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ISSUE NO. 6 NOVEMBER 2009
Spatial Data Infrastructures to Support Informed Decision-making for Inclusive and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific
Spatially distributed data is an essential information element for inclusive and sustainable development. It enables governments to make informed decisions on a wide range of social, economic and environmental development activities. Development planning has been one of the key areas in developing countries. There is considerable demand for spatial information, but the constraining factor has been the absence of an enabling spatial-information policy, guidelines for metadata management and coordination of spatial data. For the most past, spatial data are created and provided by government organs to provide information for a variety of development needs. In addition, the private sector generates and uses spatial data in infrastructure development and strategic expansion of investments. In order for such data to be shared and reused efficiently, they need to be properly managed, which requires an infrastructure of some sort, i.e. spatial data infrastructure (SDI). This is one of the reasons that many countries are developing national spatial data infrastructure (NSDI); it will maximize the use of spatial information in all key sectors. satellite images, including those provided free of charge by some websites, further compelled governments to consider measures aimed at ensuring easy public access to such images while attending to national security concerns. Such progress provides the opportunity for images to be shared among relevant government departments and throughout society, giving rise to the development of service industries, such as location-based road navigation services.
Populating SDI - the Key Challenges
Traditionally, spatial information is produced and handled by various government entities, with different standards and quantities, varying quality and enormous duplication. In very limited ways, the private sector also generates information and adds value. With advancements in information society, demand for spatial information increased and governments started adopting more open data policies. Subsequently, the role of the private sector became more apparent. The previous practice of producing analogue spatial information using non-standardized and incompatible maps gave way to digital spatial information, which created the technical possibility of producing and utilizing spatial information in a more cost-efficient way. The availability of commercialized high-resolution
It is the responsibility of the Government to develop NSDI to maintain and provide the most fundamental spatial information and services in order to reduce duplication, improve interoperability, ensure national security, and stimulate the development of the relevant service industries. A large number of developing countries in the region have taken concrete steps to develop NSDI. However, in many countries, spatial information is still in nonstandardized analogue format, which has hampered the operationalization of NSDI and, consequently, the support required for more effective planning and development of NSDI. Standard digital databases at different levels are yet to be created and maintained in order to make the sharing of information possible.
The most critical gap is the lack of full integration of NSDI with other social and economic infrastructures, such as transportation, communication, power, health, agriculture and education, despite the fact that all countries in the region are utilizing spatial information at different levels as a basis for developing these physically visible infrastructures. The majority of countries have not yet adapted the NSDI framework for effective and efficient production, utilization and sharing of spatial information for informed decisionmaking. In the fast-changing world of the information society, NSDI bridges several critical gaps and facilitates the diversity of spatial information usages by multiple stakeholders in diverse sectors of the development arena. For NSDI to be robust, it also is equally important for the necessary spatial data infrastructure to be implemented at the local, national, and regional levels.
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
The Existing Conceptual Foundation for SDI
Spatial data infrastructure is the means to assemble spatial information that describes the arrangement and attributes of features and phenomena on the Earth. Figure 1. A spatial decision support system
crime, bridging the digital divide, ensuring food security, supporting transport, health and communication systems, and facilitating land ownership. The driving force behind the development of NSDI derives as much from a country’s economic and political circumstances as from the resources it devotes to SDI development. For instance, in Japan, one of the main motivations for building NSDI was the need to handle earthquake-related emergencies. In Indonesia and Malaysia, by contrast, one of the major motivations was the desire to centralize control over land resources and their utilization.
SDI – Trends
SDI is continuously evolving to new phases through new software applications that ensure harmonized digital spatial data exchange between governments, businesses and the public. From the production perspective, therefore, SDI development is a dynamic process. Currently, SDI is focussed on the provision of geospatial information through distributed spatial web services, catalogues, and visualization of information in the form of web map services (WMS).1 It has been widely accepted that effective and efficient web service infrastructures –- in other words GeoServer technology –- for geoprocessing2 are essential for a number of applications, such as egovernment and disaster management. New features of SDI include “wiki-mapping” through web feature servers, and new output formats, such as Keyhole Markup Language (KML), which make GeoServer accessible by a wide variety of clients. It is the GeoServer's strength to make geospatial information accessible anywhere and anytime. For example, Web-based GIS provide a dynamic way to represent disease-related information on maps in real time, enabling health data to be shared with better visualization, which assists authorities in responding to disease outbreaks.
The infrastructure includes the materials, technology and people necessary to acquire, process, store and distribute such information to meet a wide variety of societal and economic needs. However, due to the lack of an SDI framework, policies and coordination, most the countries are not benefiting as much as they could from what the technology can offer. For instance, a well-established information infrastructure, in particular SDI, permits digitally enabled governments to handle the consequences of disasters efficiently; in contrast, developing countries lacking such infrastructure are forced to spend more time collecting and integrating relevant information in order to make disaster assessments and organize rescue and relief actions. Informed decision making on socio-economic development issues can be enhanced through the digitization of critical information sets, the conversion of existing analogue information into digital form, and the sharing of that information through SDI to provide more decision-supporting tools and options/scenarios. Countries should enact the legislation necessary to make this possible, as the potential scope of digital spatial data is enormous. It is an important component of a wide variety of scientific, technical, economic and social disciplines and applications covering almost all economic and social development fields, including, but not limited to, agriculture, emergency management, health, natural resource management, education, trade, transport and social science. In the disaster reduction area, SDI maintains the basic information needed for disaster risk assessment, prevention, warning, damage estimation, response planning and implementation, and recovery. SDI is also the platform for some fundamental information used for alleviating poverty, reducing
Ways Forward — Key Policy Elements
Ways to populate SDI have been gleaned from experiences in the region. The issues considered directly relevant are highlighted below. (a) Availability and easy accessibility The availability and easy accessibility of spatial data, unhindered but regulated, requires sound and adaptive policies for spatial data sharing. Users need the foundation of good, reliable and basic data in GIS databases.
(b) GIS process standards Instituting good GIS process standards involves the standardization of the entire process of “spatial technology”, including images, GIS database creation, spatial outputs, spatial data quality assessment and spatial services. (c) Technical interoperability Technical interoperability involves integration of different systems and standards using the services oriented architecture (SOA) and based on Web standards (spatial data and application services will be the order of the day for GIS in the future). (d) Spatial modelling and applications Another important issue is spatial modelling of objects and terrain features, which brings new perspectives in the visualization of spatial information and new insights to integrated economic and social development—GIS services will touch and broaden almost all aspects of society. (e) GIS partnerships and enterprises It is necessary to create GIS partnerships and enterprises replete with the infrastructure, missioncritical capabilities and robust architecture associated with other enterprises. With the emergence of partnerships between GIS and IT industries, the gap between GIS technology and conventional information technology will eventually disappear, giving way to new possibilities. (f) GIS user communities GIS user communities need to be established. Through proper education and instruction, people will become knowledgeable about spatial data and will be in a position to benefit from spatial technologies. (g) Spatial and non-spatial databases Both spatial and non-spatial databases are key engines of NSDI. A society that has a good, reliable and detailed database of its resources, assets, people and infrastructure is better able to manage, develop and protect itself and generate successful commerce. What is required in this context is (a) a national effort to create a database that provides a first-level snapshot of the real world – and this may be comprised of many national perspectives “stitched together”; and (b) a national database that provides an in-depth assessment of national disparities and gaps down to the city level or even a property-level database of land/property assets. (h) Public-private partnerships It is not possible for government alone to establish NSDI fully. Partnerships will have to be the core mechanism that will make NSDI successful. The boundaries will eventually define themselves: there will be firms to provide data assets, develop
applications, maintain systems and render various kinds of services, but all of them will be operating on a value-based “royalty” model—meaning that they will receive royalties based on their investment—which will make each a successful enterprise. Investments in the ICT sector, in this case NSDI, often require public-private partnerships, especially if there is a need for a greater range of skills. The development of robust NSDI requires a variety of resources, in particular financial. Judging from the experiences of countries that have established SDI, government tax revenues will not suffice to build and maintain robust SDI and bridge the infrastructure gap. Private sector finance, together with greater diversification of public sector revenue sources, presents the only viable solution. Obtaining financial support from the private sector is not an easy task. Usually, there are a number of prerequisite conditions, one of which could be the existence of effective policies. The existing model for financing NSDI from government tax revenue is not desirable because it creates an undue burden on the government. For instance, in some countries, 90% of NSDI is financed from taxpayer funds and only 10% through “user-pay” models. The ideal model, on the other hand, is 30% from taxpayer funding and 70% from “user-pay” models, including donor agency funding and utility companies, which are major users of the information.3 In some cases two thirds of total expenditure on SDI is paid by the federal, state and local governments, and one third by the private sector. A number of studies have quantified the value of geographic information to national economic development in order to determine whether the often high costs of creating a SDI can be justified. The fact is that SDI is part of the more generic National Information Infrastructure (NII), but this is not generally known by the user. Table 1 shows a range of typical cost-benefit analysis studies in the region. Some of these studies were done for a single industry or government sector or agency. Overall, the Asia-Pacific region has a complex social and political environment characterized by competing and often conflicting priorities and motivations. As found by Rajabifard,4 approximately 30 per cent of Asia-Pacific countries have developed SDI. Some of those countries have little to show for their efforts while others are well advanced. The development of SDI is a long-term process that requires a long-term
Date 1992 1993 1995
Organization AUSLIG Government of Victoria ANZLIC
Table 1. Cost-benefit ratios from relevant studies Country Type of Study Economic and social Australia benefits of public interest programme Strategic Framework for Australia GIS development Australian land and Australia/New Zealand geographic data benefits study
Cost-Benefit ratio 1:3.8 1:5.5 1:4
Source: Roger A. Longhorn, and Michael Blackmore, Geographic Information: Value, Pricing, Production and Consumption, Boca Raton, Florida, United States: CRC Press, 2007.
process that requires a long-term vision and strategy. The accelerated development of SDI in Asia and the Pacific depends on stronger leadership towards a “smart” and greener economy, with public investment and policy and regulatory changes enabling much more substantial and coherent investment by the private sector—both companies and individuals.
Five areas for action
Taking into account the best practices, lessons learned and technology trends regarding the development and operationalization of robust SDI, policymakers can consider taking action in the areas listed below. 1. Establishment of an institutional framework: For successful development of NSDI, there is a need for a national policy that provides the necessary guidelines and put in place intersectoral committees involving information providers and consumers both in the government and in the private sector. The institutional framework should (a) make it possible for outstanding issues to be addressed, (b) permit seamless access to databases in the compatible standards and formats, and (c) engage public-private partnerships in order to widen the base of stakeholders. 2. Establishment of a national agency for coordination and implementation: Establishing or identifying the nodal agency mandated to develop NSDI with the support of all stakeholders is the next step. The nodal agency should be tasked with promoting accessibility to and usability of spatial information and advocating the formulation of consistent government policies to overcome barriers wherever possible. The agency would be meant to work with all government entities and the private sector to develop policies and guidelines incorporating best practices, internationally recommended norms and, when appropriate, available standards.
3. Establishment of a programme for information sharing: The sharing of spatial data generated by multiple agencies in government and private domains is fundamental for NSDI. Data-sharing protocols should be established in order to (a) organize national spatial data from multiple agencies at various levels, (b) minimize redundant data collection at all levels, and (c) create new opportunities for the use of spatial data by all the relevant agencies throughout the country. Specific funding and budgetary support should be ensured, and the nodal national agency should coordinate the cross-cutting aspects of the programme. 4. Formulation of a national policy framework on NSDI development and access: The national policy framework should provide a common understanding and a mechanism for the production, access and utilization of spatial information by all. SDI should be envisaged in such a way as to seamlessly integrate online databases, data processing, real-time mapping and information collection from variety of sources and dissemination technologies. However, recent experience have shown that, although spatial databases are well developed, the data sharing, integration and dissemination components are still lagging behind in many countries. 5. Legal issues related to data sharing: In the policy framework, legal issues related to ownership, custodianship, confidentiality, copyright, privacy and liability need be balanced with developmental needs, information democracy and national security concerns. Other matters that could be addressed through appropriate policy mechanisms include data pricing, funding, data access and data security. All these policy elements should be harmonized with existing laws in the respective country in support of SDI development and its contribution to inclusive and sustainable economic and social development.
This Policy Brief on ICT Applications in the Knowledge Economy has been prepared by the Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division of ESCAP to provide a brief introduction on selected ICT applications, identify issues for implementation, and provide policy direction for the promotion of the applications. For further information on this Policy Brief, please contact: Mr. Xuan Zengpei, Chief, Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Processing digital spatial data into information in a way that complies with the standards of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). Processing of spatial information to produce new information. Gopal N. Sarma, “Financial strategy for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure”, a presentation by Feedback Strategic Consultancy Services (P) Ltd., 12 November 2003 (accessed from http://www.nrdms.gov.in/fin-strafeedback.pdf). http://www.gisdevelopment.net/magazine/years/2003/ jul/asiasdi.asp.
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