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Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications 4 Recommendations This chapter distills the results of the deliberations underlying the steering committee’s findings and recommendations, which represent the consensus of the steering committee, not the workshop participants. As described in Chapter 1, the workshop provided data to the steering committee for exploring issues related to remote sensing and technology transfer. The subject of coastal zone management was selected as an applications area that could provide a useful starting point for drawing conclusions about the broader themes related to remote sensing and technology transfer. BRIDGING GAPS The growing availability of diverse remote sensing data opens up new opportunities for the development of remote sensing applications in both the public and private sectors. As demonstrated at the May 2000 workshop, there was broad interest among coastal zone experts in having more remote sensing applications. However, workshop participants pointed to several issues that need to be addressed before new and existing end users and remote sensing experts can take full advantage of those opportunities. The steering committee found that moving from remote sensing data to effective civilian applications requires bridging several significant gaps. The first of these is the gap between the raw remote sensing data and the information needs of applications users. As described in Chapter 2 and illustrated in the case studies presented at the workshop, applications users need information, not data,
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Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications and the process of transforming data into information is a critical step in the development of successful remote sensing applications. The second gap to be bridged is the gap in communication and understanding between those with technical experience and training and those who are the potential end users of a remote sensing technology. The steering committee learned that unless this gap can be bridged, the transfer of remote sensing technology for the development of operational applications for new user groups will be difficult. In part this is because the applied user community rarely has the technical training necessary to understand remote sensing applications and in part because these potential users often have different information needs. As described in Chapters 2 and 3, improving communication and understanding will require that those with technical training work closely with nontechnical end users to enable them to understand both the promise and the limitations of information derived from remote sensing data. This interaction will also help the technical experts to understand end users’ data and information requirements and needs. Education and training opportunities may also help to bridge this gap. A third gap that must be bridged is the cost gap between the acquisition of remote sensing data and the development of a usable application. As experienced users of remote sensing know quite well, the purchase of data is only the first of a number of steps required to develop a successful application. A not-for-profit organization, commercial firm, or government agency that wants to incorporate remote sensing applications into its operations must be prepared to make a long-term financial investment in staff, ongoing training (both technical and user training), hardware, and software. Or the organization must be prepared to purchase these services from a value-adding provider. The various types of investments needed to maintain an applications development program, described in Chapter 4, are often overlooked. A concern reiterated in workshop discussions was that the design of remote sensing systems-a process that has been motivated largely by scientific, military, and commercial concerns-has not taken into sufficient account the needs of applications users, which include, for example, data continuity, reliability, timeliness, and conformance to common standards, as described in Chapter 4. The needs of applications users often differ in significant ways from the needs of scientific or military users. Remote sensing image providers in both the public and the private sector must take applications needs into account in determining remote sensing system requirements. TRANSFERRING TECHNOLOGY Successful remote sensing applications are developed through a process of technology and knowledge transfer. Using information in the workshop presentations and the case studies, the steering committee explored technology transfer in the context of moving remote sensing data into effective applications. The
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Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications steering committee found that successful technology transfer often requires two complementary actions: (1) the introduction of a new technology or product for which intellectual property can be defined, and (2) the transfer of understanding or knowledge about the technology and its application. Both aspects of technology transfer are necessary. Technology transfer can occur across or within the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. Bottlenecks and barriers to effective technology transfer can be found at all points in the process. The process is not defined by the nature of the organizations involved. Rather, success in technology transfer as defined by the development of usable applications is dependent on personal interactions in the process, that is, having a “spannable social distance” between each element in the technology transfer and applications process. In practice, this means that while developing new applications, the data providers and technical processors of the data must be able to understand the needs, cultural context, and organizational processes of the end users. It also means that educational and training efforts are needed to ensure that end users have a better understanding of a new technology’s potential. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Life-Cycle Costs Finding. The full, life-cycle cost of developing and using remote sensing data products goes beyond obtaining the data and includes, among others, staff for data processing, interpretation, and integration; education and training; hardware and software upgrades; and sustained interactions between technical personnel and end users. Although many of the costs are incurred at the time a technology is first employed, the life-cycle costs and benefits of remote sensing applications are not well understood. Commercial firms have conducted studies to examine the potential market for remote sensing data and to analyze the potential cost-benefit trade-offs of using remote sensing data as opposed to products derived from other forms of information. However, most of these studies are not publicly available. Moreover, given the suggestions in workshop discussions that several cost issues are not well understood, the steering committee believes that research on the costs and benefits of using remote sensing data for noncommercial applications would benefit decision makers. Among the cost issues mentioned are the economic trade-offs of having access to timely data versus the costs of using data from systems that provide timely repeat coverage, and the costs and benefits of improving access to remote sensing data through, for instance, low-cost ground stations. Recommendation 1. NASA’s Office of Earth Science, Applications Division, in
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Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications consultation with other stakeholders (e.g., agencies that use remote sensing data, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture; private companies; state and local government users; and not-for-profit institutions), should mount a study to identify and analyze the full range of short- and long-term costs and benefits of developing remote sensing applications and the full costs of their implementation by public, nongovernmental, and other noncommercial users. In addition, NASA should support economic analyses to reduce the start-up costs of developing new remote sensing applications. Education, Training, and the Remote Sensing Workforce Finding. Training is an integral component of efforts to bridge the gap between remote sensing professionals and end users (see Chapters 3 and 4). Remote sensing involves sophisticated technology, and specialized training is required to process the data, convert it into information, and interpret the results. Many agencies and organizations either lack the financial resources to provide such training or do not understand the importance of periodic retraining for technical staff. Often managers do not perceive periodic training as a priority when evaluated against other organizational financial demands. For example, some at the workshop who where representatives of organizations that understand the benefits of using remote sensing information reported that even they lack sufficient in-house skill to process new sources of data and develop remote sensing applications. More education and training options are needed in remote sensing, as is an educational infrastructure that is capable of producing the number and quality of remote sensing professionals needed over the next decade and beyond. Providing training services might, for example, represent an opportunity for the private sector, which has expertise in developing short training programs. Commercial remote sensing companies could also provide additional service to customers (and attract new users) by offering fundamental training courses on using remote sensing data. Ideally, the funding for these programs should come from both the public and private sectors. At present, however, there is no forum or mechanism for jointly funding education and training activities. The initial support for training could come from the public sector with continuation provided by the private sector if a sustainable market develops. Recommendation 2. Federal agencies such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, and others should provide the seed funding for developing remote sensing training and educational materials. Agencies should consider, as an initial step, using the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to solicit proposals for developing training materials and courses, to foster the uses
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Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications of remote sensing data in applications, and to encourage commercial enterprises to provide these services. Outreach Finding. Reducing the social distance between application developers and end users is a means of encouraging successful technology transfer (see Chapters 2 and 3). Unless those who create applications (e.g., scientists, engineers, and technicians) and those who use them (e.g., government, not-for-profit, and private sector applied users, policy makers, and natural resource managers) understand the roles of others involved in the process, they will not be able to communicate effectively and the development of applications will suffer. Education and training courses will help to improve end users’ understanding of remote sensing but may not be sufficient for improving technicians’ understanding of the end users’ information needs and decision-making environments. Efforts to improve communication by reducing the “distance” among those involved in specific applications will help to foster the adoption of remote sensing technology. The county extension educator (formerly known as the county extension agent) in the agricultural community is one model for spanning the social or communications distance. More interactions among remote sensing scientists, engineers, technicians, data providers, and local, state, federal, and commercial users should be fostered whenever possible. Use of an extern program, such as that enabled by the existing Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) that provides opportunities for senior staff in universities and the federal government to contribute to a different organization or sector, could facilitate technology transfer. Personnel exchanges are valuable for bridging the gap between users and technical experts. Recommendation 3. Federal agencies, including those that produce remote sensing images and those that use them, should consider creating “extern” programs with the purpose of fostering the exchange of staff among user and producer agencies for training purposes. For example, NASA, NOAA, and the USGS could create an extern program in collaboration with potential user agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation, and others and in so doing could produce trained staff to serve as brokers for information and further training. Similar exchanges could be organized between universities and state and local governments and between commercial companies and government. Recommendation 4. The Land Grant, Sea Grant, and Agricultural Extension programs should be expanded to include graduate fellowships and associateships to permit students to work at agencies that use remote sensing data. Such pro-
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Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications grams could help to improve communication and understanding among the scientists and engineers who develop applications for remote sensing data and the agencies that use them. NASA’s Space Grant program could be extended to include these training activities, much as the Land Grant program has fostered the development of agricultural extension agents. Applications Research Finding. Although many remote sensing applications emerge from basic research, the development of applications is not accorded the recognition associated with publication in scientific journals. Researchers have few professional incentives to produce applications. The research-to-applications model developed in other fields, such as pharmaceutical research and many fields of engineering, could be emulated by the Earth sciences. Yet even if this model were to be adopted in areas related to remote sensing, there are at present few funding opportunities for work that spans the divide between research and applications. On the local level, many states and land grant colleges have the responsibility to use the fruits of basic research to benefit local and state issues. Recommendation 5. Resources, separate from funding for basic research, should be made available to federal agencies such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Transportation, the National Science Foundation, and others for support of research on remote sensing applications and remote sensing applications derived from basic research. In addition, these agencies should establish joint research announcements aimed at fostering the development of applications for remote sensing data through basic research. Requirements of Applications Users Finding. Many remote sensing applications have specific requirements, including continuity in data collection, consistency in format, frequency of observations, and access to comparable data over time. It is important that the requirements of those who use applications are communicated to both public and private sector data producers throughout the process of designing new technologies and producing and disseminating remote sensing data. Many users, for example, require historical data to provide a basis for assessing land-cover and land-use changes and for verifying if natural anomalies are consistent in their size and intensity. Recommendation 6. Both public and private sector data providers should develop mechanisms to obtain regular advice and feedback on applications require-
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Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications ments for use in their planning processes. Advisory bodies that are consulted for input to these decisions should routinely include applications users. Recommendation 7. Data preservation should be addressed by all data providers as a routine part of the data production process to ensure continuity of the data record and to avoid inadvertent loss of usable data. Standards and Protocols Finding. The lack of standard data formats, open and available protocols, and standard validation and verification information inhibits the spread of remote sensing applications (see Chapter 3). For example, new sensors acquire data at bit rates different from those of existing data sets collected over an application site. Consequently, users must bear the cost of reformatting and of assessing the accuracy of new data sets. Validation and verification procedures, while now in place, were not established until recently, when it became evident that vendors would be providing non-calibrated data. The use of standardized formats in remote sensing and other spatial data technologies would facilitate the creation and widespread use of standard data products. Recommendation 8. The use of internationally recognized formats, standards, and protocols should be encouraged for remote sensing data and information. The work of the OpenGIS Consortium and the Federal Geographic Data Committee serves as an important international and national coordinating mechanism for efforts in standards development that should be continued. These and other entities pursuing common remote sensing data formats and standards should consult with the sensor and software vendors to ensure that data acquired from the use of new technologies for data acquisition, analysis, and storage and distribution are consistent with other data sets. Utility of Workshop Format Finding. In general, the workshop as a mechanism for gathering data provided the steering committee with the information and insight it needed to understand issues related to technology transfer and remote sensing applications and to make recommendations about more effective ways to foster the development of applications. Workshop Format The steering committee identified several strengths and some areas for improvement in its use of the workshop as a means of gathering information. These
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Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications “lessons learned” are important to the steering committee as it plans the second and third workshops in this three-part series. The mix of plenaries, panels, and splinter group sessions worked well, combining expert presentations and case studies that informed workshop attendees about research on the subject as well as concrete experiences with applications of remote sensing and technology transfer. For example, a presentation by a researcher who had studied the technology transfer process and who summarized a small portion of the history of research in the field was valuable, especially to those with experience primarily in the technical aspects of remote sensing applications. The splinter groups, in turn, provided a forum for the workshop attendees to discuss the issues that arose in the plenary sessions and to make their experience and observations available to the steering committee in an interactive manner. In addition, the steering committee obtained useful input from sponsoring agencies during both the development and staging of the workshop. In a pre-workshop planning meeting federal agency representatives provided information on the nature of problems to which remote sensing might be applied, on challenges presented by efforts to apply remote sensing, and on impediments to technology and knowledge transfer within the agencies and constituencies at large. Although the steering committee made an effort to invite a diverse group of participants from the public, private, and academic sectors, some portions of the applications community were not well represented in the workshop, especially the commercial sector. For the two upcoming workshops, the steering committee plans to redouble its efforts to attract representatives of the commercial sector, both as speakers and as participants in the discussions. The steering committee found that the workshop size and setting affected the nature of discussions. The large audience and the setting (approximately 75 attendees in an auditorium), although effective for plenary presentations, were not conducive to informal interactions across the diverse sectors of the applications community (academic, governmental, commercial, and not-for-profit) and with the steering committee and the workshop speakers. The steering committee is considering holding the next workshop in a setting that facilitates a more interactive discussion. Regarding its own participation in the workshop, the steering committee noted that leading each splinter group (taking responsibility for moderating the discussion, seeing that all viewpoints were expressed, summarizing and reporting on the discussion to the full workshop, and drafting the relevant section for this report) had the benefit of allowing individual members to share their expertise at the workshop. At the same time, it may have detracted from the steering committee’s focus on its overarching role to understand the full range of issues and experiences reported at the workshop.
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