Reaching Our Full Strength Through Partnerships

By Dan Parr

March 11, 2004 will stay in our minds for years to come because of the terrible crime committed in Madrid. We were reminded once again that we share our vulnerability and our inability to respond effectively. We have not developed a comprehensive response to such atrocities, but we have identified a fundamental element of any response-cooperation and information sharing. We share not just our vulnerability but also strengths that will be greater in the whole than as separate parts. The need for cooperation within, between, and among governments at every level-global, national, state/provincial, and local-is not a new concept. It has, however, since September 11, 2001 moved from a platitudinous concept to an urgent need.

March 11, 2004 will stick in my mind for another reason as well. On that day, representatives of nine professional associations and three federal agencies met in Washington, informally discuss how we can cooperate to enhance the adoption of spatial information technology by governments. The group included URISA, International City/County Management Association, the National Association of Counties, American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, American Public Works Association, Open GIS Consortium, Spatial Technologies Industry Association, Public Technology Inc., Geospatial Information Technology Association, US Geological Survey, US Census Bureau, and the GeoData Alliance.It was a wide-ranging discussion of old and new issues. We all learned more about what the others do and would like to do.(A number of other organizations were unable to send a representative to this meeting, but expressed a strong interest in participating in future meetings.These organizations were the National States Geographic Information Council, Association of American Geographers, Federal Geographic Data Committee, and the Canadian Institute of Geomatics.)

There was consensus on the need and great potential for more structured cooperation among professional associations which are directly and indirectly related to spatial information technology. The group felt that the paradigm of competition that has developed over the past decade or so needs to change because it limits our potential to reach our common and individual association goals. Working together to speed and improve the adoption of information technology will make us all more responsive to our current and potential members and improve the government or private organizations we serve.

We identified the following areas of common interest:

  • Educating members and the organizations they serve
  • Improving efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery-making government and industry work better.
  • Raising the profile and understanding of how information technology and spatial information technology in particular are essential to meet the practical goals of better service, homeland security, public safety, and economic development.
  • Speeding the incorporation of enterprise information technology with a strong spatial component into general/basic understanding of what constitutes good government and management.
  • Funding is the biggest obstacle; ignorance of the technology and its role is probably the cause.
  • Raising the awareness of the necessity for inter-agency and cross-jurisdictional interoperability of information systems and the role spatial information can play in accomplishing that goal.
  • Increasing the pool of qualified GIS professionals to meet the dire need that exists today.
We also identified areas for possible cooperative action. The group will continue to discuss these before our next meeting in June.
  1. Development of a simple common goal and message that can be adopted and used to institutionalize an understanding of the importance and urgent need for quality spatial information technology at all levels of government.
  2. Work to develop a broader and deeper professional association network that will make cooperation more likely and easier to do.
  3. Establish formal cooperative agreements such as memorandums of understanding between and among the associations.
  4. Identify specific goals for legislation that affects funding of spatial information technology and work together for passage.
  5. Work with Federal agencies that have mandates and programs to build national spatial information capacity and to create a system that builds and maintains a national spatial database such as the National Map and NSDI.
There was a real sense in the room that now is the time to make a real effort at cooperative action. URISA has offered to continue as convener and support for the group as it actively explores cooperative ventures.

As I rode home on METRO on the evening of March 11, I thought of how much I share with those who were doing the same in Madrid and so many other places in the world. I also had a little more faith in our ability to build the networks and professional community that can help us respond to our changing world.

Published Saturday, April 17th, 2004

Written by Dan Parr

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