What is a Common Priority Information Need?
How Did MetroGIS Establish Its Priority
Common Information Needs?
Phase I - Identify Priority
Common Information Needs (Sept. 1996-May 1997)
II Data Specifications and Custodian Responsibilities (June 1997
Constitutes a Regional Solution to a Common Priority Information Need?
A common information need is defined as information needed by MetroGIS stakeholder organizations to perform
their day-to-day business functions (e.g., I need to know the address of a property and how to contact the residents.)
Such needs become priorities for MetroGIS to pursue regional solutions when 4 to 5 of the stakeholder organization
types represented on the Policy Board designate a specified need as both important to their ability to function and
they are dependent upon on other organizations for the data. Given the breadth of data that have a locational
component, it is not surprising that the common information need priorities that have been established to date fall
within the world of the GIS community.
The process of identifying and meeting priority common information needs by MetroGIS was conducted in a phased
approach. Phase I was intended to identify those information needs common to the MetroGIS community. This phase began
in April 1996 under the general direction of the MetroGIS Data Content Advisory Team (since made part of the Technical
Advisory Team). The high-level concept of using six content-specific focus groups was conceived by staff to identify
common information needs. The project design was refined by a project steering committee with the assistance of
Advanced Strategies, Inc., an Atlanta, Georgia firm that specializes in Business Object Modeling and retained by the
Metropolitan Council for this project. The Request for Proposals provided detailed
information about the project objectives, process and desired deliverables.
The first event was an Information Needs Forum held on September 19, 1996. More than 120 people participated,
representing governments, private and non-profit sector interests and academia serving the metropolitan area. Each also
represented one of six topical areas of expertise that form the core of government services provided in the metro area:
community development; human resources and education; natural resources; public safety; public works; and
transportation and communication. Following a presentation about the expectations for this project, the participants
were asked to join one of the six topical focus groups. Each focus group was facilitated and over a two-hour period
each participant was asked to provide as many responses as possible to the question: what information do you need to do
your job? More than 870 responses were received. A detailed summary (Turnaround
Document) was produced to document the results of this September 1996 Information Needs Forum.
The next step in the process involved the creation of a Business Object Framing Model. Advanced Strategies,
Inc. facilitated this step of the process. Three modeling sessions were held in the fall of 1996; two in October and
one in December, each involving 20-30 participants. The resulting model provides a generally high level description of
entities, relationships, and attributes needed to address the previously identified information needs. A summary
(Turnaround Document) was prepared for each modeling session: Session 1, October
30-31 and Session 2, December 4. Through the modeling process, and with the
assistance of Advanced Strategies, Inc., the original 870+ information needs were collapsed into
87 mutually exclusive information needs. An object modeling
diagram showing these 87 needs was developed as part of this process (this diagram requires an "E" size plotter for
printing). View Advanced Strategies' final report on the creation of the Business
Object Framing Model.
The final step in Phase I was comprised of a survey administered in February 1997 to narrow the field of 87
distinct information needs to the highest priorities. Each of the participants in the Information Needs Forum and the
three object modeling sessions, as well as all members of the Coordinating Committee and Policy Board were invited to
participate in this step. Two sessions, each with more than 60 participants, were held wherein the participants were
briefed on the purpose of the survey, had an opportunity to ask questions, and then completed the
survey questionnaire. This process resulted in identification of the
thirteen highest priority common information needs. These highest priorities were those that
rated the highest on a combined rating for "importance to the respondent's organization" and "the respondent's
dependence on other organizations for data". View the object model fragments for the
highest priority common information needs. On May 28, 1997, the MetroGIS Policy Board endorsed them as priorities for
Once data specifications and custodian responsibilities are near completion for these thirteen initial common
information need priorities, the survey process will be repeated to establish subsequent information need priorities.
The ranking methodology used to identify MetroGIS's highest priority information was designed by Dr. David
Arbeit, Director of the Minnesota Land Management Information Center (LMIC), and Dr. William Craig, Associate Director
of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota. A description of this methodology
was given in a presentation given at the URISA 2000 Conference, The MetroGIS Initiative: Development, Integration
and Sharing of Geographic Information Through Regional Collaboration. The full presentation is available on the
MetroGIS presentations page.
In June 1999, under the general direction of the Technical Advisory Team, a consensus-based
process was prototyped to identify desired specifications for data needed
to answer each priority information need and to identify the candidate custodians' responsibilities for these data. The
process involves establishment and support individual topic-specific workgroups to address each of MetroGIS's 13
priority common information needs. The status of MetroGIS's work to address each of its priority common information
needs can be found on the Information Needs/Dataset Status page.
In 2004 or 2005 the MetroGIS community will again be asked to identify priorities to address unmet common
information needs. The process used to define the original priority common information needs will be replicated.
It is important to note that MetroGIS's data efforts always begin with an investigation of any nationally
recognized standards that might be applicable. MetroGIS has also incorporated into its common information needs
methodology the seven NSDI Framework Functions, as outlined in the
Purpose of Regional Solutions:
A central focus of MetroGIS's work is to identify common
information needs of its stakeholder community who serve the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan Area and facilitate
long-term support of regional solutions to meet these common information needs. Elements of the National Spatial Data
Infrastructure (NSDI) vision, such as the area integrator, framework themes, framework
functions, and skylines concepts, are embedded in
the philosophy that underlies MetroGIS's "endorsed" regional solutions.
The purposes served by these "endorsed" regional solutions are as follows:
- 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. Build once and share many
- 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.
What Endorsed Regional Data Solutions Are Currently Available?
What Does an "Endorsed" Regional Solution Entail?
The MetroGIS Policy Board provides a
political "reality check" when it endorses desired specifications for geospatial data commonly needed by the MetroGIS
data-user community at the conclusion of a broadly participatory and replicable process. These commonly needed data are
referred to as "regional data". Another component of the Policy Board's endorsement action involves roles and
responsibilities for primary and regional custodians of these data and any related agreements with specified
organizations to carry out the desired tasks. In addition, endorsement of a regional dataset involves guidelines for
access, content, and distribution of the dataset.
What are the Benefits of Regional Data Solutions?
- Regional endorsed solutions work together. Their interoperability saves substantial time and effort for
setup prior to use.
- Standardized capture and reporting of endorsed data permits easy "apples-to-apples" comparisons
- Builds trust in the data as the "go-to" source and over time higher quality data at less cost is the
- Use of endorsed data focuses debate on issues and not competing data sources.
- Leveraged resources or shared costs of enhancements to data which are important to the community.
- Accessible free via the Internet for as many solutions as possible.
Highly Participatory Process Used to Identify Common Information Needs
A project was
conducted by MetroGIS from September 1996 through May 1997 to identify the common information
needs of the MetroGIS community. Thirteen such information needs were identified and a high-level business object
framing model fragment was constructed for each. Since that time, MetroGIS has facilitated assembly and continued
enhancement of data needed to address these common information needs, with the goal of providing a solution for 11 of
the 13 by the end of 2003 that meets the needs of the entire MetroGIS community.
Three policy actions are involved in arriving at a regional solution for each dataset required to address an
information need. In some cases more than one dataset is needed to address a particular information need:
- Identification of desired data specifications for the regional solution.
- Identification of custodian roles and responsibilities for both primary producers and the regional
- Appointment of a willing organization with the appropriate expertise to serve as regional custodian.
The process is complete once the Policy Board endorses a course of action for the stated policy matters, the
associated dataset is assembled, data access rules are defined, and the metadata are posted on MetroGIS DataFinder.
Many of the datasets can be downloaded directly from MetroGIS DataFinder, whereas, access to others, such as parcels,
may require a signed license agreement (and possibly payment of a fee if requested by a non-government organization)
before they can be accessed.
After the user community has had an opportunity to use a newly released version of a dataset for about a year,
MetroGIS co-hosts a forum with the regional custodian to evaluate user
satisfaction and identify desired enhancements for subsequent releases of the data.
(Refer to Information Needs and Datasets for the contents of each of regional
dataset policy statement, associated best practices, and related standards.)