The Appalachian Ohio Geospatial Data Partnership: Building Partnerships to Level the Playing Field

February 9, 2012

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This article describes the goals and outlines the achievements of a newly formed multi-county and multi-agency partnership in southeastern Ohio. The goal of this partnership is to form a regionally-based consortium to develop, implement and promote the use and benefits of GIS technology and standardized cadastral layer datasets for the under-served communities of Appalachian Ohio.

The Appalachian Ohio Geospatial Data Partnership (AOGDP) is a coalition of counties, regional and state agencies, and the private sector, formed to support the advancement of the use of GIS in southeastern Ohio. At the Ohio Statewide GIS Conference in September 2010 several attendees gathered to discuss the need for the development and promotion of standards for the GIS community within the state of Ohio. During these discussions, attendees realized that the southeastern region of the state was under-represented, both in terms of attendance at the conference and participation in statewide GIS initiatives. They decided that for the state of Ohio to have a truly statewide GIS data standard, all areas and counties of the state needed to be served and represented.

As a result, the southeastern Ohio participants decided to convene a meeting to explore the idea of a unified voice and the potential to implement existing GIS standards from the ground up. In December 2010, participants gathered for the first meeting of what would become the AOGDP. From the outset, the group, representing many agencies and groups, found that members had much in common. They faced many of the same challenges, and although many had some digital parcel mapping, they saw the need for standardized foundational GIS datasets. The formation of this group would clearly benefit all of the southeastern Ohio counties. To formalize the development of the group and initiate work on the tasks it had outlined, the group sought funding through the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) Cooperative Agreement Program (CAP) Grant. Tom Fisher, Don Pickenpaugh and Bret Allphin from the southeastern region were selected to meet with Stuart Davis (State of Ohio) and Charley Hickman (USGS State Liaison).

The AOGDP FGDC CAP Grant application was submitted and approved for funding in January of 2011. The grant proposal involved the incorporation of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) Cadastral Standards for the development of cadastral data layers in three adjacent townships in three Ohio Appalachian counties, crossing jurisdictional and spatial data software lines. Just as important, the project also included the creation of outreach programs promoting the incorporation, use and benefit of standardized cadastral data, with strategies for financing, implementation and maintenance of the newly developed data.

There are numerous benefits to instituting NSDI standards in a cadastral data layer that crosses multiple counties and political jurisdictions. Common domains and definitions will streamline the cadastral maintenance process through automation, and will assist end users in their understanding and utilization of county land records. Data sharing vertically among federal, state, regional and local governments, and horizontally with the private sector, non-profits and academia is bolstered with the use of known standardized data attributes. Finally, the organizations participating in the project make up an underserved portion of Ohio with little or no cadastral GIS development. This project will serve to encourage these organizations to incorporate the NSDI standards at the very onset of formal cadastral GIS development.

The formal creation of AOGDP, which included bylaws, charter and at-large members, took place in June 2011. Since then the AOGDP has focused on strengthening community partnerships. The counties have participated in educational sessions involving their data and the use of NSDI data standards as deployed in the Esri Local Government Information Model. All available data, including historical imagery, current imagery, cadastral, road, land use and elevation data, have been compiled for each county. These data have been used in educational sessions and as a jump-start for the counties to work with the GIS software. The counties then assume the data stewardship role for the locally generated data.

With an overall goal of using geospatial technology to aid the under-served communities in southeastern Ohio, the participants commented about their expectations for the project.  

Tom Fisher – Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD)

As a regional organization that is formed by the geography of the 8,000-square-mile Muskingum River watershed, the MWCD understands the importance of bringing together people from different political subdivisions to work toward a common goal. The MWCD’s work with federal, state and county governments aided us in recognizing a disconnection between the three levels of government in coordinated GIS initiatives.  The MWCD assisted in the creation of the AOGDP to fill the void of a “GIS Community” and to give a voice to that community in the underserved Appalachian Region of Ohio.

I am confident that with our partnership, the AOGDP will achieve great success in GIS. Every partner will have something to contribute as we create data that are standardized and shared with the world GIS community. I will endeavor to educate as many as I can and be educated by those with experiences to share. It is my expectation that our partnership will set a standard to which all other collaborators in the GIS profession should compare themselves.


Bret Allphin – Buckeye Hills Regional Development District

Prior to the formation of this group, these efforts were headed up by organizations like Buckeye Hills, the Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development (ILGARD) at the Voinovich School (Ohio University), and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District in an informal manner, using whatever resources were available. The AOGDP provides an opportunity and a vessel by which specific GIS projects can be completed that may be outside what could be accomplished by any of the member organizations or governments on their own.

From this partnership Buckeye Hills hopes to increase the dissemination of spatial technologies to areas and populations which may have been previously unreachable, and to also further the concept of thinking spatially to all of our constituents and interested organizations. The spatial data needs of our region are great, especially when compared to the capabilities of the regions and areas surrounding the AOGDP service area. I’m hopeful that the cooperative efforts of the parties involved in the AOGDP can start to bring southeastern Ohio not only to a level playing field with the rest of the state, but push us in to the lead as an example of what can be accomplished through focused, coordinated efforts by flexible and knowledgeable groups in the region

Dave Simon - the Voinovich School (Ohio University)

The AOGDP is a means for the rural counties of Appalachian Ohio to take advantage of the latest advances in technology in the geospatial field. Many areas of this part of the state are lacking the technology to efficiently manage their geospatial data to respond to emergency and other situations quickly and effectively. Many counties are finding that getting their parcels into a digital format will allow them to do so much more than simply keeping an inventory of ownership. With these data at their disposal, a county emergency management director can see potential areas of risk for flooding. An economic developer can find the most effective sites for new businesses. And an auditor can assess property taxes more efficiently.

As we continue with this partnership, I foresee counties with a rural and small population having the ability to manage their data with fewer resources and make them available using the latest technology through pooled resources. The field will be leveled between the “haves” and “have-nots.” Everyone will be able to take advantage of GIS technology and become a “have.”

Don Pickenpaugh - Belmont County, Ohio

Like many counties, the people in Belmont County tend to be uncomfortable with what they do not understand, and stick with old, comfortable habits. The challenge has been to make GIS exciting, not threatening, and to show its relevance to everyday problem solving, in a culture that undervalues education.

This is particularly true for a countywide parcel layer. The tabular data have been computerized, first with a DOS-based (1990s) and now Windows-based (2000s) deed transfer database program. These data went on the Web November 14, 2002. However, major reliance continues with hand-drafted tax maps, despite efforts to modernize. Times are changing with the release of the Local Government Information Model and the core tools in ArcGIS 10.x on the technology side and the formation of the AOGDP on the education and standards side.

This is an exciting time to combine my surveying experience from the surface mining industry and database experience from county government along with GIS skills. I hope this project translates into a credible source for local decision makers to see there is a need for GIS staff in today's world.

Jim Mercer – Guernsey County, Ohio

The Guernsey County land records offices have always kept very good records but have a need to make these records available to other departments and to citizens. These records also need to be integrated with other records to provide a complete picture of the county. Our county is trapped between the paper world, where we have good reliable records, and the digital world, where we know we need to head to have modern more accessible information. This needs to be done in a way that preserves the integrity and quality of the records we have.

With the AOGDP we hope to contribute our knowledge of our “own backyard” and build a maintainable, credible, locally managed GIS dataset that can serve our local officials as well as the region as a whole.

The expectations for the AOGDP are high and the goals are lofty. We will report in Directions Magazine how the AOGDP performs and how we meet these expectations in the months and years to come.



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