Framework Overview

The Framework Approach

The framework is a collaborative effort to create a widely available source of basic geographic data. It provides the most common data themes geographic data users need, as well as an environment to support the development and use of these data. The framework’s key aspects are

  • seven themes of digital geographic data that are commonly used;
  • procedures, technology, and guidelines that provide for integration, sharing, and use of these data; and
  • institutional relationships and business practices that encourage the maintenance and use of data.

The framework represents "data you can trust" -- the best available data for an area, certified, standardized, and described according to a common standard. It provides a foundation on which organizations can build by adding their own detail and compiling other data sets.

The Framework Leverages the Development of Needed Data

Thousands of organizations spend billions of dollars each year producing and using geographic data. Yet, they still do not have the information they need to solve critical problems. There are several aspects to this problem:

  • Most organizations need more data than they can afford. Frequently, large amounts of money are spent on basic geographic data, leaving little for applications data and development. Some organizations cannot afford to collect base information at all.
  • Organizations often need data outside their jurisdictions or operational areas. They do not collect these data themselves, but other organizations do.
  • Data collected by different organizations are often incompatible. The data may cover the same geographic area but use different geographic bases and standards. In addition, information needed to solve cross-jurisdictional problems is often unavailable.

Many of the resources organizations spend on geographic information systems (GIS) go toward duplicating other organizations’ data collection efforts. The same geographic data themes for an area are collected again and again, at great expense. We cannot afford to continue to operate this way.

The framework will greatly improve this situation by leveraging individual geographic data efforts so data can be shared. It provides basic geographic data in a common format and an accessible environment that anyone can use and to which anyone can contribute. In this environment, users can perform cross-jurisdictional and cross-organizational analyses and operations, and organizations can funnel their resources into applications, rather than duplicating data production efforts.

There are many situations in which the framework will help users. A regional transportation planning project can use base data supplied by the localities it spans. Local, state, and federal agencies can respond quickly to a natural disaster by combining data. A county can use watershed data from beyond its boundaries to plan its water resources. State agencies can better track the ownership of publicly held lands by working with local governments’ parcel data. State and local governments can more easily comply with federal reporting requirements.

The Framework Provides Data, Technology, and Procedures

Geographic data users from many disciplines have a recurring need for a few themes of basic data: geodetic control, orthoimagery, elevation, transportation, hydrography, governmental units, and cadastral information. Many organizations produce and use such data every day. The framework provides basic information for these data themes.

By attaching their own geographic data — which can cover innumerable subjects and themes — to the common data in the framework, users can build their applications more easily and at less cost. The seven data themes provide

  • basic data that can be used in applications,
  • a base to which users can add or attach geographic details and attributes,
  • a reference source for accurately registering and compiling participants’ own data sets, and
  • a reference map for displaying the locations and the results of an analysis of other data.

The framework is a growing data resource to which geographic data producers can contribute. It will continually evolve and improve.

The framework also includes procedures, guidelines, and technology to enable participants to build, integrate, maintain, distribute, and use framework data. These elements ensure that

  • users can depend on accurate, detailed data that can be certified and integrated into the framework to create a trustworthy data source;
  • users can update their data holdings from the framework data; and
  • users can attach additional information to the framework.

Finally, the framework features institutional relationships and business practices that ensure that framework data are created, maintained, and distributed for all geographic areas and that widespread use is encouraged. The framework integrates data from all types of organizations in all sectors, promotes partnerships for data creation and maintenance, and provides unrestricted access to data. The framework environment is designed to be responsive to the needs of the geographic data community.

The Framework Benefits All Types of Organizations

Many types of organizations participate in developing and using the framework. Although different organizations have characteristic data use patterns, all organizations need different resolutions of data at different times, particularly when they are working together.

Local governments typically create and use a great deal of detailed information covering small areas that fall within their jurisdictional boundaries. They typically need the types of data found in the seven framework data themes as a base for their applications, and they frequently integrate these data themes when they build GISs. Local governments, however, also need generalized data. When working on regional issues, for example, they may use data at smaller scales over wider areas.

State governments are characterized as using less detailed data covering large regions and pertaining to a particular theme. For some projects, however, state agencies need higher-resolution data for specific regions, such as state-owned lands and facilities. State agencies need the data provided by the framework, although each application may not use the full set of data.

Federal government agencies also are characterized as using lower-resolution data, frequently producing and using data that have a low level of detail and cover broad regions. They also tend to produce and use individual data themes related to their operations. But federal agencies often need and produce higher-resolution data, particularly in managing federally owned lands or facilities, or working on specific projects.

In the private sector, there is a great variety of participants:

  • users and producers of detailed data, such as utilities;
  • users of small-scale, limited geographic themes, such as street networks, statistical areas, and administrative units;
  • data producers who create detailed data as a product or a service;
  • data producers who create low-resolution, small-scale, limited themes for large areas;
  • product providers who offer software, hardware, and related systems; and
  • service providers who offer system development, database development, operations support, and consulting services.

Nonprofit and educational institutions also create and use a variety of geographic data and provide GIS-related services. They cover the full spectrum of data content, resolution, and geographic coverage. Depending on the organization’s activities, data use may range from high-resolution data over small areas, as in facility management, to low-resolution data over wide areas, as in regional or national environmental studies.

The Framework Is Built Through Cooperative Efforts

Organizations build the framework by coordinating their data development activities. Framework data coordination operates along two dimensions. The first dimension emphasizes opportunities for organizations with similar needs. An example is a metropolitan area in which local governments, their customers, state and federal agencies with facilities in the area, utilities, and others require high-resolution spatial data for their operations. In this case the framework provides a starting point for sharing the commonly needed geographic base information and allows each organization to add the unique information it requires to meet its business needs.

The second dimension emphasizes opportunities for organizations needing different amounts of detail for an area. For example, a local government, a regional transportation planning organization, and a state transportation agency may require road data for an area, albeit at progressively coarser levels of detail. To work together effectively, they may need to share the results of their individual efforts and would benefit from using a common geographic base and generalized data created from this base. The framework provides a starting point for a base and the data generalized from it, providing the organizations with contemporary and consistent data for decision making and helping them avoid confusion caused by differences in the vintages, common attributes, and other characteristics of the base data.

The framework is being developed by this entire community, with organizations from all areas playing roles. For some, the framework will supply the data they need to build applications. Others will contribute data, and some may provide services to maintain and distribute data. Some organizations will play several roles in framework development, operation, and use. The framework will take many years to develop fully, but useful components are being developed continuously.