Communication, integration key for engaging the world on geospatial information

Written by Maryam Rabiee

Geospatial data and technologies can support the Sustainable Development Goals – but only if the community helps make the case for them by improving communication and integration across stakeholders and processes. TReNDS Manager Maryam Rabiee reflects on this and more from the Ninth Session of the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM).

Source: Maryam Rabiee for SDSN TReNDS

Source: Maryam Rabiee for SDSN TReNDS


The critical need to communicate the role and impact of geospatial information was one important message I took away from the ninth session of the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM). Delegates and participants reiterated throughout the meeting that the technological advancements of geospatial integration and frameworks are helpful only if they improve the livelihood of the people – and helping stakeholders to understand this requires communication on the value of geospatial information to people. This was clearly on the minds of the geospatial community as, parallel to discussions on technical developments, different GGIM groups presented important ways to communicate the need for geospatial enhancements.

More on the value of Earth observation for the SDGs

For example, discussions around EO4SDGs’ strategic implementation plan highlighted ways to integrate Earth observation (EO) in country-specific standard processes to monitor the SDGs, including encouraging use by better communicating results and experiences in EO use. The initiative’s recent webinar on remote sensing for monitoring the SDGs is a testament to their efforts to engage the broader geospatial community and policymakers in understanding the applications of EO in SDG monitoring.

This work requires initiatives and individuals to bridge the gaps between and within science and policy, technological underpinnings and impact. The community’s appreciation for this need was clear at the Integrated Geospatial Information Framework (IGIF) side event, where IGIF consultant Tim Trainor stood up and wore a t-shirt that read, “IGIF Champion” (the highlight of UN-GGIM 9 for me!). Part 1 of the IGIF, Overarching Strategic Framework, was adopted at the eighth session of UN-GGIM in 2018. This year’s session interacted with delegates and participants to improve and operationalize Part 2: Implementation Guide. A number of delegates noted that the implementation of IGIF can bridge the gap between geospatial and policymaking domains, because they found that the Framework communicates the significance of geospatial information and National Spatial Data Infrastructures (NSDIs) to policymakers and high-level officials.

During the sessions, the Academic Network also launched a book entitled, Sustainable Development Goals Connectivity Dilemma: Land and Geospatial Information for Urban and Rural Resilience. In this publication, the Network brought together experts across different disciplines and sectors, oftentimes working in silos, to provide a comprehensive understanding of how geospatial information and technologies can help analyze SDG synergies and trade-offs and optimize the implementation of the Global Goals. Having contributed to this book, I was honored to learn that delegates welcomed this trans- disciplinary effort to support countries with geospatial integration for the SDGs.

To take these efforts of deeper integration and communication on geospatial information and the SDGs a step further, delegates and participants from different countries raised the issue of working more closely with the IAEG-SDGs to fully realize the impact of geospatial information on the SDGs. Notably, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals reports emphasize that “the integration of geospatial information and statistical data will be particularly important for the production of several indicators.” Yet concrete examples of geospatial applications were missing in the most recent report. Improving efforts to integrating geospatial approaches in SDG monitoring will enhance our knowledge of where we are measuring progress and more importantly, help locate the gaps between global agendas such as the SDGs, the Sendai Framework, et al.

And those gaps must be accounted for, as they mirror the populations that tend to be left behind as development processes continue to expand. UN-GGIM plays a unique role in meeting the underlying promise of Agenda 2030 – leaving no one behind – as the committee’s work aims to address the “where” component of SDGs. Global frameworks and action plans can sometimes be a barrier to development, pushing some countries further behind. The latest session of the UN-GGIM underlined that better communication among stakeholders and integration of information about the location of various social, economic, and environmental challenges into high-level conversations is necessary to ensure that all communities and governments across the globe are included in development processes.

Contextualizing and amplifying the value of geospatial information and Earth observations are critical to our work at TReNDS, in furthering progress on the use of data for sustainable development. I will incorporate the lessons learned from UN-GGIM 9 in my work, and invite readers to share thoughts on the following question: What are emerging ways of communicating geospatial information advancements to policymakers and the public?