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Environmental Information Systems The goal of information systems is to establish facts and distribute information products needed by users. Some information systems are designed to fulfill a single purpose, either scientific, commercial or oper- ational (see Box 3.1~. Such systems are optimized for satisfying that specific purpose. Others capitalize on shared interests and serve a variety of user groups. The downside is that such multi-purpose systems are sometimes less flexible, always require extensive consultation and more complex decision making, and may compromise on quality for some particular purposes. Where the environment is concerned, practical reasons frequently dictate the creation of shared information systems that serve the five stakeholder groups scientists, government agencies, private-sector enterprises, policy makers, and the general public. Scientists are interested in obtaining as many measurements as possible and want to share the data collected for operations and decision making purposes; government agencies are seeking to stretch limited resources by building partnerships with other organizations; and private-sector organizations can more readily recover costs by exploiting technologies developed by the government or by building onto systems that have already been paid for. In addition, many environmental data can only be obtained locally but must be interpreted in a national or global context. Thus, many different nations also have an interest in shared systems. This chapter uses the analogy of a tree and, by extension, clusters of related trees to describe the attributes of each part of the information system and the roles of the different stakeholders. 29
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30 The Privatization of Environmental Data
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Environmental Information Systems 31 TlIE ENVIRON1\IENTAL INFORMATION SYSTEM TREE Elements of the Information System As outlined in Chapter 1 the environmental information system tree consists of four parts: roots, trunk, branches, and leaves (see Figure 3.1~. Data collection takes place in the roots. Because a wide variety of information is needed to address environmental issues, environmental information trees have many roots, each representing a different instru- ment or observing system. The organizations collecting these data are distributed around the world and include federal, state, and local government agencies, universities, private-sector companies, nongov- ernmental organizations, international programs, and volunteer networks (see Box 3.2~. Data collection is typically the most expensive part of the information system because it is both labor intensive (particularly the collection of in situ observations) and includes remote-sensing instruments that are expensive to design, deploy, and operate. The synthesis of all sources of information gathered by the roots takes place in the trunk of the tree. The primary output of the infor- mation system is core products that are generated by (1) assembling the data into one location; (2) validating and cross-checking the data against other sources; and (3) synthesizing the information into products that typically have greater information content than the data Dom which For example, the national stream gauge network operated by the U.S. Geological Survey and its state and local government partners includes about 7,000 stations and costs approximately $89 million per year to operate (USGS, 1998, A New Evaluation of the USGS Streamgaging Network. A Report to Congress, 20 pp.). For comparison, Landsat-7 cost $700 million to design, build, launch, and collect data (Will the U.S. bring down the curtain on Landsat? Science, v. 288, p. 2309-2311, 20004.
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32 The Privatization of Environmental Data Dishibution ~ &Use ~= - Models & Integration & Analysis Centers Validation Observations & Data Collection - ~ ~ 1 End ~ Users my_ ~ ~ I An__ - Synthesized Core Products Archive A-----------_____, l Private Sector I , Development Under 'Gil to Quality Assurance _ ~ /~ ~ W1.1 :: ._ - cr c, c' I> _ National Supplements 1: International Networks Measurement Systems Legend End user (public) End user (private) Distribution (fill & open) .= - Q) _ _ . Distribution (proprietary) _ Public data Data buy FIGURE 3.1 Tree-like structure of environmental information systems. The roots represent data collected by government agencies operating observing systems funded by an individual country (national supplements) and by government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and research scientists participating in international networks. These observing systems are supplemented in some cases through data purchases from commercial companies (dashed lines). The data are gathered, validated, checked for quality, and synthesized into core products in the trunk by public-sector modeling and analysis centers. Distribution of these core products and the development of specialized value-added products to serve specific user communities is carried out by organizations in both the public and private sectors. Value-added products may be in the public domain (gray branches) or be proprietary (stippled branches). Both distribution avenues serve a wide range of uses (leaves), including research, commercial activities, government operations, and policy making. Users set the requirements for what core products are needed, and hence what data are collected (downward arrows), and the data are transformed into useful information and ultimately knowledge (upward arrows) through the trunk.
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Environmental Information Systems 33 they were derived. The archetypal core product is the output of a large computer model that underlies a readily understandable weather map. Another type of core product is exemplified by data derived from a single rain gauge that has been accurately calibrated, fully maintained, not tampered with, and cross-checked against other sources of information to provide confidence in the results. Finally, the archive of products of the information system is itself a core product, oriented toward the anticipated needs of future generations of research scientists and other users. Each information system yields a limited number of core products based primarily on its own root system. Specification of the set of core products is a central management issue for the tree as a whole, because it determines the balance between the needs of users and the cost of meeting those needs. Core products are created on behalf of a wide spectrum of user groups by modeling and analysis centers in research universities, government agencies and, under special circumstances, private-sector companies. Users may make substantial business, scientific, or personal investments on the assumption that the information in a core product will continue to be available. Hence, core products require a Tong-term commitment and a degree of care and attention that will yield a high degree of reliability and trust by a large group of users. Although core products are useful in some sense to the broader environmental community, each distinct user group needs an add-on to the core products in the form of (~) reprocessing to make the products more accessible to that particular community; (2) combining the core products with other information special to that community; or (3) distribution and/or communication in a convenient manner or format. Every branch on the tree represents a value-added product or service that meets the needs of a distinct group of users. Value-added products and services are provided by government agencies, national data centers, libraries, scientists, and private-sector vendors. For example, weather information is disseminated to the public by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) because of health and safety considerations. However, many farmers prefer to obtain weather information from private-sector vendors (e.g., Kavouras Data Trans- mission Network), which gather the NOAA data into a single, convenient
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l 34 The Privatization of Environmental Data place.2 Scientists may repackage the same government data into weather products to facilitate teaching. ' The uses of value-added products and services are represented by the leaves of the tree. The range of uses is broad and includes resource extraction, tourism, government operations, and research (see Box 3.3~. Indeed, every human being uses some form of environmental infor- mation. The requirements for which data are collected are ultimately set by the users, who thus Dive the evolution of the information system. Briefing to a committee-sponsored workshop by S. Goodman, director of a USGCRP-sponsored pilot project on a National Environmental Change
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Environmental Information Systems 35 The Cycle for Updating Environmental Information Systems Information systems build on existing capabilities, and participants at all levels determine which incremental changes should be made. Refining the system is a cyclic process of (1) users setting priorities for the output requirements; (2) designing a system to satisfy as many of those requirements as possible; (3) implementing the system; (4) gaining practical experience from operating the system and generating products; and (5) going back to the users and refining their statements of requirements. The cyclic nature of the system is driven by technological Information System, on December 5, 2000.
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36 The Privatization of Environmental Data advances, which enable tasks to be performed better or less expensively than before, and by new opportunities or understanding, which change user priorities over time and thus change the demands that they put on the core products. Such refinement depends upon and should contribute to a healthy infrastructure of scientific research and development that is providing new understanding for data interpretation, more capable instruments, and new useful products. On the other hand, keeping up with changes in the core products will pose a challenge to all users, including private-sector organizations, which will have to update their business plans regularly. The trunk, roots, and branches on an environmental information tree have to work together in an efficient and cost-effective manner to serve the needs of end users. For example, the need to synthesize data and information into knowledge places three requirements on the system: (1) the tree must have multiple roots (i.e., a wide range of data taken at different temporal and spatial scales); (2) the data collection must optimize the development of core products; and (3) the products must be useful and accessible to the users. The responsibility for assuring such coherence rests ultimately with the government agencies who are funding the bulk of the operation. A significant managerial challenge is to entrain at each stage individuals with the appropriate range of experience and vision to facilitate communication between the groups responsible for ongoing implementation, system funding, needs assessment, and scientific and technical redesign. A key decision in each cycle is the specification of core products. Conclusion. Because core products serve the needs of multiple stakeholders, a clear process by which such needs are articulated and represented in decision making is critical to the success of the information system.
Representative terms from entire chapter: