Home Articles The need and nature of regional SDI for the Middle East

The need and nature of regional SDI for the Middle East

Abbas Rajabifard

Abbas Rajabifard
Deputy Director, Centre for Spatial Data Infrastructures and Land Administration,
The University of Melbourne, Australia
[email protected]

Ian P Williamson

Ian P Williamson
Director, Professor of Surveying and Land Information, Department of Geomatics,
The University of Melbourne,Australia
[email protected]
This paper aims to review and discuss the importance and nature of SDI development and in particular Regional SDI initiatives. The main focus is on institutional arrangements, technological, social and economic dimensions which affect the SDI growth nationally and regionally in a jurisdiction like Middle-East region

SDI is an initiative intended to create an environment that will enable a wide variety of users to access, retrieve and disseminate spatial data and information in an easy and secure way. SDI is also an integrated, multi-leveled hierarchy of interconnected SDIs based on collaboration and partnerships among different stakeholders. These activities have resulted in different models being suggested for facilitating SDI development. As illustrated in Figure 1, an SDI encompasses the policies, access networks and data handling facilities, standards, and human resources necessary for the effective collection, management, access, delivery and utilisation of spatial data for a specific jurisdiction or community.

Fig 1: SDI components
There are numerous approaches taken through varying SDI initiatives for the relationships defined between people, data and the initiative’s objectives. One approach has been the development of strategic partnerships. The influence of the level of SDI and the focus for the technical components have an important influence on the approach taken for aligning components towards the development of SDIs.

Viewing the core components of SDIs, Rajabifard et al. (2002) suggested that different categories of components can be formed based on the different nature of their interactions within the SDI framework. Considering the important and fundamental role between people and data as one category, a second category can be considered consisting of the main technological components: the access networks, policy and standards. The nature of these two categories are very dynamic due to the changes occurring in communities (people) and their needs, as well as their ongoing requirement for different sets of data. Additionally, with the rapidity with which technology develops, the need for the mediation of rights, restrictions and responsibilities between people and data are also constantly subject to change. This suggests an integrated SDI cannot be composed of spatial data, value-added services and end-users alone, but instead involves other important issues regarding interoperability, policies and networks. According to this view, anyone (data users through producers) wishing to access datasets must utilise the technological components.

Further, there are two views on the nature of SDIs and their hierarchy concepts. The first view is an umbrella view, in which the SDI at a higher level, say the global level, encompasses all the components of SDIs at levels below. The second view is the building block view, in which any level of SDI, say the state level, serves as the building block supporting the provision of spatial data needed by SDIs at higher levels in the hierarchy, such as the national or regional levels. Based on these two views, the SDI hierarchy creates an environment, in which decision-makers working at any level can draw on data from other levels, depending on the themes, scales, currency and coverage of the data needed.

Regional SDI is an enabling platform that creates an environment in which member nations and a wide variety of other users who require a regional coverage, will be able to access and retrieve a complete and consistent data sets in an easiest and secure way. Its roots are in the regional governments and their cooperation. Having said that, there are many regional organisations and groups that are made up of countries which often cooperate to address common economic, social and environmental issues related to a specific region like Middle-East.

The primary purpose of this regional cooperation is to organise economic activity in such a way as to maximise regional and individual country benefit. Some of the regional interests that encourage different governments to cooperate with each other in developing a Regional SDI and also encourage them to form different regional groups, are listed in the following table.

In addition to these interests, there are also some other benefits which encourage member nations to participate and input to the development of a Regional SDI. For example, collaboration and data sharing among member nations through a Regional SDI can provide better data for decision making; can save development effort by using fundamental and standardised data, guidelines, and tools; can facilitate and speed up the process of performing any analysis, decision making, and operations in cross-jurisdictional areas; expanding market potential and program funding through recognition and credibility as a stakeholder and as a participant; and also reduced costs of data production and elimination of duplication of efforts.

With regard to the accessibility and applicability of data to respond to the regional needs and interests, any regional bodies or member nations need to access and use consistent regional spatial databases to make an informed decision and to implement and resulting regional initiatives. These databases might need to contain data and information about the whole or part of the region. But, in current situation, generally the required databases that contain regional data sets of sufficient accuracy and detail do not exist or are not accessible by member nations.

This is mainly due to the current complexity of communications between the various countries and regional bodies in any region. For the purpose of data sharing, regional organisations and member nations must develop one-on-one agreement with each and every other user within the region for sharing regional data. However, this complexity can be reduced to a manageable form by developing a functioning Regional SDI built upon the cooperation of the regional users. In order to be successful in any SDI initiative, there are a number of key issues and strategies which need to be considered within the design process:

  • The development of a strategic vision and associated implementation strategy,
  • The recognition that SDI is not an end in itself,
  • To involve as many as possible stakeholders, particularly sub-national (local/state) governments, private sectors, and
  • The key institutional strategy is to have all coordinating processes administered within one government department.

Further, based on the results and outcomes of research on regional fundamental datasets in Asia and the Pacific region as an example as highlighted by Rajabifard and Williamson (2001), there are large amounts of digital data with many common data layers are available at different scales in the region that could be useful for the creation and facilitation of the Regional SDI. However, the most anticipated political barriers regarding the establishment of a regional dataset includes access to datasets for security reasons, lack of resources, national administrative boundaries as a data layer, and copyright issues.

To realise the advantages of a Regional SDI and to speed up its development, at least six key factors should be considered. These factors are:

  • Awareness of spatial information
  • Cooperation between the various stakeholders
  • Involvement of the politicians concerned
  • Knowledge about the type, location, quality and ownership of data
  • Accessibility and applicability of data sets; and
  • The successful widespread use of the data sets

Any spatial data stakeholders (data providers, value-adders and data users), including politicians and technical people, should be aware of the potential and advantages of spatial information and SDIs. The coordinating agency responsible for a Regional SDI initiative (such as the Permanent Committee on GIS Infrastructure for Asia and the Pacific-PCGIAP, or the Permanent Committee on SDI for the Americas- PC IDEA) must help to raise this awareness. The development of a Regional SDI is a matter of regional cooperation. The involvement of those politicians concerned with the Regional SDI development is essential. The politicians’ support provides legitimacy and encourages the necessary financial investment for the Regional SDI development.

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