ABI’s basic approach to informing conservation decision-making can be applied anywhere in the world. We are happy to share the lessons we have learned in building and operating our organization.
A geographic information system (GIS) is a powerful tool for organizing, displaying, and analyzing geospatial data. As the technology has advanced, it has become increasingly accessible. Just five years ago GIS software was expensive, ran on high-end computers, and required significant technical training to operate. Today the software is relatively inexpensive, runs on personal computers, and requires little training to use. GIS is now used routinely in the United States at the federal, state, and local government levels and is used by most environmental NGOs that have scientific activities. GIS is a powerful tool because it makes possible the integration of biological, physical, and socioeconomic information, allowing a more comprehensive depiction of data relevant to an issue. It is particularly helpful in land use planning as a tool that facilitates the organization of a wide variety of technical information and its depiction in a useful format.
The utility of GIS is advancing rapidly in parallel with development of related technologies. Inexpensive global positioning systems (GPS) allow one to quickly and accurately link data with a precise geographic location. The Internet makes it possible to readily transfer data around the world. Wireless technologies allow the immediate entry of field data as well as its instant transfer to home research or to other laboratories. Advanced commercial aerial and satellite imagery makes it easy to incorporate high resolution images of the landscape into a GIS. The parallel development of technologies and capabilities such as these makes GIS a more powerful and sophisticated tool while broadening the range of users taking advantage of it.
Decision support systems (DSS) are now evolving. These systems couple GIS with analytical tools, models, and visualizations. The bulk of these systems are in the research and development phase and are being piloted in various locations around the world. Some are emerging for broader application. DSS’s are particularly helpful in land use planning. Models and visualizations can be used to help citizens and government officials develop alternative urban growth scenarios. For example, under one scenario an urban center might continue growing unconstrained as it has in the past. Under another, growth might be clustered around existing population centers and transportation systems. A third