When the Plaster Creek Stewards embark on their upcoming, grant-funded tree planting project, geographic information systems (GIS) software developed by Grand Rapids firm, Mallowfields, will track the exact geo-location of each tree as well as data about species, size, and how it is growing. The information will not only please its grantors but help the small nonprofit maintain its investment for decades to come.
Mallowfields builds digital tools and methods for engineering and governance in the realms of decision-making, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration.
“We are software engineers. We create software,” says Mallowfields’ CEO Kendell Joseph. “What does that do for people? For us, we solely are concerned with giving people agency over their world. Those who are affected decide. What that means as software engineers, we can create tools to make those things more possible, help people make better decisions, understand the context behind those decisions, where things are, when they are happening.”
Mallowfields creates everything from a website or digital billboards to software that helps manage and maintain vast server farms. Joseph likens the importance of collaboration in software engineering to working on a sewer or performing surgery.
“When you see people working on a sewer system, one person is down in the hole and two people are up above ground, observing. They are all experienced. They all do the work. And there is constant collaboration,” he says. “When you need surgery, there is not just one hero doctor but usually a team, each with their own specialization and with the same goal.”
The company has developed two distinct software products, Junction, a GIS system for mapping and collaboration, and Intensa, for deliberation.
“GIS solves problems by putting it on a map and a calendar, so you know what is happening where at this specific time,” Joseph explains.
GIS is also used to gather essential data in educational, political, and economic realms.
“With all of these, there is almost always some component of geography,” Joseph says. “For example, where do I go to vote? That data is always in motion. GIS can solve the problems and answer the questions.”
Mallowfields’ Intensa software tracks deliberations and the context around those deliberations — what was said by whom and why, as well as the relevant documents. It is especially relevant to governance.
“The comprehension that extends into the technology and computer world right now, which is in short supply, is the dominant behavior of a superhero developer,” Joseph says. “That’s not good engineering. You need to depend on collaboration and cooperation to get the job done right.”
Twenty years from now, when families strolling along Plaster Creek enjoy the green hues, cool shade, and wilderness habitats created by those 500 mature trees, they may mistakenly think they are taking a break from technology.
“That’s where the engineering comes in,” Joseph says. “We determine what your problem is and then construct those parts and architect those parts to make it happen.”
Even when the parts are trees.
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Mallowfields.