Towards geospatially enabled Brazil

Towards geospatially enabled Brazil


IBGE hosts a range of diverse information like statistics, geographic information and census. How has this integrated mandate been useful in serving the citizens of Brazil in an effective way

Luiz Paulo Fortes
Luiz Paulo Fortes
Director of Geosciences – Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE)
Executive Secretary – CONCAR
President – PC-IDEA

IBGE hosts a range of diverse information like statistics, geographic information and census. How has this integrated mandate been useful in serving the citizens of Brazil in an effective way?
Having the national statistical office and national mapping organisation of Brazil under the same roof facilitates the integration of geospatial data into statistical surveys. For instance, we just completed the 2010 demographic census. For this census, we updated more than 300,000 enumeration area maps which supported the field work of enumerators collecting statistical data. For the first time, an integrated approach to geospatial information was adopted where the vector maps were integrated with the address files, which in turn were integrated with statistical data. We will be able to release census data according to any spatial distribution in the country – along an avenue, or for a block, for instance. We have lots of possibilities to disseminate statistical data. The only constraint is related to the necessity of maintaining the information confidentiality.

With this variety of statistical and geographical data, and given the possibilities that you have talked about, what kind of value added services and products is IBGE providing or is planning to provide?
At the end of 2010, we released the municipality-level census in Brazil. For 2011, we have scheduled to release information of census in several phases. We have already released digital maps and also the updated boundaries of all enumeration areas in all municipalities. All the information will be available to the public by this year and next year. As with developing our national spatial data infrastructure (NSDI – or INDE, from the initials in Portuguese), the idea is to have lots of information released through INDE as well.

IBGE is not mandated to produce maps at a scale higher than 1:25,000. Why is that and how are the private sector/ users taking up this opportunity?
This has to do with the way the national cartographic system is organised in Brazil. Decree No. 243 from February 1967 states that topographic mapping of Brazil is under the responsibility of IBGE, together with the Brazilian Army. Both institutions have to produce maps at the scale of 1: 25,000 or smaller. Larger scale maps are taken care of by local governments, the municipalities, which, not in general though, have contracts from the industry to produce large scale maps and they make the map data available to the public. Utility companies also produce maps.

Is this availability done through the national spatial data infrastructure of Brazil – INDE?
That is a problem that I would like to highlight. For mapping at 1:25,000 scale or smaller, we have all the technical standards and specifications in place that guarantee standardisation of all the geospatial data that is produced. But this is not the case with larger scale maps. Also, this production is decentralised; it varies amongst various municipalities. The geospatial data produced by them, not in all cases though, is inconsistent, in terms of technical specifications. This is why the National Commission of Cartography, in 2003, identified the necessity of setting up a working group to establish national standards and specifications for cadastral mapping. There is a technical committee under the National Commission of Cartography which has been working hard to produce these specifications. The idea is that all this information should be made available through the NSDI (INDE). There is also a legal framework, the Presidential Decree 6666 which officially established the NSDI in Brazil. According to this decree, all federal institutions in Brazil are obligated to share their data, except in any special cases where security or confidentiality is involved.

CONCAR is the national commission of cartography, a body under the Ministry of Planning. CONCAR has representatives from many different ministries in Brazil including IBGE, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Environment, and the mapping branches of the Air Force, Army and Navy. According to Decree 6666, CONCAR has very important role to play as the coordinator of INDE initiative in Brazil. INDE is the infrastructure and CONCAR is the authority enabling INDE.

Is this valid only for government organisations?
Yes, because the presidential decree only obligates federal organisations to share data. However, what we have been observing is that many states in Brazil are following this initiative, establishing decrees at state level that obligate the state level institutions and government institutions to share data. My opinion is that municipalities might also do the same.

And each of them will be linked to the higher level?
Yes, with the coordination of the National Commission of Cartography, specifying the standards to be followed by anyone who wants to work with NSDI Brazil.

How has been the response to INDE geoportal? What kind of data has been made available so far?
The response has been very positive. We launched the portal ( with the contribution of three institutions – IBGE (providing base maps covering the entire country at the scale of 1:1,000,000), Ministry of Environment and Brazilian Geological Survey. A very representative signal that clearly shows the very high interest and demand for geospatial data in Brazil is the number of hits to the national geospatial metadata catalogue from January to June 2011: more than 7 million!

Having established so many levels of SDI, what kind of data policy does Brazil have? What are the modes for easy accessibility and delay-free dissemination of data?
I think the first important step was taken with the presidential decree I mentioned earlier, which talks about the data policy for federal institutions. This implies that everyone has to release data. Another important aspect that is covered in the decree is that the data released through NSDI should be free of charge to properly identified end users.

There are different levels of openness in spatial data policy across the world. Data is a public good but security issues can’t be ignored. How is IBGE balancing these things so that development is not hampered?
We have been following these rules since 1967. The Ministry of Defence in Brazil has established the guidelines regarding data availability. We follow these norms for both analogue and digital maps. Where IBGE is concerned, we have a policy that allows free availability of as much data as possible through the Internet. We do not perform any business out of the data we produce because we understand that the mandate for IBGE is to produce data for the society. Therefore, as much as possible, we make this data available.

Traditionally, mapping agencies are very old institutes, often carrying both the legacies and technology from earlier times. But the demand now is for more updated and current maps and more technologically valuable information. How is IBGE upgrading itself with the latest technologies for better output?
I would say this is a challenge for all national mapping agencies, in terms of technology, manpower, funding, etc. At IBGE, our strategy is to first of all invest in new technologies and new sources of data, especially those coming from satellite imagery. For a large country like Brazil with an area of 8.5 million square kilometres, satellite imagery can cover large areas of our country very quickly. Our second strategy is to work in partnership with other prestigious institutions to speed up the process of geospatial data generation. One of the partnerships includes signing up with state governments because they have many initiatives to generate geospatial data to cover the entire state. Many of the 27 states in Brazil have such initiatives.

What are the initiatives of IBGE, as a national mapping agency and a prime driver of all geospatial data in Brazil, to promote the understanding of this technology, enhance its usage and promote it as a profession?
We have been working hard to disseminate what we have been producing. We have several levels of dissemination. We started work on it intensively a few years ago when we officially updated our geodetic reference system from the old SAD-69 to the new reference system SIRGAS2000. In doing this, we realised that we needed to disseminate the related information as much as we could, to all users in Brazil to help them understand the implications of changing the coordinate system in our country. We set up a project based on an international cooperation with support from Canada. We developed many tools for users like transformation parameters software. This tool is freely available on our website. Also, we have concluded a set of what we call education seminar materials that will enable a wide range of stakeholders like decision makers, technical people and academia to understand and disseminate the new reference system. The second example is the SDI initiative, INDE. We have set up many working groups to help build our national spatial data infrastructure. One of the groups deals with education and training. There is another group on marketing and dissemination of the concept and ideas behind INDE. All these initiatives will contribute significantly towards helping the society understand more and have more visibility about geospatial data.

You are also serving as president of PC-IDEA. What is the idea behind forming PC-IDEA?
The UN Permanent Committee for Geospatial Data Infrastructure for the Americas (PC-IDEA or CP-IDEA in Spanish) is a permanent committee established under the auspices of the UN Statistics Division to promote the development of SDIs in the Americas. It organises the UN Regional Cartography Conferences for the Americas (North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean) which issues resolutions and recommendations to be followed by the American countries. PC-IDEA is responsible for implementing all the recommendations and resolutions that are issued at each UN cartographic conference. We are working hard to promote the SDI development across the region.

What are the core issues PC-IDEA is addressing?
We are focussing on seven areas. These include capacity building, education and training, building standards and specification and also producing guidelines that countries can follow in order to establish their SDIs. We are also assessing the current situation of SDI establishment in the region and are helping countries that need more attention.

In all our efforts towards establishing SDIs, we have identified the types of data that should be part of an SDI. Typically, we consider three types of geospatial data. The first type is reference data, or fundamental data. This includes all the geodetic networks, the base mapping and the boundaries of the country’s political administrative units. The second type is thematic data. Thematic data can be everything else that is related to location. We have vegetation, natural resource environment data; socio-economic data and any type of geospatial data which can be related to the territory. The third type of data is derived from analysing thematic data. The same structure we will be presenting in NSDI.

How is the response to PC-IDEA from the member countries?
PC-IDEA has been working hard. But I would say that everything has a maturing time. The technologies have evolved a lot in these ten years. It is much easier for us now to engage countries in initiatives like PC-IDEA. Since last year, PC-IDEA has established a very important network along the countries and the corresponding engagement is increasing significantly. I think we are now in a position where we can foster more efficiently the development of SDIs in the countries.

The Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH or IPGH in Spanish) is actively involved in developing SDIs in this region. Does PC-IDEA have any partnership with PAIGH?
PAIGH has supported PC-IDEA activities since its inception. Initially there was not much progress in the establishment of SDIs. But last November I had a chance to attend a meeting in Lima, Peru. At this meeting, PAIGH approved the recommendation for each member countries of the Pan- American region to actively engage in PC-IDEA activities.

How is Brazil encouraging private industry participation in geospatial activities?
We understand that industry has an important role to play. When we established our NSDI, we did not restrict the participation of public institutions in it. Actually, the entire society can participate – including public institutions, government institutions at federal, state and municipality levels and also the industry which has provided data and services for all levels of government. The industry also plays an important role in various discussions, and helping us to specify, for instance, the standards to be followed in our SDI. We have industry representation in CONCAR too. I have earlier mentioned the high demand we now have for geospatial data. We can never meet this demand relying only on the public institutions; we need the industry to help us to build up this SDI.