Proposal for a Quid Pro Quo Model for Geographic Data Exchange

Quid pro quo (Latin for “something for something” [1]) indicates a more-or-less equal exchange or substitution of goods or services.

Long time hindrances to the development of Statewide Spatial Data Infrastructures (SSDIs) and the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) have been financial, organizational, and political (most believe technical issues have already been overcome). High quality data produced by local government is often encumbered by restrictive local government licensing policies. Those same local governments are faced with the reality of large price tags for geospatial data development and maintenance and shrinking budgets. As regional, statewide, and national driving issues increasingly identify the essential need for integrated SSDIs and an NSDI, many local governments are justifiably concerned that their participation will become an unfunded mandate. In the face of these obstacles, many funding options have been proposed to help offset the high costs of data programs at the local government level and encourage their participation.

However, few programs at the state level have been successful in establishing programs where sustained funding flows among multiple jurisdictional and levels of government for geospatial data development and maintenance. In fact, most states still struggle to establish adequate funding for state-level programs, let alone funding that would flow to other entities. I believe that a Quid Pro Quo approach to developing SSDIs and the NSDI could be a successful one from the standpoint of establishing a funding mechanism for cost sharing among stakeholders and managing the real constraints of local government to participation. Under this model, those essential data sets to local, state, and federal government, i.e. Framework data (such as orthophotography, elevation, and hydrography), that can efficiently be produced over broad areas would be maintained by capable state and federal entities. Those data appropriately maintained by local (city and county*) jurisdictions would continue as such.

An equitable cost share for SSDIs and the NSDI could be realized in a required quid pro quo exchange of framework data that support the majority of stakeholders’ data requirements. The concept of data stewardship at different levels of government is not new. What is uncommon among current business models is a structuring of a quid pro quo data exchange such that all parties clearly recognize and are responsible for a shared funding model for development and maintenance of Framework data (while uncommon, there are limited examples that demonstrate this can be a successful approach, such as Ohio’s Location Based Response System). I suggest that we are well on our way to such a model as an effective means of developing SSDIs and the NSDI if the National States’ Geographic Information Council’s (NSGIC) Imagery For The Nation (IFTN) program is implemented as proposed. However, if we leave out key aspects of this model up front, namely the unequivocal recognition of a quid pro quo exchange, then we are destined to failure once again.

For example, let us assume the development and maintenance costs of parcel, address and street centerline mapping is roughly equivalent to the development and maintenance costs of orthophotography and elevation mapping (of course exact figures depends on the methods of data acquisition, accuracies, etc.). If state and federal government took on the responsibility for orthophotography and elevation layers, as is proposed by the Imagery For The Nation (IFTN) program, this would offset substantial costs to local government to build and maintain their own geospatial programs. If however, the imagery and elevation are provided in the public domain without explicit and agreed upon recognition of a quid pro quo data exchange, then we face the very real possibility that local governments will not recognize it as such and will not recognize their responsibilities to contribute to the whole. In other words, local governments remain free to use the public domain data without recognizing the cost sharing aspects to their own programs.

Many (I would argue most) will be left to continue to view the external requests for their data as unfunded mandates. Without a clear plan for recognition of a quid pro quo data exchange, thus an equitable cost share in a shared public resource, we will continue to face the same financial, organizational, and political obstacles that we do today. It is not enough to “build it and they will come.” We must be prepared to recognize and agree upon, formally, our shared roles and responsibilities. Indiana is about to embark on a social experiment that would equate to such a quid pro quo data exchange. Under a new GIS statute, Indiana’s Framework data layers are formally defined, as is a provision for “data exchange agreements” meaning an agreement concerning the exchange of any GIS data or framework data.

While political subdivisions maintain the right to control the sale, exchange, and distribution of any GIS data or framework data provided by the political subdivision to the state through a data exchange agreement, a political subdivision may agree, through a provision in a data exchange agreement, to allow the sale, exchange, or distribution of GIS data or framework data provided to the state. As a condition in a data exchange agreement for any GIS data or framework data provided by the state to a political subdivision, the state Geographic Information Officer may require the political subdivision to follow the state GIS data standards and the statewide data integration plan when the political subdivision makes use of the GIS data or framework data as provided by the state. (Note, this does not apply to data that is otherwise required by state or federal law to be provided by a political subdivision to the state or federal government.)

As they have not yet been developed, the details of the data exchange agreements remain to be seen. I would assert that to enable a successful SSDI in Indiana, the data exchange agreements and the statewide data integration plan should explicitly define two important quid pro quo provisions: 1. Assurance that the state will maintain an ongoing high-resolution orthophotography and elevation data program, akin to Indiana’s 2005 successful orthophotography project and the proposed IFTN program (this will require a state funding commitment), that the data will reside in the public domain, and 2. That in exchange for receiving state provided framework data, political subdivisions will provide specific locally maintained framework data (e.g. parcels, addresses, and street centerlines), absent of personal/private information such as land owner names, and that the data be integrated into derivative data sets that reside either in the public domain or under a commercially restricted Creative Commons license (this is a policy issue that should be further reviewed).

I assert that equitable shared funding through a formally defined quid pro quo data exchange would enable SSDIs and the NSDI. This will require revised policies and a clear well-coordinated strategy for implementation (I do not believe it can be implemented piecemeal). There are many other issues to be tackled, including developing data where none currently exist, accessing restricted public data where they do exist (e.g., Census address coordinate data), technical issues related to data integration, etc. Still, financial, organizational, and political constraints have been the most significant obstacles to our success. If we can find ways to overcome these obstacles, the payoffs will be high. If we continue to sidestep these issues in favor of incremental progress on individual data layers, I believe the vision of SSDIs and the NSDI will be difficult, if not impossible, to truly realize.

___________ *Every state is different, and this must be recognized in Statewide Spatial Data Infrastructure business plans (e.g. some states already manage statewide addresses and parcels; some states are currently unprepared to manage statewide orthophotography).