Queensland govt readies open source analytics

A desire to make spatial decision making more transparent has led the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water to develop a Web-based application called Spatialise, which is on the verge of being released as an open source project.

To help managers with group decision making, in 1999 the department developed the open source application Facilitator which helps prioritize options given a set of criteria.

However, for "where?" questions Facilitator required all possible locations to be entered and was tied to the PC desktop.

The department's decision support project officer for science integration and communication, Rowan Eisner, said a tool was required that could draw the answers as maps and be accessed via a Web browser so Spatialise was developed with PHP and MySQL.

"You might be working in Fitzroy and want to work out the best places to plant trees, and someone in the Murray Darling could use the same rules and get the best places to plant trees there," Eisner said.

Spatialise is mainly aimed at natural resource management but could be applied to anything, like roads and health centres.

Eisner said she hopes the project will also become a repository of spatial information for various types of infrastructure, and believes any business or government should be able to take advantage of the application, especially consulting organizations making decisions.

The non-spatial Facilitator is used in a lot of existing projects, like teaching at the University of Queensland and Queensland's water infrastructure development, but Spatialise goes a step further with feasibility maps.

"For every option you have, for example farm forestry or grazing management, Spatialise produces a feasibility map so you can see the best options and why," Eisner said.

Spatialise can also produce criteria trees and display impacts according to community support, social, environmental, and economic factors.

"With the old system you got a graph of how good the options are," Eisner said. "This shows you where it is good to do what."

With project decisions sometimes "not made that transparently," Eisner said Spatialise provides a "clear and transparent" method for where you could put in data.

"Each region has to work everything out itself so this should stop reinventing the wheel," she said.

Applications like Facilitator and Spatialise are classified as decision support systems that use multi-criteria analysis to identify preferred management options.

The biggest challenge the department faced was finding and retaining developers for the maintenance of Spatialise, which may be released as an open source project as soon as June to help facilitate its uptake and development.

"Open sourcing Facilitator has been a good result and the code from Sourceforge has kept it going," Eisner said. "Open source will allow much easier collaboration. Then it would continue on and not just disappear. The risk of not open sourcing it is that it just dies - so it's a way of keeping it going."

The Spatialise project is online at www.spatialise.org.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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