The Netherlands has a long tradition of collecting and organising geo-information. The Dutch Land Registry and Mapping Agency will be 180 years old this year. And there are things yet to come.
At the Geospatial World Forum 2011 organised in India, Kapil Sibal, the Indian minister responsible for geo-information, had said: “GIS is the power of today and of the future. There is a need to take active steps to advance geospatial technologies in a bigger way. The opportunities are tremendous and it’s time for the geospatial revolution.”
To reach the goals Sibal put forward, we will have to overcome a number of serious challenges — challenges that we must all face together in the arena of standardisation, harmonisation and data sharing. Only then can we make the geospatial revolution happen.
Open data as a key
One of the keys is the use of open data. The Dutch government aims for free accessibility of all public information. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, coordinating for geoinformation in the Netherlands, aims to make data belonging to it freely accessible by 2015. The exception, of course, will be information that cannot be disclosed on the grounds of national security or privacy considerations. The idea is to remove the need for costly data transactions, thereby reducing the administrative burden on both public sector and government. Moreover, open data feeds innovation by opening up information to research institutes and lowering the threshold for investment in innovative products and services.
The Dutch National Topography Database is a prime example of what data sharing can achieve. With the release of the National Topography Database available free of charge, new applications rose overnight, from two or three a day to 40 a day. By now its use has tripled, as casual users and business professionals alike frequent the database. Another good example of sharing information is the Atlas of the Physical Environment.
Public bodies possess a wealth of geo-related information, often derived from local research and environmental impact assessments — information that can be used again to support new technical or spatial developments. People can now utilise this data for new services, such as apps like Weather and Car Spotter. The city of Amsterdam even has a motto: ‘We provide the data, you make the apps’.
Open data feeds innovation and lowers the threshold for investment in innovative products and services. Open data contributes to the concept of ‘monetising geospatial value’ in an important way.
The Environmental Planning Act
Opening up of geoinformation has boosted information use and reuse. Availability of spatial policy such as spatial plans and permits in the digital space also lends transparency to government policies. Both developments are to be boosted further by the new Environmental Planning Act which is being prepared by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. The purpose of this ambitious new law is to combine, unify and modernise many conflicting regulations concerning our physical environment. The exercise, a massive operation that will take several years to complete, aims to combine such areas as environment, water, traffic, building, nature and monuments into a unified whole.
Part of making the Environmental Planning Act is building the digital environment needed for such a broad-reaching law. This provides new impetus for opening up and harmonising different kinds of available geoinformation. Open data and the INSPIRE initiative (the EU initiative to establish an infrastructure for spatial information in Europe to help make geographical information more accessible and interoperable for sustainable development) are huge steps towards this goal.
The Netherlands has plans for a “data roundabout” with information needed for the processes of the Environmental Planning Act. The main goal of this will be to boost information reuse, thereby lowering future assessment costs for new spatial developments. If data is easily available, it can be used to support the processes of the Environmental Planning Act in a reliable and accepted manner. This will lower the amount and length of objection procedures. That, again, would be a great example of monetising geospatial value.
One of the interesting questions to solve here will be finding a way to guarantee sufficient data reliability for reuse in the formal planning process. We are working in conjunction with data providers on this topic.