PAHRODF Case Studies

Results Story 21:  Geographic Information Technology

Bringing Mapping Technology Up to Speed

For Mary Jane Montemor, database manager of the 1:50,000 scale at the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), youth can sometimes be a drawback. Being the youngest in her level, she felt that those older and more senior than her did not give her much credence. That all changed after coming back from Australia through the Australia Awards Scholarships programme.

“When I used to suggest something, the senior people would not listen to me. But right now, they ask me what I think,” she quips. More than the new technology or software that she has learned, Mary Jane shares that gaining credibility among her peers was probably the best thing about her scholarship.

She has also gained the confidence to talk to her superiors and the competence to press her ideas forward. “Right now I am talking to my boss about a method that I think automates what we’re doing. He’s considering it, but I need to ask another team to do something that is not part of what we’re doing. I think what helped me is how to talk to my boss.”

More than willing to share her learnings, Mary Jane wants this ‘ripple’ to start with her, knowing that by teaching her colleagues, they too will teach others in return. In no time, she believes, the advances in technology that she picked up, will eventually cascade throughout her department.

After ten years with NAMRIA, Mary Jane earned her scholarship in 2011 after going through the application process upon the recommendation of her boss. She spent one year of post-graduate studies in geographic information technology at the University in Melbourne, and returned with updated skills and information about her field.

The scholarship proved vital to Mary Jane. With their office transitioning from the old analog system to the new digital technology, she had to level up. Although trained in the same technology, and despite handling the Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, she says migrating to a new system was not as easy. She needed to be competent - more so because her division was banking on her to show the way. “It’s more on the technology. We have to update our capability in the office,”she reasons. By doing this, they would be equipped to support the unified mapping project that the agency was to embark on.

In line with her functions

An additional bonus for Mary Jane was deciding on her Re-entry Action Plan or REAP, a plan meant to apply her learnings to organisational gaps.  Her REAP was on data management, utilising the geographic information technology in topographic mapping, which was very much in line with the direction their division was taking.

Actually, Mary Jane had already started her REAP even before she left for Melbourne.  As she points out, she was already halfway done with the manual for the database management system when she had to leave. So in fact, she has had to ask her colleagues to note down their comments and proposed amendments, until such a time that she got back to review them and modify the manual. Upon her return however, she had to expand her REAP to align it with her office’s revised goals.

Needless to say, Mary Jane had a lot on her hands when she got back. She had to attend to the pending manual with the proposed revisions, alongside many other things that were left on her plate. And as if these were not enough, she also had new assignments that were deemed important as well for her to pursue.

As a result of this, Mary Jane says  that she has only accomplished about 50% of her REAP. “Because right now, I have other work also to focus on. Although it’s part of what I’m doing, I also have other urgent instructions from my other boss to do additional maps,” she argues. On top of the already heavy workload, Mary Jane shares that it has also not been easy because she has had to train people. She explains, “Instead of focusing on modifying or developing the manual and then developing the database, I still have to deal with other colleagues, aside from my teams.”

Although she feels less concerned about training her own team, she is not as thrilled having to handle the others since introducing something new is always a struggle. In particular, she cites resistance to the change in software. “It’s because they were experts in the software that was used before. So I cannot blame them,” she reasons. To lick the problem, Mary Jane formulated a team to help her with the weekly training or workshop.

Pursuing their strategic direction

According to Mary Jane, the strategic direction of her office has remained essentially the same, considering that her division was one of the last ones to transition to the new system. In fact, while in Australia, her colleagues had already been trying to cope with the new system. But, as she details further, she has had to add to her REAP because of the developments in their mapping requirements. If before she only started off with developing the manual and the database scheme for her REAP, she has had to expand it, upon her boss’ advice, to include a ‘generalisation method’ that would account for the 1:10,000 map that is in the pipeline.

Mary Jane believes that what she is doing now has a very big impact on the geoportal project that the agency wishes to implement. By automating the work, converting it into digital data and having it available, it will then be ready for use. Furthermore, her work has a direct bearing on the disaster preparedness efforts of the government. Currently, the 1:50,000 is the base map in use. Prior to her scholarship, they were not equipped to convert this into digital format, necessitating them to go through the tedious task of scanning the images. This, she says is not good for formatting and prevents them from customizing the map. Now that they are able to digitize the format, they can make this accessible.

She explains further that actually, to address the needs of the Local Government Units (LGUs) the goal is to transition to a 1:10,000 map as this goes down to the micro-level of the barangays (districts). At the moment though, this is just in the works as what is available is the 1:50,000 map. “This is the one available and it’s the only map that covers the entire Philippines. That’s the one we use for disaster mapping,” she explains.

Mary Jane clarifies that the 1:50,000 map is what they are working on, but they too are preparing for the 1:10,000 map. This is precisely what she has added on to her REAP.  So aside from preparing the 1:50,000 map, she has also had to collect the 1:10,000 data. She stresses though that 1:50,000 will still be there. “It will not be lost. But 1:10,000 is in the pipeline and we are preparing it for the whole country, which is really extensive.”

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