Information is nothing without ethical action

February 13th, 2019, Published in Articles: PositionIT

For as long as I’ve been reporting on the geospatial sector, the value of geospatial intelligence has essentially been described in terms of planning and monitoring efficiencies and cost savings. This has been the case whether you talked about real-time deformation monitoring, remote sensing, building information management or anything in between. More recently, there has been talk of the value of predictive analytics, often for the same reasons.

But knowing something and acting upon that knowledge are two completely different things. The latest tailing dam collapse in Brazil seems like an example of this. The UK Guardian reported that workers fixing a leak prior to the collapse were so worried that one planned to leave his job (the mining company denied any leak). More upsetting, both the dams in this collapse and a prior collapse in 2015 were certified as stable.

While geospatial professionals such as those who monitor tailing dams may not always be in decision-making positions themselves, they still bear an ethical and moral responsibility for decisions based on the information they provide. Confidence in their own accuracy will in turn establish trust in them. Then they should motivate decisions with conviction based on established trust.

In the January/February 2019 issue of PositionIT, Mattheus Human gives an overview of the ethical responsibilities of the geospatial professional in relation to the Batho Pele (“People First”) principles. It is a good idea to reacquaint yourself with the principles and to make a point to apply it in your daily life as you set out in 2019.

Acting with confidence and professionally may reassert the geospatial professional’s relevance and could even aid wider adoption of geotech in their organisations.

Some will argue that the profession is not only overlooked but underfunded. Perhaps our sector is simply terrible at economics. I cannot imagine that the cost of action to avoid the collapse is higher than the damage that resulted from it. This tragedy should at the very least serve as a useful economic case study to motivate for the broader application and better funding of geospatial tech and the geospatial professional, even where the consequences are not lethal.

Lastly, geospatial professionals should realise their responsibility in disseminating and communicating information clearly and easily. They cannot assume that, because they find maps easy to read, everyone else does too. A 2011 study on the “Use of evidence in policy making in South Africa” found that data access, availability and clarity (especially in problems and needs analysis), remain the biggest barriers to evidence-based policy making.

May 2019 be a year of excellence, relevance and prosperity for you and the geospatial profession.

Send your comments to positionit@ee.co.za

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