Open Geospatial Science

“Open Science, Open Innovation, Open to the World.” European Commissioner Moedas’ statement [1] [2] emphasises the importance and potential of open  science for Europe and globally.

Open Geospatial Science builds upon the idea of Open science that scientific knowledge of all kinds are able to be develop more rapidly and in a more productive manner if openly shared (as early as is practical in the discovery process). The key ingredients to make Open Geospatial Science possible is Open Principles (open source geospatial software, open data, open standards and open access to research publications) .

“Geo for All” was initially started by scientists and research active academics to build strong foundations for Open Geospatial Science . We also wanted to create openness in Geo Education for developing creative and open minds in students which is critical for building open innovation and contributes to building up Open Knowledge for the benefit of the whole society and for our future generations. We were laughed at initially by some because we did not have any initial funding  when we decided to start “Geo for All” . We are grateful to all our colleagues globally for their help and efforts which enabled us to build this initiative http://www.geoforall.org/about/   . For Geo4All , we had a mission to “Make geospatial education and opportunities accessible to all” and we were very clear from the start that we will be supporting Open Principles (open standards, open data, open educational resources,open software, open access to scientific publications) for our mission to ensure sustainability and bring together universities, industry, SMEs, NGOs together on this shared vision.One of the most important lessons that i learnt from my Geo4All journey  is that bringing together good people on a common mission and building a vibrant community  is the biggest asset.

Two week’s back , i was preparing a lecture on Open Geospatial Science for the Marie Curie MultiPos Summer School here at University of Nottingham and it helped me to reflect on how from very humble beginnings we started and without any funding (it was just an idea  back then ) and it is 100 percent thanks to the vibrant geocommunity that helped make this dream a reality. Thanks to our colleagues globally, we now have dedicated research labs, dedicated journals etc in place to help advance the discipline for the future. It is this global research outlook that is fundamental to the success of any new discipline.

Research projects come and go, even research centers/groups within a single university keep changing/merging etc  and are  transient  but research disciplines and ideas will have longer impact. Hence from the start our aim was to create Open Geospatial Science as a discipline. But we had to take this one step at a time to make this possible and i want to share some of our experiences, so we can help build more ideas.

I still remember the excitement   when we had our founding meeting of the first Open Source Geospatial lab in the UK  (June 2010) which helped lay the seeds for foundation for “Geo for All” initiative which has now grown to over 100 research labs globally  and established a new discipline of Open Geospatial Science.The sense of urgency is also very important. Though we did not have any initial funding, me and my colleagues decided that we cannot wait and we have to do whatever we can with our abilities to make geospatial education and opportunities accessible to all. We used the power of combining efforts of like minded communities (International Cartographic Association, International Society of Photogrammetery and Remote Sensing etc) to achieve this .

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Figure 1 – Founding meeting of the first Open Source Geospatial Lab in the UK at the University of Nottingham  in June 2010

In fact, when we decided to set up the first Open Source Geospatial Lab in the UK  ( i did not have any funding that time but had big support from my colleagues across the university) to lay the foundation for “Geo for All” , i send invitations to  key players in the UK to send their representatives for the founding meeting . The Association of Geographic Information  , British Geological Survey, EDINA, Ordnance Survey etc all send their representatives for the founding meeting (Fig 1) at University of Nottingham in June 2010 .   Having the successful Triple Helix collaborations (Government, Industry, Academia) was important. We started with a few student projects. I also signed MoUs (Fig 2)  with other like minded organisations to expand our research collaborations.gvsig

Fig 2 – MoU with the gvSIG Association  (2011)

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Fig 3 -Prof. Georg Gartner (President, International Cartographic Association) and Arnulf Christl (President, Open Source Geospatial Foundation) shake hands after signing the ICA-OSGeo MoU at the OSGeo booth at Intergeo 2011 in Germany

From the start we had a global outlook . It was also a big leap of faith as myself or any of my colleagues did not have  any idea when we announced in  2011   that we will be establishing 5 dedicated Open  Geospatial Research Labs globally in 5 years time .  We used the power of combining efforts of like minded communities to achieve this by having a MoU (Fig 3) between the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) and the International Cartographic Association (ICA)  with the aim of developing on a global basis collaboration opportunities for academia, industry and government organizations in open source GIS software and data. We now have over 100 research labs established over the world (USA has the largest number of research labs established countrywise but region wise Europe has the largest number of labs).

Again as with the  various Geo4All initiatives, we announced these without any initial funding (we just setup the frameworks)  but always had key volunteers to lead the efforts and jointly apply for funding to scale up ideas and make it sustainable over the future. For example 6 months back , we decided that we had to do something to enable Urban Infrastructure Management for all cities around the world . Inspite of all the technological advancements, it is a sad fact that majority of the world’s poorest living in urban areas do not still have access to basic facilities (clean water, proper sanitation and hygiene facilities , good quality education opportunities etc).  In order to achieve UN Millennium Development Goals it is essential to develop infrastructure facilities, strengthen the muncipal authorities and local city government organisations ( reduce corruption etc) in the developing world for helping improving the living standards of the people.GIS is fundamental technology in infrastructure development and high cost proprietary GIS is unaffordable to governments, town planners and local authorities in developing and economically poor countries. With the availability of free and open source GIS technologies it now offers a great opportunity for governments and municipal authorities in developing countries also to implement GIS tools for their decision making and implementation needs  and help improving the lives of some of the most poorest people and by giving the geospatial tools to the municipal authorities for their decision making and implementation needs will help in improving the living standards of the people. We need to empower people and communities  to make sure our future generations are fully empowered .

So with this aim we started the OpenCitySmart initiative by setting up a wiki site https://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Opencitysmart   and a mailling list and asked our community to join efforts. Our colleagues in Australia  Chris Pettit  and colleagues from NASA (Patrick Hogan) lead this initiative. Chris is also leading the AURIN initiative  http://aurin.org.au/  and NASA is supporting us with thier WorldWind platform. We also are using the Europa Challenge to encourage more SMEs and students around the world to contribute to the OpenCitySmart initiative  http://eurochallenge.como.polimi.it/   We will be having a Think Tank on this to expand ideas (coinciding with the RDA meeting) . Details at http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/grace/events/eventsarticles/urban-biggeodata.aspx

The big picture of OpenCitySmart vision at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWuMfMMPfPw

So basically everything we do is by harnessing global efforts for finding solutions to global challenges. We believe empowering people with spatial decision making tools will result in a better society for all of humanity. The Open Source Geospatial Foundation is only 10 years old (It is thanks to the work and service of thousands of our colleagues globally that now we have a Foundation and all these active projects and communities) is good example of this.

OSGeo Live has been one of our key instruments for expanding Geo4All’s education aims globally .OSGeo Live contains  over 50 of the world’s widely used Geospatial software from Desktop applications to WebGIS solutions all provided free for the benefit of  all of humanity.  For example , QGIS has grown rapidly to be now the world’s most widely used Geographic Information System powering millions of users in governments, academia and industry worldwide.  Over 180 people have directly helped with OSGeo-Live packaging, documenting and translating, and thousands have been involved in building the packaged software. So it is harnessing global communities on a shared vision. Details at http://live.osgeo.org/en/overview/overview.html

We already have many examples of this in school education from our global colleagues that we need to expand for the future. For example, Ela and colleagues UNEP-GRID warsaw in Poland’s work on GIS at Schools . Details at http://www.edugis.pl/en/images/stories/guide/gis-at-school.pdf

This is an excellent resourse for teachers not only in geography but also in other science subjects who wish to use data concepts in thier teaching. Details at http://edugis.pl/en/for-teachers/guide

Our colleagues Sergio Acosta y Lara and others in Uruguay through gvSIG Batovi initiative have now able to teach high quality spatial technologies to students in all schools across  Uruguay . Thanks to the Plan Ceibal they also have free laptops for all Primary and Secondary students in the country so they truly have the opportunity to reach every student no matter they are rich or poor with high quality teaching and learning tools.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orwN9K07XPo   (Video with English translation)

We also have amazing academic colleagues in Geo4All globally who are contributing thier knowledge for Open Education efforts. We can get a flavor from last year’s GeoForAll – Global Educator of the Year Award 2015. Details are at http://www.geoforall.org/news/?action=story&id=20

We are now working with MapStory Foundation http://mapstory.org/    to expand our  spatial literacy  in school level program globally. For example, “mapping the neighbourhood” exercises to help teach spatial literacy in schools globally.  I think having MapStory examples of deforestation in different places might also be a good example to help teach students on effects of climate change as well as need for protecting the environment. Teaching Spatial literacy in schools  is key for also helping build good global citizens.

Why is Open Principles in Education and Research important?

Scalability is key for cost/sustainability issues esp if we are thinking global scale of expansion . The cost of hardware is getting lower (and will keep decreasing), internet access is increasing (even in poor countries, it will keep increasing) , so if we can also provide free and open technologies , open data, open educational resources etc it will be a big enabler for bridging the digital divide. Please also look into existing successful  initiatives in Open Principles in Education to understand why scalability and costs for scaling is fundamental .For example in India,  in the State of Kerala  (where i come from)  there is  a project called IT at Schools. It is one of the largest simultaneous deployment of Free and Open Source Software based education ( in over 12,000 schools benefiting 200,000 teachers and 6 million students ) that has transformed access to quality education to even students from the poorest backgrounds.  This is a good example of scalability of  education opportunities with very little resources using Open Principles. Details at https://www.itschool.gov.in/glance.php

Imagine if all these 12000+ schools and 6 million students had to depend on buying software and data for their teaching and learning. This simple idea can be scaled to millions of schools globally .This empowerment of educators and students  is the true essence and gift  of Open Principles.

Every time i visit India, i always make sure however busy i am, i visit atleast one school and talk with teachers and students.  One of the most profound questions i was asked was by a  student in a small school in India that i visited some years back . From speaking to the teachers i understood that many of the students at that school were from very poor backgrounds. That school didnt even have a proper library but had just started a small “computer lab” .Basically it was 3 computers connected to the internet running on Open Source Software . The students were now  for the first time getting opportunity using online resources like wikipedia for thier study. The students were very excited about resources like Wikipedia and one student asked me  the question “Will this be always available to us?” and i looked at her and   told her that she can be fully assured that she and all students will always have access to these resources as they are fully free and open and more importantly there are thousands of amazing people worldwide who are doing selfless service by working to make these free and open tools and open data so that the doors of opportunities will always be kept open for everyone. These students have no money power or sponsorship power to make thier voice heard and we need to be thier voice .I also decided that day that i will do my best to make sure open principles in education are protected,  so that  students in all schools  worldwide (irrespective of thier economic background) who now are seeing a small glimmer of hope will have that doors of education opportunity always open.

It is also important that the voice of the voiceless are heard. My childhood and growing up in India has a big impact on my thinking . I  am truly grateful that i had an amazing grandmother from whom i learned many of the most important things in life. My grandmother did not have any educational qualifications or world knowledge (she never even got opportunity to travel anywhere!) but she did have amazing common sense and compassion . I learned from her about  an old Indian principle of “Vasudeva kudumbam” which means we are all part of one universal family and “Geo for All” is for my universal family. So i get incredible happiness to get the opportunity to work with colleagues from all corners of our planet and from all different backgrounds on this common journey for helping provide education and opportunities for everyone.

One of the most important lessons that i learnt from my Geo4All journey  is that bringing together good people on a common mission and building a vibrant community  is the biggest asset. The aim of “Geo for All”  is to develop on a global basis collaboration opportunities for academia, industry and government organisations  for enabling open education opportunities for all by empowering academics , universities, school teachers worldwide by using Open Principles in  Geo Education .

Open Geospatial Science – Future steps

I had the opportunity to participate in the  “EU Science: Global Challenges, Global Collaboration” meetings at the European Parliament in Brussels (March 4th-8th,2013). This high level meetings brought together top scientists across the planet , ministers , MEPs, senior policymakers  and industry leaders with the aim to encourage worldwide collaboration in science, to explore how Horizon 2020 can enable an effective scientific response to global challenges, and to provide an environment to build new partnerships with a view to increasing international participation in Horizon 2020.

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Fig 4 “EU Science: Global Challenges, Global Collaboration” meetings at the European Parliament in Brussels , 2013

 

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Fig 5 – Opening session of  “EU Science: Global Challenges, Global Collaboration” meetings at the European Parliament in Brussels , 2013

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn,  European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science summarized excellently the meeting aims in her keynote speech at  http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-13-186_en.htm

For me it was also an excellent opportunity to interact with policy makers and top scientists from all disciplines and share Open science ideas and explore new opportunities for future research collaborations.

Having direct inputs to national policy and Intergovernmental agreements are good way to expand “Geo for All” ideas and Open Geospatial Science  . For example, we have done this with other countries like Australia following the 3rd EU – Australia Research Infrastructure meetings   that i attended in  Canberra in Nov 2013 .

In the area of sustainable cities, we have agreement to  establish Open Source Geoscience Sustainable Cities  Lab at the University of Melbourne with linked laboratories across Australia and New Zealand, under the ICA-OSGeo Initiative (jointly by INSPIRE, AURIN, ICA-OSGeo).

The Joint European Commission- Australian Government Communique is at
http://ec.europa.eu/research/infrastructures/pdf/Third%20European%20Australian%20Workshop%20on%20Research%20Infrastructure%20Communique.pdf

I had the opportunity of participating in the NSDI conference and meetings in Brasilia, Brazil in May 2014 and I would like to thank the Ministry of Planning, Government of Brazil for organising this excellent event and also for their kind invitation for keynote presentation where i shared the developments in Open Geospatial Science and its importance for widening education opportunities, new jobs creation and innovation ecosystems in Geoservices.

I would like to share some of the things i learned from our colleagues in Brazil which i think is relevant to the wider community

1. There are fast paced developments happening in Geospatial domain and it is important the countries should keep updating their Geoinformation policies to reflect this and take advantage of the new opportunities. I am pleased to see countries like Brazil are well tuned to global developments.
2. It is important to have inputs from the academic community and i was pleased to see this bringing together of key people from government and academia to discuss ideas and good practices.
3. Education and Capacity building is key for expanding opportunities.

The pace of growth has been much beyond our dreams and with more applications for establishing research labs from universities across the world, we are in target to establish over 1000 research labs in the next three years globally. This is the biggest growth area in our Geospatial  Science discipline and will have direct benefit of millions of students across the world. Each of these research labs will keep expanding over the years with more staff and students .

We welcome more research labs interested in building and expanding Open Geospatial Science [3],[4] to join Geo4All and contribute to our joint research actions through the various research thematics now in place

Through our new initiative of Geo4All Schools we aim to use geotechnologies as a usecase to advance STEM interest in Schools through Open Principles so that students develop creative minds  and develop to be future thought leaders and creative thinkers to help solve global challenges (not just teach them to be mere users). The bigger aim is to also to advance STEM education across the world and bring together schools, teachers and students across the world in joint projects and help building international understanding and global peace.

Best wishes,

Dr. Suchith Anand
http://www.geoforall.org/

Geo for All – Building and expanding Open Geospatial Science

[1]  http://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/moedas_en
[2] http://europe.rd-alliance.org/plenaries-events/events/weaving-internet-of-data-high-level-european-policy-meeting-funding
[3] http://www.mdpi.com/journal/ijgi/special_issues/science-applications
[4] http://opengeospatialdata.springeropen.com/about/editorial-board

 

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