2013 Kohekohe Loop Track under construction volunteers EAF project v2

GIS for community groups

A picture is worth a thousand words, so a map is a great storytelling device that can represent your trail or the land you care for across an area and over time.

A GIS (Geographical Information System) makes this sort of mapping possible.

But a GIS is much more than that. It allows the capture, maintenance and reuse of spatial data using tools that we all have to hand (our phones).

For community groups, the purpose of using a GIS is to be able to see what you have and where it is. This can help you plan your activities, resources and costs and most importantly to tell the story of the area.  

What is GIS (ESRI)

If your community group wants to use GIS, this guide will enable you to prepare a ‘helpful requirements’ document before you ask for help.

Herenga ā Nuku supports groups that create public access to the outdoors, and that build or maintain tracks and trails. If you’re a member of such a group, you might want to use GIS to:

  • accurately map where intended tracks will go
  • understand how your tracks could connect to other track networks in the area
  • present maps of the project to council or other stakeholders
  • capture the locations of equipment or maintenance problems in the field.

Where to find professional GIS help

After you’ve worked through the advice on this page and made your requirements document, you’ll be ready to reach out for professional GIS help.

You can send your request, along with your requirements document, to:

  • your group’s members and other stakeholders to see if they have GIS skills or access to GIS support
  • your regional council to see if they can offer you GIS support
  • the GIS team here at Herenga ā Nuku: gis@herengaanuku.govt.nz

In conservation? If your project has a conservation element, our partner New Zealand GIS in Conservation (GiC) may be able to offer GIS support. Email us, and we’ll review your requirements before passing them on for consideration.

Getting help requires preparation

GIS can be intimidating to anyone who hasn’t used it before. A GIS professional can help, but they’ll want to understand your situation first. Use the advice below to help you and your group’s members discuss and define your GIS needs in a requirements document.

Start with a user story

A useful way to capture a project’s high-level requirements and to spark useful conversations is to frame your goals like this: As a … I want … so that …

If you need to write multiple stories to capture all your needs, that’s fine — just make sure you record them in order of importance if possible.


  • As a trail builder, I want a reliable map with me in the field showing a defined route so that I can build the trail where it’s supposed to go.
  • As a user of the trails, I want to see a map of all the trails at major junctions so that I know where I’m going and am unlikely to get lost.
  • As a local councillor, I want to see the project’s progress on my computer so that I can be confident taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately.

Learn more about user stories.

Define scope and requirements

It’s easier to communicate with stakeholders when you’ve fleshed out your scope and requirements as far as practical. Larger organisations and government agencies, in particular, need clear information before making decisions.

Why, what, where, when

Develop a clear picture of your group’s:

  • purpose and vision — why does your group exist, and what will success look like?
  • goals — what are you trying to achieve?
  • location — where is the project located?
  • timelines — when will you realistically achieve your goals?

Of course, things will change over time, and that’s OK.

Technical environment

Identify the main digital hardware/apps/software you already use.

  • Do you have access to a GIS system?
  • Are you happy using computers and technology, or do you struggle?
  • What communication tools do you use? For example, WhatsApp; Slack; phone calls or email.


List the key players and their interests or roles in your group.


  • Iwi — key landowner; project supporter
  • DOC — supportive agency with environmental protection priorities; labour contributor
  • Local authorities — funding provider
  • Other trail groups — groups that are keen to link up with core trails plan

SWOT analysis

Define the group’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.


  • Strengths — passionate, time-rich volunteers
  • Weaknesses — no experience with funding applications; limited computer skills
  • Opportunities — two people are keen to learn new computer skills
  • Threats — developer may seek to purchase land; flooding risks

Learn more about SWOT analysis.

Define GIS and data needs

This section digs a little deeper into the data you might want to use, capture and distribute, and how to do so.


  • What is the GIS data you want to collect/use/communicate?
  • What type of information does the data contain? For example, personal data (name/email); information that can locate an individual (address); location of plants or traps.
  • Who will own the data, in the short-term, the long-term and when the project no longer exists? For example, capturing data that DOC would ultimately own and use.


  • Who is the audience for the GIS data you’ll produce? For example, stakeholders; the public; council.
  • How big is that audience now, and how much bigger could it become in the future?


  • What functions will the GIS solution perform? Refer to your user stories (above). For example, captures data in the field for showing on public maps.


  • What ongoing support will the GIS solution require? For example, annual updates; and regular species list updates.

Funding and time constraints

  • What are the time pressures involved? For example, funding cycle deadlines; and project milestones.


Remember your user stories (above) to prioritise your needs.

  • What’s the primary problem you absolutely must solve?
  • What’s the secondary problem you really should solve?
  • What are the other problems you could solve?

Online resources

You may find these resources useful as you start to investigate your GIS/data needs.

Various GIS Software


There’s a wealth of publicly available data, including:

Some groups using GIS already