Author Archives: Will Craig

Government Business Needs for Addresses

NSGIC has begun documenting the hundreds of state, local and federal government business needs for addresses. By drawing attention to the importance of address data, we hope to justify efforts to coordinate address collection, management, and uses across all levels of government. While NSGIC still considers it to be a work-in-progress, this information is being tracked in a publicly available Google doc – Address Business Needs.

Sometimes, the use of an address is as simple as placing a letter or package into the mail system. Other times, a correct address location can save a life. The problem is that government doesn’t do a very good job of tracking addresses. Typically, a local “address authority” assigns an address and then notifies a few other (usually local) agencies about the new address. But no agency is assigned (or assumes) a custodial role of maintaining an authoritative database of addresses (and importantly, their physical location in space) that can be used by others in that local government or at other levels of government.

NSGIC’s initial list of government business needs for addresses includes well over 100 use cases. Our list of state uses is the most complete, with nearly two dozen generic agencies using addresses in at least 67 different ways. Since address assignments typically originate with local governments, each state government needs to coordinate with hundreds of local cities and counties to collect authoritative address data. The US Post Office and US Census Bureau also create and maintain data collection partnerships with local government, but are forbidden by law from sharing their compiled address datasets with other agencies or levels of government.

There are three separate tabs on the Google document to delineate governmental business needs – one tab each for local, state, and federal government. An initial tab provides an overview of the purpose, process, and contents of the document. For each business need listed, we list:

A. The agency/department that uses the address data;
B. The business function name/label within the governmental division;
C. The spatial function that the address data is created/collected to serve (e.g. delivery, district determination, service allocation, etc.); and,
D. A brief description of the business function that the address data supports

The initial response to these lists has been quite positive. Even states that have begun to coordinate addresses have found new agency use cases from other states that help to expand their user base at home.

Comments are welcome and can be added to the Google doc. Individuals or agencies wishing to add to these lists of business needs are invited to contact their State NCGIC Representative or leadership of the NSGIC Address Committee.

Update on Twin Cities Free & Open Data

In a December Blog I wrote about the MetroGIS Call for Free & Open Access to Government Data. On GIS Day 2013, MetroGIS sent letters to the Administrators and Board chairs in each of the 7 counties in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area asking the move in that direction.

As of Tuesday, April 1, 4 of the 7 counties had passed resolutions endorsing that policy: Ramsey (St. Paul), Hennepin (Minneapolis), Dakota, and Carver counties. These four represent 75% of the nearly 3 million people in the area.

Most of these resolutions were passed as consent items! County Boards were convinced by a wonderful research document showing the benefits of sharing and the low returns on sales. For that document, related material, and the 4 county resolutions, see MetroGIS Free & Open Data Resource Page.

MetroGIS Recommends Free and Open Access to Government Data

MetroGIS, an award-winning collaboration, began working in 1995 as an initiative to share data across the 7-county Minneapolis-St. Paul region. From the beginning, they have struggled with fees and licenses. This year may signal the end of those problems. A formal report on Free and Open Access to Data presents enough good research to justify lowering those barriers. The report was adopted by the MetroGIS Policy Board in October.  Letters encouraging the elimination of charging and licenses were sent to all county Administrators and Board Chairs on November 20 (GIS Day).

It is remarkable that the MetroGIS Policy Board is dominated by county government.  The report convinced those leaders by showing them: the low revenue gained  through sales, the value of work done by non-profits who were able to access the data, and the reduction in liability of free and open systems.

The NSGIC audience will appreciate examples of sharing and case law that go beyond Minnesota and cover the nation.

Related resources:

 

NSGIC Publishes Document about Location Data That Is Not Private

Newspapers and legislative hearing rooms are full of concerns over individual privacy.  While some of those concerns are well founded, there is a danger all data will be sequestered, that it will be locked behind firewalls.   If that happens, all transparency will be lost.  People will not be able to understand what is happening in their community.  They will not be able to make intelligent decisions or know how their government is functioning.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Information is the currency of democracy.”  NSGIC believes this and is especially concerned with attacks on locational information because Geographic is our middle name.   We have recently published a document, This Isn’t Private Information.  It presents five examples of locational data that is clearly not private.

  1. Street addresses, even with x-y coordinates, if no resident names are associated
  2. Property ownership and assessment records are purposely public records
  3. Aerial photography resolution is typically too course to identify individuals
  4. Published Census data is only summary information
  5. Google’s Street View™ and similar images

(September 17, 2013 Update)  MAPPS is also concerned about federal overreaction on privacy issues.  They have developed a resolution and other convincing material that document the value of imagery and geospatial information for the economy, public safety, open government, etc.  See Federal Issue: Privacy.

An April Fool’s Rationale for Not Sharing Data

Editor’s Note: The following ‘report’ was made at Rick Gelbmann’s retirement party.  Rick was manager of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council’s GIS Team where he made huge contributions to regional data sharing activities, including the creation of the award-winning MetroGIS initiative in 1995.  He had to do something like this; two-thirds of the data he needs to do his job comes from others in the region.  Rick’s retirement party was on April 5, 2013, close enough to label this spoof the thoughts of an April Fool.  The report was conceived and delivered by Randy Knippel, chair of the MetroGIS County Data Producer Workgroup and Nobody’s Fool.  (My apologies for badly formatting Randy’s report, but the blogosphere has its limitations)

MetroGIS Liaison Report

We have worked with Rick for many years through MetroGIS, but he has always held reservations about how things have changed over the years.  With his retirement, he intends to make himself available through consulting services.  We have had preliminary planning meetings with him and, with Rick’s guidance; we expect to start making some much needed changes.

Effective immediately, we will begin a new phase in GIS data development and deployment by eliminating all collaboration and data sharing, instead, working individually to create much stronger GIS programs.

  1. To get things back on track we will encourage adoption of following basic principles:
    1. All agencies will independently examine data fees and begin charging more to pay for their GIS operations.
    2. Eliminate sharing of data so we don’t have to worry about people misusing it or blaming us for mistakes.
    3. This will also prevent terrorists from using it against us and avoid privacy issues.
  2. All work groups will dissolve and all communication and collaboration will cease.
  3. From the counties’ perspective, pricing for parcels is expected to rise to former levels and beyond, likely exceeding $100 per parcel.  However, other government agencies and educational institutions will not be allowed to buy it and will begin building their own parcel databases.
  4. Current data licensing will be amended to include universal background checks and restrictions on the use of high-capacity data storage devices.
    1. This will prevent criminals from getting the data and using it for nefarious purposes.
    2. Calm fears of law-abiding citizens who believe less than 10 records at a time is enough.
  5. We expect to realize a host of benefits including:
    1. Revenue from GIS data is expected to increase into the ka-jillions (That’s a big number.  For those of you having trouble visualizing it, that’s a 1 with a ka-jillion zeros after it.)
    2. Property taxes will decrease substantially as entire government operating budgets are funded by GIS data revenue.
    3. GIS programs will grow.  (It will be a great time to be working in the field of GIS.  We will double and triple existing staffing levels to build killer apps as unique as possible so we all have our own brand and individual web presence.  As demand for GIS staff increases, GIS salaries will increase dramatically, creating hiring wars as we compete with each other for qualified staff.)
    4. The economy in general will be stimulated (Without collaboration and data sharing we will spend much more on data collection and maintenance creating a boon for consultants and contractors.)
  6. We look forward to Rick’s vision and leadership in this brave new approach to doing GIS! We were going against established wisdom in 1995, but times have changed.  It’s time to reverse direction and go against the flow again.

 

Open Data Will Create Smart Cities

Better cities can be created by giving citizens creative access to information.  A new project is being launched in Europe to create Smart City applications and transfer them from city to city.  The project will be using an open source service developer toolkit to help make it easier for developers to create new and innovative applications that work across the continent.  The project is called CitySDK, City System Development Kit.  The €6.84 million project is funded in part by a grant from the European Commission.

The basic idea is to open city data resources to developers allowing them to create useful applications, much like Washington DC did when it conducted its Apps for Democracy competition.  Unlike Washington DC, CitySDK wants the same app to run in many cities across Europe.  Pilot projects will be launched in three cities starting in early 2013: Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Lisbon. Five other cities are also participating: Barcelona, Istanbul, Lamia (Greece), Manchester, and Rome.  This effort will require cities releasing their data in standard formats.

Europeans see this approach benefitting citizens who use the applications, cities who get apps written for them, and developers who benefit from expanded markets.  The expectation is that the more nimble smaller firms will take advantage of this opportunity, what Europeans call SMEs – small and medium enterprises.  In their documentation, they say CitySDK will provide developers with a “European advantage against the US and Asian competitors.”

Note: CitySDK was identified in a special report on Technology and Geography in the October 27 issue of The Economist.  The over-riding theme of the report is that geography is enhanced by smart phones and connectivity, not diminished.  Smart cities take advantage of technology by helping people navigate, find interesting places, and even report problems that can be fixed quickly.

Open Data Launches New Businesses

Last May I wrote about the European March Toward Open Data.  A Finnish study had found 15% better economic performance in countries with open data policies compared to those trying to recover their costs.  Based on that finding, Finland had begun making their geodata available free of charge to all users.

I neglected an important issue.  The growth came from small and medium enterprises (SMEs).  Lower costs allow SMEs to develop new GI-based products and services.  Large firms, able to pay full fees, didn’t do anything different when data became cheaper.  See Does Marginal Cost Pricing of Public Sector Information Spur Firm Growth?

Europeans Continue March Toward Open Data

Two new studies have come out of Europe that support open access to government data.

  • A 2011 Finnish study addressed the question, Does Marginal Cost Pricing of Public Sector Information Spur Firm Growth?   The authors analyze data from 15 counties and conclude “Firms functioning in the countries in which public sector agencies provide fundamental geographical information either freely or at maximum marginal costs have grown, on average, about 15 percent more per annum than the firms in the countries in which public sector GI is priced according to the cost-recovery principle.” Starting in May 2012, all Finnish  geodata is being made available free of charge to all users.
  • An April 2012 Danish study looked at the Funding of a System of Key Registers in a PSI-conomics and Contemporary Perspective.  Three options were considered: people pay to register data (e.g. deeds), people pay to purchase data, and government pays.  The study concludes that it is best for general state government support.  Selling government data is inefficient because it keeps out many potential users and those who do pay distort the market.  Society is better off when data is available to widest number of users.