ARCHIVED - GeoConnections Program Phase II

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Table of Contents


Executive Summary

This is an evaluation of the GeoConnections Phase II, covering 2005-06 to 2007-08 and expenditures of approximately $17.5 million.1 GeoConnections II is a horizontal, multi-sectoral, initiative aimed at combining geospatial information to serve user needs in four priority areas: Environmental/Sustainable Development; Matters of Importance to Aboriginal Peoples; Public Health; and Public Security. GeoConnections II has a five-year mandate, until March 2010, and a total budget of $60 million. GeoConnections operates from within the Earth Sciences Sector of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

Geomatics is the use of geospatial information to facilitate planning, business operations and improve decision-making in areas where location-based data is important. The geomatics industry includes disciplines such as surveying, aerial photography, geodesy, mapping, photogrammetry, remote sensing and geographic information systems. In 2004, over 2,200 Canadian firms provided geomatics products or services with total revenues of $2.8 billion (over $1 billion from the oil and gas industry). The value-added to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the geomatics industry was estimated at a further $2 billion.2

GeoConnections Phase I (1999-2004) initiated development of a Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI). The CGDI is the technology, standards, access systems and protocols necessary to harmonize all of Canada's geospatial networks, tools and services and make them available on the Internet. The CGDI is the "backbone" of GeoConnections. The heart of the CGDI is framework data such as physical features, elevations, road systems, and other layers of mapping information.

Phase II of GeoConnections is intended to build capacity of user communities to harness the CGDI in support of decision-making in federal priority areas. Phase II is also expected to broaden partnerships with federal/provincial/territorial (F/P/T) agencies and industry to engage communities in using the CGDI to improve on-line access to Canada's location-based information.3

As of March 31, 2008, 161 projects were launched in GeoConnections Phase II, of which 102 projects were completed. Project funding was through a combination of letters of agreement, contributions and contracts among its stakeholders. The work was carried out in partnership among project proponents including all levels of government, industry, non-government organizations, and academia.


1 The findings of this evaluation will be included in a larger evaluation of NRCan's Basic Infrastructure Sub-Activity 3.2.4. GeoConnections falls under Canada's Geographic Foundation, Sub-Sub-Activity 3.2.4.2, of the Department's Program Activity Architecture.
22004 Geomatics Industry Survey Results (PowerPoint), prepared by Statistics Canada for Policy, Economic Analysis and Planning Division, Earth Sciences Sector, September 2006.
3http://business.highbeam.com/150/article-1G1-166777465/business-geomatics-burgeoning-disciplinela-geomatique

Issues, Methodologies and Limitations

This evaluation study of GeoConnections Phase II focused on the issues of:

  • relevance and rational;
  • results and success; and
  • cost-effectiveness and alternatives.

The methodologies used in this study were relatively limited, including three lines of enquiry:

  • a document review (90 documents);
  • 30 in-person interviews; and
  • administrative data from the Smart/Simple database.

It should be noted that this study had several limitations. The start of GeoConnections II was delayed by almost a year so little was accomplished in 2005-06. Therefore, the study does not encompass sufficient data for a complete understanding of the Phase II's actual and potential successes and challenges. Given previous evaluations of five GeoConnections Phase I elements and the placement of this study within a much larger evaluation project, the resources devoted to this evaluation itself were modest.

Key Findings

1. Relevance and Rationale

Stakeholders expressed a continuing need for GeoConnections, largely because the Program supports standards setting (e.g., for data quality, accuracy and consistency) across jurisdictions by allowing all parties to interact using a common language. This is a function that the private sector cannot provide. GeoConnections also continues to serve the public interest by supporting federal and provincial government decision-making in public good priority areas (Environmental/Sustainable Development; Matters of Importance to Aboriginal Peoples; Public Health; and Public Security).

The role of the federal government in this area is legitimate and continuing, given the sensitivity of the data involved and its application to government decision-making. The current federal roles of leadership, framework-development, and standards setting are essential and cannot be designated to other parties. At this time, none of the Program's current activities could or should be transferred to other delivery agents. The nature of the geomatics industry – with rapidly changing and accelerating technology, greater competition among other international players, and the growth of a mass market, makes the federal role all the more important at such a critical time.

2. Results and Success

The objective of GeoConnections II are, "…to maintain, operate, and expand the CGDI and, in particular, to support its use in decision making on public safety and security, public health, environment and sustainable development, and matters of importance to Aboriginal peoples".4

A key expected result was that decision-makers would increase their use of location-based information by applying an expanded and user-driven CGDI to address issues in priority areas. This expected result is being met in that decision-makers report that they are using location-based information more. However, challenges in communicating the potential benefits of this information to senior decision-makers are being encountered, limiting the Program's reach. The greatest success of GeoConnections II to date has been supporting the development of workable inter-jurisdictional geospatial data systems, which allow jurisdictions to share data easily.

GeoConnections II is successfully addressing user needs. The access of decision makers to standardized data has improved from 2005 to 2008. Nonetheless, awareness remains an impediment as the process of making geospatial information freely and openly available is taking longer than originally predicted. GeoConnections II has not yet developed the capacity to develop and support data beyond the work done by the local contribution recipients.

Based on the findings of this evaluation, the main issues to be addressed to ensure the success of GeoConnections II include:

  1. resolving the issue of funding local groups versus the need to establish a national approach;
  2. increasing awareness of geospatial data and capacity among senior decision-makers and other users;
  3. establishing stronger and more explicit roles for provinces;
  4. improving the user-friendliness of the GeoConnections portal; and
  5. addressing the need for a long-term federal commitment to geospatial data versus the current sun-set funding.

4 GeoConnections, GeoConnections Annual Report 2005-06, (undated), page 6.

3. Cost-Effectiveness and Alternatives

According to stakeholders, GeoConnections II is cost-effective. However, stakeholders reported that the transaction costs involved in working with the Program were a burden. Efforts should be made to minimize the administrative burden (e.g., shorter and simpler approval processes).

Based on GeoConnections II's ability to leverage resources, it appears that Canadians are getting value for their federal tax dollars. It is estimated that each federal dollar is leveraged almost two dollars in cash and in-kind support during the first three years of GeoConnections II.

Recommendations, Management Responses and Action Plans

1.0 Program Profile

1.1 Background

The Canadian geomatics industry is a world leader in supplying remote sensing equipment and technology, such as satellite ground receiving stations. Canada supplies 10-15% of world sales of remote sensing products and services, half the value of electronics used in satellite data ground receiving stations and 25% of the value of image processing systems.

As of 2004, over 2,200 Canadian firms provided geomatics products or services with total revenues of $2.8 billion (over $1 billion from the oil and gas industry). The value-added to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the geomatics industry was estimated at a further $2 billion. The main client of geomatics products or services is the private sector, accounting for 68% of sales ($1.9 billion) in 2004, followed by governments and public institutions, representing 23% ($634 million).5

GeoConnections is a national program housed within the Earth Sciences Sector (ESS) of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). The Program falls under Canada's Geographic Foundation, Sub-Sub Activity 3.2.4.2, of the Department's Program Activity Architecture.

Phase I of GeoConnections was launched in 1999 as a $60 million five-year national program to build and operate the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI), a mechanism for sharing location-based information over the Internet. Phase I had seven program elements focused on developing essential CGDI components, such as Internet access windows, standards, technologies and policies needed to access, manage and use geospatial data and framework data.

The results of GeoConnections Phase I included the establishment of the CGDI, implementation of international standards by key partners, a network of data supply partnerships, technologies harnessing the Internet and supportive policies for data sharing. The partnership approach also increased the expertise of industry while delivering on the social, economic and environmental priorities of federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Evaluations were conducted on five of the seven GeoConnections Phase I program elements. The activities undertaken in six of the original program elements either continue or have been incorporated in Phase II. The Atlas of Canada, the seventh program element, has continued as a separate program. The evaluations generally found that the program elements were making progress towards their objectives and the findings and recommendations of the evaluations were taken into consideration in the design of Phase II. As a result of evaluations of GeoConnections I, several elements were incorporated into the new program6, including: a simplified governance structure and streamlined program elements, a focus on user needs, user-centred designed and ongoing user consultations via advisory networks.

Framework data is the heart of the CGDI. The framework data provide context and reference information for the country. Framework data include three layers of information: alignment layers to position geospatial information; land feature/form layers such as water ways and roads; and conceptual layers such as municipal boundaries.

By providing technical solutions for accessing and sharing location-based information, the CGDI enabled the integration of data required for decision-making on many inter-jurisdictional matters. Many partners from industry, government agencies and municipalities view the CGDI as a solution to improve service delivery efficiencies and information flows among governments. Stakeholder feedback at that time was described as having consistently demonstrated the critical need for continued collaboration and investment.7


5 Canadian Journal of Regional Science (Sept. 22, 2006). Source: http://business.highbeam.com/150/article-1G1-166777465/business-geomatics-burgeoning-disciplinela-geomatique.
6 RMAF : GeoConnections Results-based Management and Accountability Framework, April 6, 2005,Annex 4, pages 20-21
7http://geoconnections.nrcan.gc.ca.

1.2 Objectives and Expected Results8

The objectives of GeoConnections II are, "…to maintain, operate, and expand the CGDI and, in particular, to support its use in decision making on public safety and security, public health, environment and sustainable development, and matters of importance to Aboriginal peoples".9

These priority areas were chosen in consultation among program stakeholders based on their clear alignment with governments' responsibilities and the ongoing need to develop and maintain geospatial data in these areas.

Phase II is intended to shift emphasis from building user capacity to supporting a demand-driven infrastructure to meet user needs. GeoConnections Phase II's expected results are the following:

  • Decision-makers increase their use of location-based information to address issues in the four priority areas (Public Safety; Public Health; Environmental and Sustainable Development; and matters of interest to Aboriginal Peoples)
  • Priority users secure access to user-defined and timely location-based data required for their business processes
  • Through a model partnership approach, federal and provincial/territorial governments, private sector, academia and NGOs operate and evolve technical standards and the infrastructure
  • The F/P/T community and other stakeholders avoid duplication and increase benefits by transforming business processes, implement policies that increase information sharing.10

Phase II is expected to broaden GeoConnections' partnerships with agencies of all levels of government and with industry to engage communities in using the CGDI to improve on-line access to Canada's location-based information.11


8http://geoconnections.nrcan.gc.ca.
9 GeoConnections, GeoConnections Annual Report 2005-06, (undated), page 6.
10 GeoConnections: Enhancing Canada's GeoAdvantage - Program Logic Model. RMAF, April 14, 2005, page 12.
11 Ibid.

1.3 Funding Mechanisms, Projects and Program Areas

GeoConnections II has three project funding mechanisms:

  • contribution agreements12 for user readiness, business case development and capacity-building projects, projects to use the CGDI to support decision- making or link content for the CGDI;
  • letters of agreement with government agencies and departments; and
  • contracts to develop specific policies for or components of the CGDI, to procure innovations required by end-user communities, or to integrate large-scale framework data sets (such as satellite imagery).13

During the first three years of Phase II, 161 projects (i.e., contributions; letters of agreement; or contracts) were launched and 102 had been completed. The distribution of projects among priority areas is provided in Table 1. As can be seen, the common and environmental areas with 45 projects each represented over half of the projects launched. The other three areas with 71 projects launched represented about 45 % of projects. GeoConnections support for projects ranged from a few dollars to $2.4 million. Median support for projects was about $78,000.

Table 1:
Distribution of GeoConnections Phase II Projects Launched Estimated and Median GeoConnections Funding by Priority Area, 2005-06 to 2007-08
Priority 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 Total % Median
Common 3 16 26 45 27.9 $85,000
Environmental/Sustainable Development -- 24 21 45 27.9 $75,000
Matters of Interest to Aboriginal Peoples -- 11 12 23 14.3 $54,000
Public Health 1 7 20 28 17.4 $98,750
Public Safety -- 5 15 20 12.4 $65,000
Total 4 63 94 161 100.0 $78,357

Source:.GeoConnections Secretariat, August 20, 2009.
Note: Projects were funded using a variety of mechanisms available to GeoConnections, including contribution agreements, letters of agreement and contracts. Examples of the types of projects being funded by GeoConnections II are provided below.

Common projects benefit more than one priority area and examples include:

  • framework data layers;
  • policy research;
  • pilot projects; and
  • data modeling and design.

Examples of Environment and Sustainable Development projects are:

  • monitoring for biodiversity, sustainable development; and species at risk;
  • integrated land use and eco-system planning and management tools; and
  • creation of national standards for protected areas and water well data.

Matters of Interest to Aboriginal Peoples projects include:

  • mapping capacity of First Nations;
  • strategic planning for decision support systems (land and resource management, tourism); and
  • geospatial portals and applications.

Public Health priority area projects touch topics such as:

  • guidelines for analyzing geospatial data for public health applications;
  • health surveillance and community information systems;
  • capacity development in public health geospatial information systems; and
  • user needs assessments.

Typical projects in the Public Safety priority are:

  • decision support systems for emergency measures;
  • critical infrastructure data development;
  • flood event prediction and monitoring systems (and avalanche monitoring systems, river ice systems, etc.); and
  • public service atlases.

Table 2 demonstrates that expenditures by priority areas followed a generally similar pattern to the number of projects with the common area receiving almost 40% of projects expenditures and the Aboriginal just over 10%.

Table 2:
GeoConnections Phase II Project Expenditures by Priority Area, 2005-06 to 2007-08 ($'000,000)
Priority 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 Total %
Common 0.5 1.0 3.1 4.6 41.1
Environmental/
Sustainable Development
0.1 0.4 1.8 2.3 20.5
Public Health 0.1 0.3 1.2 1.6 14.3
Public Safety 0.0 0.5 0.9 1.4 12.5
Matters of Interest to Aboriginal Peoples 0.0 0.5 0.8 1.3 11.6
Total 0.7 2.7 7.8 11.2 100.0

Source: GeoConnections Secretariat, August 20, 2009 based on GUFI data. Excludes Secretariat costs.

As described in Tables 3 and 4 below, the 161 GeoConnections II projects launched during the first three years are also classified under four Program Areas:

  • User Capacity ($5.5 million, 49 % of the total expenditures for all projects);
  • (Architecture) Standards and Technical Infrastructure ($2.9 million, one quarter of expenditures);
  • Content Maintenance and Expansion ($2.0 million, almost 20%); and
  • Policy and Coordination ($800,000, about 7%).14
Table 3:
Descriptions of GeoConnections II Program Areas
Program Areas Description
User Capacity
  • Objective: To help users take advantage of the CGDI to improve decision making (either to help increase readiness to use the CGDI or, for those already able to use the CGDI, customize applications and information systems).
  • Competitive process, run annually through Announcements of Opportunity.
  • Selection based upon alignment of project proponent's business plan with priorities identified by thematic advisory committee and demonstration by project proponent of their understanding of end user requirements.
(Architecture) Standards/Technical Infrastructure
  • Objective: To further develop the technical standards and components of the CGDI (to evolve the infrastructure to respond to new technologies, users and markets).
  • Responds to committee-driven specification of common technical needs based on business/user requirements of targeted user communities.
  • Competitive and cost shared.
  • Primarily uses requests for proposals to generate contracts.
  • Occasionally uses contribution agreements.
Content Maintenance and Expansion
  • Objective: To increase the information and data accessed through CGDI Competitive process in the majority of cases, through Announcements of Opportunity to generate contribution agreements, letters of agreement or collaborations and through requests for proposals to generate contracts.
  • Uses targeted invitations occasionally to generate contribution agreements or letters of agreements and sole source contracts.
  • Driven by user and decision maker requirements and available to private and public sectors.
Policy and Coordination
  • Objective: To facilitate forums to coordinate management of geomatics policies across Canada.
  • Cost shared and competitive.
  • Uses targeted invitations, requests for proposal, letters of agreements and contribution agreements to respond to priorities identified by the Policy Working group as well as needs identified by various advisory committees.

Source: Geoconnections Secretariat, October 7, 2009.

Table 4:
GeoConnections Phase II Projects Expenditures by Program Area, 2005-06 to 2007-08 ($'000,000)
Program 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 Total %
User Capacity 0.3 1.4 3.8 5.5 49.1
Architecture 0.2 0.4 2.3 2.9 25.9
Content 0.0 0.5 1.5 2.0 17.9
Policy and Coordination 0.2 0.4 0.2 0.8 7.1
Total 0.7 2.7 7.8 11.2 100.0

Source: GeoConnections Secretariat, August 20, 2009, data from GUFI. Excludes Secretariat costs.

GeoConnections II uses a matching investment approach with its (proponents) and (partners) in all four program areas. At the outset of GeoConnections II, a 1:1 leverage ratio was anticipated (i.e., the federal investment of $60 million over five years was expected to result in/lever an investment of at least another $60 million from partners).

As detailed in Table 5 below, GeoConnections II expenditures committed about $18.2 million during the first three years of the program while proponents and partners committed $13.1 million in cash and $23.5 million in the form of in-kind support. The federal support of $18.2 million represented about one third of total costs ($54.9 million) for a matching ratio of 1:2. Based on cash alone the leveraging ratio is 1:.7.
(Note: these estimates do not reconcile exactly with table 6 which is based on actual expenditures.)

Table 5:
GeoConnections Phase II Estimated levering by Priority Area, 2005-06 to 2007-08 ($'000,000)
Priority GeoConnec-tions Support Cash  estimated Project  from Proponents And Partners In-Kind Project Proponents & Partners Total
Common $8.6 $8.1 $12.8 $29.5
Environmental/
Sustainable Development
$4.2 $2.26 $5.1 $11.5
Public Health $2.3 $1.3 $2.9 $6.6
Public Safety $1.6 $.7 $1.9 $4.2
Matters of Interest to Aboriginal Peoples $1.5 $.8 $.8 $3.1
Total $18.2 $13.2 $23.6 $54.9

Source: GeoConnections Secretariat, August 20, 2009.

Note: The data in this table do not reconcile exactly with Table 6 that uses actual expenditures from the departmental financial system (GUFI). The data in this table are derived from the Program's own Smart/Simple database. The GeoConnections support column represents allocations to projects that are updated over time. The cash and in-kind data are based on initial information from proponents and are updated following the end of projects.


12 Eligible recipients include individuals; Canadian profit and non-profit organizations; international profit and non-profit organizations; International governments; corporations; industry and their associations; research associations; academic institutions;
provincial, territorial, regional, municipal and rural government departments, agencies and Crown Corporations.
13http://geoconnections.nrcan.gc.ca and http://geoconnections.nrcan.gc.ca
14 Earth Sciences Sector, NRCan, GeoConnections Results-based Management and Accountability Framework, April 6, 2005, page 2.

1.4 Governance

The Management Board, chaired by the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Earth Sciences Sector, is responsible for the leadership of the Program. The Management Board is comprised of representatives of all levels of government, the private and academic sectors as well as interest group representatives. This membership is intended to reflect the views of both content providers and users. The Management Board approves funding allocations and sets strategic direction.

An Operations Committee, reporting to the Management Board, is responsible for the operational management of the Program. The Operations Committee prioritizes users' needs based on input from the four Program Area Teams that report to it.

Thematic Advisory Committees (TACs) exist for each of the four priority areas (i.e., Environmental; Public Health; Public Safety; and Aboriginal) and are composed of representatives of all groups represented on the Management Board. The key function of the Thematic Advisory Committees is to identify communities' needs with respect to the CGDI and refine program focus.

Implementation Teams consisting of staff from each of the Program Area Teams (user, content, policy, standards/technology), work with the Thematic Advisory Committees to develop funding criteria, announce funding opportunities and select projects.

A GeoConnections Secretariat, housed in the Earth Sciences Sector of NRCan, provides program oversight, performance reporting and measurement functions, and develops the contribution agreements, contracts and letters of agreements.

Figure 1, below, illustrates the governance structure of GeoConnections Phase II.

Figure 1: GeoConnections Governance Components

Figure 1: GeoConnections Governance Components

 

1.5 Resources

 

As illustrated in Table 6 below, GeoConnections spent approximately $17.5 million during its first three years, less than one-third of its $60 million budget.

Table 6:
GeoConnections Phase II Expenditures by Type, 2005-06 to 2007-08 ($'000,000)
Type 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 Total %
O&M 0.8 1.2 5.1 7.1 40.6
Contributions 0.1 1.8 3.4 5.3 30.3
Salaries 1.4 1.3 2.4 5.1 29.1
Total 2.3 4.3 10.9 17.5 100.0

Source: GeoConnections Secretariat, August 20, 2009, based on GUFI data

2.0 Issues, Methodologies and Limitations

This study of GeoConnections II examined issues of relevance and rationale, results and success, and cost-effectiveness and alternatives, covering the period from 2005-06 to 2007-08. The field work was conducted in the fall of 2008.

The evaluation used three lines of enquiry:

  • a document review (90 program documents);
  • 30 in-person interviews; and
  • administrative data from the Smart Simple database.

Thirty in-person interviews using a standard interview guide were conducted for this evaluation, as follows:

  • 15 funding recipients from completed projects from all four priority areas;
  • 6 representatives of Federal Govemment Departments/Agencies (including, but not limited to, NRCan program management);
  • 4 representatives from Provincial Governments; and
  • 5 representatives from Industry.

It should be noted that there are many interrelationships among GeoConnections interviewees. For example, some contribution recipients interviewed for this study also sit on committees that advise GeoConnections. Industry and provincial representatives also sit on the Geomatics Industry Association of Canada, etc.

A review of Smart/Simple database was conducted. The system tracks all funded projects including contracts to geomatics vendors and technical experts, and contains data on the funding amounts, leveraged amounts, contact and partner information. The Smart/Simple performance management system is the basis for much of the quantitative information in this study.

This study faced the following limitations:

  • As a result of the Program's delayed start, only two full years of activities were captured, 2006-07 and 2007-08.
  • Insufficient data were available for a complete understanding of the Program's actual and potential successes and challenges.
  • Inconsistencies exist between data in the Smart/Simple database and other NRCan records, resulting in difficulty in reconciling project information.
  • Detailed data on each element of the Program were not adequate for a comparison of progress across priority areas.
  • The evaluation relied on completed projects to minimize data discrepancies.

3.0 Key Findings

3.1 Relevance and Rationale

Summary

The scope of GeoConnections Phase II is broad. It addresses most aspects the Earth Sciences Sector's mandate, which is, "The acquisition, interpretation, maintenance and distribution of maps, information, technology, standards and expertise concerning the Canadian landmass and offshore in the fields of geo-science, geodesy, mapping, surveying, and remote sensing."15

GeoConnections supports Natural Resources Canada's Strategic Objective Three, "Natural resources and landmass knowledge strengthens the safety and security of Canadians and contributes to the effective governance of Canada."16 The program is intended to support decision-making by governments. All four of the GeoConnections Phase II priority areas (i.e., Public Health; Public Safety; Environment/Sustainable Development; and matters of interest to Aboriginal Peoples) are shared mandates of the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments.

The evidence suggests that the GeoConnections Phase II Program is addressing a relevant and legitimate government role. Program stakeholders, demonstrate a relevant interest in the program and a desire to be involved in the development and application of geospatial standards.

There is widespread support for a federal role in developing a common set of geospatial standards and ensuring interoperable geospatial data across jurisdictions.

Some questions were raised in some interviews whether the four priority areas were the most relevant policy areas for Program focus. However, no alternatives were noted, and there is general agreement that these areas are the legitimate purview of public decision-making.

There was an indication that stakeholders would prefer to focus on broad standards and infrastructure development by funding national groups and reduce the extent of local funding.


15http://ess.nrcan.gc.ca/abosuj/whaquo_e.php.
16NRCan, Natural Resources Canada Report on Plans and Priorities 2008-09 PAA Crosswalk. Source: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/rpp/2008-2009/inst/rsn/rsn01-eng.asp.

3.1.1 Is there a continuing need for the GeoConnections Initiative?

Yes, there is continuing need for the GeoConnections Initiative. The Program responds to stakeholder needs for standards to allow all parties to interact using a common language. The Program supports a set of standards that provides cross-jurisdictional leadership that other parties cannot provide.

The Program operates across all regions of Canada, suggesting a need for its services, based on the fact that it supports a set of interoperable standards and provides cross-jurisdictional leadership that others (e.g., industry) could not.

Overall, the interview data consistently pointed to a need for federal standards to allow all parties in all sectors to interact with each other using a common language, and ensure the use of the same CGDI compliant format to access data required for public decision-making without cost. Emphasis was on the need for geospatial standards.

GeoConnections does not develop its own specifications per se.17 It adopts standards, whether international or national, such that the CGDI can be interoperable with other infrastructures around the world. This enables users to access the data presented on a common platform including geospatial databases (e.g., topographical maps, aerial photographs, satellite images, nautical charts and census maps).18

GeoConnections works with the International Organization for Standardization including the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Inc., an international industry group that operates by consensus with over 250 companies, government agencies and universities to develop publicly available interface specifications. As a sponsor, GeoConnections contributes to the development of specifications by OGC members and endorses OGC's specifications for the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure.19

It was noted in some interviewees that the use of international standards at a local or regional level could be a challenge if the data were not CGDI-compliant at the outset, or conversely, were not aligned with local priorities and conditions. Using one standard, regardless of whose, involves adjustments on many parts.

Another issue raised was whether there was a need for a free government service, given the existence of mass-market private providers of geospatial data, such as Google Earth™. The mass-market geospatial data was viewed as complementary to, rather than redundant with, the CGDI. Large private geospatial providers were described as having increased the demand for this type of information on the part of decision-makers and the public. The mass-market services cannot provide more than broad visual data and do not allow for the analysis required to support policy decision making.

For instance, two recipients of GeoConnections contribution funding indicated that they use Google Earth™ to highlight broad trends or issues to senior policymakers because it was easier to communicate. In one case, the CGDI-based analysis which was essential to carry out detailed policy work was used primarily behind-the-scenes by analysts and technical staff.

Interviewees also indicated that targeting the four priority areas was a wise way to maximize the use of geospatial data within relevant policy areas and to establish a "community of practice" within each policy area. Four interviewees expressed concern that the priority areas were chosen for being "fashionable" policy areas and the Program, risking the limiting Program reach to other policy areas. Despite this concern, no specific policy area was reported being missed by the Program. Overall, the funding distribution among the four priority areas was seen as appropriate.


17http://geoconnections.nrcan.gc.ca.
18http://geoconnections.nrcan.gc.ca.
19http://geoconnections.nrcan.gc.ca

3.1.2. To what extent does the Program continue to serve the public interest?

The Program continues to serve the public interest by addressing all four priority areas of GeoConnections Phase II. The consensus expressed in the interviews was that the Program's main public good was in making government agencies better at what they do.

Interviews indicated that providing free and standardized geospatial data helps governments to fulfill their roles in serving the public good. Despite the open and free nature of the Program that makes online data available to any member of the public, the interviewees did not discuss the Program in the context of private citizens. The consensus appeared to be that the Program's main public good was in making government agencies better at what they do.

3.1.3 Is there a legitimate and continuing need for government role in this area and is the current federal role appropriate, or can it be delivered by the provinces?

Yes there is a legitimate and continuing need for government involvement in this area, given the sensitivity of the data involved, the areas in which it is applied (e.g., security, health), its application to government decision-making and the need for national standards for data collection (e.g., interprovincial). The current federal roles of leadership, framework-development, and standards setting are essential and cannot be delegated to other parties.

As shown in Table 7, the Program investment across all regions suggests a wide range or interest and need across the country. The analysis of leveraged dollars also indicates that provinces are interested and willing to contribute to the Program.

Table 7:
GeoConnections Phase II, Distribution of Funding for Completed Projects, 2005-06 to 2007-08
Distribution Atlantic Ontario Québec Prairies BC & North
Targets 10%-15% 20%-40% 10%-20% 10%-20% 20%-30%
2005-06 Actual 17.8% 0% 0% 35.8% 12.5%
2006-07 Actual 8.3% 47.6% 14.5% 0% 26.5%
2007-08 Actual 25.9% 42.3% 11.8% 10.7% 8.4%
Total to March 31, 2008 8.3% 32.8% 15.4% 13.3% 24.5%

Source: GeoConnections Annual report 2007-08 (Last edition, October 7, 2009) page 14.
Note: The percentages in this table are from Smart/Simple database and represent a total of $7.8 million for completed projects in Canada.

The general consensus of interviewees was that the Program helped provide the framework for provinces and municipalities to interact with each other using compatible data that could be shared, analyzed and viewed with one set of standards. There was a call for increased federal leadership in developing and maintaining national geospatial standards which is particularly important for data and applications that cross borders (international, municipal or provincial); and to move towards meeting international standards. The partnership approach with provinces and other partners was described as largely attributable to the Program's links with Canadian Council on Geomatics (CCOG). The CCOG is the major federal-provincial-territorial consultative body for geographic information management. The CCOG's objectives are:

  • provide a forum for exchanging information on programs;
  • consider common operational issues;
  • discuss proposed legislation relevant to geomatics (particularly land surveying); and
  • develop and promote national geomatics standards.20

A related issue raised by in four interviews was whether there should be an independent non-governmental body devoted to geomatics, outside of any government. The reason cited was the large number of federal agencies (fourteen) involved in geospatial data collection and the desirability to have a single agency with responsibility in that area as, a way to avoid 'silos' or 'stovepipes' in the data itself. In contrast, two interviewees raised concerns about the idea of an independent geomatics organization within the federal government was such an organization that would, at some point, be expected to operate on a profit basis.


20CCOG federal partners include NRCan, National Defence, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Statistics Canada, Canada Post, Elections Canada, and Public Works and Government Services Canada. Provincial and territorial government partners include all provinces and territories

3.1.4 What activities could be transferred to the private sector?

None of the current activities should be transferred to the private sector at this point at this point in the Program's development. The data collected through this study indicates a continued need for federal leadership.

Private sector interviewees (also representatives of the Geomatics Industry Advisory Committee) indicated that the Program's activities were not transferable to the private sector due to privacy issues surrounding policy areas like security and health. The issue of privatization was not highlighted as a concern by interviewees (public or private). The discussion centered on the extent to which parties could work together for mutual benefit the advantage of government leadership of GeoConnections Phase II was described as its credibility.

3.2 Results and Success

Summary

GeoConnections has made progress towards the goal of increasing the use of geospatial data by policy decision-makers and has been successful in providing mechanisms to address inter-jurisdictional decision-making issues in the priority areas. The partnership approach has been used to build provincial and local support and to engage public and private stakeholders. Increased capacity and interest was also reported.

Concerns were raised by interviewees that the local focus on priority areas may not have been the most effective mechanism to support the Program's objectives. The local approach viewed as having creating isolated pockets of geospatial decision-making expertise at the expense of broader approaches that could reach a larger audience of potential users. The need for improved communication in terms of identifying and marketing a CGDI brand was also noted. Several stakeholders expressed concerns about the future of the Program if the sun-setting funds are not sustained, particularly the "core" CGDI work on maintaining national data layers and standards.

Two projects were identified by interviewees as key. First, the Interoperability Pilot project that focused on developing a unified, standards-based mechanism to acquire from governments, non-government organization, and provided a link to the federal computer server to access, analyze and update data regularly. The Interoperability Pilot aimed at assessing opportunities for improving the management and dissemination of geospatial data through open-standards-based technology and focused on three key GeoBase layers: geographic names; the national road network; and Canada's administrative boundaries. The project concluded with a Web conference attended by over 500 people.

The second project was the Best Practices Guides entitled "The Dissemination of Government Geographic Data in Canada: Guide to Best Practices". These guides were developed to provide guidance to users of the CGDI on issues, such as data privacy. The guides were cited by stakeholders as a key element in integrating local project findings and issues into a single, accessible document.

3.2.1 To what extent have decision makers increased their use of location-based information to address issues with the four priority areas?

Decision-makers increased the use of location-based information; however, challenges in communicating the potential benefits of this information to senior decision-makers were encountered. A significant success achieved to date in this area has been in supporting the development of workable transboundary geospatial data systems.

The evidence points to increased use of data/location-based information by decision-makers, as stated in the following exchange with a project interviewee:

"In order to communicate the results of our project . . . [as] our audience is GIS illiterate, we needed to be able to communicate to that audience through a mapping interface is that didn't require GIS software [or] expertise. We were actively looking for opportunities to allow us to move forward to developing that application and GeoConnections were…the only ones we found."

Interviewer: "So prior to the data, what were they making their decisions on?"

"They were using very local data. We provided information at a different scale [that] covered a trans-boundary area and multiple [jurisdictions]. That scale for land planning was not available."

The previous exchange is indicative of the comments drawn from interviews with contribution recipients. The Program provided decision-makers with more complex geospatial data which covered multiple decision-making boundaries. The decision-making process in these local areas often used some form of geospatial data prior to the GeoConnections funding. The Program funds were used to connect disjointed groups, cross existing boundaries and provide the ability to analyze geospatial data as oppose to simply viewing the data.

The inter-jurisdictional issue was frequently highlighted. Local agencies may have been using different data systems and approaches to conducting geospatial analysis of the same fundamental policy or infrastructure issue (e.g., a body of water, a road system, and health delivery systems). The Program funds were a catalyst to bring these groups together to use federal standards to develop a workable, inter-jurisdictional geospatial system. Hence, the Program was successful in bringing together isolated existing GIS users into broader networks.

Many interviewees expressed frustration about the use of location-based information by senior decision-makers. The interviewees indicated that rapid turn over among decision-makers, competing priorities and wide variation in their expertise are constant challenges. As one interviewee observed, "Some Deputies are very keen on geomatics, some don't have a clue…It's a continual thing, because a lot of [decision makers] change."

Lack of awareness was also cited, "…When I mention CGDI, I get blank looks. My land managers are so busy taking care of their job they don't have the time to go to that website and see how easy it is to download that information."

3.2.2 To what extent do stakeholders and potential users of this information have access to it?

The access of decision- makers to standardized federal data has improved from 2005 to 2008, which is attributable to GeoConnections Phase I and II. However, challenges remain. Awareness among senior decision-makers and with technical managers) is an issue, and the process to have the level of geospatial information available federally takes longer than originally predicted (the end of year 3 of the Program).

Among the outputs of GeoConnections II noted in the Program's 2007-08 Annual Report (draft) are:

  • 84 new portals or systems;
  • 35 new guides or technical documents;
  • 55 of the projects have made their data sets available through the CGDI; and
  • 24 projects lead to the completion of seven new regional atlases, with an eighth in development.21

The evidence suggests that while the use of geospatial data in the areas that received funding has increased, there are on-going challenges to continue to build the foundational national data layers, and improve communication to raise awareness of the CGDI among potential users.

The GeoConnections Phase II logic model identifies awareness as an outcome in terms of awareness of geo-data, the CGDI and the benefits of the CGDI. "Free" access does not appear in any of the Program planning documentation, but appears to have developed among stakeholders over time.

One interviewee briefly illustrated the growth in stakeholder access to geospatial data based on the activities of GeoConnections to address the public health crisis of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). When SARS hit Toronto, Ontario in 2003, there was a need to track infected people to assess the spread of the disease, but the challenge was the approach. Canada Post permission was required to use Postal codes to identify affected people. Then the issue became how to identify linkages among postal codes, requiring linkages to the Canada Post geography network, which is linked to a Statistics Canada network. The information required approval of two government agencies. When asked what would change if SARS reoccurred, the interviewee noted that, "[More} road network is [now] freely available [since 2005]…so now they wouldn't have to come to [a Crown Corporation].

This indicates an increase in the extent to which decision-makers involved in a SARS-like epidemic would have open access to standardized federal data. In this case, the road network data, one of the key components of the national data layers of GeoConnections Program, is now freely accessible. The free road network data is an improvement to the federal decision-making system. However, a number of interviewees commented that the process to have the open and free geospatial information available federally is taking longer than originally predicted.

Another issue frequently cited as impacting access was awareness. Many interviewees indicated that decision-makers and potential users of geospatial data were not aware how to access it. One interviewee observed, "When you're looking at environmental data sets, I would say that [the] information is mostly there. What's lacking is [guidance as to] where these data sets are, and how to merge them together."


21 GeoConnections (draft) Annual Report 2007-2008.

3.2.3 To what extent does GeoConnections address user needs?

GeoConnections does address user needs.

Evidence from interviews suggests that the Program does address user needs of the specific recipients of GeoConnections Phase II funding. The Program helped improve the coordination and/or analytic geospatial capacity in stakeholders' local areas. The need to improve service delivery by improving the geospatial data was noted.

It is not clear whether the Program had any "spillover" effects on meeting the needs of groups not receiving Program funding. It was noted in the interviews that the Program did not reach a non-GIS literate audience. Consequently, the data were not fully integrated into policy-making needs. For funding recipients, the Program impact was meeting a geospatial technology need, rather than helping address a specific policy issue.

Private sector impacts were reportedly difficult to attribute to the Program. However, alignment between the Program's long-term goals and the developments within private industry were noted, including a reported increase in the number of private companies using GeoBase data and value-added products as well as development of applications driven by government funding.

3.2.4 To what extent does capacity exist to support and develop GeoConnections data?

The study found that GeoConnections Phase II has not yet developed capacity beyond locally funded funding recipients to support and develop GeoConnections data. Additional time is needed for this to occur.

The evidence suggests that the Program has not yet built capacity to extend its reach in supporting and developing geospatial data beyond funding recipients. Additional time is required to achieve that. An issue frequently cited in interviews was the fact that the capacity to analyze the data takes a back seat to acquiring the data. It was too soon to consider the capacity issue as acquiring quality data was a major pursuit, as noted in the following interview feedback:

"I think we over estimated what data was available . . . There will always be gaps in relation to data. Data is an ongoing thing. We're dealing with that through GeoBase, making data freely available. GeoConnections is looking at the process of accessing information and I think to a certain extent one of our problems is becoming more that we don't have very good information to access."

3.2.5 What are the major factors that need to be resolved in order for GeoConnections Phase II measures to succeed?

The identified major issues to be addressed in order for GeoConnections Phase II to succeed were:

  1. resolving the issue of funding local groups versus the need to establish a national approach;
  2. increasing awareness of geospatial data and capacity among senior decision-makers and other users;
  3. establishing stronger and more explicit roles for provinces;
  4. improving the user-friendliness of the GeoConnections portal; and
  5. addressing the need for a long-term federal commitment to geospatial data versus the current sun-set funding.

Some interviewees raised concern about funding local groups with the limited resources of the Program. Issues of effectiveness were raised if the local expertise developed was duplicated in other local areas and not expanded nationwide. Another issue was whether the demand should be stimulated by the Program or responded to:

"There needs to be a strategic rethink of how many local applications we need that are all serving this similar base data. I think GeoConnections needs to be a bit…more careful at building too many local looks at less than a provincial landscape because what I think you are doing is potential setting up competing systems and inefficiencies."

Some interviewees felt that the local approach was very cost-effective given that the groups with the most incentive to produce accurate and cost-effective data were those with the responsibility to acquire the data. Even interviewees who felt that the local approach was very cost effective suggested the need to consider how to build on the success stories and reduce redundancy across the country.

The Program's guidelines do not permit recipients to fund the collection of raw data with GeoConnections funds. Instead, support is to be used to analyze existing data to maximize the focus on decision-making. As a result, local personnel capacity, data and technology were noted as critical components needed for the Program to succeed.

Lack of awareness of GeoConnections data by senior decision-makers, and in some cases by managers, was reported as an issue impacting program success.

In the view of provincial representatives, the Program continues to improve and expand on its partnership approach to collect data and develop federal standards, and needs to strengthen the existing partnership relationship within the respective jurisdictional roles. Provinces look to the federal government for leadership, particularly in developing standards.

In the view of some interviewees, the GeoConnections portal, online site of all federal and locally generated data, needs improvement to make it more accessible. Some noted that the portal itself may have contained data that did not meet CGDI standards.

3.2.6 Have there been impacts or results other than the expected ones, either positive or negative?

The issue of data privacy has gained more attention as a consequence of the activities surrounding GeoConnections.

The issue of data privacy was noted as an unintended impact of GeoConnections. The long-term impact of privacy was not fully understood until GeoConnections allowed data to be aggregated. A GeoConnections working group is examining this issue.

3.3 Cost-Effectiveness and Alternatives

Summary

The interview evidence indicates a general satisfaction with the cost-effectiveness of the Program, though most interviewees did not appear to be aware of the Program resources. There were suggestions to reduce the administrative burden. During its first three years, the Program has exceeded its leveraging target of 1:1 to reach 1:2 with the inclusion of cash and in-kind contributions.

3.3.1 Could the results achieved to date have been achieved at lower cost?

GeoConnections Phase II is seen by its stakeholders as cost-effective; however transaction costs involved in working with GeoConnections should be minimized.

The Program was successful at leveraging funds across all priority areas, and there was general agreement amongst stakeholders that the Program was cost-effective. Several non-federal government interviewees noted a high administrative burden associated with administrative data collecting, a result of implementing recommendations from previous evaluations to develop a program performance monitoring system (Smart/Simple).

Few details on cost-effectiveness were provided in the interviews. However, a number of non-federal government interviewees reported that the transaction costs of managing contribution agreements could be considered large due mainly to the amount of oversight required. Some interviewees commented positively on the level of oversight, noting that the process improved their own planning. Others suggested that the Program's oversight could impact the level of interest given the small size of the contribution agreement, as noted in the following quote:

"The overhead for $30,000, we probably would have gone ahead and done it ourselves [instead of applying for the contribution agreement]."

3.3.2 If GeoConnections Program continues, how can efficiency be improved?

The evaluation revealed that a review of the administrative burden (e.g., approval processes) would be useful in order to minimize and/or streamline the process.

The interviewees reported that improvements could be made to deliver the Program with lower administrative burden, especially with respect to the approval process:

"A lot could be done to streamline some of the processes and eliminate some of the steps we had to go through…Many separate levels of approval . . . I would get paperwork from one source and I would submit to somebody else…Once it got past legal, it had to go through accounting…every time they found a problem, it's kicked back to me."

"It happened several times when the [Program] Officer didn't know all the approval levels, some of them made no sense, and this is where the cost for me came into it because I needed to do it. I could have taken five minutes [if one person had access to all the knowledge of the approval layers]."

3.3.3 Are Canadians getting value for their tax dollar? Did GeoConnections Phase II meet its 1:1 leveraging target?

GeoConnections Phase II has exceeded its 1:1 leveraging target.

In light of the limited data to assess program impacts, the method used was to examine the extent to which the Program delivered on the partnership component and leveraged funds from other sources. The data are very positive, as indicated in Table 5. All Program components, including the common area, leveraged funds at better than 1 to 1. Although an exhaustive indicator of value for money, the data indicate that the Program delivered services in areas where others were willing to invest.

4.0 Conclusions

Within the constraints of available resources and the short period GeoConnections II's operation, this evaluation found the Program to be making good progress towards achieving its objectives "…to maintain, operate, and expand the CGDI and, in particular, to support its use in decision making on public safety and security, public health, environment and sustainable development, and matters of importance to Aboriginal peoples".

GeoConnections II aims at building capacity of user communities to harness the CGDI in support of decision-making in federal priority areas, and broadening partnerships with federal/provincial/territorial agencies and industry to engage communities to improve on-line access to Canada's location-based information.

Overall, the evaluation reveals that during its first three years GeoConnections II continues to serve the public interest by supporting federal and provincial government decision-making in public good priority areas; Environmental/Sustainable Development; Matters of Importance to Aboriginal Peoples; Public Health; and Public Security. The federal government plays a key role in supporting standards settings across jurisdictions by allowing all parties to interact using a common language. Given the sensitivity of the data and its application to government decision-making, the role of the federal government remains legitimate and this function cannot be provided by the private sector or any other delivery agent.

GeoConnections II has addressed user needs and the access of decision makers to standardized data improved between 2005 and 2008. Communicating the benefits of this information to senior decision-makers will optimize the Program results and expand its reach. The evidence also shows that GeoConnections II has successfully supported the development of workable inter-jurisdictional geospatial data systems, allowing easy data sharing between jurisdictions. However, GeoConnections II has not yet built a capacity to develop and support data beyond the work done by the local contribution recipients.

GeoConnections II achieved its outcomes cost-effectively through leveraging resources, which exceeded the 1:1 leveraging target (and appears to be closer to 1:2). Areas for improved efficiencies were noted, particularly in relation to the transaction costs which could minimize through reduction of administrative burdens, such as shorter and simpler approval processes.

Suggestions for areas to optimize the success of the program include: resolving the issue of funding local groups versus the need to establish a national approach; increasing awareness of geospatial data and capacity among senior decision-makers and other users; establishing stronger and more explicit roles for provinces; improving the user-friendliness of the GeoConnections portal; and addressing the need for a long-term federal commitment to geospatial data versus the current sun-set funding.

5.0 Recommendations, Management Responses and Action Plans