Getting Started

What you can do now to participate in the framework.

Although the framework is an ambitious undertaking, you can participate by starting small. Many simple things you can do today will move you closer to framework participation. In fact, projects that are too ambitious often stall, causing participants to lose enthusiasm. Smaller undertakings have smaller risks.

Over time, however, simple activities lead to gradual progress toward framework participation and development.

This chapter provides some suggestions for developing your GIS and geographic data efforts, establishing workable organizational arrangements for sharing data, managing the GIS and geographic data-sharing environment, establishing productive communication networks, and participating in framework development and use.

Follow Best Practices in GIS

The GIS experiences of many organizations over the past three decades have resulted in growing knowledge about the most effective ways to develop GISs and geographic databases. The community has learned what works and has longevity, and what leads to a dead end.

Following these "best practices" in GIS is one way to move toward framework participation. You may already be creating or planning to create potential framework data in the course of your GIS development. Doing things well now will enable you to participate in the framework and will also benefit your GIS development and operation.

Some of the best practices of GIS and geographic data development that will also bring you closer to framework participation are discussed below.

Share Common Data

Data sharing is the essence of the framework and of most GIS projects. By using one source of common data, participants can reduce costs, improve data quality, and improve operations and decision making. There are several things you can do to share data:

  • Determine what the commonly needed data sets are for the participants in your GIS effort. You may find, as others have, that many users are wasting resources to create different versions of the same data.
  • Eliminate redundant data. By providing access to one shared copy of common data, rather than producing redundant data, all involved can conserve resources.
  • Develop an integrated design for these common data. A solid design ensures that the data will meet all users' needs. It also allows individual users to access specific parts of the data set. A good design protects the data investment by ensuring integrity in the update process, thereby maintaining database quality and value over time.
  • Use framework definitions as a guideline when developing designs for common data. The seven themes of data represented in the framework -- geodetic control, orthoimagery, elevation, transportation, hydrography, governmental units, and cadastral information -- are the ones most commonly needed and produced by GIS projects. Therefore, you may find the guidelines for these data a valuable resource. Specific aspects to consider include the feature-based model, topology, attributes, and the definition of spatial objects.
  • Before embarking on data conversion, see whether anyone already has data you can use.
  • Talk to your user communities to understand their preferences. For example, find out what information they need for geocoding or linear referencing.
  • Try to handle different users' needs as attributes or added graphics attached to a common base.

Use Common Geographic Data Models

Data modeling is a local task based on an organization's business needs, yet some generalized models have emerged for common geographic data themes and uses. These models address only a basic, high-level view of spatial elements, but they can be useful starting points for proceeding to greater levels of detail. The framework represents one of these starting points.

  • Consider the framework approach -- the basic set of features and attributes -- as a starting point to which you may add further details.
  • Look at models commonly used for data in your application area or for your organization type.
  • Separate and link geographic data and attribute data.
  • Distinguish between basic geographic data and application-specific data.
  • Develop a formal data model for your GIS.

Georeference Data

Using a common referencing system for coordinate positions allows framework contributions to be joined and integrated.

  • Tie data to geodetic control networks.
  • Use the datums recommended for the framework plans, particularly when collecting new data. The recommended datums are the North American Datum of 1983 for horizontal coordinate information, and the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 for vertical coordinate information.
  • Think about coordinate systems. Use of latitude and longitude coordinates is encouraged for the framework. If you use a different referencing system for local purposes, use one that can be easily converted to latitude and longitude, and record the parameters for the coordinate system in metadata. (You will need to translate data into and out of the framework.)

Develop Metadata

Metadata is a vital part of the framework. It is also a critical factor in any GIS development, particularly for geographic data sharing.

  • Create metadata for your GIS data. Important elements are the content, quality, condition, source, date, and other characteristics of the data. The Content Standards for Digital Geospatial Metadata (FGDC 1994) provides detailed guidelines.
  • Develop metadata while the GIS data are being created. At the time of creation, the metadata elements are usually known, so it is wise to capture them then, before they are forgotten. It is harder to create metadata after the fact.

Consider Data-Creation Alternatives

There are many sources and methods for creating digital geographic data. The best source and approach will vary according to the local situation.

  • Consider the data sources and methods available for your database-creation task. Evaluate them with respect to your needs, resources, and long-term plans.
  • Consider your potential participation in the framework and how that might affect your choices: for example, using existing data as a starting point or pursuing data creation alternatives that might interest others in working with you.

Develop Clean Data

  • Make sure your data are geometrically and topologically clean. Eliminate undershoots, spurs, double lines, and other ambiguous details that often occur during data conversion.
  • Perform quality control on your data at the time of production, rather than trying to find errors months or years later.

Construct Continuous Coverage

  • Encode your data in one seamless extent using the same coordinate reference system.
  • If you are using a system based on map sheets, make sure that your map sheets match at the borders.
  • Work with your geographic neighbors to create seamless data across jurisdictions or geographic areas of interest.

Maintain Flexibility

  • Encode text information as attributes, not just map labels.
  • Maintain the ability to aggregate and disaggregate as needed. Layer or group your data. Encode themes and features within themes as separate layers, coverages, or object sets. Distinguish among different feature types with attributes or type identifiers that can be used to classify or separate them. When in doubt, disaggregate. One possible approach is to split data between features that are included in the framework and those that are not. It is often easier to combine components later than to try to split them apart.

Start Data-Sharing Activities

Limited data-sharing activities can lead to initial involvement in the framework and help you ease into full framework participation.

Participate in the Geospatial Data Clearinghouse

  • If you already have data, consider posting their metadata in the National Geospatial Data Clearinghouse.
  • Also consider making the data themselves available through the clearinghouse.

Share Data Locally

  • Even if you don't organize a project or a consortium, you may still find that ad hoc data sharing within your area is advantageous. Every data set shared is an expense avoided.
  • Discuss your data creation plans and interests within your potential geographic data-sharing community before taking unilateral action.
  • Share your business plans for data creation with your potential community members.

Develop Management Approaches

Although the technical aspects of geographic data activities demand attention, management issues will make or break a project.

Develop Business Plans

GIS, data sharing, and framework participation can be daunting. Developing a good business plan for these efforts helps you evaluate the costs and benefits, determine the resources required, plan the activities and time frame, and convince management of the benefits of proceeding. Good business plans also reduce risks.

  • Follow the business plan guidelines provided in this chapter for framework participants.

Develop Incentives

Provide incentives for your organization and your potential partners to participate in GIS, geographic data sharing, and framework activities.

  • Identify incentives. Frequently, benefits and advantages already exist and only need to be recognized and pointed out.
  • Create incentives. Benefits can be turned into incentives.
  • Publicize incentives. Because different benefits and incentives are attractive to different participants, incentive education should be packaged appropriately for your target audience.

Address Issues Early

Some issues related to geographic data access and sharing can take years to resolve. Too many organizations begin to look at these issues only when they are ready to share data, and they must then delay sharing while these issues are resolved. Start early to examine issues that may preclude or delay your participation.

  • Address data access concerns.
  • Examine cost-recovery strategies and issues.
  • Consider potential liabilities.
  • Resolve archive issues. Determine how historical data will be managed.
  • Resolve data management issues. Anticipate these issues and plan data-management approaches before data collection begins.
  • Plan data maintenance approaches.

Organize Locally

The framework is built from the ground up. You can work with other organizations in your area to develop framework data in the course of addressing each organization's business needs. There are many methods of cooperation. Individual partnerships may address specific applications or areas, while local consortia may include the needs of a number of different organizations.

Form Partnerships

Many opportunities exist for forming partnerships, and partnerships may take many forms. Partnerships are appropriate for the following situations:

  • Similar government entities, such as neighboring counties, or a county and city within its boundaries, may partner to combine data for a larger area. Two states may collaborate for an issue that crosses their borders. Two federal agencies may have a common interest in an area.
  • Public and private sector organizations, such as utilities and local governments, often have common land interests.
  • Different levels of government, including local, state and federal government agencies, may form partnerships for mutually beneficial projects.
Guidelines for developing partnerships are provided later in this chapter.

Develop Framework Advocacy

Framework activities are more likely to develop and to be effective if there is a framework advocate within a GIS community.

  • Become a framework advocate for your local geographic data community.
  • Enlist a framework advocate for your community.

Form Multiparticipant Organizational Structures

When several organizations want to work together effectively, it is often advantageous to develop a consortium or other multiparticipant organizational structure. Many multiparticipant organizations are already in operation around the country. They take several forms. Three of the most prevalent structures (as discussed in chapter 4) are listed below:

  • state-based coordination efforts among state agencies, federal agencies, local governments, and others are usually ongoing;
  • regional consortia involving local and regional participants, which are also usually ongoing; and
  • special projects involving specific agencies of various government (and perhaps private) organizations working together on a specific project, which are often temporary.

Successful cooperative efforts usually have certain elements in common:

  • formal agreements and mechanisms for coordinating data;
  • an obvious operational reason for being initiated -- a business reason for working together;
  • incentives for participation;
  • an area integrator, who coordinates or combines the data contributions from other organizations;
  • participants who trust one another;
  • overlapping jurisdictional boundaries that are accepted and worked with;
  • a policy committee or board -- composed of top managers and administrators representing the participating organizations -- that addresses policy issues;
  • a technical team or committee -- composed of various representatives from participating organizations -- that addresses technical and operations issues; and
  • a management and operations team -- a staff group that frequently works under the direction of the consortium leader, manager, or coordinator.

Successful examples of joint geographic data projects at the local, state, and regional levels can provide guidance for other organizations wishing to establish local framework efforts. Every situation has its unique aspects, and any examples must be studied and evaluated in light of that fact. Think about your own situation and choose appropriate elements. (Many examples of cooperative geographic data efforts can be found in the GIS literature and forums discussed later in this chapter and in the appendixes.)

Seek Supplemental Resources

Many federal, state, and other programs provide funding or assistance for the development of technology and, specifically, geographic data-handling capabilities. These may provide the funds needed to start or expand your GIS, geographic data sharing, and framework activities. You can find out about potential resources in your geographic and application areas of interest through GIS periodical literature, associations, and meetings, and by contacting others in your areas of interest. Information about these resources is provided in the appendixes.

Establish Contacts

The GIS and geographic data community is large and growing rapidly. Different types of contacts can be useful for different purposes, including advice and expertise, existing and potential local partnerships, data availability, and news about framework and geographic data-sharing activities and plans in your geographic or application area. Appendix C provides a list of contacts by state, as well as a list of relevant professional associations. You can also make valuable contacts at conferences and events that address your interests.

Participate in Framework Developments

Beyond staying informed, it is important to participate in framework development. The main sources of information about framework activities and developments are described below:

Contribute to Framework Development

In addition to taking actions that promote framework development in your own area, participate in the larger picture.

  • Be a framework advocate. Contribute your expertise. Speak up in GIS and framework forums.
  • Communicate with the vendor community. Promote the development of tools that will support the framework.

FGDC Mailing List

The Federal Geographic Data Committee mails out newsletters and other announcements. To be added to the mailing list, contact the FGDC at the following address:

    Federal Geographic Data Committee Secretariat
    c/o U.S. Geological Survey
    590 National Center
    Reston, Virginia 20192
    Telephone: (703) 648-5514
    Facsimile: (703) 648-5755
    Internet (electronic mail):

FGDC Web Site

The FGDC Web site includes a framework Web page. Framework announcements, summaries, reports, and reference documents are posted at this site. The address of the FGDC Web site is


FRAM-L is an Internet mailing list discussion group that addresses the framework. To subscribe, contact the FGDC Secretariat at the above address.

GIS Periodicals

Geo Info Systems and GIS World are two major monthly GIS publications that provide regular NSDI updates. Articles and columns that address the NSDI and the framework are frequently included. Other GIS periodicals occasionally include articles related to the NSDI and the framework. (See appendix B for a list of GIS periodicals.)

GIS Conferences

GIS-related conferences frequently have sessions that discuss the NSDI and the framework. (See appendix B for a list of the professional associations that conduct conferences with GIS components.)

Follow GIS Developments

To make informed decisions and take effective action in developing your framework efforts, you must stay abreast of developments in the GIS and geographic data field. Many organizations are creating and writing about GISs and data-sharing environments. Even though many issues are far from settled, the experiences and thoughts of others involved in the community provide valuable information. You need to know about current technology and technology directions, current GIS and geographic data practices, implementation approaches, and evaluations of how well various approaches are working. When you make decisions about your own GIS, geographic data-sharing, and framework direction, consider the various options, opportunities, and issues. (See recommended literature sources in appendix B.)

Developing Partnerships

Partnerships and cooperation for geographic data-sharing activities among local, state, and federal governments and the private sector are essential for the development of the framework. In addition to aiding framework development, partnerships directly benefit the organizations involved. Partners share data, technology, expertise, and facilities and the costs associated with these components.

Productive partnerships can be formed among all types of organizations. Some partnerships are ongoing, while others are formed for a limited time and purpose. (The latter types of partnerships benefit the framework only when arrangements are made for data maintenance beyond the life of the partnership.) In some partnerships, the data, activities, and products are well defined and stable. In others, they vary with conditions and partners' needs.

There are several key elements to developing effective partnerships. 1

  • Shared responsibilities. Each party's responsibilities in the activity should be defined and, preferably, formalized in an agreement.
  • Shared commitment. The costs of the activity should be shared between the parties according to some agreed-upon formula or arrangement.
  • Shared benefits. Each party to the activity should derive some benefit that is consistent with its role.
  • Shared control. Partnership participants should share in decision making.

1 Many of the elements here are derived from the National Research Council's work (National Academy of sciences 1994). The National States Geographic Information Council's work on partnerships was also used as a reference source (1996).

Other important conditions and elements promote the development of the framework:

  • Extended benefits. The partnership arrangement and activities should also benefit organizations beyond the partnership, thus fostering the development of the framework.
  • Extended design. The partnership's contribution to the wider objectives of the framework should be considered in its design and management.
  • Data quality. The data being shared in the partnership must be of a known quality.
  • Data stewardship. Each data set needs one steward, and that steward should be the agency closest to the source of the data.
  • Sustained relationship. The participants must be committed to supporting the partnership as an ongoing program. While temporary projects can benefit participants, they do not contribute much to the framework because ongoing data maintenance, coordination, management, and distribution are not provided.

Partnership Elements

The issues to consider when forming partnerships relate to establishing these preferred conditions and characteristics.

  • Formalization. Will your proposed partnership be more successful if it is highly formalized or if it is conducted informally? The answer is highly dependent on organizational cultures, politics, history, and personalities. If formalization is needed, the timing of the formalization is crucial to the success of the effort. A long negotiation period may exceed participants' schedules and lead to decreased enthusiasm and even cancellation of the effort.
  • Responsibilities. What are the necessary functions, roles, and activities, and who will perform them? Important responsibilities include data development, maintenance, integration, access, management as well as coordination, executive guidance, resource management, and monitoring and response.
  • Incentives. What are the incentives for participation in the partnership?
  • Resource requirements. What are the total resources required -- initially and ongoing -- to create and operate the partnership? Beyond the obvious resources required for data production and maintenance, there are also resource requirements for data distribution and integration. Resources required for management, coordination, communication, and decision making are often hidden costs that must be recognized and quantified.
  • Cost sharing. What is the rationale for dividing costs? What will be the method of contribution? Participants might make contributions in the form of cash, data, labor, or some other component.
  • Cost recovery. What are the cost components for providing access to data? Which of these are recoverable? How will charges be determined? What is the unit for charging? How will funds be channeled back to the appropriate participants?
  • Achieving compromises. How will compromises be reached regarding individual partners' requirements and preferences? Each partner may have different needs and interests related to data content, representation, standards, and priorities. How will you identify issues for which compromises can be achieved and those for which they cannot? How will you handle matters on which compromises cannot be reached? Compromises that satisfy all participants must be achieved. At the same time, however, it is important that framework standards not be compromised in forming of partnerships.
  • Conflict resolution. How will conflicts be resolved?
  • Framework understanding. Do all partners understand the framework, and are they committed to it? Participants must understand the differences between developing customized data and developing framework-ready data that will be useful to others.
  • Outside coordination. How will the partnership coordinate with organizations and entities outside the partnership? The framework is a network of communication, in many ways resembling nested partnerships. Can a single point or minimum points of contact be identified?

Developing Business Plans

Whether you are developing a framework initiative, a geographic data-sharing consortium, or a single GIS, a business plan is an essential tool. A business plan provides the information necessary to judge how safe an investment an initiative is. It also lays out your direction and provides a yardstick against which you can measure progress. Both of these elements are important to the executives of the organization making the investment, to the individual who will manage the effort, and to the project participants.

Another advantage of developing a business plan is that the exercise makes you think carefully about the cost, benefits, goals, plans, activities, and components of your framework effort. It helps you consider these elements and be specific about them.

A business plan improves a project's potential for success, whether the project is a multimillion-dollar effort with hundreds of participants or a one-person endeavor. Obviously, a business plan is required to initiate and run a large project. The need for a plan may not be as obvious for smaller projects, but it is still an important tool for establishing and running a framework initiative.

Developing a business plan can take a few hours or a few months, depending on the size of the project and the amount of detail addressed. Although there are no set methods for developing these plans for framework initiatives, successful plans for GIS projects and geographic data sharing have some common elements, similar to those found in any good business plan, adapted to their nature. The elements presented here are intended as guidelines for you to consider when developing your business plan.

Business Plan Elements

  • Project name. What is your framework initiative called? Is framework development or geographic data creation and sharing the entire business of your organization, or is it a special project? Is there name recognition?
  • Geographic extent. Is the geographic extent fixed or changing?
  • Time frame. How long have you been conducting the initiative? Will your framework initiative ever be complete, and if so, when? Can you project beyond the immediate future? Do you know what the project's status will be five years from now? Can you identify major events?
  • Sponsoring organizations. Who is involved? Are arrangements formal? Are the organizations firmly involved?
  • Overview. Is your summary of the initiative concise and interesting? Does it communicate enthusiasm and value, but remain concrete?
  • Governance. Who is in charge? Is there staff depth or backup for critical positions? Are responsibilities tied to organizations and positions or to individuals? If the latter is the case, what happens if those individuals leave? How stable are the governing organizations or positions? Are they committed and interdependent? Who directs them?
  • Operations. Whose resources -- hardware, software, and people -- make the operation run? How solid is the operation? What happens if a component breaks down?
  • Legal/political environment. How do prevailing laws, practices, and community values and expectations affect the operation?
  • Products and services. Are your goods and services fixed, or do they vary with demand? If the products and services will bring in the necessary cash flow, describe why they are distinctive, valuable, and dependable.
  • Marketing. Who are your customers? If you don't have customers yet, who will they be, and what will you do to get them? What motivates them and gets their attention? Why will they invest in an effort that has yet to be fully tested?
  • Cooperation. What are the costs, benefits, and risks of establishing cooperation? What happens if you fail?
  • Competition. How did potential customers and participants get along without your products and services? What factors will keep them from choosing your offerings?
  • Change factors. What part of your plan might not succeed? What will happen to the initiative if there are changes in important aspects such as the participants, leadership, budgets, or priorities?
  • Budget. What are all the aspects and impacts of cost and income -- technology, data, people, support, management, training, and supplies?
  • Wrap-up. What is the best possible ending for your story? Summarize with enthusiasm. Let the reader know what you believe in and how you will make the effort successful.
  • Attachments. What can you illustrate with charts, graphics, figures, and maps? Include things that will help your reader understand your points.

Project Name:

Geographic Extent:

Time Frame:

Brief Description of Project and Goals:

Sponsoring Agencies:


  • Organizational structure and governance
  • Mission, charter, mandate, etc.
  • Personnel resources: expertise, capacity, and flexibility
  • Technical resources: hardware, software, procedures, tools
Legal and Political
  • Statutory and regulatory measures that impact the project
  • Other political parameters
Products and Services Marketing
  • Customers and market segments addressed
  • Demand addressed
  • Price sensitivity and flexibility
  • Marketing Strategy


Change Factors


  • Estimated revenues and expenses for the first year (see grid below)
  • Fiscal strategies and goals