as African countries need to satisfy reporting requirements on treaties to which they are signatories.

Lesson Learned: Needs-driven as opposed to prescriptive approaches with provision of information in appropriate and usable forms are most likely to result in effective appli cation of geographic information.

From Environmental Management to Sustainable Development

Geographic information and technologies are central to achieving a successful transition from traditional environmental and resource management practices to sustainable development because of their integrative quality (linking social, economic, and environmental data) and their place-based quality (addressing relationships among places at local, national, regional, and global scales).

A narrow focus on either economic development or environmental management can obscure the connections between environmental change and social, political, and economic activities, artificially separating environment from development. This separation can result in short-term, project-oriented data collection; single-issue development agendas (e.g., economic growth divorced from environmental and intergenerational equity considerations); and spurious attempts to make tradeoffs between inseparable dimensions of sustainable development, such as human well-being and environmental protection (NRC, 2002).

Sustainable development necessarily links people, their needs, and the impacts of their behavior over time (including patterns of population growth and consumption, cultural patterns, and political activities) to the environment and the economy. Consequently, data on human population distribution are fundamentally important to decision-makers as they address Agenda 21 issues.

Lesson Learned: Geographic information and technolo gies are central to the transition from traditional environ mental management to sustainable development, that brings people to the fore, rightfully integrating environ ment and development.

Geographic Information at the Intersection of Sectors

Agenda 21 (UNCED, 1992) calls for integrated social, economic, and environmental data. There is growing recognition by decision-makers in Africa that problems at the intersection of agriculture and environmental management, climate change, and land-cover change, with their attendant social and economic consequences, will be at the forefront of the twenty-first century.

Technological advances fostering the integration of satellite imagery with other data (such as socioeconomic or health data) in GIS are opening new ways to synthesize complex and diverse geographic datasets, creating new opportunities for collaboration among natural and social scientists and decision-makers at all levels (e.g., the LEWS project, the Miombo Network, the MARA project, CBNRM, and SADC [Southern African Development Community]).

Lesson Learned: In this century many environmental prob lems will occur at the intersection of sectors. Geographic information technologies can assist people in tackling this integration challenge.

Good Governance

Societal capacity is built by governance2 that promotes the relationships among individuals, organizations, and the larger society. In this way governance contributes to the development of geospatial capacity. Linkages that facilitate collaboration among academics, governmental and non-governmental actors, and the private sector are needed for the transition to sustainable development (NRC, 1999).

Human and organizational capacity to apply geographic information and technology to Agenda 21 issues cannot grow or be maintained unless rooted in a wider societal context that values the contributions of science and technology, upholds principles of openness and sharing of information, and provides incentives for change and adaptation. The development of a policy environment that supports the use of geographic information depends on the attention given to scientific and technological issues in general.

Geographic data, hardware, and software systems are increasingly sophisticated but it is really the political, social, economic, and educational institutions of a country that ultimately determine the application and use of these data and tools for decision-making. Good governance creates a climate in which geospatial capacity can grow and vice versa. Geographic information illuminates social and political problems, such as the uneven distribution of the benefits of economic development, lack of accountability of elected officials, and a burden of disease that impacts societal cohesion.

Lesson Learned: Good governance promotes geospatial capacity and vice versa. Access to integrated geographic information allows civil society to hold government account able; and government creates policies that determine public access to information and public participation in the decision process.


Governance is defined by the UNDP as “the exercise of political, economic, and administrative authority to manage a nation’s affairs.” Sound or good governance is defined as that sub-set of governance “wherein public resources and problems are managed efficiently and in response to the critical needs of society” (UNDP, 1997).

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