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National Spatial Data Infrastructure Partnership Programs: Rethinking the Focus Executive Summary The National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) was envisioned as a way of enhancing the accessibility, communication, and use of geospatial data to support a wide variety of decisions at all levels of society. The goals of the NSDI are to reduce redundancy in geospatial data creation and maintenance, reduce the costs of geospatial data creation and maintenance, improve access to geospatial data, and improve the accuracy of geospatial data used by the broader community. At the core of the NSDI is the concept of partnerships, or collaborations, between different agencies, corporations, institutions, and levels of government. In a previous report, the Mapping Science Committee (MSC) defined a partnership as “…a joint activity of federal and state agencies, involving one or more agencies as joint principals focusing on geographic information” (NRC, 1994; p. 19). The concept of partnerships was built on the foundation of shared responsibilities, shared costs, shared benefits, and shared control. Partnerships are designed to share the costs of creation and maintenance of geospatial data, seeking to avoid unnecessary duplication, and to make it possible for data collected by one agency at a high level of spatial detail to be used by another agency in more generalized form. Over the past seven years, a series of funding programs administered by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) has stimulated the creation of such partnerships, and thereby promoted the objectives of the NSDI, by raising awareness of the need for a coordinated national approach to geospatial data creation, maintenance, and use. They include the NSDI Cooperative Agreements Program, the Framework Demonstration Projects Program, the Community Demonstration Projects, and the Community-Federal Information Partnerships proposal. This report assesses the success of the FGDC partnership
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National Spatial Data Infrastructure Partnership Programs: Rethinking the Focus programs (see Box) that have been established between the federal government and state and local government, industry, and academic communities in promoting the objectives of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. As the NSDI is explicitly a national concept, the committee considers that it is appropriate that the federal government originated and continues to play the major role in its construction. As the primary sponsors of the first stage of adoption of the NSDI, the federal government has successfully “primed the NSDI pump.” This priming action appears to have been directed largely at the one specific goal of improved access to data, and the evidence gathered by the committee clearly demonstrates that the NSDI does indeed improve access to data. The actions of the federal sponsors of the NSDI, in creating the National Geospatial Data Clearinghouse (NGDC) and fostering the use of the Content Standards for Digital Geospatial Metadata (CSDGM) through partnership programs, have led to a substantial improvement in nationwide access to geospatial data. Therefore, in the data access area, we anticipate that a second stage of adoption will follow; namely, where many more agencies and organizations can be expected to participate in the NGDC and adopt the metadata standard, without requiring further direct pump-priming and encouragement by the federal government. Full adoption of the NSDI will require attention to the remaining three goals: reduced redundancy, decreased cost, and increased accuracy. To date, the funding incentives established by the FGDC through the NSDI partnership programs do not appear to have significantly affected these goals. The committee strongly suggests that the FGDC direct its attention to the remaining three goals, in order to assure the future of the NSDI, with the understanding that successfully attaining these additional goals will require a much more fundamental level of cooperation among partners than the simple sharing of an agency’s existing data. Specifically, future partnership programs sponsored by the federal government should be based on convincing evidence that adoption of the NSDI’s concepts and design result in reductions in redundancy and cost, as well as increased accuracy. It will also be important that future funding initiatives be widely advertised, with the criteria for selection clearly stated. Ideally, a panel of experts in the field should evaluate the proposals,
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National Spatial Data Infrastructure Partnership Programs: Rethinking the Focus Statement of Task The Mapping Science Committee will assess the success and potential of the various partnership programs for geospatial capabilities, and how these and future programs based on them contribute to the goals of the broader National Spatial Data Infrastructure. Specifically, the committee will assess the success of the partnership programs in: reducing redundancy in geospatial data creation and maintenance, reducing the costs of geospatial data creation and maintenance, improving access to geospatial data, improving the accuracy of geospatial data used by the broader community. The study will use the status quo in the absence of these programs as the baseline. The study will specifically avoid comment on any additional objectives of these programs that are outside the immediate domain of NSDI. with appropriate peer-review. In an environment where programs designed to promote the NSDI may become convolved with other programs, be diverted to serve other needs, or be expected to serve too many different purposes, it is particularly important that a program of partnerships intended to support the construction of the NSDI be allowed to focus on that goal. The success of future partnership programs should be assessed by determining, in a rigorous fashion, how these NSDI partnerships have reduced redundancy in geospatial data collection and maintenance; reduced overall costs in performing these tasks; improved access to geospatial data; and improved the accuracy of the data used. Because much of the FGDC’s effort has been devoted to promotion of the NSDI, there has been little opportunity to develop programs that can monitor long-term effects. The FGDC should develop metrics that can be used to monitor long-term progress in the adoption of the principles and programs of the NSDI among agencies at all levels of government, academe, and the private sector. In
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National Spatial Data Infrastructure Partnership Programs: Rethinking the Focus addition, funding should be directed to projects that are of a sufficient scale to provide well-designed empirical tests of the hypotheses underlying the NSDI goals, and should allow for adequate documentation and dissemination of results. We found that the programs funded through the FGDC provided only a minuscule proportion of the total resources available nationally to support geospatial data partnerships. It may be that the critical evidence required to demonstrate reductions in redundancy and costs, as well as improvements in accuracy, already exists for partnerships that have developed independently of the FGDC programs. The committee recommends that future partnership programs initiated by the FGDC should be conceived in the context of all relevant partnership programs, and should be designed to augment and leverage them. It is clear that the efforts of the FGDC to fund partnership activities may be only one of many ways to further the development of the NSDI. The sense of the committee is that we are at an important point in the evolution toward the ultimate goal envisioned by the Committee. New nationwide spatial data are available from the 2000 decennial Census of Population and Housing. The effort of the Office of Management and Budget’s new initiative, Collecting Information in an Information Age, has received considerable attention in the last year. Efforts to develop a new organization, the Geographic Data Alliance, are too early to assess. At the same time, local governments and the private sector are devoting considerable resources to complete spatial data they need to serve business clients and the citizens in their communities. All of these activities suggest that the need for a robust NSDI is more important than ever and that it is appropriate for the MSC to continue to monitor and assess the status of the institutional settings and technical progress that affect the development of a robust NSDI.
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