Thursday, March 20, 2008

GSDI-10 Conference Report

The (GSDI) Association held its 10th International Conference for Spatial Data Infrastructure at the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus, St. Augustine, Port of Spain, Trinidad, from 25 to 29 February 2008. The conference was attended by more than 250 participants from across the globe and several international organisations. The theme of the conference was "Small Island Perspectives on Global Challenges: The Role of Spatial Data in Supporting a Sustainable Future." More than 130 papers were offered over four days of presentations, plus eight pre-conference workshops on the first day. This was the first GSDI conference held in the Caribbean region.

The opening plenary featured welcomes by Prof. Clement Sankat, Pro-vice Chancellor and Principal of UWI and the GSDI Association's outgoing President, Jarmo Ratia, followed by a keynote address from Senator Tina Gronlund-Nunez, Minister of State in the Ministry of Planning, Housing and Environment. The conference was also honoured by a keynote from Ambassador Albert Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States. The World Bank's Knowledge and Management Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean Region, Mr. David Gray (himself a GIS professional before joining the World Bank), told the audience that the World Bank now recognised the importance of geographic information in both planning and monitoring its development loan portfolios as well as the importance of Spatial Data Infrastructure for sustainable development globally.

Four additional plenary sessions throughout the conference featured speakers from across the geomatics, standards and open source communities, including technologists such as ESRI's David Maguire, Google Geospatial Technologist Ed Parsons, and Intergraph's Director of Technology Architecture and Strategy, Mark Doherty. UNHCR's Karl Steinacker, co-Chair of the UN Geographic Information Working Group (UNGIWG), which is developing the UNSDI programme, gave an update on that initiative.

Other plenary speakers addressed SDI progress in a number of nations and regions, including Jamaica and the Caribbean, the Netherlands and EU, Norway and Brazil. Advances in the standards and interoperability community were reviewed by Mark Reichardt, President of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). Trends in the open source community were presented by John Wilbanks, Director of Science Commons, speaking on the evolution of the research web, and by Chris Holmes of the Open Planning Project which is promoting development of the Open Geo Web, linking the open source communities' "Architectures of Participation" to global SDI initiatives.

Conference themes addressed the needs of small island nations and included issues such as:

* sustainable development,

* disaster warning, response, and recovery,

* poverty and crime alleviation,

* sustainable economic development,

* removing the digital divide for access to IT,

* food security,

* support of transportation, health and communication systems, and

* facilitating land ownership.

In addressing these issues, technical sessions focused on themes such as regional and national SDI initiatives, policies and strategies in Latin America and the Caribbean, disaster management (of particular concern to Caribbean nations which frequently witness the extreme forces of nature first hand!), land administration, and multiple sessions on Island and Regional (Caribbean) 'challenges' including for coasts, of particular interest to a region dominated by small and large island nations. GEO and GEOSS were the focus of several papers presented in two sessions. A special session was conducted on climate change by members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impacts and Climate Analysis (TCGICA) who held meetings in parallel with GSDI-10. Technology approaches for providing the components of SDIs were covered by papers in several sessions, including GIS, standards, and open source movements for both GIS
software and geodata.

Other regions of the world were not forgotten in this global conference, with sessions focusing on SDI initiatives in Africa and numerous papers presented throughout the conference addressing SDI in several South American nations, USA, Canada, several European states, Australia, India, and larger island nations such as Sri Lanka and Cuba. Capacity building for SDI implementation and ensuring and enhancing sustainable development through SDI were also featured in separate sessions.

The quality of presentations was high, following a peer review process for submissions conducted by members of the GSDI Association and host local and regional organizing committee over several months prior to the conference. As with all GSDI conferences, one of the most important aspects was the level of personal networking that took place 'in the margins of the conference' as the saying goes. Old acquaintances and friendships were renewed and important new ones forged. In the past, such contacts have proved invaluable in gaining insight into a wide range of SDI issues, seen from often quite different perspectives - nationally, regionally, globally and across myriad stakeholder groups, from users to technologists to decision makers. Experience has shown that personal contacts lead to future cooperation and collaboration, with positive benefits for all parties.

GSDI conferences, held globally about every 12 to 18 months, are also the venue for much GSDI Association business, including Board and Council meetings and roundtables and workshops from the various GSDI Committees and Working Groups. The 2008 conference was no different, with GSDI Board and Council meetings on the 23rd and 24th and a post-conference Board meeting on the 29th - making for a very long, very busy, 7-day week for those involved in all these activities!

All who attended wish to extend their thanks to the local organising committee led by co-chairs Jacob Opadeyi and Bheshem Ramlal of UWI's Centre for GeoSpatial Studies and Dept. of Surveying and Land Information respectively - and their horde of student helpers. The conference was accompanied by a packed social programme, including an evening reception hosted by the UWI Principal at his beautiful residence, an exciting view of Port of Spain 'at night' sponsored by Intergraph and an excellent conference dinner at the Hilton sponsored by ESRI. Conference details, the programme, abstracts and papers can be found on the GSDI web site at Proceedings containing all papers were distributed on CD to registered participants and all presentations will be on the GSDI-10 conference web site shortly.

In closing, what more can we say than "Well done, Univ. of West Indies, for hosting an excellent conference in an exciting location where the warmth of the climate was matched only by the warmth of the people we encountered in Trinidad and Tobago."

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