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Posts Tagged ‘Government’

Reflections on Geospatial Information and Consolidation Options for the US Federal Government

April 19, 2015 1 comment

GIS analyst Nathan Lowry has written a paper on geospatial information coordination and consolidation options for the US Federal government.   The paper examines recent reports by the US Government Accountability Office that criticize federal departments and agencies for their lack of progress on supporting, managing, and coordinating geospatial information, and analyzes these criticisms and the effectiveness of these and other proposed solutions.

Mr. Lowry begins the paper by providing an extensive background of US federal government involvement in mapping, through the formation of the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, with each section of the paper, provides thorough references. As such, this section is an excellent supplement to Chapter 5 of our book, where we discuss national and state data portals and metadata standards.

Mr. Lowry cuts right to the heart of the matter in statements such as “centralization never seems to work out the way it’s planned” and the focus by the GAO on three large government data producing agencies “may indicate some systematic issues, but will never redirect the redundant efforts of the federal government as a whole because the scope is too small”.  He recommends that “If the problem is that the US federal government wastes money by duplicating expenditure for geospatial data(and hardware, software and personnel) required across many agencies and underfunds activities that could most effectively and efficiently meet those needs (my assertion), then more time needs to be spent understanding the problem culturally, procedurally, organizationally and comprehensively in order to craft the right solution”.

One of the most interesting sections of the paper is an analysis of several models for geospatial portfolio management, beginning with the concept of the Geographic Information Officer for the state of California, and other states, federal agencies, and local governments, continuing with a consideration of how the US intelligence community funds and staffs its geointelligence activities, and discussion of principles of intergovernmental relations as a way to implement the NSDI.

As a fellow resident of the same state in which Mr. Lowry resides, I can attest that he is a strong proponent of geospatial technology and a valued member of our GIS community, and his comments and reflections about the problems surrounding geospatial data coordination are thoughtful and insightful.  In other words, he knows what he is talking about, he cares deeply about the value that geospatial technologies brings to decision making, and he’s not afraid to make strong recommendations.  I hope that many decision makers read his paper… and act upon his recommendations.

Federal Geospatial Information Coordination and Consolidatioin

Nathan Lowry’s paper on federal geospatial information coordination and consolidation. Photograph by Joseph Kerski.

Fee vs. Free Geospatial Data: Like a Snow Shovel?

March 8, 2015 2 comments

One of my students recently shared something that I considered to be a thought-provoking analogy in the “fee vs. free” geospatial data debate that we included in our book and discuss on this blog.  The debate, in sum, revolves around the issue, “Should government data providers charge a fee for their geospatial data, or should they provide the data for free?”

The student commented, “I tend toward the “at cost” position of the debate for local governments and free side of the debate for federal data. For me, the “tax dollars are used to create the data so it has already been paid for argument” does not hold water. Taxpayers have no expectation (or shouldn’t have) of walking into the local parks department to borrow a shovel that in theory their tax dollars paid for.  The same logic could be applied to spatial assets.”  The student went on to say that the above argument should be applied to local and regional government data, because “federal level data […] tends to be more directly reflective of the population and the federal government more directly benefits from the economic opportunities created by free data.”

While I have tended to advocate on the side that geospatial data should be freely available, I believe that the student’s snow shovel analogy for local governments has merit.  Following this argument, a small fee for data requested that is over and above what that government agency provides on its website seems reasonable.  But I still am firmly on the side of that government providing at least some geospatial data for free on its website, citing the numerous benefits as documented in case studies in this blog and in our book.  These benefits range from positive public relations, saving lives and property in emergency situations, and saving time in processing requests from data users. Consider what one person can do with the snow shovel versus what one person could do with a geospatial data such as a flood dataset.  The shovel might help dredge a small section to help a few neighbors get out of their houses, but the flood dataset could help identify hundreds of houses at risk and provide a permanent, effectively managed solution.  There is an order of magnitude difference in the benefit to be gained from making geospatial data easily and freely available.

What are your thoughts on this important issue?  We invite you to share your thoughts below.

City of Boulder GIS Resources.

City of Boulder GIS Resources.

Adoption and Advantages of ArcGIS Open Data

January 25, 2015 2 comments

According to Esri’s 2014 Open Data  year in review,  over 763 organizations around the world have joined ArcGIS Open Data, publishing 391 public sites, resulting in 15,848 open data sets shared.  These organizations include over 99 cities, 43 countries, and 35 US states.  At the beginning of 2015, the organizations represent 390 from North America, 157 from Europe, 121 from Africa, 39 from Asia, and 22 from Oceania.  Over 42,000 shapefiles, KML files, and CSV files were downloaded from these sites since July 2014.  Recently, we wrote about one of these sites, the Maryland Open Data Portal, in this blog.  Another is the set of layers from the city of Launceton, in Tasmania, Australia.

While these initiatives are specifically using one set of methods and tools to share, that of the ArcGIS Open Data, the implications on the data user community are profound:  First, the adoption of ArcGIS Open Data increases availability for the entire user community, not just Esri users.  This is because of the increased number of portals that result, and also because the data sets shared, such as raster and vector data services, KMLs, shapefiles, and CSVs, are the types of formats that can be consumed by many types of GIS online and desktop tools.  Second, as we have expressed in our book and in this blog, while there were noble attempts for 30 years on behalf of regional, national, and international government organizations to establish standards, to share data, and to encourage a climate of sharing, and while many of those attempts were and will continue to be successful, the involvement of private industry (in this case, Esri), nonprofit organizations, and academia will lend an enormous boost to government efforts.

Third, the advent of cloud-based GIS enables these portals to be fairly easily established, curated, and improved.  Using the ArcGIS Open Data platform, organizations can leave their data where it is–whether on ArcGIS for Server or in ArcGIS Online–and simply share it as Open Data. Esri uses Koop to transform data into different formats, to access APIs, and to get data ready for discovery and exploration. Organizations add their nodes to the Open Data list and their data can then be accessed, explored, and downloaded in multiple formats without “extraneous exports or transformations.”  Specifically, organizations using ArcGIS Open Data first enable the open data capabilities, then specify the groups for open data, then configure their open data site, and then make the site public.

I see one of the chief ways tools like ArcGIS Open Data will advance the open data movement is through the use of tools that are easy to use, and also that will evolve over time.  Nobody has an infinite amount of time trying to figure out how to best serve their organization’s data, and then to construct the tools in which to do so.  The ability for data-producing organizations to use these common tools and methods represents, I believe, an enormous advantage in the time savings it represents.  As more organizations realize and adopt this, all of us in the GIS community, and beyond, will benefit.

ArcGIS Open Data

ArcGIS Open Data users and information.

Excellent Example of Metadata on a GIS Portal: City of Cambridge

December 28, 2014 1 comment

The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the opposite side of the St Charles River from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, is home to over 107,000 people, some prestigious universities such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and numerous cultural and physical amenities.  The city is exemplary with regards to how it serves spatial data to the GIS community and to the general public.  The city’s GIS portal includes a map gallery of traffic, history, watersheds, community development,  elections, wireless access, and other themes that are viewable online, downloadable, and many of which are viewable on a mobile device.  One unique and interesting mobile map is the “street trees walking app” that allows a person to identify the type of tree species that are nearby as they walk through the streets of Cambridge.  The city’s GIS portal includes numerous interactive maps in their CityViewer utility, including a historical viewer dating back to 1947 with imagery and 1865 with maps.  GIS data downloads are one of the richest data sets I have seen from any local government, with over 60 layers on infrastructure, public safety, hydrography, topography, health, demographics, and much more.

One of the unique features of the city’s GIS portal is the use of a story map.  The story map was created because, in the words of its creators, “The city has all of these great programs and offerings but they aren’t necessarily advertised in the most efficient manner, and the information isn’t always easily accessible.”  Besides showing the public where the city services are located, a side benefit for the GIS community is that the story map itself is a thorough and compelling tutorial of how to build your own story map.

Last but not least, the data dictionary for the City of Cambridge GIS is extremely thorough and easy to use, providing shapefiles and file geodatabases.  The dictionary contains information on how and why a GIS layer was created, the city’s procedure for maintaining each layer, departments that contribute to the development of each layer, history, and the intended use of the data.  The metadata even includes what some dictionaries leave out–a thorough description of the attributes and how the attributes are defined.

In our book, we discuss the costs and benefits of local governments serving their spatial data to the GIS community and to the public.  The City of Cambridge has gone to great effort to make their data interesting, relevant, and easy to find and use to a broad spectrum of data users.

City of Cambridge Map Viewer:  1947 Aerial Photograph with parcels.

City of Cambridge Map Viewer: 1947 Aerial Photograph with parcels.

 

High-resolution SRTM elevation data to be released globally

October 12, 2014 1 comment
Comparing SRTM data resolutions

Comparing SRTM data spatial resolution:  90 meters on the left, 30 meters on the right.

High-resolution elevation data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission-Level 2 (SRTM-2), previously only available for the USA, will be made publicly available over the next 12 months, the White House announced recently at the United Nations Heads of State Climate Summit. The first elevation data set to be released will be over the African continent and is available on the United States Geological Survey’s Earth Explorer website, by choosing the “SRTM 1 Arc-Second Global” data set, with future regions to be released within the coming year.

“I look forward to the broader impact that the release will have on the global scientific and capacity building community,” said National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Letitia Long.  Until now, SRTM data was only publicly available at a lower 90-meter resolution (see above image). The newly-released global 30-meter SRTM-2 dataset will be used worldwide to improve environmental monitoring, climate change research including sea-level rise impact assessments, and local decision support, the White House said.

The SRTM mission began in 2000 as a venture between NASA and NGA that used a modified radar system on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour to acquire elevation data for over 80% of the Earth’s land mass. The Department of Defense and intelligence community continues to use this topographic data for multiple applications – from developing navigation tools and supporting military operations, to geological and environmental purposes.  In August 2014, Long authorized the removal of the Limited Distribution caveat from the SRTM-2 dataset, making it available to the public on a phased-release schedule. The 30-meter topographic dataset was then sent to USGS for public distribution.

When I heard Shuttle pilot Dom Gorie speak about his work with the SRTM at a GIS conference about 10 years ago, it was one of the most memorable keynote addresses I have ever heard.  I look forward to investigating this new data set and the delivery mechanism.  Keep an eye on this blog for further updates.

 

Drones: A new voluntary code of practice

July 28, 2014 1 comment

Last year we wrote about some of the privacy concerns being raised with respect to the operation of commercial drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Despite the many actual and potential beneficial uses of drones in search and rescue, emergency response (for example, Typhoon Haiyan), farming and in retail (Amazon’s Prime Air program), persistent fears about government surveillance and snooping neighbours continue unabated.

Drone. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Drone. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Politico recently reported on a new voluntary code of practice being developed by the Obama administration for owners and operators of commercial drones. Although the FAA in the United States has authority over the operation of drones near airports, there is no national policy covering commercial drone operations and no formal rules governing what type of data can be collected by drones.

With the cost of drones continuing to come down, and the number of small and independent drone operators continuing to rise, technological innovation has once again raced ahead of the legislation governing its use. Given that there are so many commercial and private sector operators either preparing to use or actively using drones, it remains to be seen if a voluntary code of practice will be effective in managing drone use and addressing legitimate privacy concerns or if government regulation is the only solution.

 

 

Australian National Map Open Data initiative launched

July 14, 2014 1 comment

Following on from last week’s post on the National Atlas and changes to the National Map in the USA, The Australian Government has recently announced the National Map Open Data Initiative to provide improved access to publicly available government datasets. A beta version of the National Map website, hosted by NICTA (Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research Centre of Excellence), is now available and provides map-based access to a variety of Australian spatial data from government agencies including the Bureau of Meteorology, the Bureau of Statistics and data.gov.au. The currently available data themes include:

  • Broadband – availability and quality across Australia
  • Land – including cover, geology and earthquake hazards
  • Transport – roads, railways, foot tracks
  • Infrastructure – waste management, wind pumps, mines and wells
  • Groundwater – aquifers, salinity

NationalMap_Aus

Developed on an open source platform, the National Map site will ultimately be hosted by Geoscience Australia when it goes into full production later on in 2014.

Visitors to the site can load their own data, either as a data file or WMS/WFS service, or download data (supported formats include GeoJSON, KML, KMZ and CSV) subject to the licensing arrangements of the data providers.