What happens where: A new integrated geospatial information framework

Everything that happens, happens somewhere, but how do we know what is happening where? when? and why? The answers lie in geospatial information. That means information that pinpoints the location of geographic features, such as settlements, mountains or lakes, on the Earth and describes their relation to other features. It allows us to create a digital image of our world, in which all social, economic and environmental activity takes place.

Geospatial information is a blueprint of what happens where. It integrates all the digital data that have a location component. From basic topographical features found on a map, to complex multi-layer datasets, such as crop production and monitoring, geospatial data can shed light on disparities in society that were previously hidden, and identify areas and communities with little or no social and economic opportunities.

Geospatial information shows us where social, environmental and economic conditions occur. Reliable and authoritative geographic information can help us to measure, monitor and manage the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), improving people’s lives and protecting the planet.

It is difficult to imagine any national development planning or political decision-making without quality geospatial information, yet the availability and accessibility of data remains one of the biggest challenges with implementing the SDGs. Without relevant data on social, economic and environmental challenges, governments cannot make effective and evidence-based policies to more accurately direct resources, and ensure that no one – nowhere – is left behind.

The United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) has been working with a wide range of experts, UN Member States and the World Bank to improve access to quality geospatial information. On 1st August, the Committee will meet in New York to adopt a new strategic framework for the geospatial community – a key document that will help countries strengthen their management of geospatial information.

The Overarching Strategic Framework is a forward-looking blueprint built on national circumstances, and priorities. It focuses on policy, perspectives and elements of geospatial information and explains why geospatial information management is critical to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals at a national level.

Governments hold considerable amounts of geospatial information, including databases on access to education, communities most affected by poverty, areas at risk of disasters as well as mobile data that can keep people informed about disease outbreaks or weather patterns. But this information, though critical for development decisions, is often scarce, outdated or insufficiently integrated and shared. The Overarching Strategic Framework, together with the upcoming Implementation Guide and country-level action plans, chart a way to change all that.

The Framework aims to assist countries to move towards e-delivery systems, e-commerce, and e‑economies. Its ambition is to improve services for citizens, develop capacity for applying geospatial science, improve informed decision-making, boost the development of private sector, help achieve a digital transformation, and bridge the geospatial digital divide between countries.

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