Gov. Jim Geringer is director of policy at the Environmental Systems Research Institute, which focuses on educating business and government on using geospatial technology for place-based decisions. His career has involved myriad responsibilities, ranging from serving as Governor of Wyoming to his current role helping decision-makers tap into the diverse applications of geographic information systems. Geringer sat down with Communia to discuss his perspective on the future of this field, the first part of which appears here.
Do you see groups of policy-makers that are taking advantage of opportunities for cooperation and collaboration?
The western and southern governors are both doing a good job. Governing in the West means you have unique problems and unique resources. The region has both the most populated and least populated states . . . if you remove California there are only 34 million people left. When California began imposing electrical price gaps, it rippled across the regional economy, and other states were subsidizing their grid. Wyoming doesn’t use close to its allocation. There’s a need to work out those issues among the group, or it becomes a fight.
Western governors have been focused on natural resource issues, but are also dedicated to improving education without big investments in infrastructure. Western Governors University is a good example. Southern governors have done a lot to form a process for planning and group interaction. They’re dealing with border issues and problems confronting North America as a whole. Managing resources is already a challenge and it will get more difficult as time passes.
Who should the government reach out to when attempting to build wider partnerships on these resource problems?
Energy companies with a stake in production are naturally going to be the largest advocates to continue production, so it can be natural to think you’re in opposition. But they also share the problems everyone does when it comes to dwindling resources. If you can reach out to executives and show them organizational benefits, they can be willing to advocate for the greater good, not just the bottom line. Approach them as corporate citizens, not a logjam blocking reform.
You mentioned earlier how science can better approach government, but how do you feel the business community can effectively incorporate science?
EchoStar provides a good example. They met with [Lockheed Martin], described what they needed in a satellite, and then left the room. Micromanagement can cause a lot of changes in orders. There can be such a thing as too much science. Accept that ultimately you can’t eliminate all risk. Define the outcome, define the means, and then back off and let it happen. It can be better to have a lower capability that will serve more people, creating a group of advocates for your work.
EarthNetworks uses a combination of crowdsourcing and environmental data that has been very successful. Once a sensor is deployed, you can build on capabilities as needed. A minimum of instrumentation can multiply the inputs by which you get useful data rapidly. The single largest cost item you lose building your sensors this way is people. That’s not to demean scientists, but it makes sense to get the same results at a lower cost.
How could these tools be useful in response and recovery?
Something like EarthNetworks, with their environmental data, could be particularly valuable in planning before a disaster takes place. Recovery is still an area where we’re learning the best way to use our resources. It could be well served by engaging the volunteer community more. Those government responder resources will be diverted once the crisis phase has passed. Volunteers are interested in helping with the more persistent humanitarian problems. Right now, recovery is the least engaged phase with social media. The stories are not being told.
About the Author
Zachary Bastian is a third-year student at George Washington University Law School. Before joining the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, he worked in the United States Senate studying policy and supporting the work of personal and subcommittee offices. His interests include intellectual property, disaster mitigation and recovery, and leveraging technology to support better government. He can be reached at zack[dot]bastian[at]gmail[dot]com.