Making SDIs Work

I failed to comment on my comments, which makes me a Bad Blogger. It is all about reprocessing content after all, so here goes…

Incentives and Costs

In response to the “Why SDIs Fail” posting, “randy” comments:

The key seems to be incentives and the only two I can think of are market incentives and policy mandate incentives. Market incentives are bottom up and way more appealing than top down legal/policy incentives.

And I agree. Incentives are lacking now, except for the “good karma” incentive. However, low incentives alone are not a barrier to action, it is low incentives in conjunction with a higher cost of action that cause inaction. The karmic incentive to not litter is relatively low, but the cost of not littering is also very low… hey, there’s a garbage can right over there.

So we can defeat SDI inaction through two possible routes: increase the incentives to participation, or decrease the costs.

Randy raises a number of possible external incentives, such as legal mandates, to push public organizations into the SDI arena. In particular for areas where there is a strong argument for mandated participation (public safety) this approach may have legs. But we know how lower orders of governments love unfunded mandates.

I personally think that decreasing the costs has better potential in the short term, by examining the data sharing networks that have succeeded – the illegal music and movie distribution networks. Everyone has an incentive to take and no one has an incentive to give, yet the content is out there. There are technical approaches to enhancing sharing in sharing-averse communities which can be scavenged from this arena and brought into ours.

Even Better Technology

Rob Atkinson looks into the future and sees that the tools we have now are not equipped for doing effective data sharing.

What we need is the mechanism by which SDIs can grow (from top-down and bottom-up) to bridge that gap. Much like DNS provides domain roots and the bind protocol. What we need to do to realise SDI benefits is, as you say, enable massively scalable access to data updates by making life significantly easier at the grass roots level, but also by introducing a level of coherence to enable investment decisions at the national level.

I agree that many “real” data sharing applications are going to need some super-amazing technology to bind together content. Ontology and deep metadata. But in the meantime, looser, more human-mediated approaches are required to bridge the gap.

As Rob says, life needs to be easier for the grass roots. That is job one. Once the data is flowing, the coneheads in the central agencies can figure out techno-magic to stitch it all together, but until the data starts flowing the whole discussion is just so much intellectual masturbation.

I Propose…

That job one is to get the data flowing. There needs to be a single, user-facing application, a GeoNapster, that makes sharing data and finding data ludicrously simple. So simple that there is no excuse not to do it except sheer bullheadedness. Get the data flowing and then worry about how to integrate it.

Recognize that data at the lowest levels of government is created by one or two people. Pitch the tool and approach to that level. Make it search and find just as well as it shares. Integrate it with the desktop, even with the major vendor software, if that makes it work more easily.

The data sets that are “corporately” managed by state and federal bureaucracies may have to wait, or be brought online in the mode of NCOneMap, with careful one-on-one cajolling. But the SDI builders have to know what they want, what is of value, and be strategic, not shot-gun, in gathering those contributors.

Being strategic means making hard decisions about what will be used, and what is useful, given the current technology available. Imagery is widely useful with the current technology. Complex inventory data usually is not (would you like to see the forests by stand age? species? do the different jurisdictions use the same inventory techniques? are these apples or oranges or both?) so do not waste money or time on it.

Get out to the operational GIS level, meet the people who are going to use these services (in theory) and feed in new information (in theory) and figure out how to get involved in their day to day work. How can an SDI become as ingrained in the daily workflow of GIS technologies as Google is in our techno-lives?

Put the strategic diagrams, the boxes and arrows, in a drawer for a while. They will still be there later, when the time comes.