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The Future of Spatial Data and Society: Summary of a Workshop 1 INTRODUCTION Government agencies and other organizations are now committing resources* and making important long-term decisions concerning the collection, management, and use of spatial data. Although these actions are influenced by current policies, priorities, and opportunities, their ultimate success depends on future developments and trends. An examination of possible futures and policies can be invaluable in creating strategies and procedures to support the evolution of the national spatial data infrastructure (NSDI)**; Future decisions on the NSDI will depend on changing technologies, societal needs, and institutional structures. The Mapping Science Committee, in coordination with the Federal Geographic Data Committee, convened a two-day workshop in April 1996 to examine the range of possible future scenarios and their effects on spatial data activities. The goal of the workshop was to initiate discussions of how spatial data activities * The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) determined that federal spatial data activities amounted to about $4.4 billion in FY 1994; this number resulted from a data call described in OMB Bulletin 93-14. Most analysts agree that an equal or greater amount is spent on spatial data activities by state and local governments and the private sector. ** The national spatial data infrastructure was defined by the Mapping Science Committee in its 1993 report, Toward a Coordinated Spatial Data Infrastructure for the Nation, as "the means to assemble geographic information that describes the arrangement and attributes of features and phenomena on the Earth. The infrastructure includes the materials, technology, and people necessary to acquire, process, store, and distribute such information to meet a wide variety of needs." The NSDI was the subject of an Executive Order (No. 12906, signed by President Clinton in April 1994) that directs the Federal Geographic Data Committee to take the lead in further developing the NSDI, particularly from the federal perspective.
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The Future of Spatial Data and Society: Summary of a Workshop might evolve to meet future needs and opportunities. The framing question used at the workshop was: In the year 2010, how will societal needs and public policies affect the requirements for spatial information and services and their integration at the individual, community, national, and global levels? Many thoughts are precipitated by discussions about the current and future evolution of the NSDI. Many fundamental issues appear consistently and prominently in such discussions and are presented as questions in the following sections to serve as a prelude to a discussion of the workshop and its results. POLICY AND RESPONSIBILITY The NSDI is the domain of many different institutions—public and private, local to national. As such, questions of policy and responsibility include the following: Who will be accountable for various components of the NSDI and who will pay for it? What roles will partnerships (e.g., federal-state, public-private) play in fulfilling spatial information needs? Who is responsible for maintaining the spatial data and supporting infrastructure? To what extent should spatial data activities be privatized? What are the potential risks and benefits from privatization? Can incentives be created to encourage widespread data access and data sharing? To what extent can data generated by defense/intelligence agencies support public civilian needs? How will public policies on the right to privacy and public access to information affect spatial data activities? What new liabilities and responsibilities will arise as a result of an NSDI that is more frequently updated and increasingly real time?
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The Future of Spatial Data and Society: Summary of a Workshop TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS AND BARRIERS Future technological advances will need to respond to several critical issues, such as the following: Is it possible to implement a data management strategy for the myriad spatial databases that are within the context of an NSDI? As data become easier to access, transport, and interpret, new procedures and techniques will be needed to ensure the security of spatial databases. What technological changes are needed to ensure both security and privacy? It is apparent that metadata (or data about data) will play an increasing role in the widespread sharing and integration of spatial data. Management of data quality and certification of data will increase in importance as the applications of spatial data expand. What needs to be done to ensure that metadata are created to meet future needs? Technological developments (digital libraries, the Internet, etc.) offer the potential to strengthen the NSDI. What are the barriers to the NSDI in embracing new technologies? Mechanisms to keep data current (often real-time) need to be incorporated into partnerships and technology implementation. As the NSDI evolves, our ability to deal with urgent problems such as flooding, storms, and accidents will improve. What elements of the NSDI will be affected by real-time processing? How will maintenance and data integration be supported and accomplished with continuously changing datasets? ECONOMICS AND MARKETS There is already a tremendous investment in the NSDI. Specific questions that arise concerning this investment include the following: What are we actually receiving by way of benefits from the NSDI?
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The Future of Spatial Data and Society: Summary of a Workshop Are there performance measures that can be applied to the different components of the NSDI? Are there ways to measure the value of spatial data in comparison to the cost? How will the economics of the NSDI change in the future? How will national and international laws affecting intellectual property rights and patents impact the future course of the NSDI and the current market conditions? RELEVANCE There has been explosive growth in certain application areas that rely on spatial data. What about the future? Can a set of issues and problems be identified that will emerge or continue to concern us in the future? Issues that could influence future spatial data development include the following: What information requirements can be anticipated for the year 2010? Is there a core set of issues (such as clean water, air, food, health, education, transportation, urban development, and security) that will drive future spatial data concerns? Will sustainability and quality of life issues increase in importance to the extent that they become a principal force shaping the NSDI? EDUCATION Expanded use of spatial data in virtually all sectors of society raises questions concerning its infusion into the education system. What would be the impact of infusing "geospatial literacy" into school curricula? What additions or changes to curricula in the next 15 years would strengthen students' ability to participate in the NSDI?
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The Future of Spatial Data and Society: Summary of a Workshop GLOBAL SPATIAL DATA INFRASTRUCTURE Many issues associated with the NSDI are also important at international and global levels. We foresee an increasing need in the coming decades for nations to cooperate in sharing spatial information, which raises the following questions: What form is such cooperation likely to take? What barriers must be overcome to make international cooperation work? What new initiatives should be undertaken to make a global spatial data infrastructure work effectively? THE WORKSHOP Clearly, a two-day workshop cannot fully address the numerous questions and issues that arise in thinking about the future of spatial data activities, let alone answer them all. At best, the workshop and this report provide a framework for discussion by identifying the forces likely to affect future policies and implementations; changes that are likely to occur in the environment of the NSDI, and issues that should be considered in planning for the future. These have been distilled from discussions at the workshop, committee discussions, and other sources. The report identifies a number of alternative scenarios for the future of spatial data and the NSDI in the year 2010, with the hope that readers may better understand the possible long-term consequences of choices made today and guard against futures that may be deemed undesirable. In summary, the Mapping Science Committee hopes that this report will provide a better framework and richer context for thinking about the future of the NSDI and stimulate a more extensive debate on these issues.
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