Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Forward to 2017

Seasons Greetings,

As we look forward to 2017, I hope we will all embrace the magis of caring for the earth. Magis is a term often associated with the Society of Jesus, and it refers to the Jesuit motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam, or, “for the greater glory of God.” Understanding the magis of the earth requires discerning what our land can do for us and for our world. This includes utilizing land to address pressing social and environmental justice issues that are central to the papal encyclical Laudato Si’. GoodLands recently addressed this issue by developing a broader understanding of where Catholic landscapes can do more in the United States. We assessed the green infrastructure value for tens of thousands of Catholic-affiliate properties in the U.S. to help Catholic leadership and communities with environmental planning. This included an analysis of conservation/connectivity values and climate change risks. Goodlands collaborated on this project with a team from Esri, the world’s largest developer of geographic information systems (GIS). This team recently completed the EPA/Esri Nation-Wide Green Infrastructure mapping project. This collaboration is one of a number of truly ground-breaking projects we have recently completed. The information we developed will help communities of faith to better understand and manage their landholdings in the spirit of Laudato Si’s call to care for creation.

Our collaboration with Esri has enabled us to create the largest geodatabase of Catholic information in the world, including the first digital maps of ecclesiastical jurisdictions in history. We have connected these maps to narratives about climate change, health, age, electricity access, language, and poverty. Any other attributes that can be associated with locations on a map can be integrated into the maps we have developed.

In the coming year, we hope to significantly increase funding for our next phase of development, which includes building out a Catholic Enterprise GIS, the Catholic Geographic System, so that the tools and maps we have created can reach the Catholic communities who will benefit from them. The GIS will enable organizations to customize our tools and maps to meet their needs, and will enable data sharing among users if desired in a manner that is respectful of privacy and security needs. Catholic NGOs, religious orders, and dioceses will have access to the resources they need to effectively manage their landholdings, enabling them to carry out their mission-critical work, to better care for the earth, and to potentially realize significant cost savings in the process. If you are interested in donating, learning more, or talking about our work I would be happy and grateful for your support and/or interest. Donations are tax-deductible and will help us to reach the next phase – developing the data infrastructure that will put our tools to work in Catholic communities around the world.

All that we accomplished in our first year was done with an operating budget of $35,000 in direct donations; enormously generous in-kind donations of world-class technology, staff, housing, office space, and the consulting and development services of global leaders in GIS technology; and the volunteer services of a large network of supporters. A significant increase in resources is required to create a permanent infrastructure for Catholic mapping to move forward and to support our mapping and planning work with a communications team from the Vatican. We also need to hire a small, dedicated staff to create and manage these resources. I am confident that we can make any donation go further than you could imagine. GoodLands is not just about making maps – it’s about land that’s verdant and giving for generations to come, it’s about doing everything we can in our power every day to tend the magnificent planet that is our common home.

Understanding precedes action. There are vacant churches and schools on street corners in cities around the world.  We have the largest refugee crisis in history unfolding and millions without homes. There are crumbling monasteries on mountainsides and vast landholdings supporting delicate ecosystems and endangered species, in many cases unknown to those on-site. Critical habitats may be lost to development when religious communities vanish unless thoughtful planning is undertaken in the next few years. Maps allow us to see the connections among communities, resources, peoples, the environment, buildings, and the context in which all of these exist together. Maps are a tool that enables us to scale our planning efforts from the smallest project to worldwide yet locally relevant action. Maps allow us to make a measurable impact. Maps provide us with the understanding required for effective action.

Professionals in environmental conservation, large-scale real estate development, and planning know that maps are invaluable tools for coherent, sustainable, planning of any sort, and we are the only organization focused on using GIS technology to help Catholic communities plan for a better future. There is no way to bring about the vision of Laudato Si’ without maps.

We all have a responsibility to be better stewards of our properties and to plan for a better future with the resources we have. I hope you can support us as we help communities meet their stewardship goals in a way that benefits all of humanity.

Kindly yours,
Molly Burhans
Executive Director, Founder

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Mission to Map, Part II

GoodLands executive director, Molly Burhans accounts a recent tip to the Vatican City and Rome where she participated in the Vatican Youth Symposium to discuss solutions to addressing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the REIL Network, to focus on sustainable strategies for following the calling of Laudato Si’ and addressing deforestation, and day with Esri Italia to talk about maps see how their work is helping earthquake response teams in Italy. Along the way she had the surprise and honor of meeting the His Holiness, Pope Francis!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

GoodLands from Redlands, the Mappiest Place on Earth

It is Friday evening and I am sitting in the Applications Prototype Lab (APL) at ESRI’s headquarters right now, approximately 80km west of the Pacific Ocean, 25km south of a roaring brush fire, a brief bike ride to the San Andreas fault, and a few minute walk to the apartment I am staying in on the  good will of others.

I arrived in Redlands just over a week ago, late Thursday around 1:00am after a number of detours due to the Detla Airlines’ systems failure. I settled in the office that day and prepared materials for an all-day planning meeting the next about how we could best use my time here and prepare for our upcoming presentation in Rome. Some of the people who joined in the meeting included team members from this lab, individuals who have helped implement Enterprise GIS’s for various international projects and organizations, and some truly inspiring cartogrphers/app developers who's maps have already changed the world for the better (a good example would be their work mapping the Ebola epidemic with the WHO that helped to contain the disease by targeting resources).

During my two months in Redlands I am working with the Applications Prototype Lab and various professional services to develop apps to demo and share, create a presentation we will share in Rome in December, maps that will be hanging on display during the presentation period in Rome, and additional details about how we can help the Catholic community roll out a GIS hub, and build sustainable internal capacity in the Church and various diocese to leverage mapping for enormous good. We are not only interested in making maps, we are developing the data infrastructure to work with other organizations interested in Catholic mapping in a cohesive and cost-effective enterprise GIS system, and the organization structure to enable #movementbuildingwithmaps through partnership based initiatives and API platforms. I have a decent amount to do, but it is all enjoyable and I am continuing to learn an immense amount each day from my colleagues. Receiving a broad view of these specialized niches in GIS, data governance, and security with the team here who has laid the foundation for various multinational data infrastructures and GIS services is an invaluable experience.

Between May and July I had two months of almost constant travel, and this was my typical rough travel -- bus trips, couchsurfing, moving between relatively unknown places, people, and social strata on faith, a prayer, and intuition; all with a rapidly deteriorating computer (which has been replaced, not a moment too soon, thank God). During that time I forged partnerships and found where to get the data we needed to move forward -- enduring through that quite exhausting phase is now paying off in major ways. This week almost all of the people and organizations I had been running around to and building relationships and partnerships with for the Advocacy and Build Capacity and Inventory levels of the CCSDI have shared their data and our intern, Sasha, completed mapping the entire Western Hemisphere of diocese before I arrived. Sasha is working with the team here to finish up the rest of the world at the moment. We are making basemaps of things that have not been seen or re-examined geographically in hundreds of years, some never - for example, there was no map (that we know of) of Episcopal Conferences, which came into existence after Vatican II, until GoodLands finished ours over a month ago. In an almost fortuitous twist of fate, an Archdiocese backed out of a project at the last minute, which has ended up working for better. The timing is perfect to be here, we are working with pretty much every large Catholic data source out there and it’s coming together; any sooner and it would have been embarrassingly small amount to work with, and any later and with GoodLands limited capacity might have made this all too rushed by December.

Preview, works in process

Just this past week we worked with CARA's  data to make maps showing the ratios of Catholic priests and deacons to Catholics across the United States at the resolution of diocese, measured standard deviations of sister density, and mapped which diocese had the most and least priests in formation in relation to the size of the Catholic population, to name just a few maps. We will attempt to join our maps with a recent Nation-Wide Green Infrastructure mapping project to identify how we relate to a comprehensive green infrastructure system – this map alone could potentially help thousands of Catholic communities across the United States plan for a greener future. I will spare you with the details of all the organizations GoodLands has been working with, but there have been very interesting things learned through this process – one being that lots of of global information about the Catholic Church from the Annuario Pontifico that is in digital from is managed and run by a very devout hobbyist, David Cheney. His entire site is dedicated to the Church and Pope Francis. He has been working on it for 20+ years. It is truly a labor of love and I really hope that our work can help him get the support to maintain and support his operations and perhaps move them to a more sustainable db.

Catholic Geographic Information Systems Center
logo ©GoodLands 2016
I am working with Professional Services on developing a Catholic Geographic Information Systems Center's Hub for geographic services - this organization is just emerging, and it is focused on bringing Catholic Communities together, reducing data collection redundancy, and promoting a collaboration and communication. I am looking more at Caritas Internationalis’ model for humanitarian aid work and thinking about how GoodLands could rework their land-use model to be similar for environmental work - building internal GIS capacity in Diocese and connecting with grassroots efforts already in place. Or maybe even considering that GoodLands is just an environmental mapping initiative / partnership between Catholic organizations already operating successfully all over the world. A few people, including myself, are working on getting all of the major players in Catholic sustainability together to think about this. Where is the GoodLands in this picture? Where do I fit into these two separate, but interconnected and important enterprises that are emerging? The technology side is fascinating and where my most experience and capabilities are, it is a also a tool to help guide urgently needed stewardship and environmental work on a potentially unprecedented global-scale that the Catholic Church can engage in. These enterprises necessitate each other. If the CGISC goes full force ahead I will focus on fitting into some role with the GeoHub HR Model. This whole journey I have been wondering “Are we the Catholic environmental land people or the Catholic map people?” -- these things are mutualistic, I think only time (with some strategy) will tell which side of this I end up more involved with. For the time being, both ideas are important, both are moving forward, the maps showing the path along the way.

Molly Burhans

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Mission to Map: Updates from Nairobi and Rome

GoodLands’ executive director, Molly Burhans accounts recent travels to Nairobi, Kenya to speak at the ICT4D conference and Rome, Italy for discussions about the GoodLand Projects’s work with Vatican Leadership. Read more to learn details of these travels.
To learn more visit: