The World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC) and MAPPS, a US association of geospatial firms, teamed up to demonstrate the value and power of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to natural as well as built environments.
In a joint panel discussion titled “The Impact and Power of Public, Private Partnerships from the Natural (climate) Environment to the ‘Built World,'” at Geo Week 2023, the two trade bodies reiterated that PPPs have been at the forefront in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs) and climate change mitigation efforts. The success of PPPs can be attributed to the complementary strengths of both private and public sectors. While the private sector brings cutting-edge technology, innovative solutions, and investment, the public sector brings regulatory frameworks, funding, and the ability to implement policies at scale.
Barbara Ryan, WGIC Executive Director, opened the discussion by emphasizing the private sector’s expansive capabilities and the importance of governments in recognizing that. Ryan briefly introduced WGIC’s PPP report titled “Public-Private Geospatial Collaborations: Exploring Potential Partnership Models” and highlighted the mutually complementary nature of these partnerships and the positive impact they can bring in tackling issues at scale.
Dietmar Grimm, Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Sustainability Solutions at Trimble continued the conversation by highlighting the need for defining solutions and creating rules of the game in terms of policies and regulations. “Public-private partnerships have a real opportunity for us in the private sector to take on a greater leadership role because we need to define solutions and utilize them. We are at a defining moment,” said Grimm. Climate change and decarbonization are issues that cannot wait. There is an immense need not just to identify opportunities but to discuss “solutions we can deliver today before we get to that late-end game.” Later, Grimm gave a brief overview of the evolution of PPPs over the past 100-plus years and how the partnerships witnessed increase in the productivity and efficiency of the outcomes.. “Looking at the resources we utilize today and comparing them to what was before, we’ve become more efficient,” noted Grimm.
Marc Goldman, the Director of AEC Industry Solutions at Esri, in turn, spoke about Esri’s system of record (e.g., construction information, data availability of the built-in natural world) and insights (e.g., getting information through analytics and various algorithms to make informed decisions, and understanding context to improve engineering processes). Goldman opined that the collaborative power of location information and GIS data serves many purposes and have a greater positive impact in the long run, which benefit engineers, asset managers, government officials, and architects.”
“PPPs are necessary for the private sector to take on leadership roles,” asserted Shawana Johnson, founder of GEOBuslnt. She highlighted how these partnerships have been critical in climate and environmental sustainability efforts, whose impacts are being seen not only in the United States but internationally. Johnson shared an example of how the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners had requested a vulnerability assessment and resiliency action plan that included climate change assessment, flood mapping, modeling, and planning.
In this regard, Ed Kunz, Program Director at Kucera International, stressed that everything starts with a significant change, typically a disaster, which creates certain government requirements or standards to better measure the consequences and avoid repetition. This eventually becomes a driver of innovation as companies are compelled to innovate to adapt to these requirements. To illustrate his point, Kunz talked about the communications revolution of 5G technology implementation and its consequences for the private sector. As a result of this revolution, over the past several years, electrical companies decided to transition from German helicopters to fixed LiDAR to map their assets. To make this transition happen, “LiDAR companies had to adjust to these requirements (e.g., update their points per square meter).”
The key to a software’s success is data quality. This was the key message from Joe Seppi, Senior Vice President at Woolpert. As someone involved in producing high-quality data, his company focuses on creating better data collection systems, particularly for locations with sub-optimal mapping infrastructure outside the US, including Africa. He notes that PPPs are an attractive option to overcome funding limitations when working in places like Africa. With regard to natural environment, Seppi highlighted Woolpert’s work in developing exclusive technology for mapping coastal infrastructure and monitoring sea level rise and climate change.
Lisa Nisenson, Vice President at WGI, explained how the planning process has evolved over the past 20 years, progressively increasing focus on performance-based plans. These plans use action metrics or triggers to monitor system performance and ensure that policies, pricing, and other levers are adjusted when necessary. “We are now witnessing the emergence of the next evolution of performance-based plans. Their difference is that instead of picking a lot of metrics and indicators, you pick action metrics or triggers to monitor the system performance.”
Nisenson cited an example of a performance-based parking plan in Derry Beach, Florida, which ensures real-time access to parking conditions, traffic, transit leave times, congestion, events, and other contextual information, providing a great customer experience. Nisenson emphasizes the importance of geospatial data in this context and an active management system to maximize parking space utilization based on demand. This parking study showcased the importance of PPPs. She noted, “The first call we made after doing the parking study was to parking vendors. We have to realize that PPP is moving into a new model.”
The panelists’ insights highlighted how PPPs have been critical to effective climate action and how they will continue to be essential in meeting sustainable development goals. The private sector’s innovation, technology, and investment capabilities can complement the public sector’s regulatory and implementation strengths. The panel echoed in unison that collaborative efforts are crucial in achieving rapid decarbonization and ensuring a sustainable future for all.