THE PARTNERSHIP MODEL
KEY ELEMENTS OF PARTNERSHIPS
Previous sections of this report have identified some of the advantages of partnerships and the potential roles they could play in development of the NSDI. In this section, attention is directed toward the identification of a model of partnerships and their general characteristics. Issues arising from partnerships are discussed, as well as potential impediments to their success.
A partnership model is envisioned that promotes long-term organizational commitments to build, maintain and manage data for a robust NSDI. The model could replace many of the mechanisms currently in place for developing and managing large spatial data sets and would facilitate long-term maintenance and availability of valuable spatial data. The model may well be the only approach that will attract the participation of states at the levels necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the NSDI.
For the purposes of this discussion, a partnership is defined as a joint activity of federal and state agencies, involving one or more agencies as joint principals focusing on geographic information . Local agencies and the private sector may also be involved. The key elements of a partnership follow.
Shared Responsibilities. The parties to a partnership will have made a formal agreement that defines each party's responsibilities in the activity, in the form of a memorandum of understanding, contract, or other binding document.
Shared Costs. The costs of the activity will be shared between the parties according to some agreed formula.
Shared Benefits. Each party to the activity will derive some benefit that is consistent with its mandated role as an agency. In addition, benefits from the partnership will likely accrue to parties outside the partnership and to society at large. This is especially important when the partnership is seen as contributing to the evolution of the NSDI.
Shared Control. Decision-making control of the project will be divided between the participants.
Each of these elements is important whether the partnership is merely an agreement between two agencies to carry out an activity to their mutual benefit, or whether it is fostered and encouraged as a contribution to NSDI. However, in the latter case certain other conditions are important.
Benefits. A key aspect of the philosophy behind the idea of a NSDI is that spatial data are a national resource. If spatial data are created to satisfy the needs of one agency alone, or two or more agencies acting in partnership, then benefits to society at large may not be realized, and the result may be duplication of effort as each agency creates the spatial data that meet its own requirements. 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 secondary uses of data are becoming just as important as the primary purpose for which they were collected. This principle should form an important criterion in government's assessment and evaluation of any proposed partnership.
Design. The design of a spatial data partnership must address the needs of potential users beyond the partner agencies. How will such users gain access to the data; how will the data be documented and catalogued so that they are easy to find; how can the concerns of secondary users be represented in the process of data base design; how can society benefit to the greatest extent possible from this investment in spatial data? The contribution of a spatial data partnership to the wider objectives of NSDI must be considered in its design and management.
Data Quality. Data quality is 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—if they are accurate, up to date, and consistent with their own documentation and metadata. Data that fail to
meet these criteria rapidly lose all the value that may have been invested in them.
Stewardship. A previous section of this report argued that quality is best assured when data are maintained as close to the source as possible—that the agency responsible for collecting and building the data base is also the agency best able to maintain and assure its quality. In a federal/state partnership, it is likely that the state agency or agencies will be closer to the source. Stewardship is a key concern in reaping the benefits of investment in any spatial data partnership; the agency closest to the source of the data is likely the agency best able to maintain the data.
Ideally, there should be one data steward for any standard data set in any geographic area. The federal government cannot realistically police the program. It must, however, know where the data exist and be able to quickly assemble a variety of data to satisfy program objectives. It would be inconceivable that the federal government would enter into multiple partnership agreements for the same data set in a geographic area. A stewardship certification program along with directed funding and coordination with regional and local experts should be a vital component of a partnership program.
Sustained Relationship. 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. Without the long-term partnership commitment, the NSDI could conceivably suffer from an endless string of hurry-up cooperative projects. The end result would be unnecessarily high administrative costs and a data base that is no more current than the present spatial data infrastructure.
Through the course of this investigation, many partnerships between organizations were reviewed. The above elements are considered to be essential to successful partnerships that pass the test of time. Primary consideration needs to be given to the agreements that formalize these relationships. Appendix C is an example of such an agreement. It contains all of the elements discussed above yet is simple and to the point. Expectations and roles of individual agencies are well defined. The agreement could serve as a basis for formulating future agreements between other organizations.
IMPEDIMENTS TO PARTNERSHIPS
All of the successful cooperation/partnerships models reviewed during this study (Appendix B) contain some partnership elements discussed above, and all have resulted in benefits that extend well beyond the concerns of the sponsoring agencies. At the same time, there are several significant impediments to the formation and success of partnerships. Some are unavoidable, but in other cases there are actions that could be taken that would reduce or even remove these impediments.
Formulae for Cost Sharing
One rational way of determining the contribution of each agency to a partnership activity's costs would be on the basis of benefits. A state agency would pay according to the benefits it derived; a federal agency should contribute according to the benefits that it, other federal agencies, and the nation as a whole derived from the activity. However, it is difficult to assess the benefits of spatial data in any but the narrowest range of applications. The benefits of a contribution to NSDI would be especially difficult to assess. In practice, the costs of a partnership are often divided equally, but a wide range of models have been used. The lack of clear guidelines for cost sharing in partnerships is an impediment to their formation and success. 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 NSDI. Without clear guidelines, it is difficult to avoid inconsistency.
If society is to reap the full benefits from an investment in spatial data, it is important that the data be created according to standards for both content and format. When partnerships are negotiated between levels of government, each party in the negotiation may have their own requirements on format, accuracy, and other technical aspects of the data. The result is often a compromise; the standards promulgated by the federal agency are broadened to meet the needs of the state. A nationwide coverage created by a series of partnerships with states can become so compromised that its eventual benefits are seriously eroded, and the result is a
patchwork of different formats and accuracies. Although there are successful examples (e.g., the State Plane Coordinate system maintains a reasonable level of consistency across the nation), it is important that any program of partnerships include sufficiently strong incentives to maintain standards. It is imperative that states be involved in the standards development process and that only those standards essential to NSDI objectives be required of partnership agreements. Promulgation and maintenance of these standards is an important component of the FGDC's role in NSDI; standards must not be compromised in the formation of partnerships.
Some countries, notably the United Kingdom, have moved in recent years toward full recovery of the costs of collecting and maintaining spatial data. The United States, on the other hand, remains firmly committed to the notion that spatial data should be distributed at the cost of reproduction, at least at the federal level. Spatial data within the federal government are a public good, and are treated as a national resource and made available to all users at the least possible cost. One of the strongest arguments for this policy is its positive impact on the development and strength of industrial, commercial, and service sectors of U.S. spatial data activities. However, it creates little incentive for agencies creating spatial data to evaluate the broader need for the data, or to reduce cost through sharing, despite the importance of sharing as an underlying principle of NSDI. In the private sector, and in countries like the United Kingdom, such incentives are provided through the market mechanism. Lack of incentive to evaluate the potential user base for spatial data, and to tailor data to maximize use and benefits in the broader community, is an impediment to partnerships and the evolution of NSDI. Such incentives could be provided through the monitoring and coordinating roles of the FGDC and state geographic information councils.
The complexity and length of the federal procurement process1 is a major impediment to the formation of creative partnerships with other levels of government. The federal government imposes rules that can make it very difficult to form contracts with other levels of government or to
transfer money to them. The FGDC should investigate the extent to which procurement rules (both federal and agency specific) are an impediment to the formation of spatial data partnerships, and identify steps that can be taken to ease them.
State government must work with many federal agencies in order to initiate spatial data collection programs. Likewise, federal agencies desire to have focal points in state government for the purpose of implementing national programs. For example, the establishment of State Mapping Advisory Committees was in large part a desire to have a mechanism for states to channel their requirements to the USGS's NMD for the national mapping program. The state geographic information councils are the present day response by states to provide focal points for coordination of spatial data needs. The size and diversity of the federal system suggests that for viable partnerships some action must be taken to provide 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.
ROLES IN PARTNERSHIPS
This section addresses the roles played by key agencies in the development of the NSDI—the FGDC, the various state coordinating groups and bodies for spatial data, and the NMD of the USGS.
• Federal Geographic Data Committee. The FGDC should have as a major goal that the nation derives the maximum possible benefit from partnerships. To do so, FGDC should facilitate and encourage the formation of partnerships; identify areas where partnerships might make a particularly beneficial contribution to NSDI; devise policies and guidelines to address the requirements of partnerships and the impediments that discourage them; ensure adequate concern for the needs of the wider user base; monitor and evaluate the success of partnerships; promulgate standards and encourage adherence; and formulate federal policy relating to NSDI. Planning for many of these components are specified in Executive
The FGDC should manage the spatial data indexing or clearinghouse function and promote the data stewardship program. The FGDC should also have a major role in coordinating the development of partnership agreements. Because of geographic diversity, this role might be administered through regional FGDC activities.
• State Geographic Information Councils. Although in some cases less formally organized than the FGDC, the state councils are the logical NSDI focus within each state. As such, they should interact with the FGDC and echo its national concern for the NSDI at the state level. The state geographic information infrastructures and their laws and directives could affect their ability to respond to partnership initiatives. A discussion and synopsis of the results of a comprehensive listing of 100 state directives, including statutes, executive orders (by governors), and memoranda of understanding (MOUs) that mention geographic information and may directly influence the NSDI, is part of Appendix D. Many states have some form of authorization that provide opportunities for federal/state partnership development.
Statewide geographic information coordination groups exist in each of the 50 states. Appendix D provides a compilation, description and identification of the groups. Most of the groups are multiagency in focus and membership. Overall, there is a growing trend focusing on all geographic information and related technologies.
A generalized organizational diagram describing statewide geographic information organizations is presented in Figure 2. A council composed of stakeholders who are able to set policy and provide focused coordination is an essential component of the model. A geographic information association allows for broad membership participation and input to the council. A number of subcommittees representing special interests or charged with specific activities interact with the council and association. These are all important components to ensure that coordinated development of a spatial data infrastructure will occur. An effective organizational structure will also contribute to a long term stable partnership relationship.
• National Mapping Division, USGS. NMD is the logical federal agency to provide the lead technical support for NSDI for such activities as devising standards for data and metadata; researching methods for data sharing, enhancement of the benefits of spatial data and reductions in their cost; building networks, clearinghouses, catalogs, and other improved
access mechanisms for NSDI; and researching and formulating improved models for the evaluation of benefits and sharing of costs. These NSDI missions are similar to those discussed in the committee's 1990 report.2