Creating spatial data infrastructure through collaboration

November 8th, 2018, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT, Featured: EE Publishers

The Committee for Spatial Information (CSI) and the International Cartographic Association (ICA) have convened a joint workshop in Pretoria in September 2018 around the theme “collaborative custodianship through collaborative cloud mapping”. The workshop looked at collaborative mapping and collaborative custodianship as ways to create and maintain national spatial data infrastructure (SDI).

SDI is the fundamental facilities and services society needs to function, explained the ICA’s SDI and Standards Commission chair, Prof. Serena Coetzee. Spatial data is a key component of this. South Africa’s SDI has been legislated and detailed in the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act of 2003, with the CSI being responsible for defining base datasets and custodians.

The CSI’s Mimi Chauke and Nicolene Fourie gave an overview of South Africa’s SDI as articulated in the Spatial Data Infrastructure Act of 2003, highlighting that section 16 already provides for collaborative maintenance. This section states that “Data custodians may exchange spatial information in terms of a collaborative maintenance agreement providing for the regular updating of base data sets within an agreed period”.

Cloud computing in particular has enabled collaboration in new ways by providing on-demand services, broad network access, resource pooling and scalability, said Peter Schmitz, the ICA Commission on Map Production and Geoinformation Management chair. The workshop therefore asked whether collaborative cloud mapping could contribute to, facilitate or realise collaborative custodianship.

Three international case studies from The Netherlands, Belguim and Austria indicated that it could.

Martijn Odijk, a project manager for The Netherlands’s National SDI, explained how 380 municipalities collaborate to create and maintain the country’s authoritative, central register of addresses and buildings. Municipalities capture the data, from where it is centralised, quality controlled and distributed openly and freely through web map services by the country’s national mapping agency, Kadaster.

The system was setup in four stages: Initially stakeholder meetings determined what data is important for national goals, and also what value it holds for the municipalities. The second stage facilitated municipalities to use the system by creating guidelines and implementation approaches. The third stage was the detailed monitoring for the database and processing times of data submissions. The final stage was managing the system and holding the municipalities accountable by naming and shaming underperformers, as well as through financial penalties for not meeting the requirements. Municipalities had to put their own money aside for their side of the operation, even as the central implementation was paid by the national government. They did so as the benefits outweighed the cost, said Odijk. This collaborative approach also helped build professional proficiency at municipal level.

Ziggy Vanlishout, an Informatie Vlaanderen programme manager from Belgium, outlined a similar programme to create a national central data catalogue with user-friendly access. It is part the government’s goal to make all government-citizen interactions digital by 2020. Vanlishout explained that data standards and an interoperability framework which cover the organisational, legal, semantic and technical aspects were important in realising the project.

He also advised audience members to prioritise core datasets and core information when setting out to create an SDI. Establishing an SDI through collaboration can be costly, he admitted, but said that it creates efficiencies and enables digital workflows, which bring new benefits and opportunities. He also attributed clear responsibilities for municipalities, as well as compulsory use of the system, as contributors to its success.

The ICA’s Markus Jobst presented the final case study from Austria, looking at creating a collaborative, decentralised SDI with distributed nodes in the country’s 2500 municipalities. Finding an organisational and legal framework to enable this exchange proved to be the biggest challenge. A decentralised SDI raises issues of quality at scale as there is no common geo-strategy and values, and because the different municipalities use various local scales in their maps. Furthermore, since the end-product is not defined upfront, the data requires more wrangling, processing and harmonisation. For this reason it is helpful to break collaboration into three levels, Jobst said: the creation of core datasets; processing and integration; and delivery. He concluded by saying that while a decentralised production chain is valuable, centralised distribution remains necessary.

The workshop made clear that collaborative mapping efforts are already well underway, and its benefits continue to be realised as its challenges are overcome. Already there is talk of automating collaborative mapping, be it through further standardisation and interoperability frameworks which enable machine-to-machine communication, or by incorporating other technologies like transport into the process for creating basemaps for example.

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