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About MetroGIS

What is MetroGIS?
What is MetroGIS's Purpose?
Who is MetroGIS?
How is MetroGIS Organized?
What Principles Guide MetroGIS?
What is MetroGIS's Decision-Making Process?
How is MetroGIS Funded?

What is MetroGIS? Top of Page

MetroGIS is a voluntary collaboration of organizations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area that use geographic information systems technology to carry out their business functions. The discussions that resulted in the establishment of MetroGIS began in the fall of 1995. See the History section for more information about the projects used to define the desired form and function of MetroGIS.

Short Facts About the Region (Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area)

  • Population: 2.8 million
  • Area: 3000 square miles
  • Land Parcels: 937,000 as of May 2005
  • Local Units of Government: 187 cities and townships, 59 school districts, 39 watershed districts, 7 counties
What is MetroGIS's Purpose? Top of Page

MetroGIS's primary purpose is to promote and facilitate widespread sharing of commonly needed geospatial data and information among organizations that serve the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area. More specifically, the goal is to institutionalize sharing of accurate and reliable geospatial data and information so that MetroGIS's data user and producer communities can both share in the efficiencies of users being able to effortlessly obtain data needed from others, in the form needed, and when it is needed. Click here for a listing of MetroGIS governance characteristics which create public value in three distinct areas:

  • Outcome/Value Proposition
  • Authorizing Environment
  • Operating Capacity


The vision for the result of MetroGIS’s efforts, or destination expected to be attained, is “organizations serving the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area are successfully collaborating to use geographic information technology to solve real world problems”.

The efficient use of geospatial information and shared knowledge of best practices benefit the region’s citizens and their leaders:

  • They are better able to solve real-world problems.
  • In solving these problems, they make better decisions.
  • Because better decisions are made, regional economies are strengthened.
  • Citizens are better informed regarding geophysical and geopolitical objects and events.
  • Because of all these factors, citizens and their leaders are more likely to reach community goals.

And, ultimately these outcomes play a substantive role in providing citizens a safe place to live and work; enhancing environmental systems and green space; improving housing and transportation systems.


MetroGIS exists to enhance the capacities of its principal stakeholders to carry out their responsibilities in the most effective and economical way possible”.  Specifically, “to expand stakeholders' capacity to address shared geographic information technology needs and maximize investments in existing resources through widespread collaboration of organizations that serve the Twin Cities metropolitan area

In other words, as stakeholders use the enhanced capabilities available to them through MetroGIS, they better serve society’s needs and, in the course of doing so, achieve effective cross-jurisdictional collaboration and substantive improvements to operational effectiveness and efficiency for their respective organizations. 

Core Services and Desired Outcomes

1) Foster GIS Coordination Among Stakeholders

  • Provide an inclusive, trusted forum to collaboratively resolve geospatial data and GIS technology-related issues and opportunities of common interest.
  • Improve trust and mutual understanding within the GIS community through frequent opportunities to communicate with colleagues and peers.
  • Build sustainable solutions to common geospatial data-related needs through the use of collaborative and consensus-based processes that seek to institutionalize custodian roles and responsibilities pertaining to data capture, maintenance, documentation and distribution of commonly needed data.
  • Enhance individual stakeholder GIS programs and capabilities through sharing technology and proven practices with colleagues and peers.

2) Oversee Solutions To Shared Information Needs

  • Increase access to, and use of, trusted, reliable and current data needed to support business needs through sharing data and creating community-endorsed regional data solutions and related applications. Build once and share many times.
  • Improve decision support for its entire stakeholder community through the use of minimal data standards pertaining to assembly of data produced by multiple organizations into regional datasets. These datasets work together horizontally within a given geospatial data theme and vertically among themes.
  • Facilitate use of data standards and best practices.

3) Support Internet-based mechanisms for discovery and ready access to geospatial data, web services and applications.

  • Support MetroGIS DataFinder ( as a node of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).
  • Advance GeoServices Finder as the go-to means to discover and leverage existing GIS web services and applications of value to the MetroGIS community.
Who is MetroGIS? Top of Page

The primary stakeholders of MetroGIS are the Metropolitan Council, other regional agencies, and nearly 300 counties, cities, school districts and water management organizations. State and federal agencies also participate in the activities of MetroGIS. The Metropolitan Council - the regional planning and operating agency for the Twin Cities area - agreed in 1996 to serve as the primary financial sponsor of MetroGIS, and also houses the staff responsible for fostering collaboration and supporting MetroGIS's administrative operations.

MetroGIS comprises a diverse group of stakeholders in the seven-county Twin Cities region who use GIS as a tool to effectively perform their business functions. MetroGIS recognize three classes of stakeholders in its Operating Guidelines:

  • Essential participant: Organizations whose participation is vital to the existence of MetroGIS. They produce essential framework data and/or provide essential functions or resources (equipment, staff and/or funds). Examples include the seven metropolitan area counties and the Metropolitan Council. Other organizations could become essential participants if they choose to support a vital function.
  • System enhancer: Organizations that produce data or possess resources that, although not essential to the existence of MetroGIS, enhance its functionality and/or the benefits received from it. These organizations influence MetroGIS to varying degrees based on the importance of their data or resources and the degree of their participation. Examples include cities, school districts/TIES, utilities, watershed districts, and state and federal agencies.
  • Secondary beneficiary: Organizations that are solely users of MetroGIS data or services. They neither produce data nor contribute resources. They are not among the targeted beneficiaries. Examples include the general public, businesses, and nonprofits.

All are welcome to participate in MetroGIS, which implements its policies on behalf of all 300+ local and regional government interests represented by the Policy Board members, regardless of whether a particular organization is active. Click here for a schematic that illustrates varied institutional relationships that comprise the MetroGIS community.

Generally, any organization involved in geospatial activities within the Twin Cities area is encouraged to participate in MetroGIS through ad hoc work groups and the Technical Advisory Team. Membership on the Coordinating Committee and Policy Board are governed by the MetroGIS Operating Guidelines, which are designed to insure a balance among data users and data producers, as well as among the stakeholder classes.

How is MetroGIS Organized? Top of Page

The MetroGIS Policy Board, since it was created in January 1997, provides policy direction for the MetroGIS Organization. The Board, comprised of twelve elected officials each representing a core stakeholder or core stakeholder community, provides policy guidance and, as importantly, a political reality check for all actions fundamental to the MetroGIS's success-- each of the seven metropolitan counties, Association of Metropolitan Municipalities (AMM), Metropolitan Chapter of the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts (MAWD), Technology Information Educational Services (TIES - school districts), and the Metropolitan Council. The governing body for each organization represented on the MetroGIS Policy Board formally endorsed the MetroGIS mission statement and appointed one of its members to serve on the Board.

The Board is supported by a Coordinating Committee and a Technical Advisory Team that reports to the Coordinating Committee. The Coordinating Committee, comprised of 25+ managers and administrators from a cross section of interests and organizations, recommends courses of action to the Policy Board concerning design, implementation, and operation of MetroGIS. The Coordinating Committee is supported by the Technical Advisory Team. The Coordinating Committee and the Technical Advisory Team are composed of persons with broad expertise and perspective, including GIS and other relevant organizational policy, data access, data content, and data standards. MetroGIS Operating Guidelines govern the responsibilities and composition of the Board and its supporting structure. Click here for a tabular summary of the key roles of the Policy Board, Coordinating Committee and Technical Advisory Team. Click here for a diagram of MetroGIS's organizational structure. (Additional advisory teams have been operative at various times during MetroGIS's evolution. Please see the Dissolved Teams page for more information about them.).

The Metropolitan Council provides the primary staff support, in accordance with its role as primary sponsor of the MetroGIS initiative. Click here for a diagram of MetroGIS's organizational structure.

What Principles Guide MetroGIS? Top of Page

MetroGIS makes a practical assumption that organizations cooperate out of self-interest. Very early, participants agreed to support the "data sharing" ideal only if it met their own business needs. In other words, MetroGIS must serve a diverse collection of functional ends, not data sharing for its own sake. For MetroGIS, the principal stakeholders are the Metropolitan Council, other regional agencies, and local units of government - counties, cities, school districts, and watershed districts - few of which need geodata for the same purpose or use it in the same form. The principal challenge for MetroGIS is to meet the shared geospatial needs of these organizations without costing them more in resources or time than would otherwise be the case if they developed or assembled the data they need from others on their own.

Based on this "self-interest" assumption, MetroGIS is guided by several fundamental principles, including the following, which operate in concert with its vision and mission statements to guide MetroGIS decision-making and operations.

  1. Pursue collaborative, efficient solutions of greatest importance to the region when choosing among options.
  2. Ensure that actively involved policy makers set policy direction.
  3. Pursue comprehensive and sustainable solutions that coordinate and leverage resources: i.e., build once, make available for use by many.
    • Leverage the Internet and related technology capabilities.
    • Value knowledge sharing as highly as data sharing.
    • Seek cross-sector (public, non-profit, academic, utility and for-profit) solutions, including data enhancements from many sources to serve shared geographic information needs when in the public interest.
    • Pursue interoperability with jurisdictions which adjoin the Twin Cities metropolitan area, seeking consistency with standards endorsed by state and national authorities.
  4. Acknowledge that the term “stakeholder” has multiple participation characteristics: contributor of resources, consumer of the services, active knowledge sharer, potential future contributor, potential future user, continuous participant, infrequent participant.
  5. Acknowledge that funding is not the only way to contribute: data, equipment and people are also valuable partnership assets.
  6. Rely upon voluntary compliance for all aspects of participation.
  7. Rely upon a consensus-based process for making decisions critical to sustainability.
  8. Ensure that all relevant and affected perspectives are involved in the exploration of needs and options.
  9. Enlist champions with diverse perspectives when implementing policies and carrying out activities.
What is MetroGIS's Decision-Making Process? Top of Page

At its core, MetroGIS's efforts involve bundling of operational capacity across numerous organizations to achieve together what no single organization is capable of itself. The decision-making process used to implement sustainable policies needed to achieve this bundling of capacity is broadly inclusive and consensus-based, in particular for decisions important to MetroGIS's long-term effectiveness. Several guiding principles underpin MetroGIS's decision-making process, principles that have been honored since MetroGIS began in 1996. Click here for an explanation of the process and the underlying principles.

How is MetroGIS Funded? Top of Page

The costs to support MetroGIS's efforts can be divided into two main categories, those involving the "fostering collaboration" function and those involving custodial-related responsibilities related to support of endorsed regional data solutions ( ) and MetroGIS DataFinder ( and GeoServices Finder. MetroGIS DataFinder is an Internet-based mechanism for discovery and access to geospatial data for the seven-county, Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area. GeoServices Finder is an Internet-based mechanism for discovery and access to existing GUIS Web Services and applications.

The Metropolitan Council accepted responsibility for supporting the "foster collaboration" function and has continued to support this function since the initial exploratory efforts in 1995 that launched MetroGIS. The Council has also accepted custodial responsibility for support of several endorsed regional data solutions and MetroGIS DataFinder. Nine other organizations, as of April 2006, have also accepted custodian responsibilities related to endorsed regional data solutions. More information is provided below about these roles responsibilities.

It is important to note that organizations are not pursued to support regional solutions unless they have an internal business need for the particular function involved. Since the responsibilities associated with support of the endorsed regional solutions generally comprise a minor extension of an internal need, a separate accounting of the costs these functions is not maintained. This is not the case for MetroGIS's "fostering collaboration" function, for which no single organization possesses an internal business need, although the fostering collaboration function is critical to leveraging existing investments and minimizing duplication of effort - build once and share many times. The Metropolitan Council recognized the substantial efficiencies that could be gained by obtaining the data it needs from others through MetroGIS's collaborative process verses attempting to secure these data on their own. As such, the Council has accepted the expense of supporting MetroGIS's "fostering collaboration function".

1995 to 2007
From 1995 through 2007, the Council had invested over $2.7 million in  support of MetroGIS’s “foster collaboration” function.  This investment accounts for 77 percent of the $3.8 million total investment or an average annual investment of approximately $225,000.    

The average annual cost to support MetroGIS's "fostering collaboration" function has dropped over 40 percent since the earlier years. The average annual cost from 1996 to 1998 was $382,100, whereas, the average annual cost for 2003-2005 was $295,900. This reduction is due to the need for fewer studies and leveraging of lessons learned. As importantly as the Council's investment in the support of "fostering collaboration", the sought after collaboration could not have been achieved without the substantial investment of time and resources of hundreds of individuals representing all facets of the MetroGIS stakeholder community. Implementation of the endorsed regional solutions also involves substantial resources from a number of stakeholder organizations working in concert with one another to minimize duplication of effort and leverage existing investments. Click here for detailed information about the data content specifications and custodian roles and responsibilities for each of the MetroGIS community's endorsed regional solutions to common information needs.

Metropolitan Council
Major non-staff project expenses included: $700,000 for data sharing agreements with the seven metro area counties, $200,000 for DataFinder, $200,000 for business planning activities, and $100,000 for common information needs identification and follow-up forums.

Other Sources
In addition to the funding provided by the Council, the Minnesota Department of Transportation invested over $300,000 to assist the Council acquire a license and quarterly updates for the regional street centerline dataset. Three grants were also received via the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) program totaling $166,000, and approximately $22,000 was donated to MetroGIS by the Metropolitan Council and The Lawrence Group. The donated funds were generated by sales of their orthoimagery and street centerline datasets, respectively. As importantly, the time volunteered by representatives of the stakeholder organizations made the vision possible.

Related Links:

History of MetroGIS
Policy Board
Coordinating Committee
Technical Advisory Team

   Page last updated on January 27, 2012. Home   |   Search   |   Contact Us