OGC's potential role in "Scaling up Responsible Land Governance"

Geospatial technologies help the World Bank to effectively serve its client governments, particularly in the sphere of land management and economic development. Land management involves many domains: law, government, real estate, water, forestry, agriculture, banking, community development, and others. These domains frequently need to share geospatial information and in this, OGC, the geospatial technology standards organization, plays an important role because its mission is to advance the interoperability and integration of geospatial technologies and data resources used in diverse domains.

With that in mind, the OGC and the World Bank decided to coordinate two important meetings. The annual OGC Technical Committee and Planning Committee meeting will be held from March 7-11, 2016, just ahead of the 17th annual World Bank Land and Poverty Conference 2016: Scaling up Responsible Land Governance, which will take place from March 14-18. Both conferences will be held in the same location at the World Bank in Washington, DC. A series of joined events have been planned to encourage and align discussion on the need for agreed land administration data models and encoding standards. It is anticipated that these standards, implemented in a wide variety of information systems, will enable the World Bank to more effectively help its client countries use land tenure information and other associated geospatial information for monitoring, mortgage, land use planning, internal revenue generation based on land and property tax and many other functions.

A Land Administration Ad Hoc meeting is planned for Wednesday morning, March 9 at the OGC Technical Committee Meeting. There will be discussion with the OGC LandInfra working groups about use cases and existing standards relevant to land governance. The results of this discussion will be presented as a draft charter for a proposed OGC Land Administration Domain Working Group. Subsequently, a session organized during the World Bank conference will focus on the experiences of the international hydrology community in developing and implementing the OGC WaterML2.0 water resources standards, as an illustration of the land administration standards work that is envisaged. This will be followed by a second  session to discuss the draft charter with Land and Poverty Conference 2016 attendees. Both session are planned for Tuesday march 15 in the afternoon.  

To encourage dialog between Land and Poverty Conference attendees and geospatial technology providers, during the first two days of the Land and Poverty conference, on March 14-15 the World Bank and the OGC North America Forum will present The OGC Open Standards Technology Exposition and World Bank Land and Poverty Conference Innovation Fair, featuring relevant technology offerings of OGC member technology providers and others.

Discussion of land and poverty is ultimately about land tenure, which the UN Food and Agriculture Organization defines as "… the relationship, whether legally or customarily defined, among people, as individuals or groups, with respect to land. (For convenience, ‘land’ is used here to include other natural resources such as water and trees.) …. In simple terms, land tenure systems determine who can use what resources for how long, and under what conditions.” (Read more.) The coverage, effectiveness and quality of land information and land administration systems are at the center of land tenure security.

The OGC's first standards were technical standards useful in any domain that uses geospatial technologies. In recent years, however, domain experts in water resources monitoring and management, pipeline management, geology and weather have used the OGC process to help develop domain-specific standards such as: WaterML 2.0, PipelineML, GeoSciML and WXXM, an aviation-specific weather information model and encoding. The soil information management community developed their SoilML standard as part of an OGC Interoperability Experiment and are considering offering this standard for formal OGC adoption. These domain standards all have a role to play in land and poverty because they can help stakeholders – from smallholders to large businesses – manage land-related assets and liabilities. 

In addition to SoilML, perhaps the current OGC domain standards work most relevant to next month’s World Bank conference theme is that being done in the OGC Land and Infrastructure (LandInfra) Domain Working Group (LandInfra DWG) and Standards Working Group (LandInfra SWG) and in the OGC Urban Planning DWG.

The OGC LandInfra working groups address civil engineering, building information models and continuity between indoor and outdoor spatial reference systems, but they also aim to provide a standard data model and encoding for property boundaries so that information about properties can be recorded and shared. Much work remains, but an early focus has been on land ownership. This includes administrative division, that is, government ownership, such as a right-of-way for road construction. The particular use case involves development officials being able to see who owns what, in order to see if there is enough right-of-way to construct an infrastructure facility. 

“The LandInfra DWG has tackled only the ‘concepts’ with LandInfra, that is, the data model – trying to get a consensus agreement and understanding of the terminology involved,” explains Paul Scarponcini, chair of the LandInfra DWG and SWG. “The next step, InfraGML, is to develop an actual encoding of these concepts so they can be used by software, and that is the work of the LandInfra SWG.” 

The OGC LandInfra DWG has not yet addressed the legal and rights issues that are addressed in detail by ISO 19152 (Land Administration Domain Model) (a conceptual model, not an encoding). Also, for recording of boundaries, the broad diversity of systems makes it difficult to achieve a consistent and understandable world-wide specification of cadastral recording. These topics provide areas for possible future LandInfra development, and there is much interest in these topics.

LandInfra has obvious value in urban planning, but the the OGC Urban Planning DWG has a broader focus. “The OGC Urban Planning DWG is trying to visualize a societal structure based on a web platform for fully web-enabled local communities of any size,” explained John Herring, chair of that group. “This vision would use an ‘Internet of Things’ type of a model for the ultimate target of representing everything in reality in the digital model so that planning and other activities can use that virtual world to plan, test, model, simulate and proof plans before the first steps in the physical world are taken. This idea is already in use in the sense that in many universities, the facility management departments are taking on urban planning tasks. The LandInfra model provides a vital piece of the puzzle for representing the physical arena in which the urban web-enabled model resides. This is not a blue-sky vision, it is where the world is going. We just need to get there first with standards so we can organize the enabling model and help it along.” Urban land use is a prominent topic at the World bank land conference, where a new flagship World Bank report on spatial development of African cities will be presented. Similar Bank reports have been prepared for other regions.

The kind of visioning being done in the OGC Urban Planning DWG needs to be informed by good information about people’s real requirements and current social structures, which vary from place to place and time to time. This understanding is evident in “Fit for Purpose Land Administration”, a concept being advanced by the International Federation of Surveyors, the World Bank and number of other non-governmental development organizations. This concept will be discussed in several sessions during the World Bank conference. This involves developing low-cost land tenure approaches that meet the immediate needs of the people living on the land. It focuses on general boundaries rather than fixed boundaries; low-cost satellite and aerial imagery rather than expensive field surveys; and opportunities for upgrading accuracy and land administration systems as needs evolve. 

As David Schell, founder of the OGC, said, “Interoperability seems to be about the integration of information. What it’s really about is the coordination of organizational behavior.” What information sharing and information integration is necessary to coordinate successful land tenure functions in a particular society? What are the specific information flows, workflows and outcomes involving natural capital, manufactured capital, financial capital, social capital and human capital? Can we create data models for these aspects of human geography, from which encodings can be developed to facilitate transparent digital communication, modeling, analysis and reporting? How can this kind of digital support contribute to improved agricultural output, physical infrastructure construction, and knowledge transfer while increasing environmental sustainability, average incomes and general prosperity? 

Applying sophisticated information technology in places where people lack the education and services familiar in technologically-advanced nations may seem like “blue sky” thinking. But poor farmers already use their cell phones to get weather forecasts, compare crop prices at available markets and, in some countries, handle their banking. In the age of the Internet, cloud computing, and sophisticated geospatial technologies, it is almost as easy for governments, businesses or non-governmental organizations to deliver free or low-cost sub-hectare agricultural intelligence as it is for wireless providers to deliver free weather forecasts. In cities, properly conceived land tenure systems could help enable increasingly livable towns and neighborhoods equipped and organized for local wealth creation, local wealth preservation and local resilience in the face of economic and natural hazards.

We are just getting started. The OGC WaterML 2.0 and GeoSciML standards are already practical necessities for those who provide technology support for land administrators concerned about hydrology and geology. The OGC CityGML standard for 3D urban models has domain extensions for things like energy management, underground utilities, noise and routing, which relate directly to land management and land valuation, and thus indirectly to land tenure. Soon SoilML, PipelineML and a LandInfra standard will likely join this suite of available standards. It's not hard to imagine standards that will make it much easier to collect, publish, discover, assess, access, integrate, share and analyze other kinds of land-related data. Data about air pollution, brownfields, greenhouse gas emissions and offsets and other spatially distributed assets and liabilities will someday play a role in maximizing the social and economic value of land. Standard data models and encodings for aspects of human geography might be equally important.

The World Bank Land and Poverty Conference 2016 features an impressive program of sessions, the organization of which is led  by the World Bank Group’s Research department (DEC) in coordination with the Bank’s Global Practices. Shared prosperity, that is, inclusive economic growth, is the aim of the Bank, which works globally. Much of the bank's work relates to space, place and territory – the stuff of geography. In the Information Age, in the Environmental Age, and in an age of critical risks affecting eight or nine billion people, we need to make the best possible use of geospatial technologies in meeting societal needs. An important goal is to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in interventions aimed at strengthening land tenure security. Open, consensus-derived standards are essential to achieving this goal.