Coastal mapping plays an important role in informing decision makers on issues such as national sovereignty, resource management, maritime safety and hazard assessment. A key aspect of this trend has been the development of coastal web atlases (CWAs), based on web enabled geographic information systems (GIS). CWAs contain spatial data and thematic information on environmental, social and economic aspects of the coast and provide an integrated visualisation, download and sometimes analysis environment.
An important element of CWA development is to ensure that the needs of the target audience are being addressed. Sometimes there can be a break in developer-user communication after the initial atlas design phase is completed. Identifying how to maintain effective engagement by CWA providers with end users is a key task for development teams. A key initial task is to profile the target end users. Workshops and surveys can be effective at this stage. Launch events and media exposure is used effectively to build user communities, however usage drops when such publicity events are discontinued. During the atlas operations phase baseline web statistics are often gathered, but these give a somewhat limited idea of the end user community and their use of the atlases.
Additional means of remaining in touch with users and incorporating their requirements in CWAs need to be used. Web 2.0 applications such as “like/dislike” buttons and content comment boxes are used with success in social networking and some news media sites and their utility should be considered for CWAs. Focus groups have also been used with success to complete semi-structured surveys when trying to gather answers to specific questions. It is important to demonstrate to users that the survey has a goal such as atlas improvements in order to motivate them to provide information.
Enhancing users’ sense of ownership achieved by web applications that allow more direct user input has been accomplished by some CWAs. The strengths and weaknesses of such an approach should be further explored by individual CWAs, as this could enhance the understanding of user needs and improve the relationship of the atlas developer to the user community. Atlas developers within the International Coastal Atlas Network (ICAN) who have worked on the Marine Irish Digital Atlas, the Belgian Coastal Atlas, Chesapeake Bay Atlases, the Washington Coastal Atlas and the Wisconsin Coastal Atlas have significant experience in gathering and analysing user feedback and are investigating means of enhancing their interaction with the end-user community.