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Collaboration Process

Informal Collaboration
While work groups and advisory committees provide an official framework where agreement among the different stakeholders involved in the program can be reached, the development of interpersonal relationships and the recognition of a "need to succeed" provided much of the incentive that led to successful collaboration. As experts met regularly, personal relationships were forged and trust developed. It became clear to the community of practice that none of their goals would materialize unless they cooperated in both formal and informal ways to make significant progress. As they developed trust and respect as individuals, collaboration became easier. The ability of the participants to put aside individual goals or predisposition for the good of the whole effort has been a major characteristic of the work groups. The difference of interests related to levels of government or sectors of activity are not an obstacle to collaboration because participants have recognized they share the common goal of achieving a program that can provide benefits to all. For example, the Local Government Advisory Committee rapidly discovered that collaboration between state and local government and among local jurisdictions would help draw state dollars to GIS needs, something the State could not achieve alone, and that local governments also needed.

Some of the most effective instruments of the Coordination Program were developed very informally due to the synergy in the work groups. For example, the Legal Working Group was one of the first to be established to look at recommendations of the Temporary Council. About 10 people participated from the public and nonprofit sectors. Its first focus was on the idea of data licensing agreements. One member drafted three different agreements: a state-state license, a state-local license, and a state-private license. After discussing these, it seemed to the group that many one-to-one custom agreements would be needed. Another member suggested the possibility of one standard agreement for "people who want to be inside the circle." It was an insightful moment and led the group quickly to develop the basic outlines of the Data Sharing Cooperative. Once the concept and language for the Data Sharing Agreement was developed, OFT issued them as an official NYS Technology Policy, requiring all state agencies to join and encouraging local governments to do the same.

The leadership style of the OFT Director and Coordinating Body Chair accounts for a large part of the success of the collaboration. Instead of trying to impose an agenda, he consistently tried to find consensus. For example, in the Coordinating Body, there is no formal process for decision making. The Coordinating Body uses an ad hoc and informal approach. When faced with difficult decisions, the chair usually polls the group to determine who is in favor or opposed and why. When the group is divided, no immediate action is taken. Instead, the issue is referred to a working group to do research and bring the issue back for discussion. Unanimity is not required but there is always an effort to get as close as possible to full agreement, while every concern is heard and respected. Moreover, the program has had a single leaders since the beginning, representing not only the top level commitment of State government, but also continuity and persistence, as a champion for the entire effort.