NSDI Implementation Strategies

By Asmat Ali

More than half of the countries in the world are developing a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) (Masser, 2005). However, research conducted by Georgiadou (2006), Crompvoets (2006) (pdf) and Masser (2005) shows that such initiatives are only partially successful and lack in systematic benefits. This situation challenges the usefulness of such initiatives and casts doubt on the NSDI implementation strategies which have already been adopted. It poses the question, "What are the strategies to implement NSDI?"

The purpose of this paper is to address this fundamental question, as no consolidated document exists at the moment to answer it. This part of the paper will focus only on socio-technical approaches to implementing NSDI.

Some argue that no universal blueprint to implement NSDIs exists, but that it depends largely on the perception and understanding of its stakeholders. As a matter of fact, there is not yet a generally agreed upon definition of SDI due to its multiplicity, complexity and dynamic nature because, "...understanding SDI is (still) in its infancy" (de Man, 2007) (pdf). Therefore, technical people such as engineers and scientists, for example, define it in technical terms and propose technical solutions for SDI implementation. Journalists, vendors and economists emphasize its economic benefits. Researchers interested in social impacts underscore political, institutional, organizational and informational sharing aspects. For example, Georgiadou (2006) (pdf) finds, "Implementation of SDIs is inherently complex for both technical and institutional reasons." Therefore, the successfully implementation of NSDI requires knowledge of implementation strategies, which is the core of this paper.

NSDI implementation Strategies
The critical study on SDI reveals the following socio-technical approaches for its implementation.

The Rainbow Metaphor Approach
In 2006, Satish Puri, Sundeep Sahay and Yola Georgiadou presented a layered approach in the context of a rainbow metaphor, arguing socio-technical and Information Infrastructure (II) related paradigms for SDI implementation. This approach focuses on seven layers, represented as seven colors of the rainbow, which support and add value to each other.

Figure 1: The Rainbow Metaphor for II (Clement and Shade, 1998)

According to their approach, the layers of SDI implementation are as follows:

Carriage: This layer can be compared with telecommunication infrastructure and related policies to facilitate access and share information.

Devices: This layer speaks of development of ICT devices based on local needs for sharing resources.

Software: The focus of this layer is to give bloom to locally developed open source software instead of costly commercial software.

Content: It underscores the need of local participation instead of a top-down approach.

Provision: Underpins the need for a more user friendly environment in government organizations. It emphasizes the importance of NGOs, as they have local knowledge.

Literacy: It highlights the need for capacity building and the role of capacity building institutions.

Governance: The central idea of this layer is a bottom-up approach, as most NSDIs are victims of central/ federal governments/ and NMOs.

Importance of the Rainbow Metaphor Approach for NSDI - in Brief
Importance of the rainbow approach and its perceived value for NSDI implementation is tabled below (Table 1):

Table 1: Some advantages of Rainbow approach for NSDI
Layers Interpretation Value for NSDI
Carriage Telecommunication Infrastructure "ï¿1⁄2factors integral to SDI development, such as web connectivity, telecommunication infrastructure, and human capacity" (Delgado et. al, 2005)
Devices ICT devices according to local needs Universal models of ICT devices may not necessarily meet with local needs. Therefore, locally manufactured devices would be more friendly and easier to use for the masses.
Open Source Software Everyone cannot purchase commercial software, as they are expansive and are developed for global users. Moreover, such software programs are difficult, if not totally impossible, to customize for local needs. Therefore, open source software tailored according to local needs would help to promote a "sharing" culture of SDI, as the use of affordable Open Source Software would be an added advantage (Vandita Srivastava, Georgiadou et. al, 2004)
Content Local participation Top-down approaches of NSDI implementation usually consider federal/central governments but the input of local governments also has a considerable influence on the process of SDI implementation at the national level (Masser, 2005)
Provision Importance of NGOs Global knowledge may not help to assess needs of local communities. Therefore, local knowledge is essential to fully understand local needs of a region. Such knowledge is usually possessed by NGOs. Hence, NGOs are among the key stakeholders of NSDI and their participation would help to implement NSDIs on the ground.
Literacy Capacity Building Capacity building is one of the components of NSDI (GSDI Newsletter, April 2006) (pdf)
Governance Bottom-up approach Most countries in the world have some form of SDI program. These programs have names like CGDI (Canada), NSDI (USA), NSDI (Japan), and so on. The main problem with these programs is that they have been national and top-down, rather than bottom-up. Geoweb

A layered approach like this to SDI implementation needs to be adopted as ongoing work; that is to say, NSDI implementation cannot be completed in a single phase. The existing policies and telecommunication infrastructure that inhibit access to maps and other sources of spatial information by the civil society need to be urgently and realistically reviewed. Moreover, three layers - provision, content and governance - argue for local participation and the bottom-up approach, which are indeed important ingredients of SDI. The carriage and devices layers are fundamental for data exchange and communication, as SDI Africa argues: "Partnerships and communication are the heart of SDI."

Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Approach
NSDI cannot just be implemented by government alone (and it is not right to do so when a lot of enterprise/development activities are also done outside the government domain). Private enterprise will have to play a vital and complementary role - be it in solutions, in joint-venture initiatives with data-owners, or in working the way ahead to deliver (Mukund Rao, 2007).

Public-private partnership is defined as a partnership between a public organization and a private company, which takes the form of a medium- to long-term relationship in which the partners have agreed to work closely together to deliver improvements to services in the interest of the public. There would be agreed upon arrangements for the sharing of risks, benefits and rewards and the utilization of multi-sector skills, expertise and finance. Such partnerships are usually encouraged and supported by government policy (Guiding principles for public-private partnerships PPP in land administration).

It is argued that a PPP is a social partnership, as it includes not only the public sector but also organizations that are outside official boundaries, such as private sector, academia and research institutes as well as NGOs. These groups are all key stakeholders of NSDI. Therefore, this approach brings more stakeholders of NSDI on a unified platform as compared with other approaches. Some of its advantages include the following:

Political Support
PPP brings political support as the public sector is part of this type of partnership and "the need for sustained political support" (Georgiadou et al.) is required for NSDI implementation because "...government leadership is essential to the SDI development Process" (SDI Africa: An Implementation Guide).

As in any developmental process, it is important to understand who the stakeholders are, what roles each can play and how much finance, time and level of expertise is available. This holds true for NSDI implementation, too. "SDI Africa: An Implementation Guide" asserts, "If an SDI is to be implemented in a timely and efficient manner, funding mechanisms must be in place...". Therefore, PPP will bring finance for NSDI implementation.

Data Democratization
Data democratization can be seen and envisioned as one of the ultimate goals of NSDI. Data sharing/exchange does not guarantee that every citizen will be able to access data/information with or without a fee. Because PPP includes federal, state, and local governments, NGOs, academia, research institutes and citizens as stakeholders, data democratization would enable a democratic environment for the data user community rather than a bureaucratic environment, which creates hurdles for data sharing, exchange and use. Simply said, NSDI development through the PPP approach has this added advantage. Therefore, PPP becomes the rationale not only for funding, sharing benefits and risks but also it would further development, "ï¿1⁄2democratisation of access to geospatial data thus enables value-added suppliers to create new data products and service" (GSDI Cookbook 2004) (pdf).

Importance of PPP for NSDI - in Brief
The importance of having a PPP approach and its perceived value for NSDI implementation is structured in tabular form in Table 2.

Table 2: Summary of advantages of PPP for NSDI
PPP Value for NSDI
Why PPP? "NSDI can just not be implemented by government alone" (Mukund Rao, 2007).
Funding NSDI canï¿1⁄2t be developed and maintained without a dedicated income stream. "Public infrastructure and service needs far exceed the capability of government budgets to meet them" (The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships, 2007). But private sector partners such as property developers and real estate companies are financially powerful actors. Therefore, PPP would bring finance for establishing NSDI.
Personnel and expertise The public sector is usually rich in human resources but lacking in expertise, whereas the private sector has more expertise but lacks human resources. NSDIs need lots of personnel who have expertise.
Political support
NSDI is not getting as much political support as other infrastructures such as telecom, roads and health. Therefore, "the need for sustained political support" (Georgiadou et al, 2006) would be aided through a PPP approach.
Speedy implementation The private sector can often react more quickly (no bureaucratic hierarchy for decision making so it can decide quickly on activities). Therefore, PPP would make possible speedy implementation of NSDI because benefits of NSDI can only be harvested if it is implemented on ground.
Innovations solutions In the public sector, tasks are carried out on predefined set patterns; therefore innovative ideas are generally discouraged. The private sector believes in innovations and new market-oriented ideas. Therefore, instead of giving just access to GI data/information, NSDIs are supposed to provide new and innovative value-added services because the days of first generation SDIs are gone now.
Quality services NSDIs are required to provide quality services to cope with the rapidly changing GI market (e.g. Google Earth).
Cost saving Data/information collected once is reused for many applications to avoid duplication and reduce cost. Ultimately, the user has to pay less for the desired data. And it would attract more data users.
Local solutions Due to participation of the private sector, more local and customized solutions would be possible instead of global solutions that may not necessarily fit into local situations.
Transparency It would help to overcome doubts of all the stakeholders involved in NSDI. It is a confidence building measure. "It seems that stakeholder involvement (participation), collaboration, and trust are important conditions" (de Man, 2007).
Bottom-up approach It will ensure participation of key NSDI stakeholder groups and promote a team work spirit enabling a better working environment which is essential for any service providing organization.
"Most countries in the world have some form of SDI program. These programs have names like CGDI (Canada), NSDI (USA), NSDI(Japan), .. and so on. The main problem with these programs is that they have been national and top-down - rather than bottom-up and driven from the data sources." Geoweb
Sharing Sharing of resources in terms of data, expertise and finance is just one aspect of PPP that is essential for NSDI. Most importantly, it would remove bureaucratic barriers and hurdles resulting in more access for the public good. Hence, more data sharing would be possible as highlighted in the data sharing aspect of SDI by Georgiadou et al.: "They are shared, as they seek to make available expensive, geo-referenced spatial data digitally to a variety of users for diverse application needsï¿1⁄2" (Georgiadou et. al, 2005).
Risks and rewards Sharing of risks and rewards develops a sense of responsibility. As a result, responsibility will be given to the most capable partner for a specific job, for example delivery of services to the private sector. It would result in more practical measures for NSDI implementation.
Combine public and private sector The tasks involved in these programs are beyond the capacity of single organizations and require the collaboration of many public and private mapping and GIS institutions (Radwan et. al, 2005).
Efficient service delivery "SDI goals are changing from data access to service deliveryï¿1⁄2." (Williamson 2004).

Conclusively, there are many advantages of PPP for NSDI implementation. Some of those are: political support, funding, enhanced implementation, local participation, data democratization, involvement of key stakeholder groups, efficient service delivery and reduction of bureaucratic hierarchies.

Figure 2: PPP as the mechanism of NSDI implementation (Click for larger view)

The purpose of this paper was to answer the question, "What are some approaches to implement NSDI?" However, the paper focused, as mentioned in the beginning, only on socio-technical approaches such as The Rainbow Metaphor and PPP strategies to implement NSDI. As there is no recipe or blueprint for NSDI implementation, one has to look at the social, technical and political environment of a region before adopting any of these approaches. No single approach can bring all the benefits promised in literature by the SDI pundits, as understanding SDI is (still) in its infancy (de Man, 2007). However, a mix of these approaches can be a better choice. Some other approaches to implementing NSDI, as well as which approach would be suitable for Pakistan, will be the subject of another article.

Published Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Written by Asmat Ali

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