NIEM - A Model for Sharing Government Information

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“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is . . . not a benefit.” William Pollard

In modern history, few events have had the instant, transformative impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the people of the United States. In a matter of just a few hours, the world view of many Americans was suddenly and profoundly changed. Gone were old notions about the near-unique security this nation had “manifestly” been “destined” to enjoy – by virtue of its oceanic barriers to the east and west and friendly neighbors on its northern and southern frontiers. Gone, too, were the sky-high confidence levels that we-the-people had gradually, but steadily gained over time, in the safety of commercial aviation. In the aftermath of that great human tragedy, a failure to share information was determined to be a major contributing factor to the government’s inability to prevent those attacks. Since that fateful day, federal, state, and local governments have taken great strides with many attempts to improve government-wide data and information sharing – as a better way of doing government business.

This long and fitful journey started with the early recognition that data sharing is one of the most critical capabilities required to enable government entities to share service-, capacity-, and resource-related information for the purpose of orchestrating whole-of-government responses to emergency situations, whether natural or man-made. As this capability had not been commonly exercised in past public administration and management practices, emerging information sharing initiatives had to overcome a wide range of technical, organizational, cultural and other barriers to success, which have always proven difficult to negotiate by any one agency, left to its own devices. Indeed, we have been learning, since 9/11, that information sharing is one intimidating public objective that is best addressed through a government-wide framework, adherence to which cannot be accommodated simply by tweaking and polishing preexisting information-sharing policies and strategies of separate agencies. Indeed, we have learned that the institutionalized practice of information sharing needs to be practically accomplished within a mutually agreed construct that addresses principles, barriers, enablers, information lifecycles (and shelf-life), organizational roles, inter-agency agreements, confidence levels, and a host of other important elements (including security and privacy) that reflect the many different dimensions of a convoluted “problem” space.

A Mutually-Agreed Construct to Facilitate Government Information Sharing

As governments strive to better serve their constituents, even in ordinary times, it is increasingly likely that more than one department or agency – as well as other levels of government – will need to be engaged in planning and implementing improvement initiatives. Indeed, the requirement to share more government information is intensified by the increasingly interconnected nature of the environments in which public services need to be provided.

Fortunately, the U.S. Government has been working very hard over the past several years to mature the National Information Exchange Model – more commonly known as NIEM – as a mission-driven, standards-based approach to exchanging information. Designed to facilitate interoperability, NIEM proves a progressively more mature set of common models, methods, tools, and procedures to be used by participating government entities.

NIEM traces its roots to the law enforcement and public safety communities in the United States, where it was launched as a major government initiative in 2005, co-sponsored by the US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

“NIEM was created by a memorandum of understanding signed by the chief information officers of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security in February 2005. In developing NIEM, the two departments relied heavily on the highly successful Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM). This set of data standards was completely developed by a consensus process engaging state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and corrections officials and technologists as well as industry representatives. It was designed to be an open standard that would be built on the newly created open standards adopted by industry to foster information exchanges using the tools of XML and related standards designed for commercial information exchanges. Applying these technologies to the law enforcement and justice world required the development of a consensus on the meaning of terms and the format for the exchanges. The success of the GJXDM prompted officials not only to use the results of the consensus process as expressed in the model, but also to adopt many of the organizational approaches that were used in building consensus. As a result, NIEM is also based on a consensus building process, where representatives of multiple domains work together to achieve a common understanding of terms and data structures.[1]

Though NIEM began as an initiative developed by a community of agencies with a need to exchange information, it is now – nine years later – being used to successfully facilitate interoperability among diverse organizations. NIEM is made use of in more than a dozen communities of interest at all levels of government in the U.S., and international adoption is growing, most notably in Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and Australia. More and more federal, state, local, and tribal organizations in the U.S. are in the process of adopting (or investigating) NIEM, as a mutually-agreed construct – and model – for accelerating improvements in their information sharing capabilities.

The benefits of using NIEM have been consistently observed by diverse organizations. Using NIEM has been shown to reduce the time needed to design, build and implement robust, agile information sharing capabilities, to cut the cost to share information with reusable components and exchanges, enabling quick and cost-effective entry by new partners, and the ability for organizations to leverage existing systems by making their information assets available. NIEM makes information sharing fast, easy, accurate and efficient. . . . Furthermore, with the [now recent] release of NIEM 3.0, enhancements will reduce the effort required to implement and increase the benefits of adoption for Canadian organizations as well as providing general benefits such as better harmonization across the domains, simpler augmentation and enhanced referencing.[2]

“Communities are how we will collectively create the [President’s] vision for open government. Communities must be integrated. Communities – either mission focused communities of interest, or professionally or technically focused communities of practice – provide a way to build coalitions and deepen relationships to mutual benefit. With our journey to accelerate responsible information sharing, the key is to bring together mission-focused and functional communities, and together to drive secure and trusted collaboration.[3]

Then, there’s the all-important matter of trust.

To accelerate the movement toward information sharing among government entities, greater trust must be established (and maintained) between agencies – and among their often stove-piped systems – to effectively address the critical issues of identity management, access controls, interoperability, and transparency on a government-wide level.

Trust building is an important social process for developing cross-boundary information sharing among organizations and individuals. The level of trust among participating organizations is particularly relevant to information sharing efforts because it can alleviate conflicts and ease the way for collaboration in the form of risk taking, knowledge sharing, and decision making. A high level of trust can contribute to full participation in the project and knowledge sharing about complex business processes and practices. The combination, and more importantly, the interaction of leadership, organizational culture, and formal structures to support knowledge sharing and cooperation over time can ease the way for trust development[4].

Understanding the factors influencing information sharing and collaboration in solving urgent public issues is a focus of attention for digital-government practitioners and researchers alike. Ongoing research is exploring many of these factors and providing new guidance for practitioners and new models of understanding for researchers. Given the critical role trust plays in fostering collaboration and allowing the development of enterprise-wide, integrated information resources, practitioners planning new cross-boundary information sharing initiatives must explicitly include resources for trust building among information sharing partners. Leadership characteristics and authority strategies are also significant in creating and sustaining collaborative efforts across organizational boundaries.[5]

“Communities must be integrated. Communities – either mission focused communities of interest, or professionally or technically focused communities of practice – provide a way to build coalitions and deepen relationships to mutual benefit.  With our journey to accelerate responsible information sharing, the key is to bring together mission-focused and functional communities, and together to drive secure and trusted collaboration.[6]

The Bottom Line:

“Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset.  . . . [Government] departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.[7]"

NIEM provides a much needed construct for connecting communities of people who share a common need to exchange information for the purpose of achieving their government’s most important missions. Implementation of NIEM requires government agencies to develop business processes and adopt functional standards with a focus on standardizing information exchanges that traverse the boundaries of their own organizations. By leveraging standards-based innovation, industry, too, can help accelerate the achievement of an ever more mature information sharing environment – for the greater good of our nation and its constituent government entities, and its international allies.

With the recent release of NIEM 3.0 – in Fall 2013 –, now is perhaps the best time for non-participating government entities to consider the benefits of conforming to NIEM standards.




[1] Michael Haslip, Chief of Police, Blaine, Washington, and Paul Wormeli, Chairman, Communications and Outreach Committee, National Information Exchange Model, Ashburn, Virginia (from The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 4, April 2007)

[2] Jay Shaw, Information exchange 3.0: The Befits of a New Model (from the Canadian Government Executive, vol. 19, no. 8, October 2013

[3]Kshemendra Paul, Information Sharing Environment (ISE) Program Manager (from his keynote speech at the June 5th 2014 Asian American Government Executives Network (AAGEN)  Leadership Workshop: Pathways to Success)

[4] Theresa Pardo, Deputy Director, Center for Technology in Government, State University of New York at Albany (from An online article titled, “Collaboration and Information Sharing: Two Critical Capabilities for Government”)

[5] Ibid

[6] Paul, K.

[7] President Barack Obama, Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies (SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government), January 2009

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