AWC GIS Consortium

Published on Mar 28, 2018

Spotlight on the AWC GIS Consortium: An interview with Andy Meyer

Contact: Andy Meyer

We sat down with AWC Special Projects Coordinator Andy Meyer, who coordinates the AWC GIS Consortium, and asked him a few questions about himself and the Consortium. Find out how he got where he is, why he’s interested in GIS technology, and his vision for the future of the Consortium.

What is your background?

I moved to Washington over 20 years ago to take a job as planning director in Clallam County. Before that, I was a planning manager in Harford County, Maryland, as well as my start-up job as a planner with the City of Ventura in Southern California. So, I've been in the biz for a while – since 1978!

Why did you decide to go into community planning, and ultimately work for Association of Washington Cities?

I have a passion for helping communities better themselves. Working for AWC going on 11 years now, it’s been so rewarding to help city leadership in communities across Washington get what they need to serve their citizens. AWC helps its members get what they need to make their communities better. I think it's as simple as that.

What is the AWC GIS Consortium and why was it created?

In 2016, we came to the realization that many AWC members needed to have better access to geographic information system (GIS) technology. We heard that it was daunting for a lot of cities to get access to GIS services and resources with the traditional approach, which is usually working with a GIS consultant from an engineering firm. Cities may know this technology is out there. They may know how the technology can be applied, particularly in the infrastructure arena. But there are so many other ways that the technology can really be used to help a city deliver its services and provide help and benefits to its community members. We saw folks struggling with the “how.” How do we access it? How do we afford it? How do we understand how it fits together with our other systems? The GIS Consortium makes it easy to answer those questions.

We think the GIS Consortium really provides members with a cost-effective, low barrier way to access geographic information systems services and capabilities. That’s particularly important for our smaller and medium-sized members – when you have a limited budget and limited staff time, it’s difficult to appropriately navigate the process for working with a GIS consultant.

Who can join the GIS Consortium?

We started out by making the GIS Consortium available to only our city members. We wanted to make sure the proof of concept worked before we broadened it to the groups that can now join—what we call “non-city entities.” These entities do work with and for, or in areas adjacent to cities: public ports, water and sewer districts, conservation districts, park districts, library districts, fire districts, and more.

How does the GIS Consortium work?

The GIS Consortium is based on a pooling program service model so AWC can provide rates and costs that are really competitive in the marketplace. We’re essentially using the buying power of AWC members to get a really competitive hourly rate for GIS services.

You get to determine how much you want to put into the GIS Consortium when you join, whether that’s just dipping your toe in at Tier 1, which is sort of our lowest-barrier point of entry at $2,500 dollars a year and 20 consulting hours, or coming in at Tier 4, which costs about $22,000 for 220 consulting hours. We made it a very flexible arrangement on purpose, so that members can easily customize their membership to make sure it fits their needs – whether that is completing just a simple project in year 1 or developing a multiyear plan to get them where they want to go over a five-year period.

What’s been the GIS Consortium’s impact so far?

A wide range of projects have been completed through the GIS Consortium so far. One of our non-city GIS Consortium members, Snoqualmie Pass Utility District, knew they didn’t have a very good system for tracking their assets when everything’s covered in snow for a chunk of the year. They needed someone to come in and help them map their assets, and then pull it together in a system so that all of their field crew and management has a good understanding of where things are for not only routine maintenance but also for emergency situation purposes.

And then we have folks like the City of Sammamish who have used the GIS Consortium to help create a tool that shares information about development that's happening in their community. The GIS Consortium helped Sammamish merge a couple of different systems so that city planners and public works staff now have a development activity map that is easily updated in “real time” as projects come into the system.

The map is also available to the public, so they can actually see what's happening in their community. If a resident sees one of those little signs on a lot that indicates there's going to be something being built there, they don't have to stop the car and get out and try and read the sign. Nor do they have to call the planners and try and get them at their desk and have a one-on-one explanation. They can look online and get a pretty good synopsis and who to contact if they have further questions.

What are AWC’s future plans for the GIS Consortium?

We are going to continue to work on serving cities through the GIS Consortium and provide better and better services and resources, so our members can get done what they need to. We also want to provide opportunities for those folks who are members of the consortium to network with one another. We want to provide a place where they can trade information, insights, and best practices about what they're doing in their communities using GIS technology and how it’s bringing about positive change.

So, we would encourage anybody who's interested in the GIS Consortium to get in touch with us! Let us know if there are things that we can do that will better serve them either as city members or as non-city members. We're certainly beyond the proof of concept with this. We think we've really got something that's got a lot of value to our communities.

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