URISA recently sponsored a one-day summit designed to foster the development and assembling of the national geospatial datasets through partnerships and collaboration between governments at all levels, private sector, and non-profit organizations. The event, held at the Jury's Washington Hotel in Washington, DC brought together about 120 individuals, a gathering of "Who's Who" in GIS from all levels of government and the private sector.
The Summit focused on five programs initiated by the Federal government as a unique opportunity for creation of a viable information base and infrastructure to support decision-making and action in both crisis and ordinary situations. The following programs were addressed (click on each program for an overview):
A Matrix was assembled to provide insight into the commonalities and distinctions among the programs. Interested individuals are strongly encouraged to review this Matrix.
WASHINGTON _ With numerous federal agencies working on geospatial initiatives dealing with everything from homeland security to easier access and the next Census, there has never been more action—but also confusion—among users and producers of spatial data, according to speakers and participants in URISA’s national summit.
The event, held May 21 in Washington, D.C., was convened to inform local, state and federal officials, as well as the private sector, about five federal initiatives and how all concerned parties can collaborate to minimize redundancy, maximize scarce dollars and produce results that serve all levels of government. The five programs, projects and strategies scrutinized include:
With so many efforts, some overlapping, and so many individuals involved, it is imperative that all members of the geospatial data community cooperate. “Let’s get serious about how we do these things,” Martha Lombard, URISA president, said in her opening remarks.
The need to get serious was illustrated throughout the day, as summit participants expressed their frustrations over budgetary and manpower constraints, nonexistent national standards and the need for better communication between federal, state and local officials. The federal programs must be viewed as an “Amish barn building,” said Bill Shinar, Virginia’s GIS coordinator. “Everybody’s got to work on it.”
To begin this work, representatives from five federal agencies were convened during a panel discussion designed to clarify the intent of their programs and to stimulate dialogue and interaction between local, regional and state officials and federal agencies, and also to foster “fed-to-fed” cooperation. Some participants were surprised to learn that federal officials, like locals in GIS offices across the nation, are also in the dark about the work of their colleagues in other buildings across Washington. A major hurdle to better interaction is the confusion over whom to contact in the federal government to find answers.
During the federal panel, Michael Domaratz of the USGS said his agency hopes to develop a continual relationship with locals in the development of the National Map, and that his agency wants to coordinate its data collection through state GIS specialists. At the moment, such coordination is “rough” at best, he said.
Bob LaMacchia of the Census Bureau explained his agency’s quest to obtain national street centerline data from local governments. For the first time, enumerators of the 2010 Census will carry hand-held GIS devices to obtain accurate geospatial data from all communities. All centerline data must be obtained from communities by 2008, or the corporation contracted by the Census Bureau will have to do its own, costly data gathering.
NIMA, whose mission to obtain an “urban data inventory” of 133 cities, is the federal geospatial data gatherer most shrouded in secrecy because of the agency’s role as an intelligence tool for the federal government. While representative Rexford Tugwell said his mission is to obtain geospatial data from locals, some audience members questioned whether NIMA, with its vast resources and satellites, already has high-resolution imagery that could be provided to cash-strapped locals, rather than vice-versa.
With its first portal to come online in June, Geospatial One-Stop is the federal initiative with the most short-term impact. “Geospatial One-Stop is our chance to get some things done,” said Hank Garie of OMB and the Federal Geographic Data Committee. Because of its political visibility, the initiative will fill a “vital niche” as the point source for GIS data when it comes online. Meantime, Barry Napier of FEMA’s Interagency Geospatial Preparedness Team, which is using existing information for its preparedness effort, expressed the need for “more strategic thinking” rather than piecemeal data collection.
Toward the end of the panel session, one questioner summed up the confusion between federal and local officials as a “culture clash.” While locals have multiple data users and widely varying needs, federal agencies have “mission-based” objectives that sometimes do not take cooperation into account.
In light of the varying federal initiatives and the confusion surrounding them, various speakers throughout the day noted it may be time for local and state governments to take a new approach: Regional cooperation. Tom Conry, GIS manager for Fairfax County, Va., explained how GIS officials from across northern Virginia have begun to meet regularly to develop a regional street centerline standard with state transportation authorities. Shinar, Virginia GIS coordinator, explained how his state has been divided into 14 areas whose managers meet every two months with the objective of establishing a better statewide network for data sharing and one-stop information access.
But it was keynote speaker William Dodge, former Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils who gave the strongest pitch for regional cooperation. Disasters and health issues do not respect borders, and growth cannot be controlled or comprehensively planned without cooperation among neighbors, he said. “Regions have become the level at which we have to deal with tough challenges.”
Of course, regional thinking will not come easily, noted Dodge, who drew laughs when he described regional cooperation as an “unnatural act” involving “unconsenting parties.” Nevertheless, security concerns have “upped the ante” for regional cooperation, which in the past was largely promoted as a way to improve quality of life or economic development, he said. Of course, regions change depending on the challenge and sometimes cut across not only local or state boundaries, but also national borders, while in other cases regions have no geographical connection.
Dodge cited Portland, Ore., which reached out to a million people in its growth planning, as a good model for how to engage the public in regional thinking. Portland, he joked, “is the only place in the country where you can have a breakfast conversation about regional cooperation.” So how should others move toward better regional thinking and cooperation? Dodge urged URISA members to think of themselves as “regional citizens” and to declare their citizenship, to form networks and regional compacts with the teeth to deal with tough issues such as growth, and to most importantly build regional GIS centers linked to a national information clearinghouse that will share successes.
To motivate action and generate ideas for better collaboration, the summit’s 100 participants were divided into small working groups, each with its own topic of discussion. Participants in the “point-of-contact” group said there must be many points of contact in various agencies, lest one person become overwhelmed by requests. The Geospatial One-Stop portal should identify all these proposed federal points of contact, some said.
Individuals who discussed “financing” mentioned options for raising money for geospatial data through taxes, fees or private entities, or for “opportunistic” financing—embedding GIS costs into any infrastructure or transportation project, for instance. If FEMA maps cause insurance rates to decline, that frees money for more geospatial initiatives.
Multiple groups across the conference room at the Jury’s Washington Hotel on Dupont Circle tackled the topic of “fed-to-fed cooperation.” The FGDC should make cross-agency communication a primary mission, some suggested, while others advocated the creation of a joint programs office to force cooperation and eliminate redundancy.
A “benefits and motivations” group suggested linking the maintenance of geospatial data to funding sources such as gas taxes, and said cost savings from regional partnerships and economies of scale should motivate such initiatives. Most importantly, GIS specialists should promote success stories to win support from elected officials. The “standards” discussion groups suggested tying funding to compliance with standards derived from the input and review of all stakeholders.
In concluding remarks, various participants highlighted what they felt were the most salient talking points derived from the summit, and also offered their take-home messages. “We should never forget that outside this room, there isn’t the same enthusiasm,” noted Zorica Nedovic-Budic of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With that in mind, educating decisionmakers and legislators is crucial. “Cooperation is key,” added Ivan DeLoatch of the FGDC. Now, he said, it’s time “develop some action plans.”
When URISA convenes its annual meeting in Atlanta from October 11-15, all hope such action plans for improving federal, state, local and regional cooperation will be on the drafting table.
Some observations:"The Summit gathered together an eclectic and enthusiastic group - well representing the diversity of the geo-spatial community, including government, non profit, and private sectors. The thoughts, frustrations, and ideas were shared, as the first step toward more coordinated developments. The tasks ahead, however, are many. In order to realize the goals of the true national infrastructure and datasets, individually and collectively we will need to work hard in conveying the message of what needs to be done and how at personal, organizational, and institutional levels."
University of Illinois
Summit & Task Force Chair
Partnerships - the foundation for collaboration - must be developed at all levels of government for the concept and ideals of an integrated National Map to succeed. This calls for a new approach to working with state and local government. Data grabs will no longer work. Partnering in and between governments is the only way we will get where we need to be - consistent, maintained spatial coverages that support Homeland Security, Homeland Defense, Emergency Management and Response, Economic Development, etc. for all levels of government.
The basis of any partnership is trust. These partnerships must be developed and nurtured just like any long-term relationship... a willingness to give and take but always resulting in "win/win" scenarios.
The Summit in Washington DC is one step in getting closer to carving out partnering solutions for our geospatial future."
State of Ohio
Randall Johnson, AICP
MetroGIS Staff Coordinator
City of Nashville, Tennessee
"There are a lot of geospatial activities going on at the federal level, some are redundant and many are not coordinated or even well defined. These activities require data from state and local governments and a good model to communicate consistently and completely is necessary going forward. At this point in our history, there needs to be a clearly defined coordinator of the country’s (Federal, State and Local governments) geospatial data so that government investments are leveraged for public good."
Oakland County, Michigan
"The Summit was nicely done, a mini-milestone in reaching out through local, state, regional and federal government discussion, good dialogue and solution-oriented focus on state coordination by feds, local, and private representatives, the dialogue must continue . . . . ."
State of North Carolina
"The notion that local government has the very best and most up-to-date data/information/maps must be understood by all. Anything requiring exact, location style addresses is also driven by records from the local level......anything else is not even a poor second!" Peirce Eichelberger
Chester County, Pennsylvania
"Extremely well put together format for a one-day session. I think that people felt that we could have gone an extra day just discussing the solutions/suggestion part of the summit. URISA did a great job pulling this together on such short notice. I think a follow-up one-hour mini-summit in Atlanta would be appropriate.....what have we learnt since the summit in DC? How can URISA help?"
Mobile Video Services, Inc
I think there should be some Homeland security mandates that localities be allowed and encouraged to fund local collection and maintenance of geospatial out of 911 fees (both wireless and landline). These funds could pay for addressing.
There should be another mandate (homeland security?) that mandates that states and localities also use some of the highway trust fund to maintain the data about the highways that are being maintained with highway trust fund money. This should be a tight link.
Under GASB, governments should be specifically required to evaluate the collection and maintenance costs of their geospatial data."
Fairfax County, Virginia
"In our political culture entropy is the natural state, i.e., the degradation of process to an ultimate state of inert uniformity. As gathered from the discussions, successes are few and far between. In general there is a lack of understanding and coordination between the different levels of government (both vertically and horizontally). In an environment of individualism where resources tend to be focused on individual gains, we need structure and strategic financial incentives to achieve synergy and attain the desired level of collaboration needed to reach our common goals.
The Summit in DC covered this issue well. Not only were local, state, and federal agencies well represented, they were focused on finding solutions and common threads that tie us all together. In addition to quality information sharing, people came to work through issues and discuss solutions.
Here are a few of the key ideas I came away with:
Action items at the Federal level:
Action items from the bottom up:
Although the list goes on, these items rose to the top. Overall, many
excellent solutions were proposed at the Summit. The main issue of concern arises around creating new government agencies. Such actions may not lead to the desired outcome, i.e., new agencies do not by default lead to better collaboration.
I would propose taking a better look at the roles of each existing agency first (in terms of data stewardship, data publishing, etc.) and then decide weather or not a new agency is required. The overall idea of weaving this into existing government structures and leveraging existing mechanisms * albeit with enhancements and new incentive programs * appears most practical.
GIS Program Supervisor
City of Springfield, Oregon
Following is the agenda that was followed during the Summit:
Understanding the Programs and Examining the Issues:
Getting to the Core of It
|9:00–10:00 AM||Initiating a Dialogue: Local Government Perspective, Experience, and Principles for Successful Data Partnering
|10:30 AM –
|Reviewing the Programs:
Goals, Activities, & Relationships
Representatives from Federal agencies will clarify the intent of their programs, the approach taken toward accomplishing them, and the nature of interaction and involvement with other programs and agencies. Comments, questions and dialogue amongst all Summit attendees and panelists will follow. Federal Program representatives: (select a link to see the initiative's standing presentation in .pdf format)
|State & Local Discussants included: Stuart Davis, NSGIC / State of Ohio; Cathy Cole, Cabarrus County, NC; Peirce Eichelberger, Chester County, PA; Randall Johnson, Metro GIS, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN; Mark Sievers, East Central Florida Regional Planning Council; Brandt Melick, City of Springfield Public Works, Springfield, OR; Molly Singer, International City/County Management Association; Bert Jarreau, National Association of Counties... and all Summit Attendees.|
|12:00 Noon - 1:30 PM||Luncheon
The mid-day keynote address will remind us of the lessons learned from other partnering, collaboration, and program implementation efforts involving public and private organizations with diverse goals, resources, and interests.
|Afternoon Sessions: Towards A Successful Implementation|
|1:30-2:30 PM||Exploring Opportunities and Implementation Strategies
This interactive session will engage the panelists and participants at large to identify the paths and requisites for achieving the shared goal of a viable national information base and infrastructure. Fresh ideas and solutions will be generated through a constructive dialogue within topical discussion groups.
|2:30-3:00 PM||Group report summarization|
|3:00-3:30 PM||Presentation of ideas and discussion|
|3:30-4:30 PM||Closing Session: One Vision—One Plan—One Map
Review and summary of the Summit’s goals, accomplishments, and messages; prioritization of issues and activities.
|Summit Moderator: Lonnie Weiss, Weiss Consulting, Inc.
Facilitation and Meeting Design
URISA National Geographic Information 3C (Cooperation, Coordination, Collaboration)
Task Force and URISA Summit Goals
Visit http://www.urisa.org/initiativeshome.htm for more information about
URISA’s National Geographic Information 3C (Cooperate, Coordinate, Collaborate) Task Force.