January 07, 2008
Statewide Strategic Planning
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Statewide Strategic Planning

by Susan Smith

Recently I had requested information from organizations that had experience with developing statewide strategic planning and the acceptance and funding of a Geographic Information Officer (GIO) position. In response to that query, Tom Harrington, director of marketing and Rich Grady, CEO of Applied Geographics, contacted me to tell me about their experience in that area.

Applied Geographics has been directly and intensively engaged in statewide strategic planning for the last two years, starting with the development of the NSGIC Strategic and Business Plan templates in 2006. States they have worked with (or are currently working with) include: CT, CO, KS, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI, UT, and WY.

“We are working with ten states on strategic plans and a large portion of those that are underway in this process are sponsored by FGDC and NSGIC. FGDC and NSGIC agreed that there needed to be state level planning efforts to address the nine criteria that they had defined for successful GIS programs,” explained Grady. “The GIO is just one of those nine.”

A GIO would be more focused on integrating the geospatial information with IT that the state has already. It would be a position beyond GIS coordination. Most states already have a state GIS coordinator.

A big part of the FGDC process is to reach out to all stakeholder groups. There are at least 12 identified groups that are either GIS consumers or producers, including tribal.

What were some of Applied Geographics’ experiences with getting a strategic plan and/or GIO in place?

“We developed a set of lessons learned from states we’ve been working with. There are some common approaches,” said Grady. “It’s not all struggle, I think that most states have some good history of GIS – it may be in one department or another, and typically that is the case. Part of the trend toward a GIO type role is to start to articulate where GIS should be managed out of as part of state infrastructure. Some alignment of what’s going on in IT is clearly needed, so some states are leaning towards the GIO being part of the IT organization, but typically that’s not where it’s started in most states. Some will probably keep it where
it was originally developed but with more coordination.”

The role of the GIO, regardless of what department it is in, is to facilitate greater coordination of statewide efforts. “In every case we’re working with, they’re definitely looking beyond state agencies to try to gauge other stakeholders. I think a key success factor is to reach out to other stakeholders: academics, private sector, municipal government, tribal entities.”

Who is producing GIS data and who needs it?

“Another success factor is to identify the issues that can benefit from better coordinated GIS. It varies from state to state – issues vary – economic development, energy resources, natural resources, education, public health, the list goes on,” said Harrington. “Different states have their key issues and so tying into those usually involves a broader based approach, getting a political champion, involves outreach to the legislature, a full corps press to build awareness for GIS and get the support that’s necessary to fund it on a sustainable basis.”

What advice can you give to states to procure funding?

“An understanding of the budget cycle for your state helps. You have to know the right committees to talk to, you’ve got to start that process early…probably two years in advance, at least a year in advance, ahead of the budget cycle,” said Grady. “You need the right people and to know what’s coming down the pike.” It’s helpful to identify the committees that have GIS awareness, and can clearly see its benefits. The next step is to present the benefits and the business case to people who are responsible for making decisions about spending money. They don’t necessarily understand or believe that GIS is a good thing, but they want to
know what it’s going to cost, what are some of the expected benefits, etc.”

Those states that Applied Geographics have worked with that have specifically focused on creating, defining and hopefully winning legislative support for a GIO position, the process supported through the FGDC CAP grant was to lay out a strategic vision and to really put in place a business plan that makes the case in terms of the specific kinds of benefits that relate to objectives important to constituents and legislators. “We’re not at the point where the outcome is known yet for these states,” noted Harrington, “but by going through this process, the groundwork is laid for articulating benefits to the community of decision makers.”

Grady said that there is also a marketing dimension to the process, and one of the states they work with has developed a brochure that promotes GIS to non-GIS people.

Many states, such as
New Mexico, have relied heavily on a volunteer effort comprised of people from various agencies to get tasks done that would ordinarily be assigned to a GIO. “That’s very true in many places,” said Grady, adding, “unfortunately that tends to create a certain false economy.

“As great as that spirit is, it’s hard to hold volunteers accountable for doing something on a deadline on a budget. It has to be put into perspective – the context of getting a problem solved on a schedule, with people held accountable, how do you that with volunteers with anything that you can really make stick?”

Grady pointed out that the uses of GIS are becoming more widespread and expectations for the availability of quality data are rising. GIS is growing at a rate that the volunteer effort cannot keep up with. “The volunteer effort doesn’t have the capacity to move the GIS program forward to the degree that it needs to moved, to really meet all of those demands. It naturally starts out with a lot of volunteer effort and the community of the willing, but then it reaches a stage where it can’t progress further without an injection of more sustained commitment. I think that’s the tipping point. The GIO is one of those tipping points, and legislation and funding is
another tipping point that allows the state to move past that barrier. I think it’s then a natural lifecycle of the maturation of state GIS.”

Harrington concurred that it’s not unusual for states to use that approach to funding initiatives which is another false economy. “There may be the attitude that because they’ve been able to manage that way, why do anything different? That’s where some good business case analysis is needed. Success stories are part of that, but also failures – things that could not get done because the institutional support was not there.”

GIS is becoming ubiquitous and appearing in technologies that reach the masses, i.e. Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth. Legislators and political leaders are going to be more familiar with those tools than something like ESRI. “States have to document their success stories, work the process, understand the budget cycle, understand the key committees, the legislators they should be in front of,” said Grady. “Ultimately they need sustainable funding to support a program that can be held accountable for results. Performance metrics are big in government right now. Traditionally they haven’t been big in
GIS. Part of the FGDC process is to incorporate some thinking about performance metrics, namely a scorecard.”

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