Strategies for Open and Permanent Access to Scientific Information in Latin America: Focus on Health and Environmental Information for Sustainable Development

Open GeoSpatial Data: Difficult but Necessary

Puneet Kishor

University of Wisconsin-Madison and Open Source GeoSpatial Foundation (OSGeo)

Legal, technical, and cultural challenges to data sharing in geographic space are similar to other disciplines. The characteristics of the GIS domain, however, do make for important differences. Geographic issues are non-decomposable in that they are trans- and multi-disciplinary, and require an integrated, interdependent, and inclusive approach to problem-solving. Further, land-related problems are usually non-scalable because of the inherently localized nature of geography.

The legal challenges relate to contracts and licenses of data trying to balance the needs of their creators with the wants of their users. Technical challenges result from incompatible data formats and the complexity of managing both geometry and attributes that can make packaging and discovering geospatial data challenging. Cultural challenges stem from typically tradition-bound governmental agencies entrusted with the task of creating and managing geospatial data. GIS applications are primarily data-driven, integrate several disciplines, and are usually very civic-oriented - a majority of GIS information is publicly funded, collected, managed, and used in public projects. Mapping agencies, however, are typically security conscious making open data access challenging to achieve. In fact, cultural factors can be substantially more important than legal or technological factors in determining spatial data sharing.

So we have a crying need for open geospatial data access on one hand, and an ironic and corresponding resistance to doing so on the other. This presentation will explore the challenges, highlighting initiatives to surmount them. Examples from projects integrating biodiversity and environmental health information with geospatial information will conclude the presentation.

  • The Global Alliance for Enhancing Access to and Application of Scientific Data in Developing Countries, of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, UN G@ID
  • U.S. National Committee for CODATA
  • Brazilian National Committee for CODATA.
  • CODATA Task Group on Preservation of and Access to Scientific and Technical Data in Developing Countries