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Project Environment

Preliminary Studies
The GIS Coordination Program in New York emerged in 1996 from the convergence of several parallel efforts that had been developing for several years. Historically, New York State had an active community of GIS practitioners and a vast array of geographic data resources, but no formal mechanism to support GIS coordination. There were significant barriers to GIS data sharing in NYS which were identified in a 1995 study conducted by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG):

  • Lack of awareness of existing data sets: the major barrier to GIS information sharing was the lack of information about data sets held by state and local agencies. Duplication and development of existing data sets which could have been shared was a common practice. At the local level, counties and smaller jurisdictions declined to start GIS projects for lack of funds to create the needed spatial data.
  • Lack of or inadequate metadata: being aware of the existence of data sets is irrelevant without descriptive metadata. Indeed, for a user to determine the suitability of a particular data set for a particular purpose, specific information about its characteristics is necessary.
  • Lack of uniform policies on access, cost recovery, revenue generation, and pricing: the absence of clear statewide policies on data dissemination was a major problem in NYS. It resulted in great inconsistency in the way agencies were dealing with dissemination of their data. Some offered open public access, others provided data sets at a premium price, at cost, or free of charge depending on the requester.
  • Lack of uniform policies on data ownership, maintenance and liability: ownership of transferred data was another problem. When one agency obtains a data set from another agency and modifies it, thereby adding value to it, the ownership of the new data set becomes ambiguous. Consequently, liability issues become more complex. Since New York State had no clear policies on this question, many agencies were reluctant to share their data freely.
  • Lack of incentives, tools, and guidelines for sharing: while there were clear costs and possible liabilities associated with data sharing, New York offered no tangible incentives such as enhanced funding or helpful tools such as model data sharing agreements to encourage agencies to make their data available for use by others.
  • Absence of state-level leadership: each state agency and local government involved in GIS use acted independently of the others. Coordinated action could take place only on the margins when a few organizations saw cooperation as a means to reach their individual goals. The lack to statewide leadership also prevented New York from participating in and influencing a national movement to create a spatial data infrastructure. This situation put New York State at a competitive disadvantage with other states.

To demonstrate some possibilities for addressing these problems, CTG, in cooperation with many state and local agencies, produced an Internet-based prototype spatial data clearinghouse that contained a metadata repository and search capability. The same year, the State Archives and Records Administration (SARA) entered into a contract with the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the Erie County Water Authority to assist in improving records management practices for GIS in local government. This project developed procedures and guidelines to assist local governments in planning their GIS activities.