What is the difference between the GeoData Alliance, Open Data Consortium, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), and the Open GIS Consortium (OGC)? I’m glad you asked.

By Joe Francica

The URISA Conference this year presented a great opportunity to understand the mission of these organizations.

Lets start with an easy one, the FGDC. The FGDC is an interagency committee, established by the Office of Management and Budget, composed of 19 Cabinet level and independent Federal agencies that are responsible for facilitating geographic data coordination and implementing the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) or so says their bulletin.Whoa, bubba...stop right there! Since when did 19 federal "anythings" do a good job of coordination.Good question, but let's not get off the subject.

The Open GIS Consortium, OGC, is a body of primarily vendors engaged in establishing interoperability guidelines and specifications (I hesitate to use the word "standards") to promote cooperation among vendor software solutions.You're kidding, right...vendors, cooperate? Open their systems to let the competition get a peak under the hood? Regardless of what your think, this body has established credibility to constrain the ways of the dominant players and allow a level of cooperation that seeks to limit the mistakes that other technologies have faced in the past and work on behalf of users.

The GeoData Alliance (GDA) was formed with the goal of "fostering trusted and inclusive processes to enable the creation, effective and equitable flow, and beneficial use of geographic information." The GDA is a not-for-profit corporation and seeks to assure the privacy of individuals and conform to both freedom of information while protecting the rights of individuals, all the while hoping to coordinate these issues through local, state, and federal levels. These are lofty and noble goals and you can read about more of them at www.geoall.net. I'm not sure they work in practice however.There are many competing interests and you need more than mission statements to make people see the need for cooperation.What you need is sense of common purpose and urgency, two principals I've rarely seen in government.And if the last terrorist attacks did not give government managers a sense of urgency then you are likely not to see much cooperation.

Finally, there is the Open Data Consortium established by Bruce Joffe, which seeks collaboration for a model data distribution policy.Many local governments are truly wrestling with the issue of cost recovery for the data they create and distribute to the public.Budgets are tight and local governments want to get something for their efforts.But come on folks, the reason the U.S.Census Bureau is revered today is for the policy of free demographic data distribution.The economic development that it has created far outweighs the costs associated with collection and distribution. And if you want one man's opinion, cost recovery "is a sick and demented idea to save a few pennies" - Jack Dangermond.

So, let's see.In the context of all of these bodies seeking to establish cooperation through standards and protocols, what happens when someone adapts a data model based on a single vendor's software solution? If you are a local government and you adapt the Urban Data Model (click here) by ESRI, for example will you look to see if they conform to OGC or FGDC recommendations? Are you more prepared to make sure the data is available for public consumption and that it adheres to rigorous privacy concerns? More importantly, do you care so long as your GIS works? I'm not going to suggest the answers but I will point you in the direction of others who are actively trying to consider these issues for their municipalities.


Published Wednesday, October 30th, 2002

Written by Joe Francica

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