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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research Executive Summary Earth science research has been significantly enhanced over the past several decades through the use of satellite remote sensing data. Advances in the spatial and spectral resolution of civil satellite data and the accumulation of these data over multiple time periods have made it possible for scientists to examine new types of research problems and environmental changes at both global and local scales. Although remote sensing data were initially obtained by scientists through satellites developed and launched by federal science agencies, the institutional landscape for the production of remote sensing data has become more diverse, with both government and the private sector actively involved in providing data for science. In addition, public-private partnerships have been established in which the government and the private sector work together to provide data for research; and, since the advent of operational sources of commercially produced data, remote sensing data for scientific research are also produced in the private sector itself. This diversification has been encouraged and fostered by the U.S. government through both congressional and executive branch action. Together, these forces have contributed to a changing environment for remote sensing and Earth science research. The Steering Committee on Space Applications convened a workshop in March 2001 to explore the implications of the changing environment and the new relationships among researchers, government, and private sector remote sensing data providers. Its purpose was to examine such issues as scientific requirements for data obtained from the private sector, the distribution of scientific data obtained from private sector sources, continuity and permanent archiving of scientific data, data cost and access, and intellectual property considerations in the use
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research of data obtained from the private sector (see Chapter 4). The steering committee oriented the workshop, entitled “Remote Sensing and Basic Research: The Changing Environment,” to issues related to public and private sector relationships and interactions involving commercially provided remote sensing data for scientific research. Attended by scientists, officials of federal science agencies, and representatives of the private sector, the workshop focused on the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) program and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Science Data Buy (SDB),1 public-private sector interactions that have been ongoing for several years in the United States. This report draws heavily on information from a workshop planning meeting with agency sponsors, on information presented by workshop speakers and by participants in breakout group discussions, and on the expertise and viewpoints of the members of the Steering Committee on Space Applications and Commercialization. It addresses domestic and civil issues related to public-private sector partnerships for remote sensing data. The recommendations are the consensus of the steering committee and are not necessarily those of the workshop participants. The primary focus of this report is on public-private sector relationships and interactions for the production and delivery of satellite remote sensing data for scientific research. Such relationships could include public-private partnerships; redistributor-end user relationships; and “anchor tenant” relationships, in which the public sector guarantees that it will be a customer of commercial remote sensing enterprises. The steering committee uses the generic term “public-private partnerships” to describe all of these relationships. Government and the private sector have come together on several previous occasions to produce remote sensing data. The relationship between Radarsat 1 and Radarsat International in Canada is that of a joint public-private venture, as is the relationship between System pour l’Observation de la Terre (SPOT) satellite and Spot Image company in France; and in the United States, the federal government privatized the Landsat remote sensing program through a commercial operator, Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT), during the mid-1980s and early 1990s. These arrangements were devised to make it possible to market the data commercially, and the more recent SeaWiFS and SDB programs provide remote sensing data to scientists. The steering committee found significant differences in the operating practices and goals of the three groups—government, the private sector, and the scientific community—involved in public-private partnerships. Because the government is publicly accountable for all its actions, it must operate in a complex 1 The NASA Science Data Buy is also known as the NASA Science Data Purchase. In this report the steering committee refers to the program as the Science Data Buy.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research regulatory environment. Government agencies are also subject to the policy and fiscal priorities of both the White House and the U.S. Congress. (Although both of the public-private partnerships examined at the workshop were conducted by NASA, this report speaks of the government sector as a whole, since other government agencies may become involved in public-private partnerships for data in the future.) Private sector firms engaged in the development of satellites must recover their investment costs and make a profit, and, as a consequence, they must perceive a new public-private partnership to be financially viable before they will take part in it. Government acquisition of scientific data for research through an agreement with the private sector involves more than a simple commercial transaction. The partnership of entities with such dissimilar modes of operating inevitably raises complex issues related to how the new organization should function. Differences between the government and the private sector complicate negotiations on intellectual property and licensing agreements related to the use of privately owned remote sensing data, on data management and data continuity, on the development of measures of performance for public-private partnerships, and on realistic cost accounting in these partnerships (see the section below, “General Conclusions and Priority Issues”). These complications are heightened when the partnership is created to serve the needs of a third group—in this case, scientists, who have their own requirements. According to scientists at the workshop, having access to the high-resolution and other commercially produced remote sensing data available through public-private partnerships is extremely valuable and makes new types of research possible. However, scientists also value the free and open exchange of scientific data; the capacity to validate scientific results through reanalysis of the data; the calibration, validation, and verification of satellite data to ensure accuracy; long-term stewardship of data for future research; and continuity of the data over multiple points in time. The intersection of scientific and commercial interests in public-private partnerships can pose challenges to meeting these requirements. It is not yet clear whether public-private partnerships will become the model for future institutions or are merely a temporary arrangement for obtaining data for research. It is clear, however, that existing public-private partnerships are valuable mechanisms for acquiring data that may not otherwise have been available to scientific researchers, that such partnerships have many advantages, and that they can be improved. Despite differences among the partners, clear benefits can be gained through their collaboration. The two public-private partnerships discussed at the workshop were instructive in terms of identifying both ways to meet the needs of commercial, government, and scientific participants in future partnerships and ways of improving how such partnerships function.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Licensing Finding. Full and open access2 to data and the opportunity both to replicate research findings and to conduct further research using the same data are critical to scientific research. Because private sector firms view their data as intellectual property, there may be additional costs or intellectual property problems in reusing the data for scientific research. The steering committee found that the Science Data Buy was, in fact, a “science data license.” Rather than purchasing the data, the government obtained licenses or data property rights from those commercial companies that specified terms for use of the data. This raises intellectual property issues related to the subsequent redistribution and archiving of the data according to standard scientific practices. Recommendation 1. The government partner in a public-private partnership should negotiate in its contract for open scientific distribution and reuse of data obtained under the partnership. Evaluation of Public-Private Partnerships for Science Data Finding. Two public-private partnership programs for science data—Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor and Science Data Buy—have been in operation for several years, and the initial phases of one of them, the SDB, have been completed. Formal program evaluation will help the government assess existing operations and understand how best to structure future programs. Recommendation 2. A formal, independent review of the Science Data Buy and of the SeaWiFS program should be conducted to evaluate the scientific benefits and the efficacy and economic benefits of each partnership to the parties involved. Broadening Participation of Scientists in the Science Data Buy Finding. All scientists at U.S. academic institutions should be able to compete for data from NASA’s Science Data Buy. Participation in the SDB is limited to current NASA grantees, but other academic scientists could usefully participate in the program. 2 Several policy statements guarantee full and open access to government and scientific data. See National Research Council, Resolving Conflicts Arising from the Privatization of Environmental Data, Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 2001, p. 18.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research Recommendation 3. NASA should permit any academic scientist to compete for data under the Science Data Buy or successor programs. Data Continuity Finding. Continuity of remote sensing observations over long periods of time is essential for Earth system science and global change research, and it requires that scientists have access to repeated observations obtained over periods of many years. Data obtained through public-private partnerships could continue to be useful as historical or “heritage” data. As scientists expand their use of data from both public and private sources, problems may arise in combining remote sensing data from multiple sensors with different capabilities and characteristics. Research on sensor intercomparisons is necessary to ensure that data from multiple sources can be exploited for future, time-series research. This approach is preferable to that of maintaining older technologies to assure continuity. Recommendation 4. Existing remote sensing data series—for example, the Landsat series—within current or anticipated public-private partnerships should be maintained to provide comparable data for scientific research over time. Support should also be made available for research in either the scientific community or the private sector or both on how to generate seamless transitions from one data source to another as new sensors replace past or current sensors. Archiving Finding. Scientific data obtained through public-private partnerships must be available for future use through data centers and permanent archives. Since the government obtains a license for scientists to use data under existing public-private partnerships rather than purchasing the data, there are intellectual property issues related to depositing these data in open scientific archives. Archives and data centers should include data and relevant metadata that are amenable to reprocessing after algorithms have been improved. Recommendation 5. Data produced by the private sector in a public-private partnership should be archived for subsequent redistribution to scientists and for creating long time series of data. The government partner should negotiate for permission to do this. Calibration, Validation, and Verification Finding. Scientists require instrument characterization and data calibration to physical units with quantified uncertainty. Access to calibrated data is an essential precondition for many scientific uses of remote sensing data, to ensure the
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research quality of the data and to ensure that data sets differing in spatial, temporal, or spectral coverage, or acquired by different instruments, are comparable. In public-private partnerships, the government has often assumed responsibility for calibration, validation, and verification. The steering committee commends the government’s role in providing excellent calibration, validation, and verification of commercially obtained remote sensing data for scientific use. Recommendation 6. Public-private partnerships to acquire data for scientific research should ensure that the partnership agreement specifies who has responsibility for calibrating and validating the data, what the scope of the calibration and validation processes is, and what resources (financial, technical, and personnel) will be made available for these purposes. Standardization of Data Management Finding. Consistent approaches to documentation and preparation of data for long-term archiving are key to effective data stewardship in public-private partnerships. Recommendation 7. In the process of negotiating a public-private sector data partnership, the parties should agree to use commonly accepted standards for metadata, data formats, and data portability. Communication Finding. Communication among government data providers, commercial data providers, and scientists is vital to effective partnerships. The interests and needs of the scientific community can be best incorporated into a public-private sector relationship during the early planning stages of the partnership. More opportunities for formal and informal communication are needed at all stages, especially between scientists and private sector representatives. Recommendation 8. The government should facilitate direct communication between members of the scientific community and the private sector, including communication during the early stages of planning for public-private remote sensing programs. Performance Measures Finding. Public-private partnerships benefit from ongoing assessment, not just from retrospective evaluation. Performance measures should be tailored to the goals of the parties—that is, return on investment for industry, good science output for researchers, and cost-effective performance by government agencies.
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research Recommendation 9. Representatives of government agencies and commercial firms involved in public-private partnerships, together with scientists who use the data in these programs, should define performance measures at the time the public-private partnership is established. These performance measures should be taken into account in formal program evaluations. Realistic Cost Accounting Finding. Obtaining scientific data through a public-private partnership can involve significant nontransaction costs, such as support for data dissemination and for validation and verification on the government side and the expense of contract changes and delays on the private sector side. These buried costs may serve as a disincentive to future public-private partnerships. Recommendation 10. Public-private partnerships for producing scientific data should practice realistic cost accounting, making all the costs of the partnership transparent and open to negotiation. GENERAL CONCLUSIONS AND PRIORITY ISSUES The steering committee found that several issues must be addressed in creating future public-private partnerships that produce remote sensing data for scientific research. Many of these issues are referred to in the findings and recommendations outlined above (licensing, data continuity, performance measures, and realistic cost accounting), while others such as the impact of government processes on public-private partnerships (e.g., contracting arrangements), intellectual property rights, and data management are discussed in the body of the report (see Chapter 4). The steering committee prioritized these issues according to their significance for public-private partnerships and the degree of complexity and difficulty expected to be involved in resolving them (see Table ES.1). The most significant and complex issues to be addressed for public-private partnerships are those related to intellectual property and licensing and to government processes. Little convergence exists between the public and private sectors on these topics, and yet future actions will have significant impact on the use of commercial remote sensing data for scientific research. Data management (e.g., data archiving and processing) and data continuity are rated by the steering committee as highly significant but of lesser complexity, because they can be addressed readily if financial resources are available. Measures of performance (metrics) for public-private partnerships were deemed highly complex, owing to the difficulty in determining performance measures, but of lesser significance
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Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing: Government, the Private Sector, and Earth Science Research TABLE ES.1 Complexity and Significance of Cross-Cutting Issues Higher Complexity Lower Complexity Higher Significance Intellectual property and licensing Impact of government processes Data management Data continuity Lower Significance Performance metrics Realistic cost accounting than other issues involved in establishing successful public-private partnerships for providing remote sensing data for scientific research. The steering committee considered realistic cost accounting critical for creating future, successful partnerships, but of lower significance and complexity than other issues it analyzes in the report.
Representative terms from entire chapter: