INSPIRE Thoughts

Inspire a moonshot not a blueprint ?

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to take part in the ImaGIne conference organised by the European Umbrella Organisation for Geographic Information in Dublin. The conference although not very well attended did contain both excellent presentations and perhaps unusually great discussions which really seemed to address some of the key challenges of using geospatial technology in Europe.

A talk on the use of Geo in the context of Europe brings us inevitably to the Inspire Directive and it’s progress and impact. Inspire which came into force almost exactly six years ago is the programme to build an European Spatial Data Infrastructure by October 2020.  Inspire was the topic of much discussion at the conference as this year a number of important articles of the directive must be implemented.

An obvious concern expressed by many, included myself, is the difficulty of legislating to build an information system over such a long time.  Developing quite prescriptive  rules as to how to share information is almost impossible with the speed of technological development online.

The issue is perhaps more problematic when you think that many of the ideas and principles enshrined in the Directive were developed during the five years leading up to 2007, a time before social networking, big data and the mobile internet.

In hindsight of course perhaps a less rigid approach which articulated the principles of sharing environmental data and their benefits might have been a better outcome, concentrating on policy issues around reuse of information rather than the actual mechanics. And yes of course I accept the point that without harmonisation of data and the creation of (limited) metadata data sharing is difficult, nether-less often inspirational ideas are best when they plant the seed of an idea and accept that how the idea is accomplished may differ.

Before the conference in Dublin, I was asked to speak at a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels and was asked to bring along a object which to me represented the Inspire programme. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments, but I brought along my rather battered copy of Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon“.

Along with HG Wells, Verne is credited with pioneering science fiction, and with this book although published in 1865  demonstrates the power of a inspiration idea. Both Wernher von Braun and Robert H. Goddard cite the book as a catalyst for their interest is rocketry and space exploration. Published 100 years before the actual moon landings Verne was able to make some uncanny predictions, correctly suggesting that three men would leave the earth in a capsule launched from Florida after much political horse trading!  Of course technology moved on and 1969’s great achievement was made with liquid fuel rockets and computers not the large cannon suggested by Verne – still the idea was the inspiration !

So perhaps we should look at the Inspire programme in the same way, a moon shot idea that today may be achieved is different ways to at first considered..

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)


One reply on “Inspire a moonshot not a blueprint ?”

Good observation, I completely share your opinion on this one. Especially because I am involved in INSPIRE for quite a while now and also attended the Brussels event mentioned in the post. Another panelist compared INSPIRE to a tie, which sometimes sits too tight…

Here a few additional thoughts:
– While INSPIRE still primarily implements a ‘command and control’ approach, it might be at the time to extent this into a dual process, by adding a complementary ‘sense and respond’ part. In contract to [1] I would see this really as an extension and not a neither nor situation. In addition, both processes should be well inter-linked, i.e. the top-down approach has to acknowledge the (changing) user requirements, as well as the bottom-up approach has to acknowledge the context and boundary conditions. For a European Directive, we should keep some flavor of command and control.
– Following thoughts on the relation between people and technology [2] and – although criticized – the Mode 2 view on (scientific) knowledge production [3], this might be a promising way to the eGovernment and (European) growth agendas.
– Certainly this raises the question on feasibility and possible governance structures. The more and more advertised concepts of open innovation and particularly living laboratories (living labs) might help…


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