This article explores a variety of opportunities that are available to the geospatial community through existing domestic and global frameworks that should be effectively pursued and harnessed for the growth and sustainability of the profession. It is a serious indictment on the geospatial community that notwithstanding the critical importance of the role of geospatial information in advancing many aspects of development, we are more often than not found to be spectators with stagnant vision, limited impact, or no clearly notable evidence to show for our relevance.
Drawing on a call by Maged Abdelaziz, the United Nations (UN) under-secretary general and special adviser on Africa, made during the annual Africa Week held in October 2015 at the UN headquarters in New York, the geocommunity should join the international community in encouraging integration and harmony within developmental programmes by establishing collaboration and partnerships in providing solutions. This article outlines the current multi-sectoral initiatives that are underway domestically and on the continent, and makes a call to geospatial practitioners to actively carve a role by contributing to the success of such programmes for continental development.
It is however argued in this article that in conjunction with carving such a role, the profession needs to take stock of the required geospatial capacity and how to mobilise all the necessary instruments to ensure it is able to respond to the developmental challenges faced by our continent. It is argued that most of these multi-sectoral initiatives in the geospatial arena are driven in isolation and tend to defeat the object of integration and collaboration. Such practice is found to be prevalent in all sectors including, but not limited to, government, private sector, academia, research bodies, non-government organisations and independent thought leaders.
Domestic: National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030
The introductory chapter of the NDP clearly articulates the intent of the plan as being to eliminate poverty and inequality. In addition, what should be of note to the geo-community is the clear assertion that, quoting the NDP: “The Apartheid spatial divide continues to dominate the South African landscape”. This demonstrates the clarion call to Geomatics practitioners to step to the fore using their expertise to contribute in assisting to build capabilities for growing an inclusive economy, enhance the capacity of the state and society to deliver, and promote leadership and partnerships throughout society. In terms of the government’s budget planning cycle, the NDP is implemented using the National Treasury’s approved Medium-Term Expenditure/Strategic Framework (MTEF/MTSF). Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), through the office of the National Statistics Systems (NSS), has done sterling work in mapping most of the goals and targets in the NDP to the MTSF 2014 – 2019 outcomes.
In this way, NSS was able to uncover areas of similarity, difference and overlap between government’s medium-term programmes and the adopted national growth and development undertaking. Through this exercise, the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) in the Presidency is able to apply monitoring and evaluation interventions that are aimed at ensuring the alignment of government programmes with the NDP in order to achieve proper allocation and prioritisation of budgets. The geospatial community should make it its business to familiarise itself with this publically-available MTSF document to strategically position itself and take advantage of opportunities it presents.
Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC)
Established in 2012, the PICC was mandated by Cabinet to plan and coordinate the National Infrastructure Plan, a key priority input for both the NDP and the New Growth Path. Valuable lessons learnt from the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup through building of stadiums, unveiling of the Gautrain and power stations presented our nation an opportunity to build on the momentum by enhancing and sustaining our capacity through our new-found zeal. However, as to how many of those lessons and opportunities are still being pursued to catapult us into excellence is anybody’s guess, more so the geo-community. It is worth noting that PICC interventions are inherently cross-cutting and they seek to attract investment and mobilise our national effort. With the amount of political will that is driven by the executive led by the president, what more opportunity can the geospatial community ask for? The 18 Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs) identified through the commission’s work seek to deliver on the following five pillars:
Out of the commission’s 2012 Report, the geo-community should specifically familiarise itself with part 2 of the report on spatial mapping; part 3 on geographic/spatial SIPs; and ultimately refer to the work on the requisite Geomatics skills for SIPs contained in the report titled “Skills for and through SIPs” as convened by the Department of Economic Development (DED) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), assisted by the Council for the Built Environment (CBE) in 2014. How many of our Geomatics practitioners are aware of this seminal work and are participating actively in it to ensure the profession’s flag is flown high?
Committee for Spatial Information (CSI)
This is another structure that provides a legislated framework which should be of real benefit to the geospatial community. Beset by paralysis over the years since the introduction of the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Act of 2003, the newly-inaugurated CSI must be strongly canvassed to ensure that the profession gains prominence and deserved recognition. The work of this committee thus far must be assessed to determine what was achieved, what did not work so well, and draw up a cogent plan of what is needed to deliver on the outstanding outputs. Such a plan must be closely monitored and the geospatial community be constantly updated on the progress.
Training, internship and mentorship programmes offered by academic institutions, private service providers, public institutions and some government departments also contribute significantly to the capacity-building efforts. Stats SA has, for example, partnered with the University of Stellenbosch to establish a training centre that offers a Master’s degree programme called the Centre for Regional and Urban Innovation and Statistical Exploration (CRUISE). The organisation sends 12 to 15 staff members annually to be trained in fusing statistical and geospatial methods in order to ensure internal capacity is enhanced to advance the implementation of the concept of statistical geography and achieve integration between these two disciplines. Additionally, Stats SA internally runs an ISIbalo capacity building programme for young people in order to promote numeracy and statistical literacy through mathematics coupled with statistical research and development. This programme has been running since 2009 in collaboration with the International Statistical Institute (ISI). The programme has since included geography alongside mathematics and statistics to demonstrate the power of analysis and problem-solving that could be unleashed when employing all these disciplines in our area of operation. Indeed many other departments and private service providers open their doors to interns in geospatial practice. However, for maximum results, we need to introduce a way of tracking these recruits throughout their career path, preferably using structures such as the CSI, GISSA, SAGI and the Geomatics Council. In this way, leaders in the geospatial community will have introduced a powerful monitoring instrument that could be used to assess the impact of efforts towards developing and sustaining this profession.
Continental: African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063
This is a continental transformative initiative on integrated development which should not be viewed as being in contrast with the global SDGs agenda, but rather, as being in harmony, albeit with a few differences in some areas. African countries have reviewed the last 50 years since the formation of the Organisation of African Union (OAU) and crafted a forward-looking 50-year vision to be pursued under the AU. Priority areas outlined in this agenda are underpinned by a strong component of geography that should be of interest to the geospatial community. Stats SA is an active participant in programmes hosted under this framework by contributing to continental capacity-building and assisting with the implementation of best practices.
African Symposium on Statistical Development (ASSD)
Established in Yaounde, Cameroon in 2005, ASSD was created against the backdrop of a need to address gaps that were observed in monitoring African progress in the implementation of Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the poor performance by most African countries in conducting population and housing censuses. The symposium developed into a platform for sharing best practices in the planning, execution, management, processing, analysis and dissemination of census data. The element of Civil Registrations and Vital Statistics (CRVS) was also thrown into the mix to ensure broader participation and the conscientisation of even those participants drawn from non-statistics ministries. During the 11th ASSD held in November 2015, the symposium deliberated on the theme on how to “promote the use of information and technology solutions in improving CRVS in Africa”.
Geospatial technologies and solutions feature prominently in ASSD activities and Stats SA is widely assisting many of our sister departments and institutions locally, as well as further afield in the continent in streamlining their processes and establishing enabling systems. The invitation is being extended to the geospatial community to engage with our government departments to assist in providing solutions. Locally, Stats SA was tasked by the inter-ministerial task team (IMTT) on elections to lead an inter-departmental project on the assignment of addresses to households, especially in rural areas and informal settlements. This work will draw from lessons learnt during the development of the dwelling frame dataset by Stats SA which has formed the base spatial sampling frame for the recently conducted community survey. This national initiative will provide role-players in spatial data collection and technology provision with the opportunity to contribute to the development of a base map of addresses which the country sorely needs for broader policy interventions and service delivery requirements.
UN Initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM)
UN-GGIM is a UN initiative dating back to a side discussion in 2009 between the UN Statistics Division (UNSD) and geospatial information experts attending the International Cartographic Association conference in New York. Subsequently, UNSD and UN Cartographic Section held three consultative meetings on GGIM. In July 2011, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted a resolution to create the UN Committee of Experts on GGIM. UN-GGIM was established to enhance global cooperation and advance the development of global geospatial information by promoting its use in tackling key global challenges. The priorities and work programmes of the Committee of Experts are driven by member states. Our country is represented in the Committee of Experts by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR). As the geo-community we have a vested interest and as such, we will have to strongly support our country representatives to champion the South African position backed by tangible, referenceable outputs. The Committee of Experts has a mandate to provide a platform to develop effective strategies on how to build and strengthen national capacity on geospatial information, as well as disseminate best practices and experiences on legal instruments, management models and technical standards pertaining to national, regional and international bodies on geospatial information matters. The following are some of the work areas that have been identified by UN-GGIM:
Global: UN Agenda 2030
UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on 25 September 2015 which includes 17 SDGs. Threats posed by climate change, conflict and food insecurity condemn millions to poverty, especially women and children. How could Geomatics practitioners contribute? Consider opportunities that are locally presented by initiatives such as the Eastern Cape Provincial Government on conducting an agricultural survey, with anticipated national roll-out. This is aimed at promoting sustainable agricultural practices, capacitating small scale farmers through access to land, technology and markets. Our country’s representative pertaining to the work on SDGs is Stats SA.
As part of demonstrating confidence in Stats SA’s and our country’s capabilities, the international community has bestowed an honour on Stats SA by awarding it the hosting rights of the first-ever World Data Forum that was held from 16 to 18 January 2017 in Cape Town. The forum was organised under the auspices of the Statistical Commission. It came in the wake of the declaration by the UN’s Independent Expert and Advisory Group on data revolution for sustainable development data that a suitable platform for intensifying cooperation with various professional groups that include information technology, geospatial information managers, data scientists, users and civil society stakeholders, is required. The forum covered, amongst others, issues pertaining to statistical capacity building and data literacy; innovative technologies and methods; integration and development of synergies between traditional and new sources of data which include big and qualitative data; geospatial information systems and their role in the integration, analysis and communication of data for sustainable development; and data communication and visualisation tools.
What are the challenges facing the geospatial community – domestically at least?
Recommended interventions to support geospatial capacity development
This article has sought to take the geospatial community on a journey highlighting a variety of opportunities that exist both locally and continentally. It has also extended a challenge to all Geomatics practitioners to take note of the established global frameworks within which their work can be executed by acting decisively. It is clear that the opportunities that can be utilised to build geospatial capacity are in abundance. What is also clear is that current practices adopted within the geospatial community exacerbate fragmentation, professional paralysis and selfish tendencies. As a result, the existence of the profession is facing serious threat if the issue of ensuring that capacity is developed and sustained, is not given proper attention.
The broader geospatial community is therefore canvassed in this paper to use current established frameworks to consolidate and harmonise opportunities that are available for the broader good of the profession. Collective and organised effort is required in driving the post-2015 development agenda. The responsibility for convening and facilitating the establishment of the integrative and collaborative platform should reside with the CSI, Geomatics Council, GISSA, SAGI and all other relevant bodies that are key to the profession.
This paper was presented at Geomatics Indaba 2016 and is republished here with permission.
 Department of Higher Education and Training: “Skills for and through SIPs”, 2014.
 National Planning Commission, The Presidency: “National Development Plan 2030, Our Future – make it work”, Republic of South Africa, Sherino Printers.
 Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission: “A summary of the South African National Infrastructure Plan – Report 2012”.
 Statistics South Africa: “Medium Term Strategic Framework – 2016-2019”.
 The African Union Commission: “Agenda 2063 framework document”, 2015.
Contact Lawrence Modise, Statistics South Africa, Tel 012 310-4660, firstname.lastname@example.org