When we started working on geospatial data management a decade ago, we weren’t thinking about the new era. The use of geospatial data and information was compartmentalized, and people had concrete ideas about how they wanted to use data. This actually acted as a force multiplier. Over the years, we have created a whole new paradigm of how to integrate information and data resources. Today, an incredible amount of data is being integrated into communications, and there have also been huge advancements in medicine.
A decade or two ago, we never considered geospatial data could be necessary for the healthcare sector. Things have completely turned around in the last few years, especially in the wake of COVID-19. The demographic and statistical information in Excel spreadsheets can now be merged with geospatial information and used to build a platform not only to communicate data, but also to gather it.
The order of things has changed — data is guiding states in dealing with the outbreak. Based on maps, the authorities can integrate information and form relationships county by county, town by town, street by street, and get answers to queries like where is the nearest hospital. If the outbreak is happening on the other side of the county, transportation can be planned in a way that allows resources to be applied to the parts of the county that need it most. Geospatial information is underpinning the entire data ecosystem.
There is a need to understand how different authoritative datasets are integrated into different requirements of federal and state governments. In the 1990s, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) came into existence with the A-16 Circular (circular for coordination of geographic information and related spatial data activities), providing governance for authoritative datasets that can be utilized multiple times. Today, these authoritative data need to be integrated to create a whole new platform of data that was not even imagined a few years ago.
The USGS National Geospatial Program has undergone years of rigorous transformation to become an authoritative data source through The National Map products and services. The question is, how do we take the social data and integrate that with data from The National Map to demonstrate information? Another question is, who will be responsible for maintaining and validating that dataset? Incorporating data of value from the public into a reliable, authoritative product requires rigorous quality control and technology improvements, yet could offer tremendous new insights and capabilities.
In the last decade, huge progress on The National Map has taken place by leveraging LiDAR technology and the dataset generated by it. This is just one example of how we are constantly improving The National Map using new technology to improve the fidelity and accuracy of geospatial data and information available to all.
It will be exciting to see what the next new technology will be, and how we are going to arrive there.
There has already been a discussion around the privacy issue in one of the FGDC meetings. Changes in public policy first require educating policymakers through better communication. That communication can enable cross-pollination of thoughts. Sometimes there are phases where science may not be the answer, and you would require more relationships in creating credibility and build-in reliability on why you are doing what you are doing. That’s critical.
The pandemic will provide a perfect test, as all the reports and analyses are based on maps, which are the basis for making decisions. This integrated data with revealing information becomes the basis for policy analysis.
Moving forward, I would really like tackle other policy decisions concerning science and technology.