Puneet's Visit to Brazil

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The second week of May I attended three different but related meetings of interest in Atibaia, Brazil (São Paulo). Here is a brief report.

1. The United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development launched a "Global Alliance for Enhancing Access to and Application of Scientific Data in Developing Countries," or e-SDDC for short, on May 7 <http://www.un-gaid.org/en/node/237>. Besides representatives from UN-GAID, representatives from various national science academies, research foundations, and international agencies were present. I was a "rapporteur" at the meeting. Of particular interest is the plan for a series of online courses/workshops on data management, access, and repositories. The focus is on scientific data, but open geospatial is very germane to the underlying themes of disaster mitigation, poverty reduction, and public health. It would be worthwhile keeping an eye on this initiative and look for opportunities to contribute to it in the area of geospatial data management and access.

2. The second meeting was a 3-day workshop on "Strategies for Permanent and Open Access to Scientific Information in Latin America and the Caribbean" <http://www.cria.org.br/eventos/codata2007/agenda> sponsored by the International Council of Science's (ICSU) <http://www.icsu.org/> Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) <http://www.codata.org/>. The meeting was hosted by Brazil's Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental (CRIA). I made a presentation on geospatial data and integration with biodiversity information. I received help from several people in putting together the presentation including Ned Horning and Markus Neteler of OSGeo. I had very fruitful discussions on licensing of geospatial data with Harlan Onsrud of the University of Maine, Orono, and John Wilbanks of Science Commons. John has promised to actively work on clarifying the issue of geospatial data licensing.

3. Finally, I attended a meeting of the Inter-Academy Panel (a panel of 94 national science academies from around the world) on International Issues focusing on the use of digital knowledge resources in developing countries. Of particular interest was a focus on the science academies of Latin America and the Caribbean promoted by the Brazilian, Chinese, Indian, and the US national science academies. There is likely to be a project on access to publicly funded geospatial data in the near future.

4. After 5 days of meetings, I visited Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espacias (INPE) <http://www.inpe.br/ingles/index.php/>, the premier Brazilian National Institute for Space Research at the invitation of its Image Processing Division (DPI) in nearyby São José dos Campos. Researchers from DPI are also developing a project called TerraLib <http://www.terralib.org/>, an open source set of GIS classes and functions library written in C++. Of particular interest is a program called TerraView <http://www.dpi.inpe.br/terraview/index.php> based on TerraLib. Also open source (GPL), TerraView can be described as a more scientifically and analytically oriented ArcView. I promptly downloaded TerraView, and within minutes, with a little help from the TerraView Development Manager, I had it running under Parallels/WinXP on my MacBook Pro, and had imported Shapefiles into its own data format. A very quick program, TerraView not only works with PostGres, MySQL, and Oracle, it natively manages geographic data in a relational format using ADO. TerraLib/TerraView are successors to INPE's earlier free, but not open source, project called SPRING <http://www.dpi.inpe.br/spring/english/index.html>. Because of historical reasons, SPRING is not open source, but is available to anyone and can be used on Windows or Linux. TerraLib/TerraView are currently under more active development, and are available as true open source programs. At my suggestion, INPE will be looking into joining OSGeo. The INPE researchers are doing amazing work, and the spirit of free access to data and software seemed to permeate everyone I met. Having active involvement and backing of an institute of INPE's prestige and caliber will be very beneficial to the open geospatial community.

5. I also had a long meeting with the director of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change <http://www.iai.int/>. Promoting open geospatial software and data is directly convergent with IAI's mission of science and capacity building, but there is a general lack of understanding of the issues related to open and free access to data and software, especially at the highest levels. OSGeo can once again play a significant role by providing software, educational material, and data sets in this.

I wrote the following summary in an earlier email on the edu.osgeo list. I am reproducing most of it here as it sums up my findings --

a. The scientific community as a whole wants open and permanent access to scientific data, and that includes raw research data, not just the publishable results of it;

b. GeoSpatial data are a small but significant portion of the corpus of science data, so it is very important to continue to maintain an active and vocal presence in the dialong;

c. A clear understanding of the licensing of geospatial data will be a big aid to everyone. Creative Commons/Science Commons has promised to help us in this;

d. Following up on #c above, educating those at the highest levels in international organizations, funding agencies, and even the scientific community in the issues of open access to geospatial data and software is very important and needed;