Amy Dowley – Building rural community capacity with GIS decision support tools

Amy DowleyAmy is a Masters student in the School of Computing and Information Science

What problem/s are you working to solve?

At the University of Maine Machias Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory and Service Center, we are partnering with Sunrise County Economic Council to build rural community capacity with GIS decision support tools.

What progress are you making toward solutions?

We are generating map templates to support current and future Comprehensive Planning processes. Additionally, we are conducting outreach in the form of community meeting presentations and demonstrations to share maps and tools generated at the GIS Lab. End-user engagement encourages buy-in, map accuracy, and ensures that we are serving the needs of consumers.

How could your findings contribute to a sustainable future in Maine and beyond?

Community-centered mapping builds local capacity for collective decision-making. For instance, teaching community stakeholders how to access and use online sea level rise and storm surge scenario maps promotes the use of these tools for risk assessment, predicting future scenarios, and making decisions based on available information. These tools can improve emergency preparedness, development and conservation planning, as well as resource and service distribution.

Why did you get involved with this internship project?

I was eager to join the GIS Lab in partnering with an agency working directly in communities where I grew up. I love creating and sharing GIS products to empower rural people and improve rural living.

What do you find rewarding about collaborating with stakeholders? Most challenging?

The iterative process of generating a product based on user feedback is tremendously satisfying. At some level, the map is never finished, but the goal is for the user to feel ownership in the map-making process, which builds greater trust and value in the tool. Time is always a limiting factor when engaging with stakeholders and therefore presents the greatest challenge.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I dream of making and sharing GIS products in Maine for the benefit of Mainers.

What’s your ultimate Maine experience?

Every winter, I make and decorate balsam wreaths for family and friends.