ITC, ENSCHEDE, THE NETHERLANDS
ITC, The Netherlands
The strategy for mainstreaming SDI should be a sustawined campaign to place GI and SDI on the WSIS radar, by adding SDI initiatives to the WSIS Stocktaking database and by persuading WSIS national delegates and WSIS audiences in regional and thematic conferences to demand the ability to tap into the information resources being gathered by the GI community
The notion of Information Infrastructure was first popularized in the USA under the Clinton-Gore administration in the early 1990’s. The Information Infrastructure (II) was originally envisioned and promoted with a national scope in 1993, as a National Information Infrastructure (NII). The policy vision of the NII comprised of four areas described in the “National Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Action” as: (i) thousands of interconnected, interoperable telecommunications networks, (ii) computer systems, televisions, fax machines, telephones and other information appliances, (iii) software, information services and databases and (iv) trained people who can build, maintain and operate these systems. Similar initiatives were subsequently launched in several developed and developing nations.
Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) was also first envisioned and promoted as a national construct, as a National SDI (NSDI). The NSDI concept was introduced in the USA through a 1994 Presidential Executive Order in the beginnings of the Clinton-Gore administration.
The purpose of the Executive Order was “to implement the recommendations of the National Performance Review; to advance the goals of the National Information Infrastructure; and to avoid wasteful duplication of effort and promote effective and economical management of resources by federal, state, local, and tribal governments”. Thus the NSDI was seen early on as advancing and supporting the goals of the much broader NII. The NSDI concept was quickly popularized in other national contexts, including in several developing nations, and promoted in journals and magazines close to the geoinformation community.
Regional (e.g. PC-GIAP, PC-IDEA, INSPIRE) and global (GSDI, Digital Earth, Global Map) SDI initiatives were quick to follow. Regional and global SDI initiatives were based on the recognition that cooperation across national boundaries is required in order to generate and finance geoinformation products and services underpinning regional and global public goods, such as food security, disaster preparedness, management of epidemics, biodiversity preservation etc. Sporadic benefits from SDIs arising for local governments and community groups have been reported to date. However, the venerable SDI vision and the projected systematic benefits still remain elusive, despite active political support, large financial inputs, and visibility being provided to leverage these programs.
For reasons both technical and institutional, the implementation of SDIs is inherently complex. Technically, SDIs are complex because they draw upon various technologies including remote sensing, spatial modeling, database technology, computer networking, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS), while catering to the demands of diverse application domains. Institutionally, tensions arise from various sources including the need for consensus on standards, for example between regional, federal and local agencies, the exclusion of users in the consultative processes to finalize the key components of the SDI, as well as the lack of coordination, government strategic planning and budget oversight. These problems are further magnified in the context of developing countries not only for reasons of lack of financial resources, but also due to a relative lack of spatial information, trained manpower, capacity of public institutions, as well as security concerns. Most importantly, the lack of rigorous research has made it difficult to justify and corroborate the “investment-benefit” claims of SDI proponents.
In this feature, we suggest, that the current global debate around the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the related WSIS activities- such as the WSIS Stocktaking, WSIS regional and thematic conferences and the Summits themselves is an opportunity for the GI community to globally showcase national, regional and global SDI initiatives, to take stock of individual, organizational and systemic SDI capacity development and to enrich research by using concepts and methodologies from the Information Infrastructure and Informa-tion Systems research community.
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