TABLE 4-1 Countries with National Spatial Data Infrastructures




















New Zealand





Russian Federation

South Africa


United Kingdom

United States



SOURCE: Longley et al. (2001); Moeller (2001).

defense, and emergency services across the country. Price Waterhouse undertook a study in 1995 to evaluate the economic benefits of Australia’s investment in an SDI. The study concluded that “for every dollar invested in producing spatial data, $4 of benefit was generated in the economy. In 1989-1994 these benefits were in the order of $4.5 billion distributed across the broad spectrum of economic activities” (Nairn, 1999).

National Spatial Data Infrastructures

The concept of an NSDI is recent and acceptance by developed countries is far from complete. Developing countries can learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before and potentially bypass similar problems toward an efficient SDI (Taylor, 1997).

In the United States in 1990 the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) was created to develop a strategy for an NSDI. The goal is to have “current and accurate geospatial data that is readily available (locally, nationally, and globally) that can contribute to economic growth, environmental quality, stability, and social progress” (FGDC, 2002). The FGDC works to

  1. reduce duplication of effort by government agencies in data collection;

  2. improve quality and reduce costs related to geographic data;

  3. make geographic data more accessible to the public;

  4. increase the benefits of using available data; and

  5. establish key partnerships with states, counties, cities, tribal nations, academia, and the private sector.

The U.S. NSDI gained prominence in 1994 following the publication of U.S. presidential Executive Order 12906, which emphasized the need to coordinate the acquisition, access, and sharing of geographic data in the federal government. It elevated the NSDI from a technical subject to an essential component of social and economic development (Groot, 2001). The order indicates that all efforts described in the NSDI are to be carried out through partnerships among federal, state, and local government agencies and the public, private, and academic sectors.

Two countries in sub-Saharan Africa have formal NSDIs: Ghana (National Framework of Geographic Information Management) and South Africa (National Spatial Information Framework) (EIS-Africa, 2002). In addition, eight countries (Benin, Botswana, Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) currently have SDI-building initiatives. Several programs also have SDI-building components, including the SADC Food Security Programme (Zimbabwe), Regional Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Control Programme (Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe), Biomass Programme of Uganda, Kenya’s Wetlands Conservation and Training Programme, the Miombo Network in southern Africa (Chapter 7), and the Community Based Natural Resources Management initiative in Namibia (Chapter 7). The barriers that hamper other countries from adopting a formal SDI include a lack of prominent SDI champions in influential positions and declines in funding for SDI-related projects.

Components of a Spatial Data Infrastructure

An SDI comprises standards, framework foundation data, framework thematic and other geographic data, metadata, clearinghouses, and partnerships.

Data Standards

Spatial data infrastructures cannot function without standards. Standards are specifications and documented practices applied to spatial data formats, data compression and decompression formats, data transmission formats, metadata formats, and computer interfaces that allow people to easily interact within the system.

A lack of standards impedes spatial data collection, distribution, and processing. Consequently, countries such as Ghana and South Africa have begun to develop standards for their spatial data. Organizations such as EIS-Africa (Box 4-1) are working to develop generic information technology-based standards (e.g., description, query language, syntax), application-independent standards (e.g., geometry, topology, metadata), and national standards tailored to specific applications (e.g., base mapping, cadastral mapping, transportation planning, and urban planning) (EIS-Africa, 2001).

Over the last 10 years several international efforts in standards development have been initiated. For example, in 1992 the European Committee for Standardization began promoting voluntary technical harmonization in Europe and

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