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An exemplary SDI: York Region’s YorkInfo Partnership

The Regional Municipality of York (the Region) in Ontario recently won the Esri President’s Award for their data-informed decision-making initiative called the YorkInfo Partnership. This partnership embodies the people, processes and technologies of a spatial data infrastructure (SDI), allowing the Region to efficiently operate a geographically large regional government and provide first-rate services to the Region’s residents and businesses. In this blog post, Gordon Plunkett assesses how the key performance indicators of an SDI were evaluated for the YorkInfo Partnership. Read on to learn what makes the YorkInfo Partnership an exemplary model of how to design, implement and operate a world-class SDI.

The Region was recently chosen by Esri founder and president Jack Dangermond to receive his prestigious 2020 President’s Award. This is the highest honour given by Esri and recognizes an organization that uses data-informed decision-making to impact the world in a positive way. The Region was chosen from hundreds of organizations worldwide for their innovative use of GIS technology. But there are thousands of organizations in Canada successfully using GIS and many times that number around the world. I was wondering what set the Region’s initiative apart from everyone else, and why they are leading the world in providing data to decision makers. So, I started investigating.

One of the primary reasons for the Region’s selection for the President’s Award was the YorkInfo Partnership initiative, which set the Region apart from other organizations in the award rankings. The Partnership connects all the government organizations within the Region into a distributed environment and gives every organization access to each other’s digital assets (data, applications, tools and training). This is known as a federated approach, which means that organizations within the Region can share resources across their independent networks to optimize resource use, improve the quality of service and reduce costs. Does this not sound like the implementation of an SDI? I thought so, and subsequently I decided to perform my own SDI assessment of the YorkInfo Partnership to see for myself.

First, a little background on the government structure of the Region. It is made up of nine cities and towns and provides services to 1.2 million residents. Regional municipalities were created in Ontario in highly populated areas where it was considered more efficient to provide certain services over a larger geographic area encompassing more than one local municipality. Services are provided to Region residents and businesses in this two-tier government structure via what are sometimes referred to as upper-tier and lower-tier municipalities. Services such as water, police and paramedic services, waste management, economic development and transit are provided by the regional government. Other services are provided locally by the town or city governments.

The Regional Municipality of York stretches from the northern border of the City of Toronto up to Lake Simcoe. It is administered by a regional government comprised of nine towns and cities and is part of the Greater Toronto Area.

A regional government like the Region would be an ideal candidate for sharing geospatial data and services in an SDI. The YorkInfo Partnership has now surpassed every other organization in the world, so let’s do an evaluation to see why. However, you can’t do an SDI assessment without an evaluation framework. I’ve used different SDI evaluation frameworks in the past, but this time around, I decided to use the cursory SDI evaluation criteria that were used by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to assess the Arctic SDI. Even though the Arctic SDI is an international SDI and the YorkInfo Partnership is a regional (local) SDI, the same criteria apply.

The Arctic SDI evaluation was based on seven key performance indicators (KPIs), which were:

  1. Organizational readiness
  2. Capacity building
  3. Information infrastructure
  4. Primary SDI geoportal
  5. Contributing geoportals
  6. Data and information
  7. Standards

I evaluated the YorkInfo Partnership against these criteria and their sub-components. Here is what I came up with.



Sub-component Evaluation Criteria

YorkInfo Partnership



Organizational readiness

  • Governance
  • Strategy
  • Human resources
  • Community development
  • Performance management
  • Authoritative framework
  • Funding arrangements
  • Management



Capacity building

  • Outreach
  • Capacity strengthening
  • The YorkInfo Academy is available and includes learning opportunities and training material.
  • In-person courses to enhance data and analytics skills and relevant webinars are offered.



Information infrastructure

  • Reliable infrastructure
  • Technical infrastructure transfer environment



York Region geoportal

  • Access
  • Data transmission
  • Services
  • Geoportal development

The YorkInfo Partnership portal provides:

  • Data, which is made available by YorkInfo Partners under a common data sharing agreement.
  • Apps, including purpose-built partner apps that users can share and download, as well as an  app template for development.
  • Tools, including partner-built code and workflows that will simplify work.
  • An academy, which increases staff capabilities through in-person workshops and recorded webinars.
  • Legacy portals, which are still enabled.



Municipal-level geoportals

  • National geoportals
  • Community geoportals



Data and information

  • Reference datasets
  • Relevant thematic datasets
  • Non-spatial information
  • Community geoportals




  • Data standards
  • Web services standards
  • Data exchange standards
  • Technology standards


The Region gets very high marks for their SDI based on this and every other evaluation matrix, so it’s not surprising that they won the Esri President’s Award. The Region continues to develop their YorkInfo Partnership for data and app sharing across the Region. It is quite clear that they have addressed all the issues related to building, developing and operating a successful SDI and it’s also quite clear why it is a world-class initiative and deserves the 2020 Esri President’s Award.

The Esri President's Award is personally chosen by Esri president and founder Jack Dangermond. It is the highest honour given for an organization, recognizing one organization annually that uses data-driven decision-making to impact the world in a positive way.

Congratulations to the Regional Municipality of York and the nine municipalities in the Region for winning this prestigious award. It is well deserved!

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

Profile Photo of Gordon Plunkett