SDIs in Hard Times: When to Reinforce and When to Question Our Values?
by Prof. David J. Coleman, President-elect
Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association
Last month’s GSDI column by Steven Ramage stressed the importance of human aspects surrounding effective planning, implementation and management of an SDI. He was right. Part of the challenge faced by SDI program managers world-wide is that – regardless of how much we all think the benefits of data sharing have been articulated and confirmed – one should never assume that any amount of communication is enough to keep people convinced.
What may seem repetitive and “just common sense” to us may not be appreciated by program managers, public accountants and politicians who are two or more generations removed from when today’s SDI programs were launched. There have also been so many developments in SDIs around legislation, crowdsourcing and other areas that it pays to keep people informed anyway.
Precepts and values originally taken for granted - “collect once, use many times” and “datasets are more useful when they can be integrated” that underpin SDI programs world-wide may be far from obvious to end users and need to be continually reinforced. There are at least three reasons for this:
(1) Costs of spatial data collection and management are now well-hidden within larger overall program costs.
(2) Data sharing is rarely part of any organization’s core mission.
(3) In some cases, it may indeed be cheaper to just revisit and re-collect certain features or attribute over & over again in real time rather than set up all the processes and agreements required to permit routine sharing of data.
And, as mentioned in last month’s column, public accounting practices do not lend themselves to identifying the benefits of shared data across different organizations. These are the intangible benefits we need to be able to describe and communicate.
As a society, we have taken for granted much of the infrastructure developed over the past 60 years, whether it be national highways, power grids or communication services. Our attention has been focused on building services on top of those infrastructures. It is only when elements of those infrastructures become congested or fail altogether that we are forced to re-examine what was originally built and why it was put in place.
Senior SDI program executives have, for the most part, been genuinely adept at re-framing and communicating the benefits of their SDIs in terms of what is important to politicians and governments today. Their managers and supporters must be prepared to follow up by re-examining their own initiatives in light of changing technologies, organizational circumstances, economic conditions and prevailing government policies. Where do the advantages still hold? What no longer makes sense? What is no longer required to be undertaken within government? What may no longer be required at all?
The answers to all these questions then need to be communicated – consistently, persuasively and repeatedly. New generations of producers, users, financial analysts, and public policy architects all need to know.
Learn more about the GSDI Association and how to participate here: http://www.gsdi.org/joinGSDI
Dr. David Coleman is President-elect of the GSDI Association. He is currently a professor of geomatics engineering and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.
An edited version of this article with graphics and/or photos was published in the November 2011 issue of GIM International.