Friday, 22 June 2007

Acronym smashup - UN meets CG for SDI Q&A

John and I were this week invited to lend an SDI hand to two important institutions here in Nairobi, namely the International Livestock Research Institute ( and the World Agroforestry Centre a.k.a. ICRAF) ( ILRI and ICRAF are two of the 15 international agricultural research centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research ( These are independent institutions, each with its own charter, international board of trustees, director general, and staff, but do share common requirements.

Spatial data sharing is one of these and their Consortium for Spatial Information ( is a strong advocate of all things SDI-ish. Over recent years there has been a strong push, for example, to get all the CG centres writing and using ISO 19115 standard metadata, for which they've been developing and promoting the Geonetwork opensource toolkit (which just happens to be another jointed-up effort led by FAO and WFP with UNEP and OCHA as more recent recruits).

Anyway, the CSI now has a regular scheduled hierarchical harvesting of metadata across the CG network and available as a consolidated view at their geonetwork site . What John and I were to help them with was getting started with the next step - publishing their data to the net. The two institutions need to move data between themselves anyway and the idea of doing this using open web services is not only an appealing way to go but is also a move that will position ILRI and ICRAF as their community inevitably moves build this capability in years to come.

Needless to say the CG as a whole is an important partner to the UN. FAO obviously has strong alignment with their agricultural focus but a surprising number of other UN bodies also share common interests. UNEP, for example, is co-sponsor with ICRAF of the Billion Tree Campaign ( or The idea of interoperating between the CG and UN networks is an exciting and potentially important one that seems worth investing considerable effort to pursue.

These are early days yet - the Nairobi centres have strong GIS capacity but neither of them even have a local web presence. We have a long way to go before we can point with pride at all the marvelous interoperation within and between the CG, the UN presence in the region and our respective communities. Raising awareness with management while mollifying the concerns of network administrators is going to take time and understanding, and demands that we look for a nice incremental approach that takes small steps and demonstrates success every step of the way. I wonder how we'll do it.

Meanwhile, of course, there were the inevitable glitches that confounded Wednesday's - in this case a lot of it seemed to be because we were installing geoserver etc. on a laptop that was already being hacked to an installation of ESRI's portal toolkit - the Tomcat and java installations had already been "fiddled with" and were not the nice clean environment we assumed. Lot's of time spent trouble-shooting but, in the end, considerable success, an enthusiastic audience, and lots of practical experiences and tips to write up in our SDI installation cookbook - whenever we get around to writing it.

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