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Aug 2018 | Data-Driven Decision Making


GIS (Geographic Information System) programs are not new to the public sector. Various systems have been employed by governments of all sizes to capture, store, manage, and present spatial data. These systems must be operated, maintained, and updated by trained professionals, and depending on the size of the organization, many other support roles may be required to analyze the spatial data and present the data in a meaningful way. At the local level, municipalities, school boards, police departments, and even conservation authorities rely on these systems and programs to not only visualize important organizational data, but to enable better data-driven decision-making and improve internal and external communications. These additional outputs of a GIS program (only a sample of a much longer list) require new approaches to program development and management. Public sector organizations across Canada are experimenting with new configurations for their GIS departments and branches, with some renaming the program to better reflect their broader mandate.  

As Canada’s cities and townships and police service boards continue to innovate with GIS program development, it is important to take stock of the best practices and lessons learned along the way. This spring, PSD launched the Geospatial Maturity Index (GMI), Canada’s first benchmarking initiative of its kind to measure the maturity of public sector GIS programs. In order to measure maturity across incredibly diverse organizations, PSD worked with industry and government experts from across Canada to develop a standardized performance measurement survey tool.

With 146 Canadian organizations completing the inaugural survey, it is with great enthusiasm that PSD announced that the City of Calgary achieved the highest GMI ranking for 2018.

The following is the list of the Top 25 GIS Programs in Canada:



“We are thrilled to be the top ranked Canadian city for geographic information systems maturity.  For decades, we’ve been committed to collecting, maintaining and using trustworthy GIS and mapping systems – even before big data was a hot topic.  In today’s world, the location of everything matters and The City of Calgary is well positioned because of the accuracy of our GIS systems and data. The City’s GIS data and analytics are critical to running efficient operations and delivering the best services to citizens.”


– Liz Findlay, Manager, Geospatial Business Solutions Corporate Analytics & Information, The City of Calgary




The City of Calgary’s first-place ranking can be attributed to a number of outstanding GIS practices, illuminated in the findings of the survey. For example, the City has dedicated project managers to guide the direction of all GIS projects, while 67 percent of survey respondents reported having no project managers in place. The City of Calgary has also implemented a GIS Communications Plan aligned with the City’s corporate strategic goals. 61 percent of survey respondents noted that a GIS Communications Plan had not yet been implemented in their respective communities.


Calgary, Alberta


Organization Staff Size

In an effort to better understand the relationship between organization size and geospatial maturity, the GMI survey identified each organization’s size in terms of employee count (full-time equivalent). The following staff size ranges were created to cluster the respondents: 0-50 staff, 51-200, 201-500, 501-1000, and 1000+.

The largest group of survey respondents (41 percent of the total) had an organization staff size of 1000+ employees, followed by those with an organization size of 201-500 respondents (28 percent). The smallest number of respondents (6 percent) had an organization staff size of less than 50. Although this group of small public sector organizations is a small sample size, it provides a window into how those organizations with the most limited capacity are still able to work collaboratively to implement GIS programs.

The average GMI score in each size category was as follows: 39 percent (0-50 staff), 46 percent (51-200 staff), 56 percent (201-500 staff), 64 percent (501-1000 staff), and 68 percent (1000+). Not surprisingly, the average score increases as staff size increases, demonstrating the positive correlation between greater capacity in an organization and its ability to develop GIS program maturity. There are, however, notable outliers within these clusters, with some small organizations punching well above their weight. 

Organization Type

PSD received respondents from a variety of organizations, including: lower, single, and upper-tier municipalities; regional conservation authorities; police divisions; and school boards. Single-tier municipalities made up the largest percentage of participants (53 percent), followed by lower-tier municipalities (21 percent) and upper-tier municipalities (15 percent). Upper-tier municipalities achieved the highest average ranking with an average score of 60 percent. Lower-tier and single-tier municipalities earned an average score of 58 percent and 54 percent respectively. Despite the six percent average of the categorized “other,” two police departments secured rankings in the Top 25. The Toronto Police Service secured the 12th spot and the Vancouver Police Department earned a ranking of 16th.

GIS Structure

The survey also identified the structure of participants’ GIS programs: centralized, decentralized, hybrid, and other (‘other’ structures were primarily those that outsources their GIS activities to a third party). The majority of survey respondents – 55 percent – reported having a centralized GIS structure. The second most common structure type were those of hybrid at 28 percent, followed by 12 percent having a decentralized GIS program.




Overall, the level of geospatial maturity displayed by the participating organizations is astounding. Overcoming barriers that include limited budgets and decentralized teams, survey respondents described their efforts to enhance service delivery through cross-departmental collaboration, support decision-making through the provision of intuitive geospatial datasets, and improve corporate communications and engagement through the development of GIS-enhanced dashboards and visualizations.

The results of the national survey also highlight areas for improvement in geospatial maturity. While the average score across all participants was relatively high under the implementation category (60 percent), public sector organizations face a greater gap in maturity when it comes to readiness and impact with average scores of 54 percent and 52 percent respectively. Measuring the impact of any corporate service is a challenge, without clear performance metrics like those that exist for direct services to citizens (e.g. number of water main breaks per km of municipal water infrastructure). For GIS services, practitioners must conduct studies and engage stakeholders to determine how their initiatives are supporting other government services. According to the GMI results, very few participating organizations have conducted a usability analysis to determine how users access/use their system (only 23 percent have completed this type of analysis).



Overall results for the 2018 Geospatial Maturity Index - Canada

Although usability analyses have only been conducted by more mature programs, there is still a strong indication that GIS programs are in high demand across departments in our participating organizations. More than 87 percent of respondents indicated that managers outside of their GIS departments are using geospatial data to guide decision-making – a sure sign of geospatial maturity.

Our Top 25 organizations ranked in this 2018 report are achieving incredible results in geospatial programming, but there is no shortage of valuable insights and strategies across all 146 participating organizations. In the year to come, PSD will produce three comprehensive reports exploring the trends, challenges, and innovations shared by our survey respondents under the three competency categories of Readiness, Implementation, and Impact.

We invite your organization to join our GMI Membership to continue your performance benchmarking efforts throughout the year. Canadian and international public sector organizations can still complete the GMI survey in order to receive a complimentary maturity report (click here for the survey).

We also encourage American organizations to fill out the survey by October 26th, in time for our forthcoming 2018 GMI Results for the United States.


TYLER SUTTON is the Editor-in-Chief for the Public Sector Digest, Canada's national research publication for public sector managers and practitioners. Prior to becoming the Editor-in-Chief, Tyler wrote for the Public Sector Digest on public finance, government leadership, economic development, and infrastructure management. Tyler received his honours bachelor’s degree from Western University and completed a master’s degree in Public Administration at Queen’s University. Tyler is a regular presenter and moderator at national and regional public sector conferences across Canada including the National Water and Wastewater Conference, the Canadian Open Data Summit, and the Guelph Regional Economic Summit. Tyler also served as co-chair of the planning committee for the 2017 Go Open Data Conference (GOOD), bringing together open data practitioners, innovators and researchers from across the province of Ontario.