Cooperation and partnerships for spatial data activities among the federal government, state and local governments, and the private sector will be essential for the development of a robust National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).
The NSDI is the total ensemble of available geographic information that describes the arrangement and attributes of features and phenomena on the Earth, as well as the materials, technology, and people necessary to acquire, process, store, and distribute such information to meet a wide variety of needs. The twenty-first century will see geographic information transported from remote nodes using computer networks to support decision making throughout the nation. The National Information Infrastructure (NII) will provide the technology infrastructure to make this possible. There are vast amounts of spatial data ready to move across the information superhighways today. Timely use of these data would be difficult due to ill-defined format, quality, and accuracy. National or regional decision making would be severely impaired because most data sets are not adequately characterized. This is to be contrasted by the fact that the NII may well be the most important technology needed to facilitate a coordinated NSDI.
The Mapping Science Committee (MSC) has recommended1 that the NSDI be developed to a level that would support the needs of the nation. The costs of creating and maintaining digital spatial data are high, so it is particularly important that spatial data collection not be duplicated, and that data be shared to fully realize its potential benefits. Largely for these reasons, the National Performance Review (prepared under the guidance of Vice President Gore) urged the formation of spatial data partnerships
between federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector. After examining the pros and cons of several current spatial data programs that involve partnerships, the MSC agrees that a partnership model, the subject of this report, is an excellent approach for enhancing the NSDI. A companion report (in preparation—The National Spatial Data Infrastructure: The Data Foundation) suggests a rationale for identifying the principal elements needed to create the data component of the NSDI.
The focus of partnership arrangements within this report is on federal and state agencies. However, the MSC recognizes that a large volume of spatial data is created and used by local governments throughout the nation. Recently a number of state geographic information councils have been established to coordinate spatial data activities within the respective states. Such councils can also encourage partnerships between state and local government agencies, coordinate arrangements between state agencies and the private sector, and provide points of contact for partnerships with the federal government organizations. Although many states have geographic information councils, they are not universal. The MSC agrees with the recommendation of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) in its strategic plan to help form or strengthen these state geographic information councils. The principles developed in this report should be transferrable to a wide variety of spatial data partnerships.
The committee identified several key elements during the course of this study that should be common to future partnerships. These include the following:
Shared Responsibilities. The parties to a partnership should have a formal agreement that defines each party's responsibilities in the activity.
Shared Commitment. The costs of the activity should be shared between the parties according to some agreed formula.
Shared Benefits. Each party to the activity should derive some benefit that is consistent with its mandated role as an agency.
Shared Control. Decision-making control of the partnership should be divided between the participants.
In addition, the committee believes that the following conditions should be emphasized in the formation of NSDI partnerships:
Benefits of spatial data partnerships must be evaluated for the entire national community of spatial data users, not merely for the agencies participating in the partnership.
The contribution of a spatial data partnership to the wider objectives of NSDI must be considered in its design and management.
Data of known quality are an important factor in the value of any investment in spatial data. Potential users will be confident using data only if they know the data are reliable.
Stewardship is a key concern in reaping the benefits of investment in any spatial data partnership; the organization closest to the source of the data should be best able to maintain the data.
An essential element of the NSDI partnership model must be a commitment to support the partnership as part of an ongoing program. Long-term commitments will help ensure that data are maintained and that mutual trust in a partner's ability to meet respective needs will be achieved.
1. The size and diversity of the federal establishment suggest that viable partnerships will require focal points within the federal government for coordinating data production and partnership activities. The range of alternatives to consider should include regional coordination staff and coordinating positions within organizations responsible for spatial data production. Stewardship responsibilities for base (framework) data sets specific to geographic areas should be encouraged. The practicality of a data stewardship certification program should be studied. The clearing-house function should catalogue data available through data stewards.
2. Clear guidelines for cost sharing in partnerships need to be developed. The formulation of such guidelines should be one component of the FGDC's role in NSDI. Guidelines should reflect the responsibility of the federal government to address and fund the nation's interest in the NSDI.
3. It is imperative that states and other organizations be involved in the standards development process and that only standards essential to NSDI objectives be required of partnership agreements. Promulgation and maintenance of standards is an important component of the FGDC's role in NSDI; standards must not be compromised in the formation of partnerships between state and federal agencies.
4. Incentives are needed to encourage partnerships that are designed to maximize use and benefits to the broader user community. Such incentives could be provided through the monitoring and coordinating roles of the FGDC and state geographic information councils.
5. The Federal Geographic Data Committee should investigate the extent to which federal procurement rules (and future revisions resulting from the National Performance Review) are an impediment to the formation of spatial data partnerships, and identify steps that can be taken to ease them.
The partnership model with data stewardship responsibilities at all levels of government represents a fundamental shift in the way the nation develops and supports the NSDI. Federal agencies will devote more resources to coordination and less to data production. States and other government entities will continue to expand their data production roles to support national needs. It is consistent with the recognition that today data are distributed across the nation at all levels of government and the public. The rapidly expanding communication network (the NII or information superhighway) will be the conduit to bring these data sets together. The FGDC, federal agencies, and state geographic information councils in concert will form a critical component of the infrastructure that ensures logical consistency and availability of framework and other spatial data to carry the nation into the next century.