What is SDI governance and why is it so often overlooked?

July 21, 2015 Gordon Plunkett

Multi-participant SDIs require setting up some form of operational governance to be successful, just like SDIs need some form of technology implemented. There are several types of SDI governance frameworks which can be actioned in different ways. But, despite the many issues related to setting up and operationalizing an SDI governance regimen, ignore them at your peril, as governance is an essential component of any multi-participant SDI project.

Developing, implementing and operationalizing a successful multi-participant SDI project has its many challenges. Technical challenges can be difficult to overcome, but there are proven methodologies for planning, scheduling, managing and delivering your SDI project that can help you prevail over obstacles.

Implementing and operationalizing your SDI technology among the diverse and sometimes skeptical stakeholder community can also be challenging; however, getting other organizations to do things differently or even do things at all to support the SDI project requires skills and methodologies different from technical management. These other organizations have their own inertia, egos, emotions, funding and priorities that sometimes interfere with getting SDI-related things done. Most often, these non-technical SDI issues are managed through a process called governance.

What is SDI governance?

The Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI) has published an academic paper that defines governance as "the sum of many ways in which individuals or institutions – both public and private – manage their common affairs. It is the continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action taken.”

Internal vs. external governance

It’s often easier to think of an SDI project with two types of governance. The first is internal governance, where the group involved with the SDI project is not within the umbrella of the organization implementing the SDI project, but shares executive management with the SDI implementation group.

An example would be a municipal government implementing an SDI through their GIS Department. Several of the organizations that need to perform some activity in support of the SDI reside within the municipal government, but are in another department such as environment, public works or planning. The GIS department has no direct authority or control over these departments; however, they have common managers at a senior level, so an internal type of governance is required.

External governance is where there are several organizations involved in the SDI project, but there are no common managers. An example of this is an SDI involving several municipal or provincial governments. This situation requires a special type of governance.

Formal & informal models

In order to get things done within a multi-participant SDI project where many of the organizations involved do not have authority or control over each other, the governance methods need to be clear and acted upon. Disparate teams and resources within the project and within the various participating organizations can be managed through negotiated and signed agreements. This is called a formal governance model.

Informal governance is also possible where there are no signed agreements; however, service levels under this model may vary by organization and by the time and date of the service request.

An example of a formal governance model which is used for Federal/Provincial/Territorial governance is the Canadian Council on Geomatics (CCOG). Examples of a formal provincial governance model are the Ontario Geospatial Data Exchange (OGDE) and the Saskatchewan Geospatial Imagery Collaborative (SGIC). Meanwhile, the Region of York (Yorkmaps) has an internal informal governance framework and the Community Map of Canada (CMC) is an example of external informal governance.

The Community Map of Canada follows an external informal governance model where hundreds of organizations work together, with only a few signed agreements, to build a national Web basemap.

Within any governance model, the type of SDI service requested needs to be defined. Does the agreement cover data, services, funding, standards and/or applications? What’s the structure of coordination between agencies? Who are the primary contacts? How are changes communicated and coordinated? There are many questions to ask.

Governance is critical to any SDI and must not be overlooked. The type of governance needs to be decided upon and the correct plan of action for the governance needs to be agreed to by the SDI participants and stakeholders. Governance is not only important; it’s a key element required for SDI project success.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

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.

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