By Amber Orozco, Student in Community GIS, Spring 2022
What do you think of when you hear the word “open access” in relation to research or community-based work? Perhaps it brings to mind programs, tools, and academic publications that have no paywall? Or maybe you think of a community that shares resources, such as software code? But in what ways can the approach of open access be a way to support local community organizations?
In our Community GIS class, we have spent the last few weeks of the semester thinking through these questions as we work to support the campaign of a local organization, the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement (AADM). AADM “advocates for racial and social justice and strives to combat discrimination through education and activism”. Part of their efforts includes their “United Against Discrimination” sticker campaign where they ask local businesses to pledge to creating a more diverse and inclusive work environment. If the business decides to participate, they receive a AADM sticker (see photo below) to place on their business’s front window. As a class, our goal is to create a map that will be hosted on AADM’s website, showing the businesses in downtown Athens that are supporters of the campaign.
For this project, open access can be understood in two different ways. First, open access for our work takes the form of a process-based approach (Shannon & Walker, 2018), meaning our class is working collaboratively with AADM to gather input on the project, including the timeline, goals, exchange of resources (i.e. AADM provides our class the list of business supporters of the campaign from 2019), and how the map will be both stored and accessed. Our collaboration with AADM is consistent throughout the process, which included us meeting with Denise Sunta (AADM Administrative Assistant and Events/Community Outreach Coordinator and also UGA alumna) at the beginning stages of the project and we will be ending the project with presenting our final map designs to AADM for their approval.
Second, our class is leveraging our technical skills to create this map through an open access mapping program (QGIS) and coding library (Leaflet). Our class was tasked with verifying whether the list of businesses provided by AADM were still participating in the campaign. To do this, our class divided up sections of downtown Athens to assess which businesses had the AADM sticker displayed on their front window. We used ArcGIS’s Field Map data collection application to update this information, including adding new business supporters of the campaign. Our class was able to utilize our university membership to access paid GIS applications, such as Field Map, for this project.
Once this list was updated, our class added the geographic coordinates to each business. We were then able to upload this list through excel to QGIS and map out the businesses. Using Leaflet for codes to customize the functionality and appearance of the map, our task is now to develop a map that serves the needs and goals of AADM. Our class is currently divided into different teams, and we are working to develop different options for AADM. For example, my group is working to use codes from Leaflet to develop a pop-up label that will appear when someone clicks on a business that is a supporter of the campaign. We intend to include information on each business, such as the hours of operation, website link, a photo of the business. Additionally, we are developing an option on the map that allows a visitor to filter for the type of business, such as “restaurant, bar, and retail shop”. Once we decide on the format on the map, it will eventually be uploaded and hosted on Github. Personally, this process of transitioning from ArcGIS to QGIS and Leaflet has been challenging because some coding knowledge is required to format the map in my group’s vision. The last time I encountered html was in high school, but I think getting comfortable with these open access programs are a matter of practice and will require more time learning compared to more user-friendly programs, such as ArcGIS.
From this experience, I have learned that open access is more than free programs and resources. It can mean leveraging technical expertise as students to support the efforts of community organizations, while engaging the community organization through the process to ensure the organization’s perspectives are centered as the tool becomes developed. Open access extends to the programs we used with no paywall and those programs that we had access to through our university membership. Each of these elements play an important role when partnering and supporting the GIS work of community organizations.
By Miles Montello, Student in Community GIS, Spring 2022
...ranked in no particular order, here are five new nuggets of information that stuck out to me
since starting this class in January of 2022...
1) Know how to plan a task with a group
In my experience, the group projects that go the most efficiently are the ones where there’s one
dominant person who is the most passionate about the task and can get the less passionate group
members smoothly convinced of their vision early in the timeframe given. Groups where all the
members are either too shy or too indifferent wind up with a wishy-washy concept of a final
product and it’s awkward for everybody. If there are two dominant people with conflicting
visions then their egos may clash, but usually a resolution is reached early on. Just because
there’s a space for someone to step up doesn’t mean anybody necessarily will- until the deadline
gets close enough that either someone caves in or everyone comes to an agreement. In my
opinion, it’s apt evidence for the 80-20 rule, which is a principle that says that roughly 80% of
consequences come from 20% of causes- 80% of the work/planning is done by 20% of the
participants. Clearly defining tasks from the beginning makes it the least stressful, and the tasks
don’t even necessarily need to be divided equally because the quality of every member’s work is
proportional to how invested they are in the topic. I’m proud of my group’s contributions to the
Linnentown Storymap, which was a web map the class produced describing a black
neighborhood in Athens doomed by Urban Renewal to be replaced by freshman dormitories.
Each group of 4-5 students were given a section to create on our own. I would describe the first
half of our time given as sheepishly figuring out what we should do, the second- executing the
original agreed upon vision which was subsequently revised, and the last fifth- creating most of
what would be on the final product.
2) Teams make monotonous tasks go quicker
This lesson from the class also applies to life in general. Having multiple people assigned to a
creative task as opposed to one or two people creates the awkward scenarios I previously
described. On the other hand, if you have human capital, having multiple people assigned to a
clearly defined repeatable task that is too big for one person is super-efficient. I recall Dr.
Shannon remarking on how the task of geolocating all of Athens’ downtown businesses on the
AADM list (of which there were around sixty) would’ve taken hours for one person to do but
was shortened to two minutes by each student being assigned four businesses to add coordinates
to on a shared cloud document. If you tell a random set of eight people to paint a twenty-yard
wooden fence a certain color or pattern, it’s going to be finished in an hour or two if they have
the materials. If you tell them to paint a mural on the fence, it’s going to take way longer and the
result will have very noticeable gaps in artistic ability between the painters.
3) Text mine efficiently
The 1958 Athens City Directory existed only as a physical book, yet the Community Mapping
Lab was working to digitize the information listed inside- from names, addresses, occupation,
race, home ownership, etc. To do so, the entire directory was scanned- but to be able to
manipulate the data it needed to be recorded on a digital spreadsheet. When trying to collect data
from a scanned paper document, transferring what is on the page into manipulable digital text
is a big challenge. Your saving grace in this Herculean task are programs that “text mine”- using
artificial intelligence to read the scanned text for you and transcribe it in plain text into the
program you tell it (Word, Excel, etc.). There are various ones, from paid to free and open
source. Knowledge of coding is often necessary, mostly to tell the program how to separate lines
of text. Keep in mind that there can be a lot of room for error, and you might be disappointed to
find the resulting text is littered with problems. Data cleaning is tedious, but it was a necessary
part of our classes’ digitization of the 1958 Directory. If the dataset is small enough (hundreds
of lines of dozens of pages instead of tens of thousands of lines of hundreds of pages) consider
manually typing the lines of info as you read them (which is what I did for the pages I data
cleaned). Something which accelerates this task leads to my next point...
4) Two monitors are better than one
When you have a task involving cross-referencing (like data cleaning), it can break your train of
thought to have to be constantly opening and closing the same two or three tabs. Opening the
wrong tab by accident making you forget the short line of info you just memorized can make you
grind your teeth. Even a simple action like that can break your flow. So, I’m grateful that the GIS
lab has two monitors to a desktop. I find it so much easier to not have to move my hand and
simply glance from one fully visible document to another. This also makes it easier to keep up
with web tutorials among many other tasks.
5) Google Sheets ...excels your work
Both Google Sheets and Excel are great for data organization related to GIS. I made a map using
the data from the 1958 Athens City Directory where I showed the locations of the residences of
blue collared workers (blue dots) and white collared workers (yellow dots). This was not a
distinction made by the directory itself. I took the top 300 occupations listed and categorized
them myself using a pivot table to create a new column with a new value. If this option were not
available, the task would’ve been too big for me. Knowledge of these two applications helps you
work with data more efficiently. I prefer Google Sheets due to how easy it is to apply and use
add-on tools from the Google Workspace Marketplace, paired with the ease of sharing the
document with others. Offline Excel cannot be edited live by multiple people, and while online
Excel documents can- the plugins available for geocoding are more limited and take extra steps
Google has SIX paid options:
Versus FOUR paid options for Office
Three extra tips? No way!