Measuring Geospatial Maturity

Nov 18
Measuring Geospatial Maturity

​The idea of figuring out where an organisation, be it a commercial company or a government agency or a country for that matter, sits on the scale of understanding and leveraging the benefits of geospatial information and technology is a relevant one.

It's an important bit of intelligence for any number of reasons.  Internally it can be leveraged by the organisation itself to map out an informed plan for spatially enabling their enterprise.  Externally it can be used by commercial companies to guide their marketing, sales and customer support strategies, or by government agencies to advance national programmes, facilitated policy development and strategies in this area.

And the choice of the term maturity is deliberate.  It suggests something more than just knowledge or understanding, though they form part of it.  Maturity here involves a deep level of comprehension about what geospatial really is, beyond definitions, to what it can accomplish or provide.  As an organisational maturity increases so do the opportunities for that organisation to achieve innovative and beneficial outcomes through geospatial.

The whole concept though strikes me as one that's got to be fairly unique to our particular industry, where we have to spend so much time just to figure out where people are along the "journey" of comprehending what it is we're talking about.  It's necessary and certainly time well spent, but time that can feel different from doing things nonetheless.

That understanding of relative levels of maturity is in fact a core concept underlying Spatial.IQ itself.  Our very name reflects as much.  When engaging with our clients or looking to add new ones, we're always very conscious of where they lie on that spectrum of understanding.  What is their…wait for it…spatial IQ?

Gaining that clear picture of the level of geospatial maturity is inevitably the first bit of work we do as part of almost every project.  It's that important.  It informs and influences everything we do afterwards so naturally it garners a lot of energy and attention as a starting task for us.

And in a market like New Zealand, where widespread understanding of geospatial is not the norm, it is even more important as a tool with which to inform awareness-raising.  The two go hand in hand and in generally immature markets like this one, that relationship is particularly important.  Raising awareness, explaining, informing to a beneficial end, can only progress when based on a secure foundation of understanding current state.

In this regard, What's My Spatial.IQ?TM is an interesting case study.  Its genesis was in fact in work we were doing to capture geospatial capability amongst NZ local government agencies as part of a separate project.  But it was that picture of GIS at the local authority level that opened up some really interesting ideas and commercial opportunities that became What's My Spatial.IQ?TM.

And it has become one of those amazing initiatives that only leads to more interesting and useful outputs the more we investigate its potential.  What started out as a basic illustration of web mapping technology use is expanding to include assessments of the quality, from a public user point of view, of web mapping sites.  And beyond that we're conducting research with which to map geospatial data value chains, providing a fascinating glimpse of real-world information networks.

All of these outputs can be linked to various elements of the relative geospatial maturity of a local government agency.  Even the choice of mapping technology can indicate much more than the efficacy of a vendor's sales team, or the influence of pragmatic considerations like licensing and budget.  In fact, it's a pretty effective proxy for an understanding of how best to employ mature ideas like transactional web services and open standards, or the level of sophistication associated with user experience (UX) development.  Our site assessments are designed to uncover these levels of organisational maturity as well.  Our premise is that a simple correlation exists between the quality of a web map, across appropriate measures, and the geospatial maturity of the organisation publishing it.

What's My Spatial.IQ?TM also provides the means of assessing geospatial maturity on a much broader scale.  As of this writing, we have published web technology infographics on four countries: New Zealand, Australia, England and the US.  Already some interesting patterns have emerged which are beginning to suggest conclusions about relative levels of geospatial maturity at the country level.  One challenge arises from those countries like Australia and the US, where states operate quite independently and make country-level conclusions tricky.

And the patterns don't always lead to expected conclusions.  For instance in New Zealand, which as noted is considered relatively geospatially immature as countries go, there is widespread availability of web mapping through local government.  In contrast Australia, regarded as having a more developed geospatial agenda, has very limited web mapping at the local level.  Its citizens on the ground are notably underserved by an online mapping capability, and successful delivery of geospatial information to end-of-the-supply-chain users is a hallmark of a mature infrastructure.

More analysis is needed and will be forthcoming as we collect additional data on local government web sites globally, but the suggestion is that a more nuanced definition of geospatial maturity on a national scale is required.

This all goes to show the complexity and interesting nature of geospatial maturity assessment.  I said earlier that this sometimes doesn't feel like work that's really doing something.  OK that was a bit of an oversimplification.  As What's My Spatial.IQ?TM is making clear, there are lots of angles with which to approach this type of work and it's well worth sitting up and taking notice of the results.  It is afterall the nature of our business.