Geospatial Data and the World Bank
Ben Stewart and Elizabeth Gibbens, The World Bank
Geospatial Data in Everyday Life
FARMD (May 2012) | From location-aware mobile tools to satellite imagery to GPS driving directions, web users everywhere are exposed to geospatial data every day. People are excited about what this data can do for them—at least on a personal level. In the developed world, many do not have to fear getting lost in a new city. But what is geospatial data, this newly ubiquitous information? “Geospatial data” refers to any information that can be associated with a particular location on the Earth’s surface.
The volume of geospatial data available to everyone is exploding and is changing lives in more fundamental ways than one application alone can effect. Now, patients can readily find emergency rooms near the places they are visiting—a fact that could be of life-saving significance. This kind of functionality results from recent technological advances that have made it possible to store, catalogue, and display geospatial data in more accessible ways. Yet as with all technology, hospitals, governments, and other organizations must keep pace to reap the benefits of access to geospatial data. Its proper management is now an imperative.
Geospatial Data at the Bank
For international development organizations and professionals at institutions like the World Bank, every project and initiative has geospatial data. And yet this data will still gain significance in development policy and practice, because it can show the impact of projects given the contexts of climate change, urbanization, public health, and land use. Mapped data will particularly enable new resilience in the face of climate change.
The Bank uses geospatial data and owns a huge amount of it. Too often, however, the units that have produced geospatial data have had no choice but to relegate it to desk drawers, CD-ROMs, and inaccessible servers. The Bank has lacked a geospatial data repository, and there has been no central place to store and retrieve the data.
Consequently, not knowing what its inventory includes, the Bank spends large sums annually on geospatial data creation and acquisition. Clearly it would save scarce dollars to use updated geographic information systems that better capture, organize, and analyze geospatial data across the institution.
Now the Sustainable Development Network (SDN), one of the Bank’s vice-presidential units, is launching a product capable of capturing, organizing, and assisting in the analysis of geospatial data. The tool, GeoSDN (http://geosdn.worldbank.org), offers the Bank a repository for geospatial data and a web interface that enables staff to access and analyze that data. In brief, GeoSDN offers a new capability for staff to leverage development datasets and to analyze them in the context of an online mapping tool.
GeoSDN users in country offices around the world and in Bank HQ can now save their datasets with their maps. No matter how many different time zones they inhabit, dispersed teams can also view, explore, query, and analyze data interactively. They can visualize a landscape over time, integrating maps into their development planning.
Geospatial data enables teams see other Bank projects in their country or region of interest, and to find out more about the environmental and human living conditions on the ground. In other words, GeoSDN provides a three-dimensional view that helps Bank staff approach development in a more informed, holistic way—through a visual understanding of data.
GeoSDN is the product of a collaborative effort of SDNIS (SDN Information Services) with esri, http://www.esri.com/. SDN has used the system to assist with such projects as a time-lapse projection of coastal change in Benin, land-use and water-quality assessment in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, and forecasts of the chance for landslides around Rio de Janeiro.
While the system is currently an internal Bank tool, there is a plan to roll out an external version in the near future. This external site will provide freer access to the Bank’s geographic data repository. It will enable the public to influence development decisions by querying the results of various projects in an interactive way. Most important, the system will enable the proliferation of development solutions with more profound depth and less risk that was previously imaginable.