Home Articles Policy development and capacity building for geo-information provision

Policy development and capacity building for geo-information provision

Yola Georgiadou
Yola Georgiadou
Associate Professor and Head of the Geoinformatics and Spatial Data Acquisition Division,
ITC, The Netherlands
[email protected]

Richard Groot
Richard Groot
Academic Chair, Geoinformatics Management and Infrastructure
ITC, The Netherlands
[email protected]

In Sandler’s (1998) words “technology has provided humankind with the means to monitor the earth and its atmosphere in novel ways: remote sensing satellites have identified holes in the stratospheric ozone layer; atmospheric observatories atop Mauna Loa on the Island of Hawaii record the accumulation of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other pollutants. With these technologies, we have become cognizant of goods (and bads) of a global and regional nature”.

The emergence into our consciousness of transnational and global bads – e.g. spread of infectious diseases, degradation of the global environment, loss of biodiversity, global financial volatility- has fueled the debate of how to reform the traditional, country-focused system of international development cooperation that has evolved over the past 50 years. Several researchers view many of today’s global crises as caused by underprovision of international public goods, or oversupply of global bads. They now argue for a correction of the underprovision through new international governance institutions and new mechanisms for the supply and financing of regional and global public goods. See Kanbur et al (1999), Kaul et al (1999), Ferroni (2000, 2001, 2002), Kaul (2001), Sandler (1998, 2001), Besley and Ghatak (2001), Stiglitz (1999a, b).

The wealth of recent research on (global) public goods provision does not start from scratch. It builds on the well-established traditional concept of a (national) public good, first mentioned by David Hume, and later introduced into economic theory by Paul Samuelson in the 50s. See Garrett (1992). However, recent global public goods research not only redefines the public goods concept in more relevant, global and practical terms. It also provides new insights for policy formulation related to the provision, ownership and financing strategies of regional and global public goods as well as a new lens through which to view the urgency for institutional, organisational and individual capacity building in the developing world. See e.g. GEF-UNDP (2000) for a global assessment of capacity building needs in biodiversity, climate change and land degradation at the institutional, organisational and individual level.

What are the authors’ interests in these issues? First, our institute (ITC) aims to operate as a node in an international knowledge network in Geo-information Science and Earth Observation. These knowledge fields are broadly recognised as essential in finding solutions for application domains of regional and global nature, such as (transboundary) water management, food security and biodiversity preservation, for disaster preparedness and for understanding of global change. Geospatial Data Infrastructures (GDI) are the intermediate mechanisms underpinning these application domains. GDIs encompass various components – fundamental data and technological, institutional, organisational, economic resources etc– that also exhibit public goods characteristics to a larger or lesser extent. Second, ITC is active in knowledge exchange aimed primarily at capacity building and institutional development for and in less developed countries (ITC, 2001). Hence, it is important to explore how recent developments in public goods theory can contribute (i) to a new taxonomy of the regional (and global) GDI resources underlying these application domains, (ii) to a more focused development of geo-information policy as well as (iii) to a better design of modalities for their provision through institutional, organisational and individual capacity building.

An overview of recent developments in public goods theory
Standard economic texts define public and private goods in terms of their position in a two dimensional continuum, described by the qualities of rivalry and excludability. Rights of ownership can be clearly attached to private goods. Hence they are excludable; they can be produced and distributed according to demand. They are also rival in consumption. One person’s enjoyment of the good may reduce or completely exhaust the good’s utility for others. Rights of ownership to private goods are transferred through market transactions against the payment of the good’s market price. Goods that can be purchased in a supermarket are examples of private goods. See Kaul et al (1999).

Public goods have the opposite properties. They are non-rival in consumption and non-excludable. Hence they elicit consumer behaviors that include the temptation for free-riding – enjoying the benefit for free once the good has been provided by somebody else – as well as unwillingness from the consumers’ side to reveal their levels of demand. Public goods suffer from underprovision because markets are unable to supply non-excludable goods. They are labeled market failures and are set aside for government intervention e.g. through tax incentives for businesses or direct government action. Typical examples of public goods at the national level include public health and defense. Few goods qualify as purely private or purely public. Many have mixed properties. A club good for example has non-rival properties but can be excluded through a membership and fee regime. Private TV broadcasting is a club good. Private and public goods are closely related to the notion of externality. Externalities are spill-overs of private or public activities into the public domain.

Fig. 1: A modern definition of public goods in terms of three principal dimensions

These basic premises of traditional public goods theory have recently been severely questioned for their lack of relevance and practicality in today’s globalised world by several researchers in the international development scene. See e.g. Kaul et al (1999), Kaul and Ryu (2001), Kaul (2001a,b), Stalgren (2000), Ferroni (2000). They argue that the “tectonic shifts that have affected in the recent past what is public and private force us to question the core dimensions in the standard definition of the public good”. These recent critiques can be summarised as follows:

  • The lines between “public” and “private” are blurred and constantly changing. “Public” and “private” are not anymore fixed but time-variable properties of goods. Although some researchers suggest to abandon the public-private distinction altogether, others argue forcefully that a good’s properties should be made explicit- even though they may be of a temporary nature – because they determine the provision strategy for the good and affect actors’ decisions to reveal their preference and level of demand. They assert that the good’s “publicness” is a social construct. And that the public or private nature of a good is not a given but a matter of policy choice.
  • The role of non-state actors in the provision of public goods is increasing, locally and globally. The state is not the only policy response to public goods provision. Civil society and private business can be active promoters and shapers of public goods. However it is recognised that although civil society and business can press for change in norms and adopt voluntary standards, only national governments can translate these demands into binding law and make agreements stick.
  • Publicness in consumption does not mean positive utility for all. People enter market arrangements voluntarily. But in the case of a public good they may not have an avenue for criticism or an exit opportunity. They may be compelled to consume the public good (or bad). Therefore, it is important to ascertain whether a good’s publicness in form goes hand in hand with publicness in substance.
    Kaul (2001a) proposes therefore an expanded definition (Fig. 1) for public goods that characterises them in terms of their:
  • Publicness in consumption or inclusiveness: Inclusiveness originates in: (i) deliberate public policy to place or to keep the good’s benefits in the public domain, (ii) non-excludability of the goods benefits due to economic and technical reasons
  • Publicness in provision: based on a fully participatory decision making and design. All key actors should have a fair opportunity to help shape the good in question, monitor its production, assess its impact and recommend, if necessary adjustments in its design.
  • Publicness in the distribution of benefits.

Public goods theory has been national in focus for decades. However, in today’s rapidly globalising world, (formerly considered as pure) national public goods are becoming firmly interlocked across borders as they create cross-border, spatial spill-overs (externalities). We are also becoming cognizant of new, global public goods (and bads) through advances in remote sensing technology. Global public goods tend towards universality in the sense that they benefit all countries, generations and population groups. Examples of global public goods are the curbing of global warming, biodiversity and basic research. Examples of regional public goods and bads are (effective) transboundary water management and desertification respectively.

Recent research by and for international development agencies interprets many of today’s crises as a case of under-provision of regional and global goods. Recent research also deplores the fact that policy making has not kept pace with the challenges we are now confronting. See Kaul et al (1999) for a comprehensive review of global public goods (and bads) and a new policy agenda for their provision in the 21st century.

In addition to new insights regarding the spatial spill-overs of public goods (and bads), researchers now classify them also according to the aggregation mechanism that determines how individuals, organisations and countries contribute to their provision. See Sandler (1998) and Stalgren (2000). They distinguish four aggregation mechanisms: summation, best shot, weakest link and weighted sum. The summation mechanism is the classical mechanism of provision of public goods. Each contributed unit adds equally to the overall level available. Controlling desertification is an example of a summation mechanism. For a best-shot mechanism, the overall level of the public good is determined by the contribution made by the actor making the largest contribution. International norms and standards is an example. Since the chances of success are positively correlated with the resources available, “best shooters” are often rich countries. Weakest link aggregation is characterised by the fact that the smallest contribution made by an actor sets the effective level available for the entire group. Transboundary water management is an example. In the weighted sum mechanism, weights are applied to the individual contributions before summing them.

Geospatial Data Infrastructures through the lens of (global) public goods
Following Groot and McLaughlin (2000), we define a Geospatial Data Infrastructure (GDI) as encompassing the networked geospatial databases and data handling facilities, the complex of technological, institutional, organisational, human, and economic resources which interact with one another and underpin the design, implementation and maintenance of mechanisms facilitating the sharing, access to, and responsible use of geospatial data at an affordable cost for a specific application domain or enterprise. National GDI, enterprise GDI or regional GDI have often different specifications in terms of data standards, information policy aspects etc.

We attempt a new taxonomy of some core components of a Geospatial Data Infrastructure through the perspective of the recent developments of public goods theory. We follow the recommendations of Stalgren (2000) and Ferroni (2000) and adopt practical, “means definitions” of public goods as opposed to “goal-oriented”, or “policy-outcome” definitions. According to these authors, means definitions of public goods, involve the provision of intermediate public (or private) goods such as resources (data, information, knowledge, technology), best practices in given fields, policies, processes and institutions for achieving policy outcomes with public good characteristics, such as allocation and management of natural resources, public safety etc.

If we look at some GDI resources through the lens of Kaul’s definition of public goods, it becomes evident that there are discrepancies in their various dimensions of publicness as well as various aggregation mechanisms in place for their provision.
Technological resources
The Internet and the WWW together constitute the cyberspace, a computer generated public domain with no territorial boundaries or physical attributes and in perpetual use. See Loader (1998). The internet is the world-wide physical network of computer networks. The WWW is a hypertext –based internet service used for browsing internet resources, such as text, files, graphics, sound and moving pictures. Although theoretically, the internet architecture is non-rival and non-excludable the reality on the ground is different. Lack of a telephone line, a computer and a modem contribute to excludability of developing country users for technical reasons. Congestion problems encourage internet providers to charge for internet use and to use the proceeds to fund increases in the providers’ server capacity, thereby excluding economically weak users. Excludability due to technical and economic reasons make the internet architecture a de facto club good despite the theoretically positive outlook (Fig. 2). Web-services offered on the internet architecture qualify as a club good on all counts. Researchers point out that although there is a restricted scope of policy enforcement –given the anarchic nature of the internet – “conceiving of the internet as a global public good could help point policy makers to the right direction”. See Stiglitz (1999a, b), Sy (1999) and Spar (1999) for a comprehensive review of knowledge, global communications and the cyberspace as global public goods as well as related regional and global policy demands to increase inclusiveness, especially in tele-education web-services for developing countries.

Fig. 2: Economically and technically weak users are excluded from participating in the internet architecture

Geo-ICT services
In contrast to the internet, telecommunications services, such as INTELSAT, operate as a private consortium of firms, governments and other institutions. Since coding and scrambling signals can restrict access to the network, INTELSAT is a global club good by design. See Sy (1999) for policy recommendations to open Africa to the promises of global telecommunication services. Remote Sensing technology has made us more cognizant of goods (and bads) of a global nature. Remote Sensing services, a global club good, historically provided by government, due to the huge initial investments (sunk costs) and the R&D push required is now increasingly becoming more inclusive both in consumption and in provision through deliberate policy choices and commercialisation. See O’Connell and Hilgenberg (2001) for details on the Landsat Data Policy that essentially turned (unenhanced) Landsat imagery to the status of a public good, with provisions for availability at the cost of fulfilling user requests and retainment of ownership by the United States. However, because of the military intelligence value of high resolution imagery we can expect temporal variations in the degree of excludability of high resolution imagery that also exhibit some hilarious aspects. See the Space News of April 8, 2002 for an illustrative example.

The evolution of Navigation and Positioning services from a club good (GPS) to a public good with perfect inclusiveness (Galileo) is a striking example of enforcing inclusiveness through deliberate policy making to place the good’s benefits in the public domain. European Transport Ministers took the political decision (with a sovereignty and autonomy rationale) on March 26, 2002 to launch Galileo, Europe’s satellite navigation and positioning system, despite the failure to ensure the expected co-financing of Galileo development through public-private partnerships. Political reasons prevailed where the economics failed to bear fruit. Publicness in consumption is indeed a social construct and, hence, a deliberate policy outcome.

One instance of the blurred lines between “private” and “public” in the provision of public goods is the so-called copyleft movement. Traditionally, commercial software companies have made software products perfectly excludable and, hence marketable, through trade secrecy (distribution of the object code as opposed to the source code). They have also made them rival through user licences and copyright (customers sign agreements that prohibit or control duplication). Under these conditions, commercial software is a pure private good.

In recent times, thousands of volunteers use open source software for the production of widely used public good products such as the LINUX operating system. These highly complex products are arguably better than competing commercial products suggesting that open source provision maybe highly efficient. Bessen (2000) notes that it “is counter to common economic intuition for private agents without property rights to invest sufficient effort in the development of a public good”. He argues that the complexity of the software provides the explanation of this paradox. He proves that for complex software goods under asymmetric information, open source developers self-select their own end-use product, thus off-setting free-riding losses. See also Onsrud (2001) for a further theoretical exploration of the relevance of the copyleft movement to innovative sharing of geo-information following a deliberate public policy decision to place fundamental data sets affirmatively into the public domain.

GIS companies still produce rival and excludable software products; the open source software “virus” has not yet infected the GIS industry. However, we witness now interesting signs of self regulation in the GIS industry, exemplified through generous GIS software donations, such as the launching by ESRI on May 2001, of the Global Map (ISCGM)/Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Grant program. Private GIS companies behaving as global corporate citizens with a concern for the public welfare is a new and welcome trend. See .

Prohibitively expensive, commercial GIS software with a multitude of irrelevant features (end-use products according to Bessen (2000)) has forced some developing countries to indigenous GIS software development. An illustrative example is GRAM++, a GIS software with a fraction of the functionalities of existing commercial software, produced at a fraction of the cost and taylored to the needs of the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology and its Natural Resources Management Program. See Venkatachalam et al (2001).

If the copyleft movement in GIS software development does not catch on soon enough, softening of excessively strong copyright protection maybe an alternative. Stiglitz (1999a) reports an ingenious solution, proposed by Aaron Edlin of the University of California at Berkeley, to spur software innovation and to limit the undue exercise of monopoly power of software companies, by means of significantly softening intellectual copyright protection.

Fundamental geospatial data
Fundamental geo-information is an intermediate public good and has been historically perceived as national in scope. Ownership of and unlimited access to fundamental geo-information allows national governments to govern, i.e to provide final public goods, notoriously under-provided if left to market forces. An example is defense, the purest public good of all. Fundamental geo-information has been historically produced by National Surveys. This natural monopoly has been challenged in recent years with the growing commercial availability of substitute products made possible with ubiquitous access to geo-ICT. Signal scrambling technology has challenged public broadcasting in a similar way. National Surveys have been slow to adjust to these challenges, a fact that not only poses the long- recognised risk of underprovision of the final public good but also what Kaul (2001) identifies as mal-provision, a situation where mal-provided goods of a public nature provide positive utility only for some and for others nothing, or only transaction costs. In a similar vein, Groot (2001) argues that mal-provision leads to loss of positive externalities, to costly duplication and possibly reduced timeliness in the decision-making processes.

Concepts from public goods theory have informed research in geoinformatics related to the pricing of electronic goods in the public sector in New Zealand and to the dangers of destruction of the public information commons in the United States. See e.g. Walsh (2001) and Onsrud (1998). Most significantly public goods theory has served as the explanatory framework for asserting the role of government in geo-information provision and for re-engineering the organisational structure and financial regime of geo-information providers at a national level. The publicness of fundamental geo-information in terms of non-rivalry in consumption as well as its high degree of non-excludability is at the core of this research. Indeed publicly held geo-information can be excluded through an intellectual copy-right regime although it is recognised that new electronic technology makes it increasingly difficult to enforce excludability. See for example Coopers & Lybrand (1996), Ordnance Survey (1999), Masser (1998).

Global (fundamental) geospatial data and OGC specifications
Kaul’s definition of public goods and Sandler’s (1998) theory on aggregation mechanisms enable us to look at the provision of global (fundamental) geospatial data and interoperability specifications from a new perspective.

The Global Map is a digital geographic dataset for the whole area of the earth at the ground resolution of one km. It consists of eight layers of geographical data and addresses global environmental problems well confirmed at the United Nations. See ISCGM (2001). The Global Mapping initiative is a voluntary international collaborative activity, which can only materialise by the participation of all National Surveys in the world. Hence, the Global map is implicitly perceived as an intermediate global public good for addressing global environmental problems. The aggregation mechanism used is “summation”. Each contributed unit adds equally to the overall level of the desired good.

The Global Terrain Elevation Model (DTED) initiative is the product of a partnership between the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The DTED will provide an order of magnitude increase in the frequency of data over current terrain models and do so with an improvement in both horizontal and vertical accuracy. The 100 meter data set and the 30 meter SAR Imagery will be available for all to use. The combination of the SRTM terrain data and SAR Imagery will provide an accurate geo-referenced map over a geographic region of the world in which 95% of the earth’s population lives. The 30 meter terrain elevation data over the continental United States will also be available to all. The DTED is implicitly perceived as an intermediate global public good that can play a major role in furthering the development of Geospatial Data Infrastructures at local or global levels. See Senus (2000) for further details. The aggregation mechanism used is “best shot”. The overall level of the public good is determined by the contribution made by the actors making the largest contribution, NASA and NIMA (Gold, 1999).

The global geoid (GFZ, 2002) and the International GPS Service (IGS, 2001) also qualify as intermediate global public goods with inclusiveness in consumption and a best shot aggregation mechanism. The Open GIS Consortium is perhaps a unique example of broad participation of private companies in the provision of an intermediate global public good. OGC (2002) is an international industry consortium of more than 220 companies, government agencies and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available OGC specifications, with a high degree of inclusiveness in consumption and a best shot aggregation mechanism. Since the chances of success are positively correlated with the resources available, “best shooters” are often private-public actors from rich countries working in a collaborative fashion.

Capacity building for geo-information provision
Let us imagine for a moment that GDI fundamental data and GDI technological resources can be provided world-wide via the best shot aggregation mechanism, with perfect publicness in consumption, by a benevolent, international consortium of donors, private corporations and rich governments striving for the benefit of ‘warm glow’ altruism. Even under these miraculous conditions, developing countries would need two fundamental inputs, according to Ferroni (2000):

  • technically-skilled human resources to enable them to locally take advantage of global goods so that publicness in the distribution of benefits of GDI technological resources can be maximised,
  • capacity building of a still different nature to create locally ‘weakest-link’ goods, such as the requisite GDI institutional, organisational resources so that publicness in provision of GDI technological resources can be maximised.

These considerations enable us to look at GDI institutional, organisational and human resources as ‘weakest link’ goods that have to be ‘produced’ locally. As an example consider effective transboundary water management, a regional good requiring ‘weakest link’ aggregation for its provision. So the smallest country contribution in terms of GDI technological, institu-tional, organisational and human resources provided by one riparian country for transboundary water management-sets the effective level available for the entire group of riparian countries. If a country in the group contributes null, the overall effective level is null. See Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden (2000).
The systematic analysis of institutional capacity and its growth subsequent to donor intervention is a development of the 1990’s. See UNDP (1997), GEF-UNDP (2000), Grindle (1997), Lusthaus et al (1995), Horton et al (2000). Capacity refers to the ability of individuals and organisations to make and implement decisions and perform functions in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner. At the individual level, capacity building refers to the process of changing attitudes and imparting technical knowledge and developing skills while maximizing the benefits of participation, knowledge exchange and ownership. At the organisational level it focuses on the overall organisational performance. At the institutional level it focuses on the ability of the organisation to adapt to change and influence its environment. Capacity building interventions must address two issues:

The first issue relates to the nature of capacity building: Acknowledging the principle of publicness in provision as well as the regional spill-overs of GDI resources we suggest that a three-pronged approach may be relevant (Fig. 3):

Fig. 3: GI policy development and capacity building are essential to promote publicness (in terms of consumption, distribution of benefits and provision) of GI resources

  • Designing and advocating policy measures- through strong national geographic associations – to ensure that private sector and civil society have a fair opportunity to help shape GDI technological resources, monitor their production, assess their impact and recommend, if necessary adjustments in their design. See van Biesen (2001), www.gsdi.org, www.eurogi.org.
  • Designing and advocating cross-border policy measures – through strong regional geographic associations – that go beyond conventional government to government agreements and entail national mandates with explicit reference to international cooperation for regional final goods, such as (effective) transboundary water management, desertification and loss of biodiversity.
  • Focusing on institutional and organisational capacity building for government organisations responsible for the generation and maintenance of fundamental data and technological GDI resources (intermediate goods).

The second issue relates to the development of a working hypothesis on the responsibilities of the relevant government organisations. What should they be responsible for in the geo-ICT era? Detailed answers to this question are the outcomes of political, historical and cultural processes at a country level; in fact they should be (at least partly) the outcomes of the institutional capacity building process itself. Here, we provide a general answer to the question, which represents the broad consensus of the scientific community to date. See Georgiadou & Groot (2002):

  • Ownership of fundamental data: In general, government at all levels requires unrestricted and efficient access to reliable, timely, up to date fundamental geo-information to govern, i.e. to provide final national public goods and to internalise cross-border externalities.
  • Obligation to promote publicness in the distribution of benefits of GDI resources in concert with national and regional geographic associations. This includes an obligation to provide the description of the data to enable all users, including the private sector and civil society organisations to make a judgment about fitness for use.

Kanbur (2001) and Ferroni (2001) argue that the interplay between cross border externalities and development assistance will be the key problematic facing aid agencies in the next decade. Some encouraging signs of regionalism in the area of capacity building in Central America and Panama are already becoming evident although the nature of development aid is as country-focused as it has always been. For a recent example from the field of land administration see Rodriguez and Lebeau (2002). Rigorously building up the capacity of regional institutions to deal with cross-border externalities will be one of the challenges in the years to come.

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