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Jeff Thurston — "Policy and governance weave their way through all areas of the
geospatial industry. While many of us may not deal with them directly
in our daily work, the trail toward education, research, applications
and operations as well as development initiatives, are often connected
to policies and governance."

Matt Ball — "I think the answer to this question is different all over the world,
and at varying levels of government. It’s
also important to define the meanings of policy and governance when
addressing this question. A policy sets a vision and course of action,
while governance deals with government management and controls"

This column is sponsored by


Policy and governance weave their way through all areas of the
geospatial industry. While many of us may not deal with them directly
in our daily work, the trail toward education, research, applications
and operations as well as development initiatives, are often connected
to policies and governance. Our greatest challenge is in realizing our
role to directly shape and impact the world we live in, through the
prudent use of our knowledge and geospatial tools.

There are many examples of policy and
governance connecting to the geospatial community. The most obvious
connections are associated with professional institutions and
organisations. Surveyors, engineers, photogrammetrists, GIS and other
professional bodies all have policies and procedures which enable them
to operate and maintain responsibilities among their memberships.

In the field of education we can also
find many examples of geospatial course content and teaching ontology
which include policy, but in institutions we often label policy as
’support’ thereby avoiding infringement on the freedom to pursue
knowledge. Business often calls policy – research and development – and
we have all known cases where policy has changed, often depending upon
new leadership or organisational direction. But policy change may also
be due to new information and awareness. It is on this point where
governance begins.

Geospatial Governance
Governance is more about expectations and acquiring
information and data pertaining to those expectations. For example,
clean water, less noise, low crime and safety and security, are all
expectations that each of us have.

Geospatial technologies and applications
provide the tools and knowledge for gathering information about these
factors – and thousands of others. Can you see radiation? Can you tell
when a school is needed in a neighborhood? Do you know when it will
flood (rain)? Which fields are best for wheat, oats or barley? Do you
know where the pipes are in the ground? Can you calculate the level of
production across Europe in your head?

If you answered no to most of these
questions, congratulations – you are similar to the rest of us. You
want answers to various questions, or at least you expect someone will
have them.

Geotechnologies enable us to locate,
measure, monitor and model all these factors. They support governance.
They provide many of the primary sources of information we need to
govern the way we live.

GPS can be used to locate events and
processes, GIS to map and analyse them, surveying equipment to measure
them and remote sensing to monitor them. Collectively they can all be
managed together. This convergence or fusion of information and
knowledge then shifts from simple data to information and later becomes
knowledge upon which decision making is based. Clearly a process is
involved. Consequently, we can see governance as being closely related
to processing.

Geo-governance to Policy
The process of collecting geospatial data can originate from
policy alone. New laws and policies may take a form that includes
provision for monitoring their implementation and results. This is
particularly the case in the health and environmental fields. The
common agricultural policy (CAP) in Europe is an example of this, where
producers are paid depending upon production.

Satellite imagery analysis of the land
base is used to determine which areas are being monitored and used to
calculate payments. On the other hand, geospatial technology can also
be used to develop and set policy. An example of this would be the
setting of insurance rates depending upon flood potential. In this case
digital elevation models can be used to develop flood risk maps.

Climate change, health, terrorist
activity, transport safety and other applications come with their own
unique public expectations. We expect these activities to be monitored,
and geospatial tools are often used to accomplish this monitoring. In
many of these cases we do not see the monitoring or ongoing activity,
but when emergency and other troublesome events happen, there is an
expectation that this data will be immediately available for further
analysis, planning and mitigation of activities. There is a huge amount
of this kind of monitoring happening today, that we do not often talk
about – until situations occur. This is governance in action. 

Capacity Building and Awareness
One of the more interesting connections of the geospatial
industry to the policy and governance community pertains to capacity
building and awareness. Some, but not enough, people in the geospatial
industry recognise that politicians and decision makers need to
understand the power of geospatial technologies and knowledge, which in
turn will result in the development of new policies and decisions that
are more fully enabled and supported through the governance
capabilities of geospatial tools.

It is not enough to simply build tools
and assume that they will be found, used and result in signficant
changes to the way businesses and organisations operation. It is not
enough to collect huge quantities of data and assume that policies will
change, situations will change and quality of life will improve. Data
and knowledge need to be transferred into action and policy if
effective change is to be supported and enabled.

Geospatial professionals are touchy
about this subject. They like the technology side of things and they
prefer to tread too deeply into policy areas. While I cannot say that
they should be making policy, well, at least if they are not in policy
making roles, we need to ensure that our tools and knowledge are within
the realm and perception of those who do. And, we need to involve
ourselves in activities that place our unique expertise within the
decision making processes. That is a special challenge that we have.

Contributing to a Better World
The geospatial industry has matured. It can contribute to
higher GDP, better health, higher efficiency, greater competitiveness,
increased labor and better environment. When we began V1 Magazine we
recognised that our industry can ‘enable the change’ needed for a
sustainable tomorrow. We recognised that we were seeing many
technologies and people talking about what could possible through their
use. We also recognised that a new level was being reached and that
policy and governance would be the way forward for bringing these tools
and knowledge to bear on important social, economic and environmental

I am particularly proud of the people
and company’s that support our magazine. Through their support, they
are voting with their participation that they believe geospatial
technologies and knowledge can enact change. They recognise
geotechnologies can address the governance issues before us and provide
a key mechanism for participating in the development of new policies
and enabling governance. They can see the need for multi-disciplinary
approaches, sharing and collaboration and openness to new ideas and
directions. They have connected the dots that line the pathway between
where we were and where we wish to go.

The geospatial industry today is highly
connected to governance and policy issues. It participates at the
highest levels of decision making because it enables policy and
provides the mechanisms for effective governance that support change
and the way forward. Our challenge is to continually build capacity
through explaining and demonstrating this relationship. 

Other reading:



I think the answer to this question is different all over the world,
and at varying levels of government. I’ll focus on the United States
federal policy and governance of geospatial data and practice. It’s
also important to define the meanings of policy and governance when
addressing this question. A policy sets a vision and course of action,
while governance deals with government management and controls.

At the U.S. federal level, I’d contend that there’s much more
geospatial policy than there is governance. I say this because the U.S.
market is an open one. Geospatial data that is collected at the federal
level is provided free to U.S. citizens on the basis that their
taxpayer dollars bought the data to begin with. There’s no need or call
for much geospatial governance of the public or other levels of
government, because the federal government has no need to protect

Data Use and Availability
In the United States there aren’t heavy licensing fees and detailed
guidelines for access and use of federal geospatial data, but there
also isn’t this means of funding. Where data is sold and licensed, it’s
necessary to add a level of bureaucracy, but this approach also comes
with the burden of enforcement. Without the enforcement mandate here in
the U.S., the federal government becomes much less of an overseer and
more of an influencer of geospatial practice.

Some might see the limitation of enforcement authority as a serious
challenge, because there’s very little leverage for the federal
government to mandate action. This lack of direct oversight hasn’t
caused much constraint on the geospatial market to date. In fact, the
benefits of free data have outweighed any negative consequences of a
government-owned and regulated geospatial marketplace.

Mandating Cooperation
One place that the federal government has great oversight and
governance is within the federal branch, where there are increasing
guidelines for geospatial data procurement by various agencies. The
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has oversight on how money is
spent. The geospatial data procurement contracts of the federal
government have long been a frustration of the OMB and individual
states. Observers have witnessed repeated investments of imagery and
other data for the same geography by different agencies, that haven’t
involved input from individual states.

The redundant geospatial data investment was meant to be combated by the OMB Circular A-16
(“Coordination of Geographic Information and Related Spatial Data
Activities). However, this document, and OMB’s lack of enforcement,
have until recently made little impact on these redundancies. There is
hope for change now with the creation of the Geospatial Line of Business,
whose creation will “result in a more coordinated approach to
producing, maintaining, and using geospatial data, and will ensure
sustainable participation from Federal partners to establish a
collaborative model for geospatial-related activities and investments.”

This piece of governance could have broad implications for the
future of the geospatial industry. At issue is the lack of a
high-quality, consistent and up-to-date nationwide data sets. At
present, our federal government is woefully behind a lot of the world
in terms of both accuracy and currency of our geospatial data. A
centrally coordinated effort for data collection and management could
help correct this deficiency.

Standards Adoption and Innovation
The federal government asserts much influence in the promotion and
adoption of industry standards and practices. The investments of large
government agencies serve to provide a catalyst for change, and to spur
widespread adoption of standards and technologies.

The approach of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)
has been a great influencer of geospatial standards adoption,
particularly in the last seven years. NGA has exerted strong influence
through its support of the Open Geospatial Consortium, and its
establishment of the National Center for Geospatial Intelligence
Standards (see Enabling a Common Vision
[PDF]). NGA’s vision for a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) that
enables the storage, retrieval, and sharing of vital GEOINT, will
benefit all geospatial practitioners, as it’s spurring vendor
investments in enterprise enablement.

The U.S. Census Bureau is another federal agency that has spurred
innovation, back to its very early roots. The Census Burea was one of
the first country-scale investors in a geospatial data set, and they’ve
continued to innovate in how they collect and distribute data. The
recent failure of handheld GPS units for data collection is a huge
shame that may adversely affect the adoption of handheld data
collection systems. Here their innovative approach was derailed by poor
execution, and it is hoped that this one failure doesn’t stifle future

If I could pick one area where I’d like to see more federal
leadership, it is in the creation of large-scale intelligent models. To
date there have been investments in sensor technology and large-scale
2D models for predicting and forecasting, but no shared “Digital Earth”
vision across government. NASA’s investment in the open-source World
Wind shared three-dimensional world is an interesting start. But how
far would this vision advance if there were suddenly a mandate for
government scientists to adhere to a standard data format and post
their data into a collaborative 3D digital world environment?


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