Geonovum acts as an executive committee of national SDI of the Netherlands. We receive this mandate from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment…
Rob Van de Velde
What is the mandate of Geonovum?
Geonovum acts as an executive committee of national SDI of The Netherlands. We receive this mandate from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. We have three focus areas. First is to support and to coordinate the implementation of national and European initiatives which lead to standardised access to geospatial data. This includes our task as programme coordinator for the implementation of INSPIRE in the Netherlands. The second task is our role to develop, maintain and to support implementation of the Dutch geospatial standards. They relate to standards for metadata, standards for data exchange as well as standards for semantics of geospatial data in the Netherlands. The other focus area is to transfer knowledge on the developments of SDIs. From this perspective we have hosted GSDI-11 conference in the Netherlands in 2009.
How do you bring various datasets – from municipalities, provinces and federal – together?
In the past four years, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment has set course for the realisation of national key registries for topography, addresses and buildings. For these key registries, government agencies are mandated to collect data in a standardised method. There is a national service which collects data from the data custodians and gets the data to one place. The same mechanism is working for spatial planning /zoning schemes in The Netherlands. Harmonisation of spatial data is crucial to make this work. Our role is to either advise on the use of standards for optimal interoperability or to develop these standards together with the future users of these standards.
Another major and powerful development you see in the Netherlands is that government organisations have started working together for the collection of data, management and publishing of data. At the state level, Kadastre, Department of Economic Affairs and Agriculture and the Department of Infrastructure and Environment, Department of Public Works have formed a consortium – where they share their knowledge and IT infrastructure.
To improve national and European access to geospatial data, we initiated the realisation of a national data registry called ‘Nationaal Georegister’ (www.nationaalgeoregister.nl). Municipalities, provinces, state agencies and departments publish their metadata in this register and also make their services available. Over 2000 datasets can be found through this georegister and currently nearly 200 services can be viewed.
Government organisations are publishing their spatial data more and more. Partly because it is mandatory under INSPIRE regulation but there are other reasons for governments to publish their geospatial data. They use this as a channel to support inter-agency collaboration.
Cooperation on harmonisation of data collection and sharing is also undertaken at provincial level and amongst water boards. They have set up their own georegisters which they connect to the national register. These are very interesting nodes. My vision is that in the next few years, we will come closer to each other and will facilitate better sharing of knowledge that can optimise investments.
Do you see private participation as the key success of NSDI? Are private players part of Dutch SDI?
Several private companies publish their data through the National Georegister. An important development in the past year is the adoption of open data policy. You will see that lot of key data so far maintained by government is moving into free and open access. We do see that there is lot of interaction between the private sector and the government in looking for innovations which can be derived by private sector application of public data. A major decision has been made that the topographic key register of The Netherlands will be completely free of fees to be used by private sector from Jan 1, 2012.
What is the role of Geonovum in supporting and enabling INSPIRE initiative?
Geonovum has been appointed as the programme coordinator for the implementation of INSPIRE in The Netherlands. We are organising the national, regional and local communities in making them understand INSPIRE requirements and data specifications. We also coordinate participation from The Netherlands in European working groups, drafting teams and task forces which specify the INSPIRE standards that need to be used. Together with field experts and custodians we sort out the landscape of available datasets under the 34 INSPIRE themes. The best fitting datasets are proposed as INSPIRE datasets.
How are you handling the heterogeneity between Dutch datasets and INSPIRE specifications?
We have been organising dialogues on this with field experts and custodians. Often there are several national/regional datasets which meet the INSPIRE definitions. Together with the custodians of these datasets, we figure out which datasets have the best coverage and quality, meeting the INSPIRE definitions. Then we advise the Ministry of Environment, to select these datasets as INSPIRE dataset. This way we limit the actual number of INSPIRE datasets in The Netherlands, while at the same time we deliver the best data available under a specific theme. We went through the specifications of Annex-I and II this way and we will do the same for Annex-III for the themes like air quality, land use and soil.
What are the challenges you are facing in this process?
There are quite a few challenges. First of all, there is the challenge of sorting out the different datasets under the more specific themes of INSPIRE, like landuse and landcover, habitats, energy sources and human health. Another challenge lies in optimising the use of INSPIRE data. INSPIRE takes the accessibility of public data to a new level. A big challenge is to see whether government agencies will dare to rely on data which comes from another agency instead of developing their own data. That is the challenge of trust in data from say your sister agency. Using data from one another, instead of collecting it yourself, also impacts on the processes within government agencies for collection, analysis and use of data. These cannot be changed overnight. But the general movement is of more interdependencies among agencies and more relying on data which comes from a certified source. This certainly is a challenge.
Another big challenge is that INSPIRE is a regulation which comes by law. Therefore there is incentive to publish data in the INSPIRE way. At the same time, there are other policy incentives which also mandate better access to spatial data like the open data and innovation policy. It is a challenge to match these policies.
What are the initiatives from Geonovum to tackle these challenges?
An important activity to support the better use of existing infrastructure is raising awareness of the existence and possibilities of the national SDI and INSPIRE. With publications we keep our network up to date and with the organisation of seminars and network meetings, we stimulate the exchange of knowledge and experience between stakeholders. There is also a clear demand within the administration to help them understand what exactly is needed to meet formal requirements. We organise training and support sessions and make tools available to help them test their conformity to the standards. We also organise seminars with policy makers, people in public administration and private sector to place developments of spatial data in a broader perspective. For instance by addressing open data development and directives, and linking these developments to INSPIRE activities. In areas in the public domain where knowledge of spatial data is limited, but issues with a spatial component do exist, we organise meetings to help these organisations formulate their spatial data needs.
How is the response from stakeholders in making these changes?
There is a growing understanding among organisations of the benefits of sharing data. However, there are lot of practical, institutional issues they have to deal with. In The Netherlands, there is an open dialogue between private and public sector. When we talk about standards, we have good practices where the government publishes its roadmap for geospatial standards and the private sector is invited to work together on the development of standards, to test the standards, to provide their tools and services. There are fairly good conditions for working together on implementing INSPIRE, implementing SDI and implementing new applications of geospatial data.
Are you facing any budget cuts in The Netherlands that is affecting the progress on INSPIRE initiative?
Budget cuts can affect the implementation of key registers in INSPIRE. As I said, there are lot of practical things that need to be put in place. We are hopeful that the government will concentrate on making the raw data available while the private sector can play their role in developing services, applications. On the flip side, in the past, the government was also very active in developing the applications, providing services to the general public. When in the next year they stick to the key tasks, they will have challenges to have a smaller and more compact government and there will be more market initiatives needed to do the analysis, development of applications in the market. Open data in standardised formats, making the data easily available for the markets can be a positive outcome.
What according to you is the benefit or value, The Netherlands will get from the INSPRIE initiative?
The key value is the better understanding for all involved agencies of the kind of data available, which are collected currently, at all different institutes. From here, we can find more cooperation in harmonisation and standardisation. It can be more effective having the same data for the same location. The second benefit is that INSPIRE will definitely help in providing better access to environmental data through private sector to the general public. That will bring new innovations in private sector in the use of spatial data and in the end bridge the gap between the demand for specific data, specific information services through apps which will be developed and help the general public in their needs for environment spatial data.