NSDI: What's in It for You?

How should state and local governments best participate in the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI)?

As the director of a state agency responsible for statewide coordination of geographic information, I think about this question a great deal. Whether the scope of the problem is creating a spatial data infrastructure within a single county or state, in the United States or on a global basis, eventually the challenge is to determine how organizations that are "lower in the food chain" can best participate.

I believe very real, valuable benefits accrue to state and local government organizations that participate in our NSDI, indeed in any spatial data infrastructure. These benefits are economic and social, including the following:

1. Being involved in the NSDI can save money and time. Cooperation is one of the basic principles of the NSDI. Organizations in overlapping or adjacent jurisdictions are likely to find that economies of scale bring down the total cost and time involved in developing spatial data as well as reduce the net cost to individual organizations.

2. An NSDI enables an organization to acquire data resources it might not otherwise be able to acquire. The ability to share costs and efforts with others often helps move a project across a line of inertia. In North Carolina, for example, we were able to pool the resources of several agencies to acquire statewide digital orthophotography. Without this NSDI-like cooperation, no single agency could have covered this large cost, and the dataset would not have been acquired.

3. The problems and opportunities an organization encounters often transcend its jurisdictional boundaries. Consider the effects on one organization of poor water quality, natural disasters or disease produced in an adjacent jurisdiction. But benefits also accrue. Clearly, one county often benefits when spatial data are used to recruit new industry to an adjacent county. Jobs, spinoff markets for local manufacturers as well as new clientele for trade schools, cultural institutions and commercial establishments are just a few of the benefits to adjacent counties.

4. Any organization is better off when the entire enterprise is successful. We often hear the phrase "A rising tide lifts all ships." In the case of the NSDI, there is great potential for every state and local government to be better off when the entire country is enjoying economic success partly as a result of spatial data from the NSDI. For example, every state and community in America has benefited, at least indirectly, from the interstate highway system, which is another component of the nation's infrastructure. It has enhanced our national defense, our access to goods and services and our economic competitiveness.

5. Decisions invariably are going to be made at a higher level that affect an organization and its neighboring organizations. Some decisions affecting an organization, such as the reallocation of federal tax dollars to state and local governments, are determined by ranking an organization with its counterparts. Clearly it is advantageous when an organization's more accurate data are used in comparative analyses leading to these decisions. Equally important, there are distinct advantages if the analysis is based on consistent, uniform and accurate data about all the neighboring organizations. The NSDI provides a means to create such comprehensive spatial datasets.

6. Standards are inevitable. The success of any new device, technology or technique relies on the creation of standards to ensure widespread adoption. Similarly, standards will determine the form and function of the technologies, data and techniques that comprise the NSDI. Thus, state and local input into the standards-making process will influence whether these standards meet their needs.

7. Participating in the NSDI is the right thing to do. The NSDI saves money, improves data consistency and enhances decision-making for any participating organization. Furthermore, these same benefits are realized by multiple organizations and thereby create a positive synergy and benefits for all.

8. Lastly, being involved in the NSDI gives us the opportunity to meet people, learn about issues that directly affect our own environment and become exposed to different ideas and cultures. Every time I participate in an event associated with spatial data infrastructure-whether I am working with local and state agencies in my own state, with counterparts across the nation or with individuals from other nations-I have always gained far more than I have contributed.

Karen Siderelis is the incoming president of the National States Geographic Information Council and director of North Carolina's Center for Geographic Information & Analysis.


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