YorkInfo Partnership: A Culture of Cooperation, Coordination and Collaboration

August 16, 2019 Matt Pietryszyn

We often see the three Cs—cooperation, coordination and collaboration—used interchangeably, but there are differences in their meaning. “Cooperation” means exchanging relevant information and resources in support of each other’s goals, rather than a shared goal. “Coordination” is organizing people and resources so they run smoothly together, while “collaboration” is working together to create something new in support of a shared goal. The Regional Municipality of York (York Region) certainly understands the meaning of these terms, as they have successfully achieved cooperation, coordination and collaboration through the YorkInfo Partnership.

York Region, with over 1.2 million residents, has nine local municipalities and the regional municipality providing a myriad of services to residents. Both tiers of government plan, manage and deliver services such as planning and development, emergency services, social services and economic development – all to the “one taxpayer”.  To do this efficiently, they must cooperate, coordinate and collaborate. 

In the beginning

In 1996, the use of geographic information system (GIS) technology to gain insight from spatial data was becoming recognized as key to municipal management; but like the spatial data supporting it, GIS was considered specialized and expensive, which made it difficult for smaller municipalities to leverage. The YorkInfo Partnership was created to help all municipalities in York Region benefit from the collective investment in GIS technology, data and people.

The YorkInfo Partnership has 14 members, which include York Region, its nine municipalities, two district school boards and two conservation authorities.

Over the years, the Partnership has grown to accomplish much more and has driven the understanding and adoption of location intelligence, GIS, data and analytics, and visualization technologies across the Region, establishing a culture of cooperation and collaboration.

Impact

The YorkInfo Partnership is changing how local governments in the Region operate and has produced several “firsts” and award-winning innovations.

The partnership has resulted in valuable benefits, which include:

Efficiencies in data creation, management and sharing

The Partnership has developed a legal framework and governance model for data sharing among its member municipalities. This has supported the production of a single, region-wide harmonized dataset for water/wastewater infrastructure (All-Pipes Project), parcels, roads and addresses – critical to asset management and emergency services. The All-Pipes Project saves over $150K per year.

Through the federation of York Region, the Town of Newmarket and the City of Markham’s open data systems, the Partnership has provided residents with one-window access to all three jurisdictions’ data. They also launched the Self-Serve Data Depot, which gives partners and consultants convenient 24/7 online access to their data and format of choice. This has saved hundreds of staff hours and greatly improved the user experience.

Cost savings through economies of scale

The partners pool resources to acquire new data, such as current and historical aerial imagery dating back to 1954. This data greatly enhances understanding of change across York Region. In 2019, the partners will jointly purchase highly accurate LiDAR data to provide mapping at sub-centimetre accuracy. These datasets will add significant value to the planning and delivery of many of the partners’ programs.

Collaboration provides opportunities for bulk discounts on imagery, software and technology.  For example, partners have been able to save up to 50% on joint purchases of high-resolution aerial imagery, digital elevation model and LiDAR imagery, as well as up to 80% on technology purchases through region-wide enterprise license agreements.

Increased proficiency in using GIS technology, data and analytics

Over 500 municipal staff have received GIS training through the Partnership since 2005, providing over $200K in savings. The Partnership has launched a Digital Academy to train partners on topics like data and analytics, which will help evolve their open data systems from merely providing data to incorporating analytics for added insight. York Region played a key role in the creation of the Geospatial Maturity Index to increase GIS program maturity and buy-in for the technology at senior levels of public sector organizations.

For its contributions to improving local government and service delivery, the YorkInfo Partnership has received several awards, including the Urban Regional Information Systems Award (URISA), Canadian Open Data Summit (CODS) Open Data for Innovation Award and the Government Technology (GTEC) Award for Excellence in Municipal Systems. 

Mastering the art of partnerships

While many organizations struggle with advancing their business transformation projects within their organization, the YorkInfo Partnership has mastered coordination, cooperation and collaboration across multiple member organizations. In this Q&A, we asked some of the partners for their insights on why the Partnership has been so successful.

How do you foster a culture of cooperation, coordination and collaboration among partners?

John Houweling, director of the data analytics and visualization services branch for York Region, says:

“Having a common goal—to build stronger communities—and a shared passion for using GIS technology to solve problems helps partners to work together. We promote sharing of best practices on how to support asset management, municipal comprehensive reviews, technology investments, etc. to achieve each partner’s goals as well as our collective goals. Also, the feeling of being part of something bigger provides value, and that drives buy-in. More importantly, while we have a formal governance structure, all partners are equal and have an equal say in the direction of the Partnership.”

What benefit does the Partnership provide your organization?

Nasir Kenea, CIO of the City of Markham, shares:

“The Partnership has been very helpful for Markham. For example, the cost-sharing arrangement we have for our annual orthophotography program provides us with up-to-date, region-wide aerial imagery, which we use for analysis and decision support. The program is saving us a lot of money and it just makes good sense.”

The Town of East Gwillimbury is experiencing exponential growth and has recently developed a new development status application to manage the increasing number of building permits. Mark Valcic, general manager of corporate and financial services for East Gwillimbury, says:

“With support from the YorkInfo Partnership, we’ve introduced more efficient services and mapping-based tools that allow staff to work with real-time data as soon as a new home is occupied. For new residents, they get the peace of mind that their municipal services are truly working for them.”

What tips can you share with others looking to create a similar culture in their organization?

Jeff Lamb, manager of partnerships and special projects for York Region, says:

“In this age of doing more with less, it’s imperative that we work together across many levels of government and across boundaries. It may seem difficult at first, just start and do it. Find a common problem to solve; get everyone in a room, buy some doughnuts and coffee, and roll up your sleeves.”

***

Read about how York Region uses open data for digital transformation and public engagement. In the coming weeks, we’ll also share more about how the YorkInfo Partnership applied GIS to streamline management of the Region’s water and wastewater networks and build a data co-operative where partners can access and purchase one another’s datasets, apps and tools, supporting the Region’s Municipal Comprehensive Review process.

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