How to engage other GIS colleagues?

08-25-2018 11:10 AM
New Contributor II

I work as a consultant and most of my colleagues are off at various client sites (as am I), we rarely get a chance to engage and share information about what we are working on. I see great value in leaning on one another and building a company community. I have started some research and started documenting tips for engaging meetings where attendees actively participate.  Please share some suggestions or experiences.

  • Ask questions
  • Define roles - facilitator, note taker, scheduler
  • Provide snacks (Probably not since most will be virtual meetings)
  • Show appreciation for attendance and participation
  • Follow-up communication, meeting notes, keep people engaged
  • Ice breakers - create GIS specific ones?
  • Have guest speakers
  • You’ll need some advance publicity, enticing meeting announcements, and some teasers on what they’ll miss if they don’t turn up. 
  • Before each meeting, consider each topic and who you would like to hear from on the subject.
  • When you introduce each topic, be specific about what input you are looking for.
15 Replies
New Contributor II

Hi Ashley Seim‌, it's awesome to hear that you want to help grow community in your office.  We felt something similar was needed here at Esri, and that's why we decided to build the WeCan community here.  We meet bi-weekly to discuss different topics which we always send out in advance.  We also invite others to facilitate meetings by filling out a form with a topic and goals for the meeting, so others feel empowered to discuss topics that are important to them.  We ask that every host provide follow up resources and action items after each discussion. We've also included a monthly speaker series as part of our community events where an Esri leader will present their personal experience, tips & advice to the group in an informal round-table style way to encourage authentic questions and connections.  I agree that advance planning and specifics about topic and goals are critical to running engaging events.  Our community also has an internal email listserv where we send outlook invites for internal events 2 weeks in advance, as well as a Slack channel where people can tune into ongoing conversation, post relevant articles or pose questions to the group in between community events.  It has also helped us to reach out personally to the individuals we want to be involved to explain our vision and specifically how they can contribute.  It's easy to delete a mass email, but a personal phone call helps secure buy-in from participants.  That's what comes to mind initially, I'll let you know if I think of anything else.  Best of luck growing your community!

New Contributor II

We have a central Data team that includes a few GIS staff (including me) and many GIS users within our organization, who may be the only GIS person in their agency. Last year, I started a user group for the larger organization, that meets monthly.


I started the group, initially, because we have so many people at different locations who would like to discuss GIS projects with other users, but don’t have an immediate colleague who is a GIS user. I also thought, somewhat selfishly, that it would be a good way to get people engaged with each other so that they could provide support to each other. (We have a very small GIS support team that is very busy and we can’t always get to people right away.) There is also a lot happening in individual agencies that we don’t know about until after the fact, so it’s a good opportunity for all of us to learn, and it’s very much a two-way street.

I do many of the things that you listed in your original post. I think the most important for us right now are: giving people the opportunity to talk/ask questions and having a topic or speaker to guide the main part of the meetings.

MVP Frequent Contributor

Some ideas/thoughts to add from my many years in consulting:

  • At one firm I was at, we ended up starting a company user group as we didn't know what GIS folks from our other offices were doing unless we saw them post questions on forums like this one.  Part of this was to provide internal resources to handle GIS questions, as we discovered that internally we had a broad depth of knowledge but since everyone was scattered all over the place everyone felt like they were all on their own. A once-a-month hourlong meeting really helped connect people.
  • Find out through HR/your connections who the GIS people are in your company so they can be invited to interact.  This can be harder than it first seems, as many GIS people may not be ones with GIS in their title, but instead biologists, hydrologists, engineers, planners, etc.  Compile a list of GIS users and post it where other folks can see it.  This is incredibly useful for people as they tackle GIS issues running from "I bet someone has done this before" to "I have a client who just asked if we do GIS work in a different region/country, who do we know there that could do it?"
  • See if you can get funding from your firm for this, both in terms of a budget and some sort of billing number.  Attendance won't be high if people see this as a non-billable activity without some official company recognition that it is an OK use of time.
  • If your company is generous with funding, consider setting up a day where all the GIS users can meet in person.   One extreme - one company I was with rented a beach house in Mission Bay near San Diego for us to stay in at the ESRI Users Conference if they wanted.  They encouraged people to fly down Friday and spend the weekend there before the conference started, then had fun optional casual activities on Sunday afternoon at the house and optional evening meetups during the week.  At another firm, we had a one-day meeting at an office of all the GIS folks in the region.  My point here is that meeting folks in person is more valuable than talking on the phone.  Not easy to find time/budget to do, but well worth it.
  • Probably the hardest part of any effort is keeping it relevant.  Its easy for any sort of regular meeting process to become a beast of its own that wanders off, and soon attendance wanes. If one is not careful, meetings unfortunately can soon become a process whose existence is merely to do the process of meeting, instead of being a vehicle to aid users.  In private consulting, one is extremely aware of the trade-off between working on billable projects and attending non-billable meetings.  There has to be value for people to attend, or they will drift away.  Thus is the power, for good or bad, of the almighty billable hour in the private business world.  So figure out what value can be offered to GIS users to attend/be involved.  Not easy, as the benefits are less discrete than billable hours, but the benefits can be substantial. 
  • Some benefits of meeting:
    • Information resources - people you can ask questions about regarding GIS and business, as they may have knowledge beyond yours or can offer a different angle to approach a task.
    • Staffing/Workload resources - if you are light, people you can call up to ask it they need help, so you can keep busy (and billable).  Likewise, if you are slammed, folks you can contact to see if you can offload some work to.
    • Marketing resources - people you can reach out to when a client mentions they have a future project they want to do and ask if you can do it.
    • Internal Marketing - the value of GIS in private consulting is largely due to what others in the organization think it can do for them.  However, the big decision-makers are not usually GIS-aware, so by meeting GIS folks have the opportunity to discuss this.  Internal education to others in your firm of what GIS can do is often just as important if not more important than external marketing of GIS to clients, as oftentimes the main client contact is not GIS people but other folks in your firm who know little about GIS.

Chris Donohue, GISP

New Contributor II

Hi Chris - thank you for this great feedback.  I think there are some sound action items here!  Now that it is (almost) a new year I am going to try to get back to this and was surprised to see your reply - I guess I stopped getting notifications of new responses.  Apologies for the late thank you!  

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MVP Notable Contributor


I agree with what most people are saying and think there are some great ideas.

I'm not sure if this is helpful or not but I am on the board of directors for a local GIS-based user group in the Salt Lake City area (Salt Lake GIS Users Group (SLUG) ) and I feel like it is very successful for a few reasons. I know this is not the same as a company-wide user group but I think the same ideas apply. We get high attendance (at least in my opinion) for these reasons:

 - We usually have food. Lunch is provided. If it it not provided and we state a 'brown bag' type of lunch, our attendance is about half of normal or less. How does this work? Chris mentioned funding, which works at times, but we get 'sponsors'. These are organizations that are given about 15 minutes to show off their company and get their name on the newsletter. We can feed about 120 people for under $400 when done right.

 - We have regimented meeting times and places. By keeping it simple and stating the meetings are once a quarter, we are able to get solid meeting times with solid meeting places around the Salt Lake Valley (places that can hold 120 people, etc.). This way, if someone can't make it, we're not struggling to find another time/place to meet. It's "sorry, but we'll see you next time". And people can mark it on their calendars at least a month in advance.

 - Same with times/places, we work hard to find relevant and 'good' talks that people want to hear. This can be tricky. Many people don't think what they're doing is important. But, maybe after a few meetings, people can see that many GIS people do the same things as others, so they may want to share their work. We even get Esri Denver to occasionally come out and give us a brief training on this-and-that.

 - Less important, but kind of on your ice-breaker comment, we also have a "humor" segment where we show off a humorous geography-based video. This is silly. People like it. People talk about it. It just plain works. It can even be really nerdy and dry humor. People will still like it.

 - We have great communications. Like Margot mentioned on the list-serve, we use MailChimp to send out mass emails and we're consistent about it. This make a big difference. We also have a catch-all-email-address where people can send us all questions that get answered quickly.

I know this was a bit long but, in that order (somewhat, not always), is what makes our user-group successful. I know you said these are mainly virtual meetings, but try and have them in a place where you can meet face-to-face and, if you can, have food (or if it's small, meet at a place to eat and discuss GIS). Good luck with your endeavors on this!

New Contributor II

Humorous geography-based videos?!  I would love to see some examples  

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New Contributor II

These are great!!

MVP Frequent Contributor

People who do Addressing will probably get a kick out of the Dutch/Belgium addressing solution in the last video at just past 4 minutes in - The Most Complex International Borders in the World. 


Chris Donohue, GISP