OSGeo Vision for UN-GGIM

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The United Nations Programme on Global Geospatial Information Management (GGIM) is an inter-governmental mechanism to consult on issues related to global geospatial information.

Emerging Trends in Geospatial Information Management

The perspective from the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo).


OSGeo set out to support and promote the Open Source development in 2006. Initially starting with a very software centric perspective OSGeo members soon developed a broader perspective on Openness in the geospatial realm. This includes access to geospatial data, especially created and maintained by the public administration.

Current Development

Open Source has developed into a widely recognized business model supporting the creation, analysis and dissemination of geospatial data. More recently this also includes the opening of underlying algorithms, independent of specific software packages, making analysis more transparent than ever before. This trend will continue and over time permeate all software creation processes eventually replacing proprietary black box systems also eliminating the dangers of vendor lock-in. There is no distinct time frame because the different areas of work and levels of specialization require their own time to evolve. Taking current transition into account within the next 5 year the larger number of geospatial web publication systems will run exclusively on Open Source. In the following five years analysis and processing will increasingly shift towards using Open Source enabling cloud deployment.

[I'd take issue with "all software creation processes" going to an Open Source model -- certainly OS is a significant portion today, but it doubt it will reach "all" in the next 10 years, if ever. -mpg]

[When you say "in the following five years..." do you mean 2017-2022 or 2012-2017? If the former, I'd disagree -- it's already begun today. -mpg]

Data Persistence

Over the past year the OSGeo Foundation has more and more recognized the importance of the data itself as the heart and core for anything geospatial. This makes software nothing but a means to make use of spatial data, the real value always lies in the data. Proprietary business models naturally put much more focus on the software and make a profit from it's nature to quickly evolve and change requiring the users to also change. But especially in the geospatial domain the data needs to be persistent to allow for temporal analysis in years to come.

Data Access

It is hard to prove that a change in policy will achieve results until the change has taken effect. Even then other factors can have strong influence on the results. Having said that it is even more important to understand that absolutely all studies which have been carried out to study the effects of opening data access invariably show that this improves all aspects in information management. This includes disaster management, public safety, environmental sustainability and is also at the core of good governance and transparency. On the other hand all efforts at restricting access to data impede development be it on a short term as in disaster alleviation or longer term when used as basis for improving social cohesion in communities. Improving data access applies to all themes and scales ranging from local, through national and up to global level.

Digital data access also touches very new privacy issues which have raised discussion at all levels. Data is collected through social networks, multinational corporations and governments equally and in all cases transparency is key to good governance, again requiring open data access in order to allow controlling instances to be able to

Economic Development

Open Source especially under it's alias Free Software was often misunderstood to be anti-business and thus also undermining economic growth strategies. But quite the opposite is true. Open Source avoids monopolies, supports diversity, allows easy access to markets and in a positive sense is a perfect fit for the globalized economy. Instead of damaging the economy it empowers new market players to easily access markets and produce improved offerings. Therefore an Open Source policy will support strategic agendas of economic growth and in the long run also foster social cohesion.

One source of resistance by government data producers against releasing data freely are short sighted economic considerations. During a phase of privatization in governments geospatial data was recognized as a potential resource of income. In effect this has never really funded the creation of the data but only covered a fraction of the production cost. It is out of question to privatize or completely outsource geospatial data management because it is the foundation of one of the most important administrative task of the government. Instead of trying to raise money by selling geospatial base data after the fact, the cost must be shifted to those who cause change in the environment, typically private undertakings, polluters, agriculture and so on. With the advent of geospatially enabled sensors, GPS, bi-directionally communicating traffic navigation systems and similar technologies a lot of geospatial data is raised which can be used statistically both to create new insights and quality assure geospatial base data.

All of these developments are very recent and still need to be comprehensibly communicated to the political level in order to allow this level to decide helpful policies.

["the cost must be shifted..." -- I might agree in principle with this if I thought about it some more, but it seems too strong a point for this paper and not really relevant to the question of open source? -mpg]


Open Source and Open Standards support collaboration by making sharing and exchanging of both software and data easier. In turn, collaboration is the primary motor for software development and reason for the high quality and fast innovation cycle of successful projects. Truly open standards evolve together with the technical capabilities and the needs of the communities developing and applying them. They do not restrict innovation but instead they make sure that data can be exchanged - which is the foundation for collaboration. The recent phenomenon of Crowd Sourcing would not have been possible without both Open Source Software and Open Standards. Crowd Sourcing is still an emerging phenomenon but has already proven to be an important aspect of disaster management and an indispensable aspect of good governance.

Collaboration improves data quality. This has been widely demonstrated by the Open Source software movement (note that not all Open Source software is simply by definition good but that only successful projects with good governance can succeed and then also have high quality). Another examples from the geospatial domain is cross border collaboration which ensures that the quality of the data on both sides of the border is double checked and improved. The same process on a much broader level, between scales and also cross thematically will develop when crowd sourced data is organizationally intersected with administrative and governmental data as is already happening mainly at the local level and initiated by more innovative members of the community.

This development will take more concrete forms within the next 5 years and be commonplace within the next 10 years. Exceptions might be seen in areas where national strategic economic agendas focus on supporting proprietary software industry or where environmental sustainability and good governance are not on the primary political agenda.

[You might add a section on "Enablement" -- how the Open Source (and Open Data) model levels the playing field so NGOs, developing nations, etc, can all play. I think that's an important trend to capture, esp. for a UN audience? -mpg]

[For this audience, a one-paragraph definition of Open Source should probably be included. I'd suggest avoiding the Free-vs-Open thing, though, and focus on the ideas of no EULA and general rights to use/modify/distribute. -mpg]

[Do we know if someone from the Open Data community is participating in this? If not, we should probably take that on ourselves here. -mpg]