How often have we heard leaders across the world say that they “don’t yet have the data to know”, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic? This one question encapsulates the entire geospatial challenge; data is not the endpoint. Knowledge, decisions, services and satisfaction are the value chain that data feeds. Industry uses data, including location data, to achieve these without even thinking “it’s geospatial, it’s special”.
Now, across the geospatial community itself, there is a growing demand to think beyond geospatial data and spatial data infrastructures, instead trying to meet head-on the future challenges of customers. It could be an uncomfortable ride for some, for example geospatial technology companies who are facing more widespread digital competition, and government geospatial agencies, as they become one of many producers of geospatial data.
The great leaps of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such as undersea, land and space real-time sensors, autonomy, the web and cloud, advanced analytics including Artificial Intelligence, ubiquitous connectivity and “knowledge on demand” are the pitch upon which geospatial is now playing. To quote perhaps the most famous geospatial leader of our time, Jack Dangermond, President of Esri, “Digital transformation is just beginning… We need to come together and think about what’s coming next, now is the time to go faster — not to slow down!”
Nearly 18 months ago in Monterey, on the sidelines of the annual geospatial leaders gathering at GeoBuiz, a group of collaborators led by the United Nations Statistics Division and Geospatial World set off on a journey to understand how next do geospatial technology, people and data enhance economies, societies and the environment? The Geospatial Knowledge Infrastructure (GKI) concept was born to seek answers.
But, and it’s a big but, exactly what does GKI mean in a world in which “geospatial is everywhere”? How do we coalesce thinking around a concept for which there is no working solution? How do we move from government geospatial data thinking to thinking geolocation within wider data value chains and industry? What is our new “geospatial vision”?
This collaboration, drawn from government, industry and not-for-profit organizations along with the United Nations Statistics Division and Geospatial World, joined the first phase of a three-year program to find answers. Ending in April 2021, this phase has tried to understand what the GKI concept looks and feels like. The second phase will consider GKI within selected industry sectors and develop a blueprint for a technical architecture, and the third phase will see work with a number of government digital leads to integrate geospatial into the heart of government digital thinking. Each phase builds upon the previous one, and over time the GKI concept will mature as it learns from these differing engagements.
Defining GKI was not part of the original plan, but partners quickly recognized that we could not have a worldwide debate on “thin air”, and so a discussion paper was written during the first Covid lockdown in 2020. This informed the first global workshop and subsequent national and regional consultations across the world. It was abundantly clear that the geospatial status quo is not an option, participants needed new thinking that embraced the rapidly developing digital world and merged geospatial into that world. For national geospatial agencies the need to reinvent is more pressing, reflecting the mood at the 2017 Cambridge Conference of “Transform to Survive”.
As with any developing thinking, there was scepticism, naysayers and opposition. Even the odd “good luck”! But support and contributions grew from developed and developing nations, and, recognizing the importance of the debate, new partners joined the collaboration. The highlight of consultation was the two-day online GKI Global Summit in February that brought together leading thinkers as panellists to explore geospatial knowledge. It attracted 2,119 participants from across the world.
The final GKI White paper at https://www.geospatialworld.net/gw-assets/pdf/GKI-White-Paper.pdf reflects upon consultations with people from over 1,000 organizations in 108 countries. It also draws on much written thinking too, including work in Australia that has explored how a spatial knowledge infrastructure can satisfy the growing need for knowledge on demand. In consultations it was also clear that there was confusion between National Spatial Data Infrastructures (NSDI), the United Nations Integrated Geospatial Information Framework (IGIF) and this emerging term, GKI. The final white paper describes how they interrelate.
GKI covers six broad areas: integrated policy framework, foundation data, partnerships and collaboration, industry leadership, applications, analytics and modelling, and finally bringing a geospatial dimension to the wider digital infrastructure. It is perhaps the breadth in GKI thinking that stands the concept out from others, reflecting the breadth of integration needed to move geospatial “up the value chain” to knowledge. GKI aims to provide an infrastructure that integrates geospatial approaches, data and technologies into the wider digital ecosystem. In doing so, it aims to deliver location-based knowledge, services and automation expected by economies, societies and citizens in the 4IR age.