The Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Association is an inclusive organisation of government agencies, firms, and individuals from around the world. It aims to promote international cooperation and collaboration in support of local, national and international Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) developments that will allow nations to better address social, economic, and environmental issues of pressing importance.
Given its pro-active role as both initiator and advocator of SDI developments worldwide, Prof Abbas Rajabifard, President of GSDI, shares with FutureGov how GSDI is helping societies and governments to be spatially enabled, his thoughts on standards and how the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) fits in an e-government programme.
Looking at the role that you hold, the scope of the things you tackle, the progress rates and so on – how do you benchmark GSDI’s activities internationally?
There are probably two main ways in which we might benchmark GSDI’s activities internationally.
The first way is directly related to the activities the GSDI are undertaking. There are four active working committees covering Legal & Socio-economic; Outreach & Membership; Societal Impacts and the Technical Committee. The work that these committees are leading is in line with the GSDI strategic plan and also the majority at the request of participating organisations and in conjunction with other international organisations.
For example, the GSDI has been invited to participate and contribute to the recent UN initiative to a establish Global Geospatial Data Management (UNGGIM) Forum; develop a Geographic Information Knowledge Network; and develop and adopt a minimum set of SDI operational best practice standards. We also support SDI convergence among technical and policy approaches used within and among nations in order to facilitate technological interoperability, ease the sharing of data, and ease the provisioning of geospatial services.
The second way is through the level and breadth of organisations and institutions that are members of the GSDI. We have many participating organisations from across the private sector, governments (across all continents), and some of the leading research institutes and Universities in the spatial information sector. To me, this demonstrates that the scope and work that the GSDI are undertaking is relevant.
As the president of a renowned organisation, so far, what policy directive or specific project is your most favourite? Which one are you most proud of?
From my perspective, the major directives or projects that I am most proud of are the development of the concept of a spatially enabled government and society which is being lead by the GSDI organisation, contribution to the international related initiatives, establishment of an individual arm of the Association to engage individual professionals and also the forging of new partnerships with other international organisations.
Our last world conference (GSDI 12) in October 2010 in Singapore was undertaken in conjunction with the UN sponsored Permanent Committee for GIS Infrastructure for Asia and the Pacific. This created a real opportunity for the two organisations to forge closer working relationships. In addition, we also signed different Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with other spatial related international organisations such as the MoU with the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) during their bi-annual conference in Sydney in April 2010 and one with International Cartographic Association (ICA) during their ICC Conference in July this year in Paris. This was a key initiative of my Presidency, as the work of these organisations goes hand in hand.
The development of a spatially enabled government and society will provide improved decision making; reduce administrative costs; provide whole of government outcomes and enhance industry development opportunities.
In your point-of-view, where does the NSDI fit in an e-government programme?
NSDI and the e-government program go hand in hand, they should not be seen as two separate programmes or development pieces by Governments.
e-Government, along with the concept of a spatially enabled government, builds on the NSDI initiatives of a country, which play an important and integral role in the development of an enabling platform. This includes all institutional, legal, governance, and political arrangements that facilitate the integration of built and natural environmental data together with all related non-spatial data such as demographic and census data to support sustainable development.
In simple terms, e-Government and by extension, Spatially Enabled Government is about using NSDI as an enabling platform to improve the operation and processes of government, and deliver better policy implementation and decision making by extending the use of spatial information to the whole of government and society. This in return would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government services and activities and improve the quality of life.
Having worked around SDI development for years, how has SDI development progressed compared to 5 or 10 years ago?
SDI is a long term process which also requires a long term support in order to deliver a fully functioning system. At the same time, SDI has been understood differently by different users or jurisdictions. I think one of the major trends in NSDI development has been the increasingly important role played by different level of jurisdictions and sub-national governments and the private sector within the framework of SDI development.
There has been a movement away from only national small-scale data to more people relevant large-scale information, generally derived at a sub-national level. The development and availability of this large scale data together with the creation of an enabling platform or “Virtual Jurisdiction” is creating new opportunities for greater private sector involvement in SDI development.
This requirement to build an enabling platform to create access to fundamental large-scale datasets across linked jurisdictions is now being seen through the concept of spatial enablement, a concept that is broadening the progression of SDI development. So, in comparison with 5-10 years ago, we can now see more successful stories and better understanding and use of SDI platforms.
In your point-of-view, why are standards important for SDI development? Why do you think some public sector organisations encounter difficulties in adhering to certain standards?
The development and implementation of comprehensive standards is a key facet to the development of SDIs at any level around the world, and has tended to be seen as one of the major and somehow hardest parts to develop. One of the difficulties on developing and adhering standards at a National level, particularly in countries that have multiple levels of Government (such as Australia or the USA for example that are Federation of States) is the lack of cooperation between agencies and different sectors, rather than the standards themselves.
However, the work and guidelines developed and contributed by ISO/TC 211 and the Open Geospatial Consortium and other international standard commissions such as ICA-standards commission have been facilitating the use and implementation of these standards.
GSDI has also participating and contributing widely into these international organisations and standards initiatives. In addition, GSDI has developed and suggested a minimum set of standards for the SDI best practise.
In some countries for example, jurisdictions would often operate as silo’s, and the departments and organisations within each jurisdiction would operate in silo’s. This meant that there were often a range of different standards developed across a range of jurisdictions. Even with the setting of national policies, there is still often vested interest in sticking to a particular standard. It is the breaking down of this silo mentality that will help organsations implement and adhere to standards that cover a National SDI.
What does it take for societies/governments to be spatially enabled?
Spatial enablement is not just about developing and using geospatial and geographic information systems (GIS) technologies. It is a concept that permeates the whole of government and society and draws heavily on the land administration system and the spatial data infrastructure available in the jurisdiction.
To be spatially enabled is where data, information and related business services with spatial content become ubiquitous in the daily conduct of government agency business in the efficient and effective delivery of services and also in wider society activities. A spatially enabled government (SEG) is one that has ready access to the spatial or geographic or location based information and associated technologies that it requires and is applying these productively to government decision making and service delivery, including developing policy and supporting its own business processes. To do so also requires data and resources to be accessible and accurate, well-maintained and sufficiently reliable for use by the majority of society who are not spatially aware.
In particular spatial enablement is usually used by a wide cross section of society in a ubiquitous and transparent manner. As a result spatial enablement demands a “whole-of government” approach.
Popular uses of spatial technology involve displaying imagery, and tracking assets and inventory through an increasing array of devices, the most common being the ubiquitous mobile phone. Remarkable as these applications are, spatial technology can be used in even more dynamic ways.
Transformational use of spatial technology occurs when it is used to improve business processes of government and the private sector, including equitable taxation, allocation of services, conservation of natural resources, and planning for rational growth. An SDI provides a foundation on which spatial enablement for both government and society can occur.
What trends in SDI do you see in the coming years?
Spatial enablement will continue to be a major theme in the development of SDIs over the next decade.
Successful spatial enablement will require new technology and new ways of defining place. For example in a recent research paper published by researchers within the Geomatics discipline at The University of Melbourne (including myself), we describe combining absolute, relative and visual accuracy definitions of place; using emerging sources of data (e.g. crowd-sourced) to develop dynamic descriptions of places; determining how to capture ‘places’ from remotely sensed data; incorporating vanity and vernacular places into spatial data infrastructures; and embedding measures of the salience of place into spatial data infrastructures as part of a future SDI and spatial information science research agenda.
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