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More than maps: Geospatial analysis turns public servants into better decision makers

February 24, 2020 by Brandman University

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Feb. 24, 2020) - Faculty president Sheila Lakshmi Steinberg recently went on stage to share her message about how geographic information systems (GIS) can help leaders use data for the public good.

Steinberg, also a professor of social and environmental sciences, spoke before an audience of hundreds of GIS experts and users who gathered for a “fireside chat” conversation during the CalGIS 2020 convention. The talk, called “Visualizing Smarter Government for the Information Age,” also included two of California state government’s top technology leaders and the former governor of Maryland.

The conversation revolved around how GIS software enables users to add data to maps and create visualizations that make it easier to organize, analyze and share information. These functions foster productive decision-making practices.

In Steinberg’s assessment, effective and holistic policymaking is rooted in developing a complete understanding of a problem from multiple angles. As she explained during the talk, GIS is a valuable tool for leaders who want to build policy upon a foundation of solid data.

“When I teach, I tell my students when you’re trying to be a policymaker, a decision-maker, you don’t just have a dream and you wake up and you go, “I think we should do this,’” she said. “Now, some people do, but that’s not good data-driven decision making.”

CalGIS 2020 took place in Long Beach, California. GIS experts working in California and across the United States attended the convention. Brandman University sponsored the fireside chat, which was open to all conferees on Monday, Feb. 10. The university partners with GIS software developer Esri to help students learn how to use advanced GIS programs and also sponsored the panel talk to promote its integration of GIS into multiple programs.

Steinberg was joined on the panel by former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, California state government Chief Information Officer Amy Tong and Michael Wilkening, special advisor on innovation and digital services to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Terri Carbaugh moderated the conversation.

Panelists touched on such topics as state government’s need to hire more GIS-literate professionals, how public officials have used GIS in the past and how data-enhanced maps can help public officials share information with their constituents.

“I think we’re all learning how to be better citizens in an age of openness and transparency,” O’Malley said. “Not to drown in data, but to make sense of it for each other’s sake.”

Brandman incorporates GIS and data analytics in several programs as part of its work to be the first university to incorporate GIS across all programs and schools. The objective is to help students across majors engage in data-driven problem solving, with GIS among the analytical tools at their disposal.

“We’re the first spatial university,” Steinberg said while on campus. “It’s really based around interdisciplinary problem solving rooted in a geospatial perspective.”

Brandman programs featuring GIS include the Bachelor of Arts in Spatial Social Sciences and Master of Geographic Information Systems and Data Analytics degree programs. The university also offers an Undergraduate Certificate in GIS Use in Non-Profit Organizations and a Graduate Certificate in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics programs.

Faculty have also woven GIS into the university’s Master of Public Administration program, as well as its Master of Business Administration degree program for students who select an emphasis in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics.

O’Malley’s book, “Smarter Government: How to Govern for Results in the Information Age” is among the textbooks Brandman students use while studying GIS. Steinberg and part-time faculty member Steven J. Steinberg are the authors of another, “GIS Research Methods: Incorporating Spatial Perspectives.” Both works are published by Esri Press.

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