Surveyors and The Global Spatial Data Infrastructure.

In the late 1980s, many U.S. organizations including various governments, the academic community and the private sector came together to encourage common practices and uniform standards in digital geographic data collection, processing, archiving and sharing. The resulting National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) encompasses policies, standards and procedures for organizations to produce and share georeferenced information cooperatively.

In the mid-1990s, other nations began duplicative data collection, processing, archiving and distribution not only within their own borders but across national boundaries as well. A small group spawned what is now known as the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI). This group has grown to over 40 nations and consists of government agencies, NGOs (Non-Government Organizations), academic institutions and a significant contingent of the private sector of the geospatial industry.

My column in the April 2002 issue of POB was on Surveying the Big Issues like GSDI, ISO, mutual recognition of professional qualifications and globalization. We don’t often think of surveying as playing a major role in world affairs like the globalization issue, but it has become a matter of super-heated public debate and has commanded the media’s attention everywhere.

Thomas L. Friedman, a staff writer for the New York Times, authored The Lexus and the Olive Tree, a book on “understanding globalization.” He speaks of the democratization of technology and the democratization of information. He points out that thanks to the microchip, the microprocessor, the personal computer and the Internet, hundreds of millions of people around the world are now able to exchange information on every subject, including marketing and finance. The new marketplace is Internet commerce through cyberspace. There is one global market and it is called globalism; the most basic truth about globalism is that nobody is in charge. It is an “electronic herd” in Friedman’s words, “made up of often anonymous stock, bond and currency traders and multinational investors, connected by networks and screens.” We understand that land and all its attributes are a central prize in this global market. We understand, too, that there must be recognized common practices and policies, and uniform standards in the processing of information about land in this lawless and unregulated marketplace.

Consider one model for this process, already in place.

A memorandum of understanding was executed in September 2000, bringing together some of the world’s strongest leaders in the development and use of geospatial data. The signers of the MOU were the state of North Carolina, USA, the state of Northrhine-Westfalia, Germany, Microsoft Corporation, Intergraph Corporation, the Atlantic Institute and the U.S. Federal Geographic Data Committee. The preamble to that MOU reads as follows:

“The States of North Carolina and Northrhine-Westphalia embrace the exploration of leading edge technologies and processes to achieve greater citizen service. As part of their Sister State Agreement, North Carolina and Northrhine-Westphalia will develop a memorandum of commitment to advance service to citizens through greater access and use of geospatial information for governance and growth of commerce (emphasis added). Through our efforts, we will not only improve vital services to our citizens, but we will help accelerate the acceptance and use of interoperable capabilities that will allow us to communicate and collaborate with neighboring states and nations.”

These are words and concepts perfectly consistent with Friedman’s view of globalism and the democratization of technology and information.

GSDI Highlighted at FIG Congress

GSDI was the subject of a special plenary session at the XXII FIG Congress in Washington, D.C., this April, arranged and organized primarily by Fritz Petersohn of the Atlantic Institute. Principal speakers were Preetha Pulusani, president, Intergraph Mapping and GIS Solutions; and Dipl.-Ing. Klaus Barwinski, director of the Surveying and Mapping Agency of Northrhine-Westphalia, Germany. Pulusani and Barwinski presented the global spatial data infrastructure concept with an emphasis on business and political aspects. Dr. John McLaughlin of the Atlantic Institute and the University of New Brunswick, Canada; John Moeller, staff director of the U.S. Federal Graphic Data Committee (FGDC); and Cliff Kottman spoke on building a GSDI in sessions called “From data infrastructures to virtual communities; the evolution of SDI,” “SDI—tools for improving world sustainability” and “Advancing the goals of GSDI.”

The “German Vision Toward the Northrhine-Westfalia/North Carolina Partnership” was presented by Heinz Bruggemann, Dusseldorf Ministry of the Interior of Northrhine-Westfalia; Dr. Hans Jurgen Mortsiefer of the center for Geoinformation Gmbh; and Dr. Uwe Meyer, Dortmund CEO of TerraMap Server for Gmbh.

The “United States Vision for the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure” was described by Tim Johnson, Partnership Representative for North Carolina, Jane Smith Patterson, Advisor to the former Governor of North Carolina, and Fritz Petersohn and Nelson Osborn of the Atlantic Institute. This all-day session on a spatial data infrastructure was perhaps the most complete and comprehensive presentation of the subject by and for a surveying audience. Those who listened to the excellent presentations have a new appreciation for the importance and complexity of the subject. Perhaps even more importantly we have a new appreciation for the role of the surveying profession, internationally, in a development with far-reaching implications for the physical, social and cultural well-being of our world.