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Archive for the ‘standards’ Category

A full quorum of the Committee for Spatial Information (CSI) met on 1 October 2012 and agreed to adopt several recommendations proposed by its Data Sub-committee relating to the definition of base spatial datasets, criteria for base spatial datasets, criteria for data custodians, and the identification of an initial list of base spatial datasets and data custodians. Included in these recommendations is a solution which overcomes the complex issue of selecting data custodians for datasets with multiple de facto dataset custodians.

This major step towards the creation of a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) for South Africa came about as a result of the CSI’s decision to follow a transparent and consultative process with a wide variety of stakeholders from all spheres of government and the private sector.

The first recommendation provides a new definition for base spatial datasets, namely that: “Base geospatial datasets are those identified as the minimum set of essential datasets that are widely used as a reference base at various administrative levels to accomplish South Africa’s national and international priorities.”

The second recommendation provides compulsory and conditional criteria for base spatial datasets that are to be determined in consultation with custodians on an individual bases for each base spatial dataset. Compulsory conditions are that the datasets should aim at complete coverage of the area of interest; a diversity of users from different sectors should often derive significant benefit from their use; the datasets should have sufficient detail and accuracy for widespread use; and that these datasets cannot be easily or generally substituted. The conditional criteria are that the dataset should be produced as a result of the core mandate of the custodian and that the dataset should be a source for accurately referencing other datasets or for displaying the results of an analysis.

The third recommendation proposed the following criteria for data custodians of base spatial datasets which are to be implemented in consultation with custodians and on an individual bases for each base spatial dataset. There must be a mandated responsibility in the form of legislation, regulations, and policy on the part of the data custodian (compulsory); the data custodian should have sufficient capacity, resources and infrastructure to fulfill the responsibility of a custodian (conditional); and it must be requested by the CSI (compulsory).

Prior to the CSI meeting the Data Sub-committee reviewed and consolidated the list of proposed base datasets. Data custodians were recommended for approximately 86 datasets based on the criteria guidelines and legal mandates. It was decided that approximately 30 of the above datasets required further refinement and several others required in depth investigations. At the CSI meeting, the Data Sub-committee’s recommendation that ten data themes and 33 base spatial datasets be prioritised, was accepted. In addition it was decided that custodians are to be appointed from all spheres of government.

The Data Sub-committee recommended that the definition of a custodian be reviewed to address the ambiguity of the word with regard to accessing and holding of spatial data. At the CSI meeting a facilitating mechanism involving base spatial dataset co-ordinators and base data custodians was adopted to handle cases involving multiple data custodians for a single base data set. The base spatial datasets co-ordinator will be responsible for co-ordinating all data custodians for the specific base data set; ensuring all policy, standards and specifications for the base spatial dataset are adhered to, and will report on data activities to the CSI Data Sub-committee.

In addition to the above, the CSI agreed that ten themes of national importance be prioritised. These include administrative boundaries, imagery, roads, social statistics, land use, land cover, cadastre, hydrology, geodesy and conservation. The road ahead for the CSI includes further refinement of the base datasets, custodians and base spatial datasets co-ordinators for these ten themes. Just as before, this will be a consultative process involving data custodians, base spatial datasets co-ordinators and other interested parties. Policies and standards will also be worked out so that these vital base datasets can “talk to each other” in order to facilitate geospatial solutions that will drive the development of South Africa.

 

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South Africa hosted the 33rd ISO TC/211 in Pretoria in November this year. While it was wonderful to host this award winning committee, discussions with members of the South African geomatics community highlighted the reality of standards implementation in our country.

The work of ISO/TC 211, which is responsible for the ISO geographic information series of standards, is carried out by representatives from various organisations, international professional bodies and businesses. Our own Dr. Serena Coetzee (University of Pretoria) and Antony Cooper (CSIR) are actively involved in the work of ISO/TC 211 and do South Africa proud. However, the work of the ISO/TC 211 is viewed by some members of the South African geospatial community as being utopian and oblivious to the realities on the ground.

Sharing their experiences of standard implementation, GIS community members explained that some South African GIS departments are struggling to get the basics of GIS right and are unable to deal with the fancy footwork required of some ISO standards. There are stringent requirements to capture metadata for certain standards and this conflicts with the need to get the actual job at hand done. Furthermore, government departments are allocated budgets to provide deliverables and capturing metadata can get in the way of providing these deliverables.

In addition, there is the issue of who pays to implement standards. Some government departments and municipalities do not budget for the implementation of standards; their workflow being focused on project completion. These bodies are also under pressure to complete projects in order to ensure that funding is provided for the next financial year. When work falls behind schedule, as can often happen, the first thing to fall by the wayside are standards.

In standards-driven organisations such as Eskom, there are also issues with standards. Despite there being top-level support for standards implementation and use as well as budgets and time allocated for this as part of the work flow, these organisations still have to deal with individuals failing to follow prescribed standards.

Olaf Magnus Østensen, chair of  ISO/TC 211, acknowledges that the work of standards operating bodies is not being taken up as much as they would like. He added that standards are state of the art technology and require a certain level of competence and capacity for effective utilisation. Other members of the committee also acknowledge that some standards are not necessarily user-friendly.

Countering this, Antony Cooper suggested that more practitioners need to get involved in standards development as this will help to ensure that practical, useful standards are developed and that they are tested early in the development cycle. He also added that people need to understand the contextual framework of standards as this will help to determine which standards are useful to them.

At the end of the day though, it is clear that standards are beneficial – they reduce costs, improve efficiency and ensure quality data. However, where possible, standards need be more accessible and increased guidance during the implementation process is required.

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Over the last decade or so private companies have been acquiring vast quantities of geospatial information, and as technology progresses the way in which this data is collected, stored and distributed changes too. Collaborative data collection, more commonly known as crowdsourcing, has also taken off with volunteers populating data portals such as OpenStreetMap.

Traditionalists question the quality of this crowdsourced data but where its strength lies, particularly in the mapping world, is in the ability of enthusiastic volunteers to provide specific details on areas that aren’t covered by commercial or public sector mapping organisations. Citizen cartography is taking off and while professional surveyors may be horrified at the thought of volunteers mapping the world, there is no getting away from the fact that it is already happening.

The commercial world has been quick to grasp the business opportunity with commercial mapping companies using crowdsourcing to assist in the creation of up-to-date, detailed, low cost maps. These businesses recognise the advantages that crowdsourcing has to offer in terms of providing rapid and detailed updates at very low cost. They are not about to reject data generated by their “non-expert” users when this data can be used to improve their product offerings at little cost. Business is business.

This leads to questions regarding the accuracy of crowdsourced data and how to manage it. Some navigation companies handle the matter by using mapping specialists to verify user-generated data before it is incorporated into official updates while other mapping companies handle the issue by assessing over time the credibility of users reporting data and by determining how many other users are in agreement with the user-generated data.

Previously users acquired their data from public sector sources such as our national mapping agency, Chief Directorate: National Geo-spatial Information. When acquiring data from such sources, users are generally assured of the quality of the data they are accessing – it is accurately collected by mapping specialists and is maintained and updated accordingly. This is not necessarily the case when it comes to data provided by collaborative and/or commercial data providers.

Google itself is upfront about not providing any guarantees as to the quality of its spatial data. Ed Parsons makes the point that people all over the world are using Google’s spatial data because it is good enough for their purposes. Why, he asks, should Google spend billions of dollars providing a high quality data product when the majority of its users don’t have exacting data quality requirements.

Moving data collection beyond the hands of the experts may lead to an inrease in suspect data but there is no getting around the fact that other people are interested in this data and have a use for it. Entrepreneurs are often able to see opportunities and applications inherent in “non-expert” mapping data that mapping specialists would turn their noses at. This does not mean to say that there is no need for quality data. Of course there is. Decision makers, policy makers and a variety of users across all our economic sectors require high-quality spatial data in order to do their work. But who says we have to have one or the other. Surely there is a place for both in this rapidly changing world of ours.

 

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The long awaited Committee for Spatial Information (CSI) has held its first meeting and a tough journey lies ahead. The committee has been tasked with the responsibility of successfully implementing South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure (SDI) and with ensuring that our country uses its geospatial data effectively for the benefit of all its citizens.

Listening in on the proceedings it was apparent that the implementation of the South African Spatial Data Infrastructure (SASDI) is a mammoth task. It requires building a technical platform to improve access to geospatial data, the alignment of policies to promote the sharing of geospatial data, developing standards to ensure the interoperability of systems, developing standards for accurate data collection and maintenance, eliminating duplication of data collection, and improving the usability of geospatial information for better government decision-making. In short the CSI is responsible for the efficient collection, management, distribution and utilisation of SA’s spatial information. Like I said, a mammoth task.

Understanding the scope of this task, the CSI has identified the need to develop a strategic plan of action in order to build the country’s spatial data infrastructure. In the course of putting this plan into action, the committee will face numerous obstacles including amongst others insufficient human capacity, limited financial resources and a culture of restricting access to data. Added to this is a lack of understanding outside the geospatial community of the need to use SDI for effective decision-making which will in turn impact negatively on the political support provided to those responsible for implementing the SASDI.

To overcome these odds, the CSI needs to take to heart its responsibility for driving the development of SA’s spatial data infrastructure. As geospatial professionals, the CSI members are aware of the realm of possibilities that open up should they succeed in their task. Having insight into the power of geospatial technologies, they have a responsibility to support this process and to engender an enthusiasm for this initiative across all sectors of government.

We have proved with the successful hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup that with sufficient determination to succeed and effective management of the process, South Africa is capable of achieving great things. FIFA imposed strict deadlines on us as hosts to ensure the successful holding of the soccer world championships; the CSI needs to take a leaf out of FIFA’s book and develop a strategy to ensure the successful implementation of our spatial data infrastructure. In addition, the CSI needs to draw on geospatial resources across both the public and private sectors to support this initiative and make it happen. We have waited long enough and we all want it to succeed.

Members of the CSI must appreciate the responsibility with which they have been tasked and put in the necessary continued effort to ensure that the committee achieves its goals. There is no place on this committee for deadweight, and members who slumber deeply while the majority strive to create the SASDI should be given the red card.

 

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People working in the GIS field know all too well that GIS is a marvelous tool for empowering policy and decision makers. The US Federal Geographic Data Committee’s 2006 Annual Report indicates that as much as 90% of US government data have a geospatial component. The same can also be said of South Africa’s government data.

In 2009, the Coalition of Geospatial Organisations (COGO), a coalition of 15 national professional societies, trade associations, and membership organisations in the geospatial field and representing 30 000 producers and users of geospatial data and technology in the US, urged Congress to establish geospatial subcommittees in both the House and the Senate. COGO believes that the current structure is inefficient and does not contribute to strategic coordinated policy and investments among the federal agencies. It points out that oversight of federal geospatial activities has not been effective and as a result federal agencies are still independently acquiring and maintaining potentially duplicative and costly datasets and systems.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it…?

GIS is integral to government operations and yet here in South Africa treasure troves of GIS data lie hidden in silo structures while various government departments and local municipalities blow their budgets hiring consultants to provide them with data that is actually freely available to them, if only they knew it was available and how to access it. Much of this needless expenditure is being duplicated across South Africa at a time of restricted budgets and increased demands for service delivery.

Knowing this, I was interested to learn about the activities of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) (see page 38), an initiative which aims to assist the Gauteng City-Region with better planning and management as well as improved co-operative government relations. By means of GIS analysis and modeling of government data, GCRO aims to make efficient use of GIS within the Gauteng City-Region and to use GIS to break down data barriers across all levels of government enabling easier access to all information for both local and provincial government.

While the intention is certainly praiseworthy and deserving of the support of all affected parties, it highlights the lack of achievement by the National Spatial Information Framework (NSIF) whose mandate it is to coordinate South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure.

The long wait for effective management of South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure continues as we await an announcement on appointments to the Committee for Spatial Information (CSI). The CSI is required to administer and coordinate the capture and sharing of spatial information by identifying data custodians, specifying standards and other prescriptions applicable to geospatial data, and ensuring access to the spatial data. Accomplishing all of this is quite a task and it is hoped that the people nominated to the CSI understand just how vital and necessary their work is and the immeasurable benefits awaiting government, business and individual South Africans should they succeed.

Just like the US, South Africa needs its spatial data infrastructure to be managed effectively and utilised appropriately for the betterment of our country and its peoples.

 

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