SDI: Purpose and direction

Jun 2009 | Comments Off on SDI: Purpose and direction

Complex problems do not require complex solutions but solutions with knowledge. Knowledge derived from multiple, accurate and compatible sources.

How can we plan and decide upon urban growth?, which house to buy as a secure investment?, which properties are at risk? All these are critical questions we have to face in a changing world and that may affect permanently our lives. For this reason, today it is much more important to make the correct decisions, whether for designing the national economy or making personal plans for the future.

Making decisions requires knowledge, knowledge requires reliable information and reliable information requires integrated data from different sources, with a certain degree of accuracy and reliability since the beginning. One of the key factors in most decisions is the geographical location, the common denominator for connecting data and information with a specific feature, such as an address, building, river, a point in a highway, a gas or water pipeline. At present, geographical information is worldwide recognized, particularly by the governments, as a key component of the so-called national information infrastructure, becoming a facilitator of knowledge economy which potential may be used as the basis of sharing and exploitation of significant geo-referenced information coming from several organizations. In this sense, providing accurate information with the appropriate quality, reliability and opportunity is crucial.

Nevertheless, this situation is not automatically reached, but with leadership and a user-oriented scope. Financial support is also necessary for the infrastructure sustainability, in good or bad times and in spite of political changes. In some way, this scenery is common to all countries that are trying to improve their economies based on geographical data and information.

One of the objectives of several governments is the establishment of a

geographical reference base, reliable and integrated, capable of supporting the eeconomy, both in the governmental and commercial sectors, because of the need of geo-referenced data and information for the strengthening of potential usersproducers interchange of added-value data in “location-based services”. For consistent results, with the proper quality, a “national geographical frame” is required, not only as organized data but interrelated and integrated at some level of intended information, easy to be handled and supported by a set of national policies for its production, sharing, interchange, access and acquisition. A reasonable general model does not need exorbitant price –or absolute freeproducts and services, but a balance that benefits both users and producers.

Data and Information

The concept of the evolving chain of Data >> Information >> Knowledge >> Wisdom is becoming more and more important day by day. A hierarchical chain where each concept adds value to the previous one: Data is at the basic level, Information adds a certain context, Knowledge implies a clearer notion of the intended use of the information and Wisdom adds the what for notion used to solve a complex situation.This evolving chain is an intellectual model useful for defining a reasonable position in spatial or territorial analysis. This model -called DIKW by Russel Ackoff- is directly related to the Spatial

Data Infrastructure (SDI) concept.The term Spatial Data Infrastructure

implies (and it is true) that “Data” is being dealt with, although experts and non experts sometimes expect that SDI solve complex spatial problems. It is evident that “Data” is not part of a magic solution because of its natural attributes. There is a complex relation between data and information, where the difference is usually vague. The information production begins with the primary data obtained in different ways, including several observation techniques with instruments. Data are delivered as standardized observations and measurements, therefore data can not provide knowledge (here we assume that the more complex the problem, the further the data is from the solution). Data may exist in any organized form, useful or not.

Now, what about information? Well, information has an intention level given by the relations between spatial objects (previously designed, selected and characterized according to standards and specifications). Data is then integrated, analyzed, interpreted and transmitted to users as information. While data may be standardly stored and managed and be useful for many years, even centuries, information is user-oriented and its useful life is comparatively short. So, information may answer simple questions such as who, what, where, when, but not “how” or “why”, which is a matter of analysis.

Here it is when knowledge answers to “how” and “why”, information obtains a meaning through interpretation, becoming knowledge (only the Man can interpret). Wisdom appears after understanding of knowledge, particularly when it refers to human well-being. Therefore,

wisdom is a mental process by which we distinguish, evaluate and decide what is correct or not for us. This may be useful to understand the gap between making decisions based on “Data” or based on a “Structure of Spatial knowledge”. According to the English official agency responsible of the spatial information (Ordnance Survey), the

geographical information includes two data classes, generally in graphic form:

● Reference Data (known together as “Base Map”)

● Thematic Data or User Data (what is placed on the “Base Map”)

These two commonly known classes of geographical information and

their distinction have been developed by the INSPIRE initiative of the

European Commission, (European Commission [EC], 2003), in order

to produce consistent geographical information all around the region.

Typically, the “Reference Data” includes territorial data, for example, plots, buildings, highways, rivers, elevation data and imagery, among others. In this context, the “Reference Data”, interrelated and separated in similar groups, takes the sense on “information”, which users may use to overlay their own data, that is, pipeline networks, electric plants and underground cables, site location of police interest, census data and health or poverty situation, among others.

The Past and the Digital Age

In the world of the paper maps, it has been very difficult to interchange and combine data and information because users and producers apply different levels of detail, and diverse geographic reference systems and cartographic projection systems; furthermore, usually methodologies, accuracy statements and producer are not documented properly.

On the other hand, the problem with paper maps is that data and information are geometrically represented, then the handmade combination of polygons of different maps is extremely time consuming. Also, in many countries the lack of technological and methodological capacity to combine geometric elements with statistics data derived from human activities has been a not easily surmountable aspect.

The digital age arrival has caused organizations to apply the new technology first with map conversion to a digital format, repeating what

was done in the “world of paper”.

During the last decade, we have noticed that the investment on data and information production, particularly on their maintenance, is financially significative, requiring a flash of wisdom. In that respect, the lack of wisdom to decide how to spend the funds and on what may lead to a situation where the ability or capacity is so poor that an efficient data and information integration from different sources is not possible, and instead of solving problems this production becomes an obstacle to progress. Frequently, users have to adapt the spatial data acquired in order to be usable to their needs, whether formatting or matching the data with a group of data from other source. In many countries data may be non updated or need a “cleaning” process for a certain purpose, and although these activities are necessary, they are not always welcome.

The ideal situation is that data comply with quality standards, be produced only once, be updated and be used several times. These simple tasks add cost and time to the projects, whatever their dimension or importance, minimizing national efficiency and knowledge

economy. Evidence suggests that there is a great potential in supporting the national economy with a rigorous spatial data infrastructure both to face present challenges and improve the future position of a country within the e-economy. Another classical situation in geography is that the cartographic works represent past facts, that is, historical views or quasi “recent” phenomena. With this perspective, almost all maps represent different moments of the change in the elements of the territory, without the spatial relation with phenomena associated to human activity. None map shows people living conditions, nor their influence on the physical environment. Maps are usually a retrospection of some events on the land. We need to look forward. Accepting this consideration as true, digital spatial data and its map representation should be useful for society and government to look to the future with two purposes: to prevent and/or preserve certain conditions or phenomena of interest to the Territory-Society relation, and to facilitate the intellectual work of designing the future and creating the sceneries where this relation be in balance.

The Spatial Data Infrastructures

The SDI concept is an answer to conclusive events with positive effects on certain regions or countries, or negative on others. For example, in regions with geographical information available, along with the power of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the tools for supporting decision making, the databases, the world wide web (www) and the necessary interoperability, the way in which societies with better resources face critical affairs of social importance, of environment and of economies changes quickly and accordingly. Nevertheless, in the age of the computers and the big web, users have great difficulties to find and use suitable geographical information. This situation may lead

to abandon projects or to repeat the geographic data and information production unnecessarily and costly.

Because of this reason and others, the need to access spatial data from different sources at all scales as a guide for decision making is quite obvious. Then, our ability to make intelligent decisions collectively at the local, national, regional and global levels, firstly depends on the

conceptualization, development and results of the Spatial Data Infrastructures that must facilitate and achieve the access and use of data and information under the following terms: Comparability, Shareability, Compatibility, Reliability, Consistency and Completeness.

In order to achieve a sustainable development, updated spatial information of quality is required, which may help to show the situation and interdependence of economic, demographic and social phenomena, as well as their relation to the physical environment and the territorial space. Then, the spatial information is the necessary input for knowledge generation useful in the definition of policies and decision making in order to achieve the well-being of the Society and the development of Mexico.

Consequently, the societies need to be aware of the existence of data and information, rely on their quality, determine their level of application and access them easily, with the purpose of sharing and integrating information from different sources. Although the technology required is available, the dissimilar characteristics of data have become evident and they are the result of partial and local scopes in the production of information during the previous decade.

The need to minimize the gap in knowledge between developed and developing countries has been declared in several regional and global forums, such as the Rio Summit (1992), the United Nations Regional Cartographic Conferences, the world development report “Knowledge for Development” (1998-1999), and lately the Johannesburg Summit (September 2002) and the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneve, December 2003), where the subject of information and technology for development has been dealt with. In Johannesburg, the progress achieved by different countries with respect to production and use of geographical information was supported through the establishment of agreements addressed to promote the development and wider use of earth observation technologies, including remote sensors, global cartography and geographic information systems, for quality data collection that facilitates the evaluation and coordination among systems and research programs, considering the need to create capacity and share data from different sources.

As an answer to the initiatives and the derived agreements, the spatial data infrastructures emerged and became stronger in the last years, and have created a cooperation space around the world among government producers, private sector, academy and user community in order to work together in the establishment of systems, network connections, standards, specifications and all the institutional elements required to guarantee the production, access and use of geographical information. In the past ten years, more than a half of the countries in the world have developed spatial data infrastructures initiatives with the purpose to promote good government, and economic and sustainable development. The growth and adoption of these initiatives has contributed to the improvement and wider use of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) jointly addressed to decision making for sustainable development of countries. The existence of successful SDI is making a significant difference between countries with low or high development, specifically with respect to environment management, disaster prevention and mitigation, transportation and infrastructure planning, drinking water distribution, poverty reduction, and defense and security. Therefore SDI have become a basic element in planning, at all levels of world-wide governments, because spatial data and information in an adequate communication setting may lead to government efficiency.

Two successful cases

In Great Britain, the use of geographical information has spread to many market sectors, central and local government, service companies and multi-applications in the private sector. A study performed by an independent consultant group (OXERA, 1999), showed that about 100 billion pounds sterling of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1996 were in some way supported by the spatial information of the Ordnance Survey. The National Land Survey of Sweden (NLS) “Lantmäteriet” is the national cartographic agency and the national cadastre authority which provides a wide variety of modern data and consultant services with an income of 30 | June 2009 1.3 billion Swedish kronas, where 900 millions were the profit derived from the sale of data and services in 2001. This case shows that the business model applied produces incomes and profits for the organization, and supposedly contributes to the Sweden GDP.

The cultural change

If we assume that complex problems do not require complex solutions but solutions with knowledge, we have to accept that such knowledge should be derived from information of multiple, accurate and compatibles sources, that is enriched by diversity. Then, we have to review and modify our present perspective, changing to a new organizational culture that may guarantee our capability in accomplishing the demands of the rising economy of knowledge. Also, we need to attract and retain experts in the key programs of production in order to assure that organizations be ready to give an answer to future requests.

What is Mexico doing?

Since 2004, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI:

Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía) has formally embedded in its objectives the establishment and building of the Spatial Data Infrastructure of Mexico (IDEMex: Infraestructura de Datos Espaciales de México). So that the IDEMex may achieve a complete development, the strategy of obtaining a government mandate along with the resources for its continuity brings clear advantages. The success of that strategy is closely related to an efficient and timely public service through a transparent access o the public to the government information, where the results of the mandate and the user satisfaction may be appreciated. Also, the IDEMex expects to achieve a higher integration of producers and users of geographical information, admitting that some actors are more important than others and the commitment of the parts is not necessarily the same. Besides, this means that each actor must recognize the importance of his/her role and the responsibility in the collective work for the IDEMex development. For the successful future of the IDEMex, the vital need of an increasing awareness of the decisions makers in considering the spatial data and information as a natural resource that has to be managed and coordinated according to national interests is highlighted, and in consequence all the participants must collaborate in this respect, depending of their responsibilities. Nowadays, there is an obligation and a necessity of designing strategies for the construction of a successful future for the IDEMex and Mexico, including the study and consideration of the best practices and changes in the way that some other countries are dealing with such themes as privatization, free market, and the increasing globalization of the production, analysis and distribution activities of the spatial data and information. Measuring the impact of decisions based on geographical knowledge in the economy of any country demands an extensive and intensive research, that initially, is characterized for an unbalance: more questions and gaps, than certainties and indicators. According to a study of The Economist, a decisive factor to place Mexico among the five bigger economies of the world in 2040 is the adequate financing of its most important activities. As already seen, at least in the case of Great Britain, the sustained investment on the official geographical information agency, the Ordnance Survey, has allowed the generation of measurable and improvable wealth. The importance of the use of spatial data, information and knowledge in the economy, development and well-being of any country will have an evident impact, as in those ones where instead of waiting for the future, they decided to design it.

Jesús Olvera Ramirez

Direction of the Spatial Data Infrastructure

Direction General of Geography and Environment

National Institute of Statistics and Geography
My coordinates
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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