusses considerations for the development and application of collaborative Geographic Information Systems (GIS). A collaborative GIS is a geographic information system which has been extended from a traditional single-user tool to incorporate group interaction with geographic data sets. A collaborative GIS provides an interactive, real-time environment for resource managers, policy specialists, scientists, and citizen groups to debate land allocation issues.

One approach to implementing a collaborative GIS system is to create a "GIS extension" to a commercially available electronic meeting software package. Such a system allows meeting participants to work individually or in groups to construct various geographic scenarios electronically. The scenarios are collected and combined via the electronic meeting system local area network. Implications can be modeled and discussed as scenarios are suggested. Decision rationale for final recommendations are recorded automatically using electronic meeting software functionality.

This paper is a collection of recommendations and observations based on experience in prototyping collaborative GIS systems within an electronic meeting system environment.

Collaborative Spatial Decision Making Using Single-User GIS

A commercially available, single-user GIS can be a powerful tool for supporting group deliberation on land-resource issues. A skilled technical facilitator, using a large or projected workstation display, can assist a group in exploring various scenarios and trade-offs through real-time GIS analyses. However, there are obstacles inherent in this approach:

The Power of Electronic Meeting Systems

In the corporate world, a practice that is growing in popularity is the use of electronic meeting systems (EMS). An EMS is a type of Group Decision Support System (GDSS) or "groupware" which supports electronic exchange between meeting participants. Each participant uses an electronic input device (numeric keypad or personal computer) to submit votes or comments. The EMS system software has a client/server LAN architecture with a file server collecting all data generated by participants. The system summarizes participant input for immediate display back to the group. This framework makes it possible for participants to present their opinions or positions quickly, efficiently, and with parity. Typical activities supported by commercially available EMS's include:

EMS's have been shown to enhance both productivity and efficiency in business meetings. It is the author's position that this proven collaborative architecture offers an excellent foundation for incorporating selected GIS capabilities for collaborative spatial exchange. The extended system not only allows teams to share textual and numeric data, but provides the ability to annotate, share, and analyze spatial information as well.

Considerations for Extending EMS Architecture for Spatial Exchange

The following are considerations for adding a geographic framework to the EMS environment. Note that the recommendations given are based on experience in developing collaborative GIS systems for same-time/same-place (face-to-face) meetings within a resource negotiation context.

Design Considerations

Most EMS packages are designed for business meetings. Thus, the majority of EMS interfaces have been purposefully designed to be simple and intuitive (assuming the lowest common technical denominator for executive participants). It is important to carry this premise forward when adding a spatial component to the EMS. The collaborative GIS developer should assume that participants will be GIS novices and may even be unfamiliar with a computer keyboard.

A critical design objective when implementing a spatial addition to an EMS should be to create a seamless and consistent extension to the existing software. This will minimize confusion for novice users. Where possible, existing communications protocols and user interface appearance should be incorporated into the new function. EMS products which support initiation of other applications from within the EMS environment offer a convenient method for maintaining this consistency.

In addition, collaborative GIS extensions should reflect the most basic principles of electronic exchange:

Finally, a collaborative GIS system design should have a high degree of flexibility, such that it can be easily customized for a client's particular data set and application.

Functional Considerations

Experience in developing and customizing collaborative GIS systems for clients has resulted in the following recommendations for a core set of spatial functionality within a collaborative GIS framework:

Observations From Facilitating Collaborative GIS Sessions

The following are observations assembled from a number of collaborative GIS workshops. Explanations for these effects and their implications to collaborative GIS development need to be explored in greater detail.

Opportunity for Future Development - Distributed Collaborative GIS

While the collaborative GIS systems described in this text are designed specifically for face-to-face negotiations, a demand is growing for a similar mechanism to support remote land-resource negotiations. For example, a land management plan may require public input from local land managers, coordination support from regional agency representatives, and policy input from governing bodies at the state or national level. Work needs to be done on characterizing distributed land-resource negotiation tools. These tools would encompass many of the capabilities of a collaborative GIS, but must be customized to operate in a distributed mode.

Conclusions

The proven collaborative architecture of commercially-available Electronic Meeting System software offers an excellent foundation for incorporating selected GIS capabilities for collaborative spatial exchange. The spatially extended system not only allows teams to share textual and numeric data, but provides the ability to annotate, share, and analyze spatial information as well. Experience and thoughtful implementation can result in a collaborative spatial decision support system providing an interactive, real-time environment for resource managers, policy specialists, scientists, and citizen groups to debate land allocation issues.

Biography

Brenda Faber is a Senior Spatial Systems Research Analyst with the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). Brenda is currently representing CIESIN as a visiting scientist at the Terrestrial Ecosystems Regional Research and Analysis (TERRA) Lab in Fort Collins Colorado. Brenda holds M.S. degrees in Image Processing and Electrical Engineering and a B.S. degree in Mathematics.

Experience in collaborative spatial decision making:

Related Publications:

Faber, Brenda G., W. Wallace, J. Cuthbertson, Advances in Collaborative GIS for Land-Resource Negotiation, The Proceedings of the GIS'95 Ninth Annual Symposium on Geographic Information Systems, Vancouver, B.C., March 1995, GIS World, Inc., Vol 1, pp 183-189.

Faber, Brenda G., W. Wallace, and H. Sargent, Use of Groupware Enabled GIS for Land Resource Allocation Issues, Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on System Analysis and Management Decisions in Forestry, Pacific Grove, CA, September 1994.

Faber, Brenda G., R. Watts, J. Hautaluoma, J. Knutson, W. Wallace, L. Wallace, A Groupware-Enabled GIS, The Proceedings of the GIS /94 Symposium, Vancouver, B.C., February 1994, pp 551-561.