I have witnessed the industry energy that can be generated by a bold federal commitment to geospatial technology spending. Canada’s ongoing GeoConnections program has made a strong investment in industry development, and could serve as a model should there be a national investment in GIS capacity for the United States.
The GeoConnections program was initiated in 1999 with a commitment of $60 Million for the development of the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI). The program dollars in the first phase went to efforts to create data policy, forge partnerships, engage different industry sectors, and to build a capacity to share data online through the GeoConnections Discovery Portal.
The first phase was deemed a great success through careful accounting of the program benefits. The GeoConnections history page tallies 400 successful projects and more than 600,000 people taking advantage of the data portal. This transparency of program allocations with corresponding benefits, and the level of collaboration that was fostered, are both necessary approaches if the U.S. is going to invest large dollars for a national system.
The success of the first phase of GeoConnections was enough to spur a renewal of the program with an additional $60 Million commitment from 2005 to 2010. The second phase is focused on user communities, with public safety and security, public health, the environment and sustainable development on the agenda. This second phase promises to ‘improve Canadians’ quality of life by enhancing decision making.’ That clear-cut objective helps to directly sell the need of such systems to the public by promising an improvement in governance.
Examples of technology application go a long way toward public understanding, and the focus on applying the data and technology serves to validate its creation in the first place. There’s also the added benefit of newly trained specialists that will consume data and applications, and that can push further exploration of the technology’s potential.
Canada’s modest $120 Million dollar investment in geospatial capacity was geared to take the best advantage of its academic and industry sources, and stretched each dollar with a focus on the return benefits. It leveraged dollars from local and regional budgets in matching programs that meant that all players would equally participate and benefit, fostering a whole new level of cross-government collaboration.
The National GIS that has been proposed is a much broader and aggressive program than GeoConnections was or is, at considerably more of an expense. The boldness of this idea is commendable, it serves as an inspiration of the pinnacle of what could be achieved. My guess is that the idea of a National GIS may inspire funding at a lesser level, and the practical approach of GeoConnections could serve well for more modest and incremental objectives.