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Capacity Development: Empowering the GI community

Prof. Martien Molenaar
Faculty for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC)
Twente University (UT)
Enschede, the Netherlands

The rapid development of earth observation and geoinformation (EO&GI) has made them essential instruments for the management of spatial processes that affect the sustainable development of our living environment. The management of these processes requires decision making power at different administrative and political levels, which has worldwide consequences for organisations in the EO&GI sector.

The awareness that these processes are of a supranational and even a global scale implies that worldwide efforts are required to deal with these scientific problems. Moreover, the globalisation of the economy implies the development of global delivery chains for products and services. Partners in these chains must have a common understanding of the specifications and conditions for products and service delivery.

For the provision of geodata, the emphasis has shifted over the last thirty years from data collection to data handling, processing, dissemination and use. While the role of the end user in data specifications has grown considerably, the involvement of professionals from other disciplines than the traditional surveyors has changed the character of the geoinformation domain.

Users are no longer satisfied with standard data as defined by surveyors and the validity of the basic assumption of “collect once – use many times” is in doubt now that tools and systems for ad-hoc, special purpose data collection are available. This development has struck at the very roots of the traditional mapping agencies and also on some of the basic assumptions that were traditionally seen as fundamental for the developments of SDI’s.

Issues facing GI providers
Presently, the fast development of EO&GI technology requires a time horizon of 3 to 5 years for investments in hardware while the concepts for information products and services have to be adjusted every 5 to 8 years. Consequently, GI-providers and users must adjust their geo-ICT architectures continuously, which has important technological, organisational and institutional consequences, as displayed by Figure 1.

While the technological aspects concern the development and application of concepts for spatial data modelling, information extraction from image data as well as the processing, analysis, dissemination, presentation and use of geospatial data, the organisational and institutional aspects concern the development and implementation concepts for the structuring, organisation, management and institutional arrangements of processes for geospatial data production and the provision and use of geoinformation services.

New business and geo-ICT environments are emerging within the modern evolving information society, which force GI-providers to develop new business strategies. These require scenario studies anticipating the opportunities of new technology and new geodata infrastructures (GDIs). Hence, permanent capacity development of entire organisations is required so that “lifelong learning” does not only apply to professionals, but also to their organisations.

Governance and GI
The modern technology, the changing role of government and the globalisation of the economy have a fundamental impact on the development of GDIs. Governments have a regulatory role with respect to information provision, which requires them to facilitate the development of infrastructure through which geoinformation is provided. But, the important question is that should they also be providers, or even producers? Clearly, the development of GDIs is not only the responsibility of the public sector but the growth of GDIs is possible only through public-private interactions, which implies that a strong private sector and thus a private industry is a prerequisite for sustainable GDIs.

Governments also have a direct interest in the use of geoinformation, which is indispensable for the management of our living environment and resources. Governments have an important role in the context of the international agendas and treaties for the sustainable development of our planet. Geoinformation is a prerequisite for good governance at all aggregation levels, including the supra or international levels. The fact that almost all human activities have a spatial footprint leads us to the conclusion that “good governance requires good geoinformation”.

Capacity development for EO and geo-ICT sector
Capacity development should be given a high priority by organisations which are looking to introduce new working methods and procedures that ultimately result in structural adjustments of their geo-ICT architecture. Capacity development programmes should help the international earth observation and geo-ICT sector to understand how technological, institutional and market developments lead to new geo-information products and services.

Therefore, capacity development does not only concern technology oriented professionals but also staffs that should be able to formulate geo-ICT strategies to secure their institutional position and mandates in this field and also to sustain their relevance.

A profound knowledge of technological trends should therefore be complemented with a deep insight in the role that geoinformation plays in the context of spatial policy and decision making.

Globalisation and changing conditions for capacity development
Until a few decades ago, our view of the world was simple. There were rich countries in the north and poor countries in the south. (This implied a new definition of North and South, in which Australia and New Zealand happen to be northern countries!) The northern countries were required to help the southern countries with their economic development.

Figure 2 displays the GDP density per sq km. It shows regions of high economic activity and regions with much less economic activity, which proves that there is no longer a clear north south division.

The illustration makes it clear that the strong economic regions are distributed over the globe and through their connections they form the global economy. But, there are large regions hardly connected to these networks.

Thus we can say that the north and south are no longer synonymous with the rich and poor. Moreover, we can no longer say that countries are rich or poor as there can be large differences within the countries.

Development of global educational services for capacity development
The globalisation of the economy is affecting the world of higher education and capacity development is no longer a north-south issue. Universities all over the world have formed partnerships for research and education. The modern ICT opens new scenarios for the provision of international education services. Traditionally, we had the institute oriented approach where a cohort of students enters a university, enrols in a programme and they get a degree when they finish it. The fact that the programme is offered by a particular university or institute determines the setting.

However, the scenario has changed a lot now and universities form consortia, which offer education programmes based on their collective expertise. Students enrol in such a programme and visit different universities for different parts of the programme. This is a programme oriented approach because the content and structure of the programme determines the setting here, rather than the culture of a particular university.

Modern ICT provides facilities for e-delivery of educational services that are no longer location dependent. Why travel far if you can access these services through your laptop? Students might only visit the partners of a consortium for short workshops and seminars.

For capacity development, we may expect that midcareer professionals will search the web to upgrade their knowledge. They generally have a clear idea of what they need and that is not necessarily a complete educational programme. They would rather look for special courses or educational modules.

Through e-shopping, they find these and follow different distance courses and design their own programme for upgrading their knowledge. They may finally collect sufficient credit points to fulfil the requirements for a degree. But who can issue a degree in this case? Here is an interesting and urgent task for organisations like FIG, ISPRS and ICA to initiate the discussion on life-long learning and professional accreditation. Requirements and constraints should be formulated for assigning degrees for such cases.