Infocom started with defining the environmental indicators based on the thematic reporting of the state of the environment. For each indicator defined a data set was collected (or efforts were made) for monitoring purposes. This approach, nevertheless, had many shortcomings largely owing to a lack of communication in the scientific community. As the indicators were defined thematically, there was little communication among data-producing agencies as well as data users; the process of data collection allowed duplication of efforts. Thematic groups ended up collecting similar datasets, as some or many of the indicators were cross cutting the thematic domains.
It was not until Infocom’s review and a stakeholder analysis in December 2000 that Infocom realized that it had to broaden its scope. Both the project’s term review and the stakeholder analysis indicated that a lack of easily available, up-to-date, and reliable data was a big problem in environmental decision making in Namibia. The team therefore, altered its main project components and work plan, which was adopted by its Steering Committee in 2001. The following specific adjustments were made to the approach and workflow of the project, as the team strived to
make available and manage environmental data in the form of a metadatabase; and
initiate and facilitate communication with and among data-producing agencies and data users.
These two main adjustments marked the progress toward an operational spatial data infrastructure in Namibia. To date, an Environmental Information System unit is fully established and is incorporated in the ministry’s structure.
The Environmental Information System unit seeks to provide infrastructure that supports the collection and maintenance of geographical information in Namibia. A significant aspect of this effort is to ensure complete and efficient access to data. Activities are currently being funded jointly by the governments of Namibia and Finland. This donor assistance will terminate at the end of 2003. To sustain these activities the Namibian government has incorporated the unit’s activities in the structure of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. When the project is phased out, the government will continue the activities.
Before discussing the accessibility and availability of geographic data it is imperative to consider Namibia’s data access policy, which has been the subject of many discussions since independence in 1990. A number of resolutions were passed by professional bodies at the end of their seminars, workshops, and meetings; however this approach was neither sufficient nor appropriate for such important issues. There was no responsible body or institution mandated with the responsibility to develop a national data policy. The Environmental Information System unit was created to be an information center that would coordinate the efforts of various stakeholders in this area and to monitor data sharing and facilitation in Namibia.
The Environmental Information System unit established the Environmental Monitoring and Indicator Network in 2001. This network is made up of institutions and individuals that are involved in data collection or are using data in the ministries, NGOs, and in the private sector. Network officials strongly recommended that Namibia form a committee to be responsible for the national spatial data infrastructure development in the country. This committee is responsible for data sharing and exchange policy, data storage and facilitation, and standards and guidelines, including metadata standards. A cabinet paper for formulating the data sharing and exchange policy is currently under review. This paper addresses such issues as cost of the data, data formats, and intellectual property rights.
The Environmental Monitoring and Indicator Network is also looking at data standards that will allow the data to be compatible and interoperable for different uses. This is especially important because different institutions have developed data using their own standards. The data are not compatible and cannot be exchanged. Therefore, one has to duplicate effort and collect data that have already been collected, because the available data do not comply with their format. The Environmental Information System unit is developing standards regarding the format, content, classification, and exchange of data for implementing the national spatial data infrastructure. Eventually these standards will also align with the work of the international standards technical committee, once it is available.