Multi-agency effort behind state’s geo portal

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Global retailers may track millions of items for shipment and sale, but Washington state government has an equally daunting task – tracking millions of bits of geographic data that help tell the story about where we live.

Need to know the number and location of dairies in the state and their size? Where are the natural hazards? Where are all the airports? Where does stormwater discharge?

You can find out where all of the dairy farms are located in the state, among millions of other tidbits of place information, on the Washington Geospatial Open Data portal. (Stock photo from Pixabay)

All of this information and more can be accessed through the Washington Geospatial Open Data portal. The portal, managed by the Geospatial Program within WaTech’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, serves up information culled from several terabytes of storage housed in the state’s data center.

Most counties, cities and state agencies across the nation employ geographic information system (GIS) professionals within their ranks and publish their data in various ways. That’s true in Washington as well, but those efforts are centrally shared through the portal.  

“Washington takes a unique approach among state governments” using a central governance model, said Joanne Markert, the state GIS Coordinator. “It is very effective,” Markert said. The centralized approach, she adds, means not only greater efficiencies for residents but the saving of tax dollars by avoiding redundancy.

For more than 20 years, multi-agency teams have provided central governance for the state’s GIS resources: The Geospatial Portal Steering Committee is comprised of staff from 30 state agencies.  This committee works on the day-to-day operations and shares best practices among the agencies to promote efficiencies.  The Geographic Information Technology Committee draws its membership from about 10 state agency chief information officers.  This committee provides oversight and policy guidance as well as sets priorities for legislative requests. 

The broader GIS community in Washington is served by the Washington Geographic Information Council, or WAGIC, which also includes representatives from other governmental entities including local agencies and higher education.  Together, these teams work together and collaborate on this critical technology for the state.  The information-sharing helps build community among the state’s network of GIS professionals.

Visitors to can find place information both critical and useful. A hunter can find the boundaries of hunting areas set by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. A real estate agent can look up property parcel information and land values. A marine biologist can determine where Puget Sound kelp masses are located. Emergency managers can use the portal for disaster planning. The portal features a host of maps and imagery from numerous state and federal agencies.

All told the portal presents a single source of authoritative data from a variety of public sources.

The shared governance model was the subject of high praise in a recent service review of WaTech by Gartner, a global research and advisory firm specializing in information technology. In its findings, Gartner states: “Geospatial data is an enabler of open government and the OCIO plays an important role in enabling statewide geospatial governance.”

So useful is the portal to Washington government and its residents that Gartner recommended that the service be expanded.

And in fact, there are plans to expand the portal in 2020 to include additional large datasets. The shared governance model that is over it all will help ensure that when it does it will provide even more value to the residents of the state.

Graphic of Palouse Falls in Washington with Washington State Geospatial Open Data Portal text