Wrapping up UNGIWG

UNGIWG concluded with another half day of openness. In the morning we heard about the geo activities of our hosts in Vienna .. UN Office of Outer Space Affairs, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The CTBTO presentation was especially fascinating. They conduct one of the most important jobs at the UN, and for monitoring nuclear tests have deployed and leveraged several global sensor networks. The seismic fingerprint of nuclear tests are distinct from earthquakes. Noble gas isotopes are clear signs of a test. Infrasound and hydroacoustic measurements are also deployed; a nuclear test should register on all the sensor networks. The details on locations and functioning of the sensor networks are clearly communicated to the public in this elegant map. The information infrastructure to receive and process this flood of data streams is formidable, with 5 dedicated satellites and extremely minimal distribution lag to all the signatory countries, and analysis and permanent archiving in the Vienna center. The requirements are stringent , the solution robust and well funded. Of interest to the wider sphere, the archives are made accessible for unrelated activities, like tsunami early warning, volcanic blast detection, and climate change monitoring, all a wise example of reuse and repurpsoing of data. It’s not completely *open* but demonstrates how data access results in unexpected uses.

Lightning talks filled the rest of the monring. I gave two, and almost three. An introduction to GeoCommons led nicely from the previous days discussion of neogeo vs sdi. I gave a brief overview of the system and philosophy, with a brief example derived from Sean’s demos for the Gates Foundation. Good to see the acknowledgment that GC is bringing the accessibility of web tools with the analysis and cartographic care of traditional GIS. I took slight advantage of my 2nd lightning talk on OSM, adequately covered the day before, to switch and give a brief demo of Crabgrass and the work I’m doing at the UNDP. UNGIWG meets infrequently in formal meetings, and there’s scope for more sustained, agile, deeper contacts. There are an estimated 500-1000 GIS professionals in the UN system, and most are unaware of the work of UNGIWG, with extremely demanding work schedules and little opportunity to draw lessons from the wider community. My feeling is that a social network infrastructure is ideal to facilitate SDI, the human context is crucial when developing machine readable interfaces, and especially if that platform is open source and being deployed already in UN agencies. We’re currently working to set up an UNGIWG crabgrass, one of the brightest outcomes of the event for me.

Open source still faces difficulties in the UN. It’s commonly acknowledged that open source solutions, especially for geodata and maps on the web, are superior than proprietary offerings, but the commonly heard refrain is that the IT management is hostile to deploying open source. The expectations and accounting for software is biased against OS solutions, a grave irony when OS supports the objectives of the UN itself. Open source can provide valuable resources to beneficiaries just as a byproduct of UN requirements, and gives a technical basis for cooperation between UN agencies .. but this doesn’t happen that often. The must change, by appeal to upper management, something I hope is addressed at web4dev in February. There are bright spots of course. CampToCamp have developed camp management web platforms for UNHCR with open source tools, which I hope will provide opportunities for cooperation with efforts like Sahana (which has gotten some support from the UNDP), Ushahidi, and other crisis mappers, and the emerging OSM Corp concept.

Outside of UNGIWG, Vienna was lovely as ever and treated us well. The overflowing Baroque of Vienna is uplifting, the old masters and vaults of science, churches bubbling with iconography, even to the modern modern museums quartier, baroque is the guiding fabric (and home to a great cafe). The urbanity of Vienna is inspiring, imperial layered landscapes, imaginative restorations of the gasometer, enduring socialist idealism of Karl Marx Hof, speeding BMWs down cobbled luxury streets, walkable, cyclable, the best transport system anywhere. If only the city stayed open later. Even the brutal, only good on paper Vienna International Centre carries 60s UN hopefulness, and a reminder to remember the human scale even when buildings do not. That all was the scene for good times and some misadventure with old compagni and new of our geo vanguard.

And with a final sweetness, just dumb luck gave me the opportunity to facilitate a rather large geodata domation to OSM, more on that as things finalize.