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Shared Community... Shared GIS

by Kevin G. on February 20, 2015

We always have the opportunity to learn in life and often that opportunity comes via our workplace. Of late, I have been dealing with the issue of sharing. Yes, I know, this falls under the category of “All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten”.  However, it doesn’t always work that way in the real world, or perhaps, the real world has forgotten those valuable lessons. This is never more evident than when we run into the situation of trying to get municipalities to share data and specifically, share data for their GIS.
Let’s look at what we find to be the most common communities that benefit from sharing data. That would be the sharing between counties and cities and towns.  Why would communities not cooperate and share? There can be many reasons; politics, policies, past disagreements, the list goes on and on. Additionally, counties have budgets, cities and towns have budgets, and all of them are shrinking. So, when it comes to cooperation, or asking anyone to share an expense, we understand the angst that creates.
In order to get along and start sharing, let’s discuss some of the obstacles, some of the benefits, and finally, some suggestions for making it work.
Obstacles of Sharing
The obvious obstacles are time and money. Regarding time, there is always some element of time in sharing. Whether it be additional meetings or having the staff do the extra work to create and/or distribute the data to share, time is always involved. The other omnipresent constant is money. I don’t think this needs any explaining, but suffice it to say, if everyone has to cut their own budgets, they aren’t about to spend money to help someone outside of their own municipality.
In addition to time and money, there are some other less obvious but equally challenging obstacles. The requested data can be in a less than desirable format. Data is constantly updated and the fear of an ongoing/non-stopping sharing situation is a concern. Finally, sometimes, municipalities fear they will have to pay someone to get the data into someone else’s hands. In other words, their data is being held hostage by the very company they are paying to assist them with their GIS. Remember, you own the data, don’t let anyone hold your data hostage.
Benefits of Sharing
There are countless benefits to municipalities sharing data, but I’ll just hit a few of them. How about no more duplication of effort? Why should the cities and the towns maintain the same GIS data that the county maintains, right? Talk about time and money! Another benefit is the provision of data you currently don’t have access to. For example, cities/towns often have utilities that extend outside of corporate boundaries into the county. Counties have bridges that are within incorporated limits. The list goes on and on, but by sharing, everyone has a much more robust GIS. Finally, and maybe one of the greatest benefits is the sharing of costs. Yes, that’s right; when you share data you can also share cost. A perfect example is the sharing of cost for new photography. There can also be cost savings with the sharing of software and other GIS services such as maintenance and support.
Suggestions for Sharing
Okay, how do we make this work without sending everyone back to Kindergarten? The first and simplest way is to communicate. Get the executive decision makers (not the IT people) in a room and simply agree to investigate the benefits of sharing GIS data. The decision makers don’t have to know the how, or understand the specifics, they just need to agree that there are benefits to sharing.  Next, consider what you have to offer in return. You already know that you need X, Y, and Z from them, but what do you have and/or what can you offer in return? Finally, and this step can takes weeks, months, or even years, but create a long-term plan of what your community AND their community would like to accomplish with GIS. It makes sharing a whole lot easier when you can see the long-term benefits.
So, in summary, yes, we talked about sharing. However, we also talked about communication (meet and agree to share), it is better to give than receive (what can we offer them in return?), and being prepared (long-term planning). So while sharing seems easy and obvious, that isn’t always the case. So, take a step back, consider everything and everyone involved, and then you are far more likely to get resolution to your GIS sharing concerns.