Return to Reports page
PDF version

GEOSPATIAL DATA-SHARING PEER EXCHANGE
Denver, Colorado

May 28-29, 2014

logo of the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation

Host Agency

Colorado Department of Transportation

Participating Peer Agencies

Arizona Department of Transportation
Connecticut Department of Transportation
Iowa Department of Transportation
Montana Department of Transportation
Nevada Department of Transportation
North Dakota Department of Transportation
Washington State Department of Transportation


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The U.S. Department of Transportation John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, prepared this report for the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Planning. The Volpe Center project team wishes to thank the participants in the peer exchange, which are listed in the agenda in Appendix A, for providing their experiences, insights, and editorial review. The time they kindly provided was vital to preparing the exchange and reviewing this final report.

TABLE OF CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

Background

This report provides highlights from a peer exchange held in Denver, Colorado, on May 28–29, 2014. The exchange was part of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Geospatial Data Collaboration (GDC) initiative. A companion report to this document—Geospatial Tools for Data-Sharing: Case Studies of Select Transportation Agencies—provides additional information on the GDC initiative and includes case studies from 23 State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and others that are developing, using, and maintaining a variety of geospatial applications and tools to support GDC goals. Eight of these 23 agencies participated in the Denver peer exchange.

FHWA's Office of Planning (HEPP) sponsored the peer exchange, and the Colorado DOT (CDOT) hosted the event. FHWA HEPP also sponsored another GDC peer exchange on May 20–21, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina, hosted by the North Carolina DOT (NCDOT). The exchange at NCDOT convened a separate set of State DOTs to explore the same topics as the Denver event. Highlights from the Raleigh peer exchange are available here.

Goals

FHWA's GDC initiative encourages State DOTs and others to use geospatial tools to streamline transportation decision-making and improve data sharing within an agency and with external stakeholders. The Colorado peer exchange aimed to provide opportunities for State DOTs to share noteworthy practices, success factors, and challenges encountered in using, developing, and maintaining geospatial tools that support improved data-sharing: the core goal of GDC.

Format

The peer exchange was held at CDOT's offices in Denver. Participants included staff from CDOT as well as the Arizona DOT (ADOT), Connecticut DOT (CTDOT), Iowa DOT (IADOT), Montana DOT (MDT), Nevada DOT (NDOT), North Dakota DOT (NDDOT), and Washington DOT (WSDOT) (see Appendix A for a complete participant list).

This exchange followed a two-day format, which began with a brief round of introductions and information on FHWA's GDC activities, followed by peer presentations and demonstrations to highlight agencies' geospatial activities relevant to data-sharing. After the presentations/demonstrations, peers convened for a series of roundtable discussions that addressed pre-identified topics of interest. The peer exchange concluded with a discussion of next steps and final remarks from FHWA that summarized recurring themes (see Appendix A for the peer exchange agenda, including roundtable discussion topics).

Types of Data-Sharing Efforts

Participating agencies shared their experiences related to many different kinds of data-sharing efforts (see Table 1 below).1 For the purposes of this report, these efforts were grouped into three categories:

The agencies participating in the peer exchange had primarily focused on implementing or anticipated implementing gateways rather than repositories.

Table 1: Summary of data-sharing efforts reported by Denver peer exchange participants

Agency Name of Data-Sharing Application/Effort3 Repository Gateway Coordination
ADOT Historic Preservation Portal X X  
Biology Portal X X  
Arizona Cultural Resource Inventory X X  
APLAN [ADOT ArcGIS Online (AGOL)4 ]   X  
Feature Inventory System X    
AZGEO Clearinghouse X X  
AZSITE X    
CDOT Online Transportation Information System (OTIS) X X  
CPLAN (CDOT AGOL)   X  
CTDOT GIS road network X    
Roadway inventory X    
Portal (anticipated) X    
IADOT Highway Division GIS Project Portal   X X
MDT MDT AGOL   X X
NDOT Planning and Needs System (PLANS)   X  
NDDOT NDDOT AGOL   X  
WSDOT WSDOT Online Map Center (WSDOT AGOL)   X X
Community Planning Portal (CPP)   X X

Back to Top


PEER EXCHANGE HIGHLIGHTS

This section presents a compilation of highlights and recurring themes that emerged from peers' presentations and subsequent roundtable discussions.

A. Motivating and Success Factors

Peers identified factors that motivated their agencies' data-sharing efforts or helped them successfully develop their related applications. Peers noted that a primary driver was an agency's belief that a centralized source of geospatial data was needed to simplify information management, access, and updates. Peers also noted the following factors:

Federal requirements
Many peers chose to develop data-sharing applications in response to Federal requirements. For example, United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) requires State DOTs to develop materials like the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), the Transportation Asset Management Plan, and the Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS), to receive Federal aid for eligible transportation projects and programs. Peers noted that geospatial data are important components of many of these requirements. Many peers developed GIS applications to share relevant information and make developing these documents easier and more efficient. Using GIS applications to meet Federal requirements was particularly important for agencies that lacked executive support for geospatial innovation.

User empowerment
Peers reported that gateways in particular can address the perceived need to aggregate a large amount of information in a relatively low-cost way, making information available to a broad set of users through a simple, intuitive interface. Gateways can also leverage data resources and eliminate duplicative datasets. Geospatial data have the potential to reach a wide audience due to their visual nature. Some GIS software is costly; however, making it difficult for some organizations to make the case for these investments. Furthermore, peers noted that not everyone has experience with desktop GIS software, although some applications require users to have a high level of technical expertise. Finally, the sheer amount of geospatial data being generated can be overwhelming.

Overall, gateways addressed a core need for many peers by giving users with little or no GIS expertise the ability to easily share, access, manipulate, and visualize information on demand, without requiring GIS staff support. Several peers also noted they are identifying training and marketing strategies to support users in using data-sharing applications.

Identification of benefits
Peers noted that identifying benefits related to developing and implementing data-sharing applications or tools can them to help justify current and future investments of time and funding necessary to build more robust data repositories, gateways, and other applications. The following benefits were specifically noted:

Improved data quality
Peers noted that increased data-sharing within an agency and with outside users often results in improved data quality. When data are openly accessible, agencies often place a greater emphasis on keeping information accurate and up-to-date. Typically, this also motivates internal agency business units to provide more accurate data up front. Sharing information broadly also encourages agencies to ensure that data standards are consistent across agency departments so that outside users are easily able to view and analyze data in a consistent, recognizable format.

Performance Measures
Despite a general consensus among peers that there are significant benefits related to using these tools, few had developed formal or quantitative performance measures to assess the tools' outcomes. Peers recognized this as a potential opportunity in the future.

B. Technologies and Platforms

Several of the peer exchange agencies (MDT, NDDOT, and WSDOT) use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software solutions, particularly AGOL, as a platform for their data-sharing applications. Peers noted they identified AGOL as an appropriate platform choice because it offered a user-friendly and intuitive interface while helping them take advantage of cloud capabilities for increased data storage and scalability. A few agencies, including CDOT, chose other platforms on which to develop geospatial tools. Other agencies, such as NDOT, are still in the process of exploring their options.

Peers agreed that most State DOT GIS departments are in the customer service business and need to be able to respond quickly to a large number of requests from other agency business units and State agencies. To improve their business practices, a GIS team needs to be able to integrate new technologies into existing systems. Several peers agreed that when an agency aligns itself completely with only one GIS software vendor, it is difficult to adapt to emerging technologies that may not be compatible with proprietary data formats. If an agency is able to develop a strong underlying infrastructure that functions with a variety of COTS and open-source GIS data formats, it will be easier to deploy new geospatial applications as technology changes.

C. Coordination

Peers noted that an agency's ability to coordinate and collaborate with internal and external partners is a key to managing and sharing geospatial data. Intra-agency coordination allows data users and administrators to design and implement new systems that fit into the agency's overall approach to information technology (IT). Interagency coordination provides opportunities for State DOTs to collaborate with other public and private organizations that frequently use geospatial data.

Intra-agency coordination
Many peers noted they face challenges related to coordinating IT and GIS activities. State DOT IT departments often lead agency-wide technological decision-making processes, including hardware/software procurement, development of policies and standards, and supporting technology users across the agency. While IT procedures are intended to benefit the entire agency, peers noted the outcomes of their work do not always support the progression of an agency's geospatial program. For example, some IT departments that encourage stricter data reviews are reluctant to allow other business units to freely share data, as the IT department would have less control over the way sensitive data are shared. Peers anticipated that as GIS technologies advance and agencies become more comfortable with open data-sharing, it might be difficult to implement new data-sharing applications within traditional IT parameters. There may be an opportunity to consider revising these parameters to more easily support new innovations.

Another challenge facing State DOTs is that business processes often occur without awareness of related activities occurring elsewhere in the agency. Because of these organizational “silos,” agency staff such as planners, engineers, biologists, construction teams, and maintenance crews may only become aware of other geospatial efforts within their agency when a problem occurs. Organizational silos often lead to data silos, where data are stored and managed locally and are not shared across business units. By creating systems that make geospatial data more accessible throughout an agency, State DOTs can support cross-cutting geospatial analysis. Centralizing data can also help improve data quality and limit redundancies, as users are able to more easily identify errors and gaps.

Interagency coordination
Many participating agencies share data and coordinate informally with outside organizations, including other State agencies. However, USDOT and other agency staff might be reluctant to share data for fear that others will misinterpret the information. For example, one peer noted that his agency was concerned that the release of planned project data through a publically accessible GIS gateway might lead people to assume that a project plan was set in stone regardless of how the data are labeled. Other agencies restrict who can see certain types of data, such as location information on sensitive environmental or archeological resources.

Operating agreements
Several of the peers noted they chose to develop formal data-sharing agreements with partner agencies that specified how partners should share data with the State DOT, and vice versa. Most State DOTs did not develop these formal agreements tied to one particular application, effort, or initiative; in the majority of cases these agreements were set up to address general data-sharing activities. However, several peers reported that their agencies do not have any formal agreements with other agencies. Instead, the agencies rely on informal processes and relationships to share and receive geospatial data.

D. Data Management and Governance

As the peer agencies continue to develop and refine their data-sharing applications, they increasingly struggle with the processes by which data are collected, integrated into agency systems, manipulated, and updated—also known as “data stewardship.” Peers believe that agencies with successful stewardship practices are establishing data ownership and responsibilities and standards for collecting and recording data.

Data standards and governance
Developing a set of data standards is an important consideration for agencies seeking to improve a data management system, but most of the peers do not yet have formal standardization processes in place. Several agencies, however, recognize the advantages of having consistent data throughout agencies and across platforms, and have started to investigate next steps for better standardization.

Peers identified one effective approach to improving data stewardship: developing a thorough governance document that addresses common data management challenges and provides guidance for GIS practitioners. A strong governance document will likely include directions for file storage, naming conventions, data maintenance and upkeep, application development, and introduction of new software.

Metadata
Metadata is an important component of ensuring data stewardship. Metadata provides data managers and users with accurate information about a datum point, including when it was created, how, by whom, and to what it refers. High-quality metadata tells a story about the data's history, limitations, and assumptions to help users answer underlying questions they may have about the data. Participating States reported they developed a variety of methods to keep track of metadata, but they find it challenging to keep metadata up to date when data changes frequently and data ownership is not clearly defined.

Back to Top


CONCLUSION

Based on discussions held during the Colorado peer exchange, it is clear that it is becoming easier for State DOTs to share GIS data both internally and externally. New geospatial platforms and technologies have emerged that allow data to be more efficiently stored, accessed, and shared with a broad array of stakeholders. Because many of these technologies are specifically designed to be intuitive and user-friendly, they are also reducing the amount of formal training required to work with or manipulate GIS data. Along with these developments, however, have come unique challenges, such as the need to develop improved data standards and governance and metadata processes; as well as the need to address concerns about properly managing access to lesser-quality or sensitive data.

This peer exchange provided important opportunities for State DOTs to share noteworthy practices, lessons learned, and challenges related to geospatial data-sharing. Peers agreed the exchanges helped provide momentum for developing a community of practice in this area. Peers also agreed GIS personnel—who often serve various offices within an agency—are essential for developing these solutions as State DOTs continue to strive to shorten project delivery, enhance safety, protect the environment, and meet the needs of the traveling public.

To conclude the peer exchange, peers identified recurring themes that surfaced from the presentations and roundtable discussions. They also discussed success factors and areas of opportunity for improving data-sharing. Finally, the discussion revealed some actionable strategies FHWA could take to help to support State DOT data-sharing activities. Highlights from these discussions are presented below:

Champions within leadership.
Peers agreed that having a strong champion at the agency executive level is essential for developing a sustained GIS program and data-sharing initiatives. An executive-level GIS champion should have a firm understanding of geospatial concepts and their many potential applications to the transportation field. Peers believed that agencies with executive-level GIS champions may be able to more easily develop and maintain innovative data-sharing tools.

A GIS champion also recognizes the value of sharing data both internally and beyond the agency. Some peers have found that agency leaders are concerned that opening access to data will expose poor performance or lead to misinterpretation of data. A champion may be able to address this concern. Peers also believed that any champion should trust the agency's GIS practitioners to focus on technical details and develop new tools that improve the agency's geospatial services.

Guidance on planning for and coordinating natural disaster response.
Peers discussed the challenges they encountered while sharing relevant data during natural disaster response. Without interagency data-sharing plans in place before these events, mapping data for emergency response can be difficult. A lack of data consistency and an inability to quickly exchange data can impede GIS specialists' abilities to respond quickly to mapping or analysis requests. Peers believed better guidance on how to develop data-sharing response plans would be very useful.

Clarification on Federal data collection requirements.
Peers noted that while Federal data requirements are important in encouraging data collection and sharing, varying and sometimes overlapping data requirements can lead to confusion and duplication of effort. Peers believed that it would be beneficial to have increased coordination between agencies on the type and format of data collected, as well as improved guidance on how and what to collect.

Training.
In the past, FHWA offered GIS training for mid-level management through the National Highway Institute. Peers believed that FHWA should reinstitute a similar training with a greater emphasis on data-sharing, collaboration, and the value of making data available to the public. Peers also believed the training should focus on demonstrating the power of geospatial data as it relates to State DOT programs and its ability to improve agency business practices, interagency relations, and public communications.

Back to Top


APPENDIX A: PEER EXCHANGE AGENDA

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
Geospatial Data-Sharing Peer Exchange
Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)
4201 Arkansas Avenue, Room 225
Denver, Colorado 80222
May 28-29, 2014

Participants

Peer Participants
Colorado DOT (CDOT) Gary Aucott, GIS Support Unit Manager gary.aucott@state.co.us
Iowa DOT (IADOT) Eric Abrams eric.abrams@dot.iowa.gov
Scott Marler, Environmental Resources Manager scott.marler@dot.iowa.gov
Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) Brian Andersen, Lead GIS Analyst/Cartographer brandersen@mt.gov
North Dakota DOT (NDDOT) Brian Bieber, Senior Programmer/Analyst (GIS) bbieber@nd.gov
Nevada DOT (NDOT) Rebecca Kapuler, Transportation Planner/Analyst III rkapuler@dot.state.nv.us
Holly Smith, IT Professional III, Project Manager hsmith2@dot.state.nv.us
Washington DOT (WSDOT) Kyle Miller, Transportation Planning Specialist milleky@wsdot.wa.gov
Julie Fogde, GIS Cartographic Products Supervisor fogdej@wsdot.wa.gov
Connecticut DOT (CTDOT) Kelly Pearson, Information Technology Analyst kelly.pearson@ct.gov
Michael Connors, Transportation Assistant Planning Director michael.connors@ct.gov
Arizona DOT (ADOT) Ruth Greenspan, Technical Section Manager, Environmental Planning Group rgreenspan@azdot.gov
James Meyer, GIS Program Manager jmeyer@azdot.gov
Other Participants
CDOT Observers Allison Bejarano, GIS Analyst allison.bejarano@state.co.us
Nick Mesenbrink, GIS Analyst nicholas.mesenbrink@state.co.us
Ted Howard, GIS Analyst ted.howard@state.co.us
Weiyan Chen, ITS Department weiyan.chen@state.co.us
FHWA Mark Sarmiento, Office of Planning - 202-366-4828 mark.sarmiento@dot.gov
Volpe Center Paige Colton, Environmental Protection Specialist - 617-494-2361 paige.colton@dot.gov
Ben Cotton, Community Planner - 617-494-2608 benjamin.cotton@dot.gov

Agenda

Wednesday, May 28
8:15 – 8:30 WelcomeColorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)
8:30 – 9:00 Overview of FHWA Geospatial Data Collaboration (GDC) ActivitiesFHWA
9:00 – 9:30 Introductions and Discussion of Peer Exchange GoalsAll Participants
9:30 – 10:45 Demonstrations/Presentations 1
  • CDOT: Online Transportation Information System (OTIS) and CPLAN
  • IADOT: Highway Division GIS Portal
Break
11:00 – 12:00 Roundtable 1: Process & Structure - All Participants
Lunch
1:00 – 2:45 Demonstrations/Presentations 2
  • MDT: MDT ArcGIS Online (AGOL) Site
  • NDOT: Planning and Needs System (PLANS)
  • CTDOT: Digital Highway Network, Roadway Inventory Expansion & Connecticut Open Data Portal
Break
3:00 – 4:00 Roundtable 2: Technology & Data - All Participants
4:00 – 4:15 Day 1 Wrap-Up - FHWA
6:00 Informal Dinner (Hacienda Colorado)
Thursday, May 29
8:00 – 8:10 Day OverviewFHWA
8:10 – 10:00 Demonstrations/Presentations 3
  • WSDOT: Community Planning Portal and WSDOT AGOL platform
  • ADOT: ADOT AGOL Site, Historic Preservation Team (HPT) and Biological Portals, AZGEO Clearinghouse, AZSITE
  • NDDOT: NDDOT AGOL Site
Break
10:15 – 11:15 Roundtable 3: Benefits, Challenges, & Lessons Learned - All Participants
11:15 – 12:00 Roundtable 4: Future Directions & Next Steps - All Participants
12:00 – 12:15 Wrap-Up - FHWA
12:15 Adjourn


Roundtable Discussion Questions

Roundtable 1: Process & Structure - All Participants

Roundtable 2: Technology & Data - All Participants

Roundtable 3: Benefits, Challenges, & Lessons Learned - All Participants

Roundtable 4: Future Directions & Next Steps - All Participants

Back to Top


FOOTNOTES

1 Appendix D of the Geospatial Tools for Data-Sharing: Case Studies of Select Transportation Agencies companion report provides more detail on these agencies' efforts.
2 Screening tools are specifically designed to support users in identifying a transportation project's potential impacts during project planning or development processes.
3 Efforts listed include both those that the State DOT initiated and those in which the State DOT is a participant or contributing partner.
4 Esri's AGOL cloud-based platform permits users to aggregate and share a wide array of geospatial information including mapping application and data layers.

Back to Top