Seoul, South Korea: Representatives from mapping agencies, international organisations, ministers, national delegates and industry congregated here to inaugurate the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Management (GGIM). While the Committee will be officially launched on October 26, it is preceded by an Exchange Forum between industry, mapping agencies and international organisations and a High Level Forum on GGIM.
On the first day of the High Level Forum, ministerial statements confirmed that there was an urgent need for geospatial data to provide information to government, at least amongst the nations represented. The session on Challenges in Policy Formulations stressed that the challenges varied according to the conditions in individual countries. However, common themes include coping with the speed of technical progress, ranging from transition from analogue to digital in some countries, to using the cloud in others; satisfying the needs of an increasingly knowledgeable market; the global economic market and above all, making decision makers aware of the power and importance of geospatial data. Several speakers emphasised the importance of disaster response to trigger the recognition of the need for GI – for it is only when there is an urgent need for location information that mapping agencies recognise the gaps in their ability to provide accurate data when it is needed.
The Exchange Forum, attended by about 80 invited delegates from national mapping agencies, industry and NGOs, was divided into four sessions which corresponded to the sessions of the High Level Forum: Challenges in Geospatial Policy Formulation, Developing Common Frameworks and Methodologies, International Coordination and Cooperation and Capacity Building and Knowledge Transfer. Several speakers, including Paul Cheung, Director, United Nations Statistics Division, noted that the importance of geospatial information (GI) was not fully understood because it was ‘all over the place’ – with many different ministries being responsible in different countries and in many cases, lacking coordination. It was this lack of coordination that was blamed for the confusion in the early days after hurricane Katrina in the US. Speakers also cited the use of different terminology for the same activity or data type as a cause of confusion. Other challenges noted were a complex legal and licensing framework and diverse stakeholders. An important proposal to come out of the first session was that there should be a ‘single channel data broker’ in the data delivery chain to remove differences and complexity in formatting and ordering procedures. The session however did not discuss how this could be implemented.
The second session, on Developing Common Frameworks and Methodologies, while discussing the use of the cloud, noted that use of the cloud would be affected by government regulations on data which are often different for internal and external use. Nevertheless, the session agreed on the cloud as a potential resource for facilitating data sharing. The session on International Coordination and Cooperation put forward the idea that the government needs collaboration from the private sector to sustain data infrastructure. It also put forth the need for a convergence of international activities to leverage each other’s assets, tools and technology. This may require new business models. There was an interesting exchange on crowd sourcing for disasters: one speaker maintained that although crowd sourcing produced dense map coverage in Haiti, it was not been useful in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake because the priority was saving lives rather than using maps. The session also noted that a major problem often is getting local maps which do exist but cannot be accessed.
The session on Capacity Building and Knowledge Transfer threw up some interesting information: Internet coverage in Africa is increasing – the problem now is changing institutional use of the technology. A new idea in capacity building in Africa is the involvement of the African diaspora which is linked to the development of SERVIR. Overall, there is a commitment from industry to support the government use of geospatial data and an urgent need for more coordination and rationalisation of acquisition and use of geospatial data.
Source: Our Correspondent