European SDI Best Practice Awards 2009

Chairman's report of the eSDI-NET+ jury regarding the best practice awards
Ian Masser

A six person jury was set up during the eSDI-NET+ project to evaluate the 135 submissions of sub national (i.e. regional and local) level SDIs that were made as a result of the workshops that were held throughout Europe during the last half of 2008 and the first half of 2009. The six person jury consisted of three members selected from the project partners (Danny Vandenbroucke, François Salgé and Franco Vico) and three from the project's Advisory Board (Max Craglia, Bastiaan van Loenen and Ian Masser). The jury carried out a rigorous evaluation and selected 12 SDIs from total number of submissions for the best practice awards ceremony that was held in Turin on November 27th 2009.

The jury recognised that such an event would have been hard to imagine twenty years ago when only four or five NSDIs were in being. Even ten years ago there were probably as many as twenty throughout the whole world. The eSDI-NET+ award ceremony was the outcome of two momentous developments that have taken place in recent years in the SDI field. The first of these developments is the accelerated diffusion of SDIs throughout the world during the last ten years. As a result, most countries in Europe have now taken steps to implement at least one component of a national SDI. The INSPIRE initiative has played an important role in promoting this diffusion process in Europe but similar developments have taken place throughout the whole world.

The second momentous event is the shift in emphasis that has taken place in the SDI field from national (strategic) SDIs to sub national (operational) SDIs. Whereas a great deal of the discussion in earlier years revolved around talking about (national) SDIs much more time is currently being spent of discussing different ways of doing (sub national) SDIs and success at the sub national level has become a crucial yardstick of overall success.

The presentations at the eSDI-NET+ conference highlighted the diversity of current practice at the regional and local level in Europe and raised some important questions about the nature of SDIs. While some presentations dealt with the classic case of a SDI that has been translated from national level of the administrative hierarchy to the regional level most of the others did not easily fit this model. This was particularly the case with respect to the thematic SDIs that are often limited to key aspects of national SDIs. For this reason the jury found that comparing sub national SDI submissions was like trying to compare apples and pears. This led Franco Vico to argue that 'each SDI is a special case,' notwithstanding the strenuous efforts that have been made during the eSDI-NET+ project to develop quantitative indicators for evaluation purposes.

The best way of illustrating this diversity is to consider some of the main features of each of the SDIs presented during the Awards ceremony. The first session consisted of three presentations of SDIs that were primarily selected as best practices with respect to their treatment of organisational and institutional aspects in terms of cooperation and subsidiarity as well as sustainability. The presentation by staff of the Centre Regional de Information Geographique for the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (CRIGE-PACA) described the development of a SDI for the public sector in a large region extending over six Departements in south east France where one job in every five is in the tourism industry. The strong thematic dimension to this SDI was evident from the twelve different applications that had been established and the staff saw one of their main objectives as coordinating communities of practice within the region. The second presentation about the development of the SDI for the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany also covered a large area. Its population of more 18 million is more than that of many European Union member countries. An important feature of this SDI was the strong links that exist between the state organisation and the municipalities in the region because the lower level authorities were responsible for the collection and maintenance of cadastral information. The information that is held in this SDI is made widely available to private as well as public sector bodies and more than a million maps are downloaded from the SDI by users every month. The final presentation in this section was by staff from the Infrastruttura per l'Informazione Territoriale della Regione Lombardia in Italy. This SDI was strongly driven by spatial planning considerations and its main emphasis was on the creation and maintenance of a regional topographic database which acts as a platform for other applications. Information held in this database was also made freely available to private sector users.

The second group of presentations at the award ceremony included two SDIs that had been selected with respect to their strong user involvement. The first of these presentations of the Infraestructura de Dades Especiales de Catalunya (IDEC) in Spain described itself as 'a network of labelled web services' The main objectives of this SDI were to facilitate the use of geographic information and to motivate all kinds of users. As a result of IDEC's activities more than half the municipalities in the region are actively making use of geographic information in their work and private sector users account for forty per cent of all usage. The second presentation by staff from the X Border GDI that is led by the province of Limburg in the Netherlands introduced another dimension into the discussions. As its name suggests this SDI is a collaborative venture which involves four Dutch province, three Belgian provinces and 12 districts (Kreis) from Germany. Its activities are very much problem oriented and user driven, with particular reference to emergency management and spatial planning in a densely populated border region.

Technology, with particular reference to quantitative and qualitative aspects of data and service quality was the dominant theme in the third category of three SDIs that were presented at the awards ceremony. The first presentation from the Forth Valley GIS in Scotland described the evolution of the present local authority public company from an informal collaborative agreement between three local authorities in 1993 to combine their GIS activities. This company has been driven by business needs to develop a wide range of applications in many different parts of Scotland as well as the components of a SDI for its three main shareholders. Its success in meeting these needs was recognised in a recent survey of local authority services in Scotland as a whole when it was described as the 'most frequently mentioned example of good practice.' The second presentation of Portugal's Sistema Nacionale de Informacao Geografica (SNIG) discussed the resurgence of one of the oldest SDIs. SNIG was set up by law in 1990 and played an important role during the nineties in modernising local government in Portugal. In recent years issues of affordability and sustainability together with education have been central to its latest phase of development. The last presentation in this group considered the work of IDERioja, the SDI that has been developed for the autonomous region of Rioja in Spain. With a population of only 300,000 Rioja is a relatively small region. Its SDI has evolved over the last ten years into a neat example of centralised GI management which has won awards in Spain with respect to both good practice and eGovernment.

The last group of thematic SDIs raised important questions about the nature of SDIs. Some participants felt that they should have been disqualified on the grounds that they were not 'proper' SDIs at all but Bastiaan van Loenen pointed out that 43 out of the original 135 submissions fell into this category and that many of them contained good examples of best practices. The latter is evident from the four shortlisted examples. The first presentation discussed the creation of the National Land and Property Gazetteer and the National Street Gazetteer in England and Wales. The initial stage of this project took ten years to complete and required the active participation of nearly 500 local authorities to create databases to a common set of standards. This highly decentralised initiative provides a consistent platform for local authorities to develop a wide range of thematic applications. There was also a strong applications emphasis in the second presentation from the French SIG Pyrenees staff. This SDI recognised the different needs of five main groups of users from agriculture, forestry, climate, economy and spatial planning respectively and created bespoke solutions for each of them using open source software and content management systems platforms such as Joomla! as well as conventional GIS software. The main objective of the Danish Spatial Planning System, the third presentation in this group, was to eliminate duplication in the reporting of the 30,000 local plans that have been prepared by the 98 municipalities in Denmark. The basic philosophy of this system is summarised by the slogan 'data are available in one and only place.' Unfortunately, no one from the staff of the fourth group, Digital Norway, was able to attend the awards ceremony. This nation-wide program for co-operation with respect to the establishment, maintenance and distribution of digital geographic data has attracted a great deal of attention in international circles in recent years. Its main objective is to enhance the availability and use of quality geographic information among a broad range of users, primarily in the public sector.

Given the differences between the selected SDIs that have been highlighted above the jury decided that all the selected SDIs were winners in terms of their own best practices and that it would be invidious to select overall winners from such a diverse group. Consequently all eleven presented SDIs and Digital Norway were presented with a Best Practice Certificate at the end of the conference which stated that they had been highly commended by an international jury as one of twelve examples of best practice in the whole of Europe.