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Capacity building for geo-information provision: A public goods perspective

Yola Georgiadou and Richard Groot
International Institute for Geo-information Science and Earth Observation (ITC)
Enschede, The Netherlands

The knowledge exchange activities of ITC aim primarily at capacity building and institutional development in countries that are technologically and economically less developed. These activities address problem areas (or application domains), - e.g. improving multifunctional use of space, effective water management, food security, disaster preparedness, global change monitoring, the environment etc, - where GI Science and Earth Observation can play an essential role in finding solutions.

These problem areas are mostly regional and global in terms of their spatial spill-over range. In fact, it is due to advances in Earth Observation technology, that they are now recognized by public goods theorists and international development agencies as final, regional and global public goods (and bads). Regional and global Geospatial Data Infrastructures (GDI) are the intermediate mechanisms underpinning the supply of regional and global final goods. GDIs encompass various components – fundamental data and technological, institutional, organizational, economic resources etc– that also exhibit public goods characteristics to a larger or lesser extent.

In this paper, we utilize recent advances in public goods theory in order to characterize GDI components in terms of their nature, their spatial spill-over range (regional, global), as well as in terms of their aggregation mechanisms (supply). We show that GDI fundamental data and resources, seen through the lens of recent developments in regional (and global) public goods theory, may be considered intermediate regional (and global) public goods, albeit with variable publicness in consumption, in provision and in distribution of benefits.

We argue that this taxonomy can help in engineering advocacy action and in developing policy – e.g. through national, regional & global geographic associations - for the supply of regional (and global) fundamental data and GDI technological resources with more ‘publicness in consumption’. We show that individual, organizational and institutional capacity building is the only aggregation mechanism for the supply of ‘weakest link’- type goods such as GDI institutional, organizational and human resources. Capacity building underpinned by strong geographic associations can maximize publicness in provision and in the distribution of benefits of GDI fundamental data and GDI technological resources.

1. Introduction
In Sandler’s (1998) words “technology has provided humankind with the means to monitor the earth and its atmosphere in novel ways: remote sensing satellites have identified holes in the stratospheric ozone layer; atmospheric observatories atop Mauna Loa on the Island of Hawaii record the accumulation of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other pollutants. With these technologies, we have become cognizant of goods (and bads) of a global and regional nature”.

The emergence into our consciousness of transnational and global bads – e.g. spread of infectious diseases, degradation of the global environment, loss of biodiversity, global financial volatility- has fueled the debate of how to reform the traditional, countryfocused system of international development cooperation that has evolved over the past 50 years. Several researchers view many of today’s global crises as caused by underprovision of international public goods, or oversupply of global bads. They now argue for a correction of the underprovision through new international governance institutions and new mechanisms for the supply and financing of regional and global public goods. See Kanbur et al (1999), Kaul et al (1999), Ferroni (2000, 2001, 2002), Kaul (2001), Sandler (1998, 2001), Besley and Ghatak (2001), Stiglitz (1999a, b). The wealth of recent research on (global) public goods provision does not start from scratch. It builds on the well-established traditional concept of a (national) public good, first mentioned by David Hume, and later introduced into economic theory by Paul Samuelson in the 50s1. However, recent global public goods research not only redefines the public goods concept in more relevant, global and practical terms. It also provides new insights for policy formulation related to the provision, ownership and financing strategies of regional and global public goods as well as a new lens through which to view the urgency for institutional, organizational and individual capacity building in the developing world. See e.g. GEF-UNDP (2000) for a global assessment of capacity building needs in biodiversity, climate change and land degradation at the institutional, organizational and individual level.

What are the authors’ interests in these issues? First, our institute (ITC) aims to operate as a node in an international knowledge network in Geo-information Science and Earth Observation. These knowledge fields are broadly recognized as essential in finding solutions for application domains of regional and global nature, such as (transboundary) water management, food security & biodiversity preservation, for disaster preparedness and for understanding of global change. Second, ITC is active in knowledge exchange aimed primarily at capacity building and institutional development for and in less developed countries (ITC, 2001). Hence, it is important to explore how recent

1 Quoted from Garrett (1992): “The public goods justification for the state, so impressive to economists and political scientists, goes roughly like this. While a market may allow self-interested individuals to create and allocate many goods optimally, there exist a class of goods –collective or public goods- that are not produced adequately in a market system. These collective goods are goods that all individuals want but whose production it is often not individually rational for people voluntarily to do their part to secure a collectively rational outcome. The state can step in and force us all to contribute toward the production of these goods, and we can all thereby be made better off”

developments in public goods theory can contribute (i) to a new taxonomy of the regional (and global) GDI resources underlying these application domains, (ii) to a more focused development of geo-information policy as well as (iii) to a better design of modalities for their provision through institutional, organisational and individual capacity building.

In Section 2, we review the traditional definition of a public good and summarize recent critiques to this standard definition, as well as a more relevant (expanded) definition. We introduce the notions of regional and global public goods and review some new insights on “aggregation mechanisms” for their supply. In Section 3, we show that GDI fundamental data and technological resources, seen through the lens of recent developments in regional (and global) public goods theory, may be considered as intermediate regional (and global) public goods, albeit with variable publicness in consumption, in provision and in distribution of benefits. We also highlight recent policy recommendations to render some of the GDI resources more public in consumption. In Section 4, we show that local individual, organizational and institutional capacity building is the only aggregation mechanism for the supply of ‘weakest link’ GDI institutional, organizational and human resources.

2. An overview of recent developments in public goods theory
Standard economic texts define public and private goods in terms of their position in a two dimensional continuum, described by the qualities of rivalry and excludability. Rights of ownership can be clearly attached to private goods. Hence they are excludable; they can be produced and distributed according to demand. They are also rival in consumption. One person’s enjoyment of the good may reduce or completely exhaust the good’s utility for others. Rights of ownership to private goods are transferred through market transactions against the payment of the good’s market price. Goods that can be purchased in a supermarket are examples of private goods. See Kaul et al (1999).

Public goods have the opposite properties. They are non-rival in consumption and nonexcludable. Hence they elicit consumer behaviors that include the temptation for freeriding
  • enjoying the benefit for free once the good has been provided by somebody else
  • as well as unwillingness from the consumers’ side to reveal their levels of demand.
Public goods suffer from underprovision because markets are unable to supply nonexcludable goods. They are labeled market failures and are set aside for government intervention e.g. through tax incentives for businesses or direct government action. Typical examples of public goods at the national level include public health and defense.

Few goods qualify as purely private or purely public. Many have mixed properties. A club good for example has non-rival properties but can be excluded through a membership & fee regime. Private TV broadcasting is a club good. Private and public goods are closely related to the notion of externality. Externalities are spill-overs of private or public activities into the public domain.

These basic premises of traditional public goods theory have recently been severely questioned for their lack of relevance and practicality in today’s globalized world by several researchers in the international development scene. See e.g. Kaul et al (1999), Kaul and Ryu (2001), Kaul (2001a,b), Stalgren (2000), Ferroni (2000). They argue that the “tectonic shifts that have affected in the recent past what is public and private force us to question the core dimensions in the standard definition of the public good”. These recent critiques can be summarized as follows:
  • The lines between “public” and “private” are blurred and constantly changing. “Public” and “private” are not anymore fixed but time-variable properties of goods. Although some researchers suggest to abandon the public-private distinction altogether, others argue forcefully that a good’s properties should be made explicit- even though they may be of a temporary nature – because they determine the provision strategy for the good and affect actors’ decisions to reveal their preference and level of demand. They assert that the good’s “publicness” is a social construct. And that the public or private nature of a good is not a given but a matter of policy choice.
  • The role of non-state actors in the provision of public goods is increasing, locally and globally. The state is not the only policy response to public goods provision. Civil society and private business can be active promoters and shapers of public goods. However it is recognized that although civil society and business can press for change in norms and adopt voluntary standards, only national governments can translate these demands into binding law and make agreements stick.
  • Publicness in consumption does not mean positive utility for all. People enter market arrangements voluntarily. But in the case of a public good they may not have an avenue for criticism or an exit opportunity. They may be compelled to consume the public good (or bad). Therefore, it is important to ascertain whether a good’s publicness in form goes hand in hand with publicness in substance.

Kaul (2001a) proposes therefore an expanded definition2 for public goods that characterizes them in terms of their:
  • publicness in consumption or inclusiveness3: Inclusiveness has three origins: (i) deliberate public policy to place or to keep the good’s benefits in the public domain, (ii) non-excludability of the goods benefits due to economic and technical reasons, and (iii) inadvertent existence of the good (or bad) in the public domain.
  • publicness in provision: based on a fully participatory decision making and design. All key actors should have a fair opportunity to help shape the good in question, monitor its production, assess its impact and recommend, if necessary adjustments in its design.
  • publicness in the distribution of benefits

2 We shall refer to this definition as Kaul’s definition. Inge Kaul is the Director of the UNDP’s Office of Development Studies, New York.

3 Kaul (2001) argues that defining public goods through the broader criterion of inclusivess changes the concept from a passive, residual category (non-marketable) into an active, policy guided one.

Public goods theory has been national in focus for decades. However, in today’s rapidly globalizing world, (formerly considered as pure) national public goods are becoming firmly interlocked across borders as they create cross-border, spatial spill-overs (externalities). We are also becoming cognizant of new, global public goods (and bads) through advances in remote sensing technology. Global public goods tend towards universality in the sense that they benefit all countries, generations and population groups. Examples of global public goods are the curbing of global warming, biodiversity and basic research. Examples of regional public goods and bads are (effective) transboundary water management and desertification respectively.

Recent research by and for international development agencies interprets many of today’s crises as a case of under-provision of regional and global goods. Recent research also deplores the fact that policy making has not kept pace with the challenges we are now confronting. See Kaul et al (1999) for a comprehensive review of global public goods (and bads) and a new policy agenda for their provision in the 21st century.

In addition to new insights regarding the spatial spill-overs of public goods (and bads), researchers now classify them also according to the aggregation mechanism that determines how individuals, organizations and countries contribute to their provision. See Sandler (1998) and Stalgren (2000). They distinguish four aggregation mechanisms: summation, best shot, weakest link and weighted sum. The summation mechanism is the classical mechanism of provision of public goods. Each contributed unit adds equally to the overall level available. Controlling desertification is an example of a summation mechanism. For a best-shot mechanism, the overall level of the public good is determined by the contribution made by the actor making the largest contribution. International norms and standards is an example. Since the chances of success are positively correlated with the resources available, “best shooters” are often rich countries. Weakest link aggregation is characterized by the fact that the smallest contribution made by an actor sets the effective level available for the entire group. Transboundary water management is an example. In the weighted sum mechanism, weights are applied to the individual contributions before summing them.

Spatial spill-overs of public goods Examples Aggregation mechanism
Nationa Public safety /defense Best shot (by the state)
Regional Controlling desertification
Transboundary water
Weakest link
Global Global warming Norms and standards Summation

Adapted from Stalgren (2000)

3. Geospatial Data Infrastructures through the lens of (global) public goods
Following Groot and McLaughlin (2000), we define a Geospatial Data Infrastructure (GDI) as encompassing the networked geospatial databases and data handling facilities, the complex of technological, institutional, organizational, human, and economic resources which interact with one another and underpin the design, implementation and maintenance of mechanisms facilitating the sharing, access to, and responsible use of geospatial data at an affordable cost for a specific application domain or enterprise. National GDI, enterprise GDI or regional GDI have often different specifications in terms of data standards, information policy aspects etc.

We attempt a new taxonomy of some core components of a Geospatial Data Infrastructure through the perspective of the recent developments of public goods theory, outlined in section 2. We follow the recommendations of Stalgren (2000) and Ferroni (2000) and adopt practical, “means definitions”4 of public goods as opposed to “goaloriented”, or “policy-outcome” definitions. According to these authors, means definitions of public goods, involve the provision of intermediate public (or private) goods such as resources (data, information, knowledge, technology), best practices in given fields, policies, processes and institutions for achieving policy outcomes with public good characteristics, such as allocation and management of natural resources, public safety etc.

If we look at some GDI resources through the lens of Kaul’s definition of public goods, it becomes evident that there are discrepancies in their various dimensions of publicness as well as various aggregation mechanisms in place for their provision. In section 3.1, we examine technological resources (the internet & the WWW, geo-ICT services and software provision), in section 3.2 (fundamental) geospatial data and Section 3.3 supply mechanisms for global data and OGC processing specifications.

3.1 Technological resources
The Internet and the WWW together constitute the cyberspace, a computer generated public domain with no territorial boundaries or physical attributes and in perpetual use. See Loader (1998). The internet is the world-wide physical network of computer networks. The WWW is a hypertext –based internet service used for browsing internet resources, such as text, files, graphics, sound and moving pictures. Although theoretically, the internet architecture is non-rival and non-excludable the reality on the ground is different. Lack of a telephone line, a computer and a modem contribute to excludability of developing country users for technical reasons. Congestion problems encourage internet providers to charge for internet use and to use the proceeds to fund

4 Stalgren (2000) and Ferroni (2000) advise against goal-oriented definitions for public goods, such as public health, peace, sustainable environment etc. They argue that the goal definition of a public good is comparable to motherhood and apple-pie and is too general to be useful in practice. Goal definitions of public goods are policy outcomes that require the provision of generic deliverables, which in their turn can be considered as intermediate public goods.

increases in the providers’ server capacity, thereby excluding economically weak users. Excludability due to technical and economic reasons make the internet architecture a de facto club good despite the theoretically positive outlook. Web-services offered on the internet architecture qualify as a club good on all counts. Researchers point out that although there is a restricted scope of policy enforcement –given the anarchic nature of the internet – “conceiving of the internet as a global public good could help point policy makers to the right direction”. See Stiglitz (1999a, b), Sy (1999) and Spar (1999) for a comprehensive review of knowledge, global communications and the cyberspace as global public goods as well as related regional and global policy demands to increase inclusiveness, especially in tele-education web-services for developing countries.

Geo-ICT services
In contrast to the internet, telecommunications services, such as INTELSAT5, operate as a private consortium of firms, governments and other institutions. Since coding and scrambling signals can restrict access to the network, INTELSAT is a global club good by design. See Sy (1999) for policy recommendations to open Africa to the promises of global telecommunication services.

Remote Sensing technology has made us more cognizant of goods (and bads) of a global nature. Remote Sensing services, a global club good, historically provided by government, due to the huge initial investments (sunk costs) and the R&D push required is now increasingly becoming more inclusive both in consumption and in provision through deliberate policy choices and commercialization. See O’Connell and Hilgenberg (2001) and the Landsat Data Policy6 that essentially turned (unenhanced) Landsat imagery to the status of a public good, with provisions for availability at the cost of fulfilling user requests and retainment of ownership by the United States. However, because of the military intelligence value of high resolution imagery we can expect temporal variations in the degree of excludability of high resolution imagery that also exhibit some hilarious aspects7. See the Space News of April 8, 2002 for an illustrative example.

The evolution of Navigation and Positioning services8 from a club good (GPS) to a public good with perfect inclusiveness (Galileo) is a striking example of enforcing inclusiveness through deliberate policy making to place the good’s benefits in the public domain. European Transport Ministers took the political decision (with a sovereignty and



7 SPACE NEWS Update for Monday April 8, 2002: U.S. Battles With Satellite Imagery Use. By Jason Bates, Space News Staff Writer Washington: A policy designed to keep high-resolution commercial satellite imagery out of hostile hands during the early phases of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan initially made it difficult for U.S. forces to use that information, according to military and industry sources. In an era when huge amounts of data are transported electronically to the far corners of the globe, the U.S. Air Force had to devise a system for hand-delivering the restricted imagery to the theater of operations, where it was used for mission-planning purposes. Those involved with the effort named it after the 19th Century system of delivering U.S. mail via horseback: the Pony Express.

8 Galileo home:

autonomy rationale) on March 26, 2002 to launch Galileo, Europe’s satellite navigation and positioning system, despite the failure to ensure the expected co-financing of Galileo development through public-private partnerships. Political reasons prevailed where the economics failed to bear fruit. Publicness in consumption is indeed a social construct and, hence, a deliberate policy outcome.

One instance of the blurred lines between “private” and “public” in the provision of public goods is the so-called copyleft movement. Traditionally, commercial software companies have made software products perfectly excludable and, hence marketable, through trade secrecy (distribution of the object code as opposed to the source code). They have also made them rival through user licences and copyright (customers sign agreements that prohibit or control duplication). Under these conditions, commercial software is a pure private good.

In recent times, thousands of volunteers use open source software for the production of widely used public good products such as the LINUX operating system. These highly complex products are arguably better than competing commercial products suggesting that open source provision maybe highly efficient. Bessen (2000) notes that it “is counter to common economic intuition for private agents without property rights to invest sufficient effort in the development of a public good”. He argues that the complexity of the software provides the explanation of this paradox. He proves that for complex software goods under asymmetric information, open source developers self-select their own end-use product, thus off-setting free-riding losses9. See also Onsrud (2001) for a further theoretical exploration of the relevance of the copyleft movement to innovative sharing of geo-information following a deliberate public policy decision to place fundamental data sets affirmatively into the public domain.

GIS companies still produce rival and excludable software products; the open source software “virus” has not yet infected the GIS industry. However, we witness now interesting signs of self regulation in the GIS industry, exemplified through generous GIS

9 Bessen argues that software is not a simple but a complex product, meaning a product with M features that work together. The firm sells a product with M optional features of which few may be used with each other. This represents 2M different “use-products”, which would have to be debugged and tested at astronomical costs by the company. However only a combination of a few (the use-product) is of interest to each individual consumer. The customer consumes only a specific instance (the “use product”) of the general product the firm sells. This distinction creates a real economic difference when the firm faces a cost for each use-product, because the quality of software depends on the extent to which different useproduct combinations are tested and debugged. But the number of possible combinations are astronomical and the cost is prohibitive. The firm faces an information problem. If the firm knew in advance which useproducts consumers would actually use, it could be feasible to test only these combinations. Large markets reveal aggregate demand, but even large markets do not reveal this information. In effect a firm sells millions of copies of a complex product and nevertheless faces a myriad of small markets for different useproducts. The individual open source volunteers self-select to test and debug their own uuse product (a combination of a limited number of features) and produce privately a public good.

software donations10, such as the launching by ESRI on May 2001, of the Global Map (ISCGM)/Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Grant program. Private GIS companies behaving as global corporate citizens with a concern for the public welfare is a new and welcome trend.

Prohibitively expensive, commercial GIS software with a multitude of irrelevant features (end-use products according to Bessen (2000)) has forced some developing countries to indigenous GIS software development. An illustrative example is GRAM++, a GIS software with a fraction of the functionalities of existing commercial software, produced at a fraction of the cost and taylored to the needs of the Indian Ministry of Science & Technology and its Natural Resources Management Program. See Venkatachalam and Krishna (2001).

If the copyleft movement in GIS software development does not catch on soon enough, softening of excessively strong copyright protection maybe an alternative. Stiglitz (1999a) reports an ingenious solution, proposed by Aaron Edlin of the University of California at Berkeley, to spur software innovation and to limit the undue exercise of monopoly power of software companies, by means of significantly softening intellectual copyright protection11.

3.2 Fundamental geospatial data
Fundamental geo-information is an intermediate public good and has been historically perceived as national in scope. Ownership of and unlimited access to fundamental geoinformation allows national governments to govern, i.e to provide final public goods, notoriously under-provided if left to market forces. An example is defense, the purest public good of all. Fundamental geo-information has been historically produced by National Surveys. This natural monopoly has been challenged in recent years with the growing commercial availability of substitute products made possible with ubiquitous access to geo-ICT. Signal scrambling technology has challenged public broadcasting in a similar way. National Surveys have been slow to adjust to these challenges, a fact that not only poses the long- recognized risk of underprovision of the final public good but also what Kaul (2001) identifies as mal-provision, a situation where mal-provided goods of a public nature provide positive utility only for some and for others nothing, or only transaction costs. In a similar vein, Groot (2001) argues that mal-provision leads to loss

10 This grant program is to support Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) development by national mapping agencies and national spatial data development organizations through provision of GIS technology and capacity building (training).

11 Quoted from Stiglitz (1999a): “Microsoft could release its code, and the duration of its intellectual copyright protection would be limited to three years. If Microsoft continued to improve its product, the updated versions would be protected for three years. Consumers would have a choice: they could avail themselves of the outdated (three year old) software or pay for the more advanced software. Microsoft would be forced to innovate at a fast pace to justify its position in the market. Applications using the slightly outdated operating system would compete with those of the newer; and consumers would only be willing to pay for the new operating system if the improvements were worth the price”.

of positive externalities, to costly duplication and possibly reduced timeliness in the decision-making processes.

Concepts from public goods theory have informed research in geoinformatics related to the pricing of electronic goods in the public sector in New Zealand and to the dangers of destruction of the public information commons in the United States. See e.g. Walsh (2001) and Onsrud (1998). Most significantly public goods theory has served as the explanatory framework for asserting the role of government12 in geo-information provision and for re-engineering the organizational structure and financial regime of geoinformation providers at a national level. The publicness of fundamental geo-information in terms of non-rivalry in consumption as well as its high degree of non-excludability is at the core of this research. Indeed publicly held geo-information can be excluded through an intellectual copy-right regime although it is recognized that new electronic technology makes it increasingly difficult to enforce excludability. See for example Coopers & Lybrand (1996) and Ordnance Survey (1999).

3.3 Global (fundamental) geospatial data and OGC geoprocessing specifications
Kaul’s definition of public goods and Sandler’s (1998) theory on aggregation mechanisms enable us to look at the provision of global (fundamental) geospatial data and interoperability specifications from a new perspective.

The Global Map is a digital geographic dataset for the whole area of the earth at the ground resolution of one km. It consists of eight layers of geographical data and addresses global environmental problems well confirmed at the United Nations13. See ISCGM (2001). The Global Mapping initiative is a voluntary international collaborative activity which can only materialize by the participation of all National Surveys in the world. Hence, the Global map is implicitly perceived as an intermediate global public good for addressing global environmental problems. The aggregation mechanism used is “summation”. Each contributed unit adds equally to the overall level of the desired good.

The Global Terrain Elevation Model (DTED) initiative is the product of a partnership between the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The DTED will provide an order of magnitude increase in the frequency of data over current terrain models and do so with an improvement in both horizontal and vertical accuracy. The 100 meter data set and the 30 meter SAR Imagery will be available for all to use. The combination of the SRTM terrain data and SAR Imagery will provide an accurate geo-referenced map over a geographic region of the world in which 95% of the earth's population lives. The 30 meter terrain elevation data over the continental United States will also be available to all.

12 Masser (1998) explores the ontology of geo-information in order to establish its value in a national economy and to raise questions about the role of governments with respect to national geo-information strategies.

13 Quoted from ISCGM (2001): The Draft Decision on Information for Decision-making and Participation” adopted at the 9th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD9), 16-28 April 2001, includes: “the Commisssion … calls for promoting the developmenta nd wider use by developing countries of innovative technologies such as global mapping, ..”

The DTED is implicitly perceived as an intermediate global public good that can play a major role in furthering the development of Geospatial Data Infrastructures at local or global levels. See Senus (2000) for further details. The aggregation mechanism used is “best shot”. The overall level of the public good is determined by the contribution made by the actors making the largest contribution, NASA and NIMA14.

The global geoid (GFZ, 2002) and the International GPS Service (IGS, 2001) also qualify as intermediate global public goods with inclusiveness in consumption and a best shot aggregation mechanism. The Open GIS Consortium is perhaps a unique example of broad participation of private companies in the provision of an intermediate global public good. OGC (2002) is an international industry consortium of more than 220 companies, government agencies and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available OGC geoprocessing specifications, with a high degree of inclusiveness in consumption and a best shot aggregation mechanism. Since the chances of success are positively correlated with the resources available, “best shooters” are often private-public actors from rich countries working in a collaborative fashion.

4. Capacity building for geo-information provision
Let us imagine for a moment that GDI fundamental data and GDI technological resources can be provided world-wide via the best shot aggregation mechanism, with perfect publicness in consumption, by a benevolent, international consortium of donors, private corporations and rich governments striving for the benefit of ‘warm glow’ altruism. Even under these miraculous conditions, developing countries would need two fundamental inputs, according to Ferroni (2000):
  1. technically-skilled human resources to enable them to locally take advantage of global goods so that publicness in the distribution of benefits of GDI technological resources can be maximised,
  2. capacity building of a still different nature to create locally ‘weakest-link’ goods, such as the requisite GDI institutional, organisational resources so that publicness in provision of GDI technological resources can be maximised.
These considerations enable us to look at GDI institutional, organisational and human resources as ‘weakest link’ goods that have to be ‘produced’ locally. As an example consider effective transboundary water management, a regional good requiring ‘weakest link’ aggregation for its provision. This implies that the smallest country contribution – in terms of GDI technological, institutional, organizational and human resources provided by one riparian country for transboundary water management- sets the effective level available for the entire group of riparian countries. If a country in the group contributes null, the overall effective level is null. See Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden (2000).

The systematic analysis of institutional capacity and its growth subsequent to donor intervention is a development of the 1990’s. See UNDP (1997), GEF-UNDP (2000),

14 See also Gold (1999) for military R&D contributions to global public goods.

Grindle (1997), Lusthaus et al (1995), Horton et al (2000). Capacity refers to the ability of individuals and organizations to make & implement decisions and perform functions in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner. At the individual level, capacity building refers to the process of changing attitudes and imparting technical knowledge and developing skills while maximizing the benefits of participation, knowledge exchange and ownership. At the organizational level it focuses on the overall organizational performance. At the institutional level it focuses on the ability of the organization to adapt to change and influence its environment. Capacity building interventions must address two issues:

The first issue relates to the nature of capacity building: Acknowledging the principle of publicness in provision as well as the regional spill-overs of GDI resources we suggest that a three-pronged approach may be relevant:
  • Designing and advocating policy measures- through strong national geographic associations - to ensure that private sector and civil society have a fair opportunity to help shape GDI technological resources, monitor their production, assess their impact and recommend, if necessary adjustments in their design15.
  • Designing and advocating cross-border policy measures - through strong regional geographic associations - that go beyond conventional government to government agreements and entail national mandates with explicit reference to international cooperation for regional final goods, such as (effective) transboundary water management, desertification and loss of biodiversity,.
  • Focusing on institutional and organizational capacity building for government organizations responsible for the generation and maintenance of fundamental data and technological GDI resources (intermediate goods).
The second issue relates to the development of a working hypothesis on the responsibilities of the relevant government organizations. What should they be responsible for in the geo-ICT era? Detailed answers to this question are the outcomes of political, historical and cultural processes at a country level; in fact they should be (at least partly) the outcomes of the institutional capacity building process itself. Here, we provide a general answer to the question, which represents the broad consensus of the scientific community to date. See Georgiadou & Groot (2002):

15 Regional and global geographical associations are making inroads in their efforts to maximize the effective use of geo-information for the benefit of the citizen. Essentially geographic associations strive to promote inclusiveness in the consumption, provision and distribution of the benefits of geo-information resources. They implicitly assume that geo-information resources are intermediate public goods with regional and global spill-over benefits, that can contribute to policy-outcome types of national, regional and global public goods. They can be powerful in influencing public policy to place the benefits of GDI resources firmly on the public domain. See also van Biesen (2001).

See e.g. Global Spatial Data Infrastructure:
European Umbrella Organisation for Geographic Information -

  • Ownership of fundamental data: In general, government at all levels requires unrestricted and efficient access to reliable, timely, up to date fundamental geoinformation to govern, i.e. to provide final national public goods and to internalize cross-border externalities.
  • Obligation to promote publicness in the distribution of benefits of GDI resources in concert with national and regional geographic associations. This includes an obligation to provide the description of the data to enable all users, including the private sector and civil society organisations to make a judgment about fitness for use.
Kanbur (2001) and Ferroni (2001) argue that the interplay between cross border externalities and development assistance will be the key problematic facing aid agencies in the next decade. Some encouraging signs of regionalism in the area of capacity building in Central America and Panama are already becoming evident although the nature of development aid is as country-focused as it has always been. For a recent example from the field of land administration see Rodriguez and Lebeau (2002). Rigorously building up the capacity of regional institutions to deal with cross-border externalities will be one of the challenges in the years to come.

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