Why is governance so important in the development and operation of an SDI?

October 30, 2014 Gordon Plunkett

At a recent Canadian SDI event, many government jurisdictions indicated that challenges related to governance were among their most pressing issues. Given that there appears to be plenty of governance organizations already operating at a national level in Canada, why is governance still high on everyone’s challenges list?

I recently attended an SDI event with participants from most government levels, industry and academia from across Canada. During the presentations by various government officials, they were asked to outline some of the challenges their jurisdictions are encountering in implementing their SDI. While nearly all spokespersons mentioned the usual challenges like lack of money, resources and technical concerns, some of the challenges mentioned were a bit surprising.

Some of the technical challenges mentioned included: interoperability, standards, big data, data currency, data coverage, technology changes, open data, data discovery, data access and data sharing.

Some of the other issues were related to the capability and maturity level of the government agency implementing the SDI. Some government agencies have been developing their SDI for some time, while others are just starting. Thus the needs and in particular the challenges due to these differing capabilities, was not surprisingly dissimilar.

However, there were some common challenges mentioned by most jurisdictions that could generally be considered as SDI governance issues. Many even said that governance was the most difficult element of implementing and operating an SDI. These governance challenges included: the engagement problem, ownership vs collaboration, licensing, sustainability and coordination.

Perhaps the most cited paper related to SDI governance is “SDI governance: Bridging the Gap between People and Geospatial Resources” by Paul Box and Abbas Rajabifard. This paper states: “Organizational arrangements have long been recognized as a critical enabler and fundamental component of Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI). More recently, the term “governance” has become increasingly used to refer to aspects of institutional frameworks that support SDI. However, given the polysemous nature of the term and the evolving nature of approaches to implementing SDI, it is not clear exactly what is meant by the term “SDI governance” and thus the scope, nature and challenges of governance are not well understood.

The Commission on Global Governance defines governance as: "the sum of many ways in which individuals, institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. It is the continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests maybe accommodated and cooperative action taken.”

So is the SDI governance challenge in Canada related to getting involved organizations to agree on a way forward? Maybe, but what is the way forward? At the national level, the Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table (CGCRT) has a strategy and has started the process of getting working groups in operation, with one of these working groups looking specifically at governance. The Esri Canada Community Maps initiative has a steering committee and a governance working group. The Canadian Council on Geomatics (CCOG) provides a type of governance between the federal and provincial governments. All of these initiatives are aware of the activities of the others so coordination at the national level should not be a problem.

So why did many of the government officials at the SDI event identify governance issues as challenges? I don’t think there is a clear answer as there appears to be sufficient governance groups currently in place. Perhaps it just that every government jurisdiction is at a different capability maturity level, so getting different jurisdictions on the same page takes time.

Related Information:

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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