Archive for December, 2017

Reflections on Why Open Data is not as Simple as it Seems article

December 25, 2017 1 comment

Sabine de Milliano, in a relevant and thoughtful article in the GIS Professional newsletter entitled “Why Open Data is Not as Simple as it Seems,” eloquently raises several issues that have been running through this Spatial Reserves blog for the past five years.  She also raises concerns that have been in just about every data and GIS conference for the same amount of time to a new level. Rather than camping on the statement, “open data is great” and leaving it at that, Ms. de Milliano points out that “open data is much more complicated than simply collaborating on work and sharing results to help humanity move forward”.  She recognizes the “common good” of collaboration and innovation, and the transparency that results from open data. She states that access to open data is “only possible by solving the sum of technological, economic, political, and communication challenges.” Indeed.

In this blog and in our book, we have written extensively about the “fee vs. free” discussions that debate whether government agencies should charge for their data, and Ms. de Milliano sums up arguments on both sides. But she goes further and says that challenges to open data range from “ethical to practical”, and that there is a “large grey zone on what data should actually be shared and what should remain private.” What if someone creates a map based on your open data and someone else makes a fatal decision based on an error in this derivative product? Who is accountable?

For Ms. de Milliano, the biggest challenge of open data is discoverability and accessibility. She mentions open data portals including the Copernicus Open Access Hub, Natural Earth Data, USGS Earth Explorer, and the Esri ArcGIS Hub, and we have written about many others in this blog, such as here and here.  Ms. de Milliano holds an impressive set of GIS credentials and makes her points in an understandable and actionable manner.  Her article also points out that despite the advent of open data, some datasets remain “knowledge intensive”, meaning that only a limited number of users have sufficient technical background to understand how to process, analyze, and use them (such as SAR data) and therefore, they remain the domain of experts. I frequently touch on this point when I am teaching GIS workshops and courses, beginning with the thesis: “Despite data and technical advancements in GIS over the past 25 years, GIS is not easy. It requires technical expertise AND domain expertise.”  Effective use of GIS requires the user to be literate in what I see as three legs making up “geoliteracy”–content knowledge, skills, and the geographic perspective. I do not see skills as solely those of acquiring more competency in geotechnologies, but rather including equally important skills in critical thinking, dealing with data, being ethical, being organized, being a good communicator, and other skills.

Article about open data

Sabine de Milliano’s article about open data touches on many of the themes in this blog and in our book in an eloquent and thought-provoking way.

Categories: Public Domain Data

Potential positive or negative impacts to the GIS industry from a proposed Geospatial Data Act (GDA) bill (S.1253)

December 18, 2017 1 comment

The provision of GIS data and services, and the consumption of those data and services in a modern economy is linked to a system of laws about copyright, commerce, licensing, and much more.  In this blog and in our book, we discuss the ever-changing landscape of GIS, including laws and potential laws that have and could impact GIS in positive ways or in negative ways.  The proposed Geospatial Data Act (GDA) bill (S. 1253) has been receiving attention in recent months for what many in the GIS community say would limit who can provide GIS and mapping services to licensed architects, engineers, and surveyors from federal government contracts.  Opponents of the bill, including the American Association of Geographers, state that it “would result in a significant loss of jobs throughout the U.S., and would cripple the dynamic and innovative American GIS, IT, and mapping companies and communities that have developed GIS and internet mapping, and now power its continued innovation and growth in jobs and new technologies.”  Proponents of the bill say it will “improve coordination, reduce duplication, and increase data transparency in the acquisition of geospatial data” and is a re-introduction of a bill originally proposed in 2015.

Aligned with our continued messaging here of “be critical of the data” and “conduct the research necessary so that you understand the issue”, we encourage the community to do just that.  The original bill as introduced by the US Senate is here, with the US House version here, along with position papers by the American Association of Geographers, URISA, and GITA, and an article with some recent tweets from GIS Lounge. 

The latest word, as as reported by GIS Lounge, is that the parts of the Act that would limit federal contracts in GIS to licensed architectural and engineering (A&E) firms have been removed.  The folks at GIS Lounge point out that the new revised bill promotes several good ideas:

  • Section 2 defines the term ‘geospatial data’ for the US federal government.
  • Section 3 clarifies the role of a Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC).
  • Section 4 clarifies the role of a National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC).
  • Section 5 describes the importance of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).
  • Section 8 describes the creation and operation of the ‘GeoPlatform’ as an electronic service that provides access to geospatial data and metadata for geospatial data.


The proposed Geospatial Data Act is a proposed bill that originally raised concerns about limiting the GIS industry but now may benefit the industry.  Investigate the bill yourself with these resources and, as always, make an informed decision. 

Categories: Public Domain Data Tags: