Spatial enablement: Offering new possibilities

Spatial enablement: Offering new possibilities

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Spatial enablement – the ability to add location to almost all existing information – unlocks a wealth of existing knowledge about social, economic and environmental matters, playing a vital role in understanding and addressing the many challenges faced in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Here is an analysis of the key components in realising spatially-enabled societies and the role of surveyors

Spatial enablement, that is, the ability to add location to almost all existing information, unlocks the wealth of existing knowledge about social, economic and environmental matters, playing a vital role in understanding and addressing the many challenges we face in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Spatial enablement requires information to be collected, updated, analysed, represented and communicated, together with information on land ownership and custodianship, in a consistent manner to underpin good governance of land and its natural resources, efficiency in activities of the government, public safety and security towards the well-being of society, the environment and the economy.

To achieve this objective, societies need to focus less on spatial data and more on “managing all information spatially”. This is a new paradigm that needs to be explored, deliberated and understood in the context of a spatially-enabled society.

Challenges faced by societies
International media reports present several examples demonstrating a strong need for sound land information and good land administration and management systems. Phenomena such as urban sprawl, overpopulation, pollution, traffic congestion, inefficient transport systems, disaster management, land grabbing and environmental sustainability need our full attention. In order to manage and handle those issues, basic information including land ownership is required about the land, and the location of occurance of these events. Spatial information and technology is proving to be an effective tool in addressing such complex and multi-scale challenges.

Role of land administration and land management
A spatially-enabled society needs well organised and efficient land administration and land management systems. By bringing together the various strands – land administration, land management and land governance – we can create a strong framework by which land and natural resources can be effectively managed to fulfill political, economic and social objectives, that is, to help realise sustainable development objectives.

Key elements for a spatially-enabled society
In order to support this concept, the Task Force of FIG (International Federation of Surveyors) looking into the issue of “spatially-enabled societies” identified six elements, which are critical to its implementation. Without those six elements, the spatial enablement of a society or government would seriously be held back in its progress.

They are:
Legal framework: To provide a stable basis for the acquisition, management and distribution of spatial data and information;

Common data integration concept: To facilitate that existing spatial data – from government as well as other sources – respect a common standard in order to ensure interoperability and linkage of data for the benefit of all;

Positioning infrastructure: To provide a common geodetic reference framework in order to enable the integration of spatial data and information;

Spatial data infrastructure: To provide the physical and technical infrastructure for spatial data and information to be shared and distributed;

Land ownership information: To provide the updated and correct documentation on the ownership and tenure of the land, fisheries, and forests, without which spatial planning, monitoring and sound land development and management cannot take place;

  Data and information concepts: To respect and accommodate the different developments in the acquisition and use of spatial data and information.

Legal framework
The ability of spatial data sharing and interoperability by reconciling often competing legislative policies poses a significant challenge. This is of particular significance for spatially-enabled datasets as they often have multiple uses that were not anticipated in the original licensing conditions or in its creation, which could increase the risk of litigation should injury result from the inappropriate use of data.

Common data integration concept
Common data integration concept has high political and institutional relevance, as depending on the concept, valuable information is either locked into data silos or it can satisfy the aspects of true interoperability and data sets can be shared and linked between different stakeholders. Only then can a society benefit as a whole.

Positioning infrastructure
The geodetic datum is widely recognised as the most fundamental layer of any spatial data infrastructure. The implementation of higher quality infrastructures, such as CORS, providing even higher accuracy can only be justified in densely populated areas, while the extension into rural and remote areas makes sense only when the business case is broadened beyond surveying and spatial data, for example for machine guidance in agriculture, construction or mining.

Spatial data infrastructure (SDIs)
A growing demand for access to timely and precise spatial information in real time about real world objects to support more effective cross-jurisdictional and inter-agency decision-making in priority areas has resulted in SDIs becoming a key infrastructure in realising a spatially-enabled society.

Land ownership information
Depending on the jurisdiction, a piece of land can have various spatial dimensions, from a single point value to an accurate representation of its boundaries. The usual representation, however, is the ”cadastral parcel”, which is uniquely defined to also make it suitable to serve as the key data element for the spatial reference.

Data and information concepts
With the digital revolution, geodata and location data are nowadays managed and consumed in digital form. Electronic mapping, smartphones, Google Maps, Bing Maps, location-based services, meeting friends and finding local restaurants are all mainstream applications in the ”location revolution.” The fusion of different sources of geoinformation will be transforming the geospatial information landscape as society has access to an ever increasing set of geospatial information and associated locationbased information.

Discussion and examples
When a society has attained full spatial enablement, decision-making procedures may become feasible which were not possible before. The following two examples illustrate this. The first example shows how the cadastral land ownership layer can be complemented with mortgage and foreclosure information. Such information can then be aggregated at a state or national level, which allows detecting patterns or clustering phenomena. The spatial representation of such phenomena can serve important political decision-making processes.

Another example is a project in Switzerland, where a Web-based portal is being developed for farmers to declare their annual cultivation areas online. Farmers receive subsidies on the basis of the crops and areas they cultivate. Based on the cadastral land ownership and an orthophoto layer, the portal offers tools such as easy-touse snapping functions and standard forms to be filled out. This will allow a much more direct and efficient notification process for farmers to provide their data and receive their subsidies. Such a solution would not be possible without a complete documentation of land ownership and the interoperability of the information, both of which are in place in Switzerland.

The future of spatial enablement and the realisation of a spatially-enabled society lie in a holistic endeavour where spatial (and land data) and non-spatial data are integrated according to evolving standards and with the SDI providing the enabling platform. The concept of SES needs to move beyond the current tendency to put the responsibility solely on the government to achieve SES. SES will be more readily achieved by increasing involvement from the private sector and in the same vein, if the surveying and spatial industries start to look towards other industries for best practices in service delivery. It is imperative for surveyors, land and spatial information specialists to understand the technological changes, developments and possibilities so that they can convey these messages and requirements to their partners, to political decision-makers and to society.

(In 2009, the FIG established a Task Force to look into the issue of “spatiallyenabled societies”. A three-year effort together with representatives from GSDI and PCGIAP led to a publication compiled and edited by Dr. Daniel Steudler, Chair of the FIG Task Force on Spatially Enabled Society, and Prof. Dr. Abbas Rajabifard, President of the GSDI Association.)