My partner Sabrina works for UNEP's water quality assessment programme, GEMS/water (http://www.gemswater.org). Somehow, last night, out beside our campfire in the backyard, we got onto data sharing (yes, we were being that romantic in the firelight) and she told me tow stories that really shook my tendency to stare myopically at technical issues and forget about the institutional and the psychological.
Both stories hinge around the GEMstat database (http://www.gemstat.org), a global repository which relies on countries sending in their water quality measurement data. Getting these data can, in some cases and despite having agreements in place, be a trial in patience with unaccountable delays and excuses. In other cases....
Sri Lanka, two weeks after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, delivers 4 years worth of data. Last week, on the same day that a suicide bombing kills 29 in Baghdad, the Iraqi focal point delivers his country's first block of data to GEMStat. "How", one wonders, "can people bother with silly data delivery when really terrible things are happening around them?" and this brings us to Sam's point in these stories - political will.
Examples like these two might be more extreme than most of use would ever wish to deal with but, by and large, the impediments that we perceive as preventing or constraining data and information exchange - whether technical or institutional - can be overcome give sufficient political will. Conversely, all the technology and memoranda in the world are useless if not backed up by such will. I found here tales to be a salutary reminder that, too often, we really do tend to focus on the wrong parts of these problems.
Anyway, more tomorrow about recent exciting developments in the Kenyan National SDI (http ://www.kndsi.go.ke) effort, and the fun and games today of our first hands-on technical training session on open web services.