Monday, 23 July 2007

SDI Reaching the Conservation Community

The Society for Conservation GIS last week held their first three-day conference hosted here at the UN compound in Nairobi. SCGIS is an ESRI-supported advocacy group that - as the name implies - promotes uptake of GIS as a conservation analysis, planning and communication. There are nearly 200 eager young minds from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda here presenting and receiving collective wisdom and experience.

They've all also had their minds expanded by such luminaries of the world of conservtaion as Nobel laureate Wangarai Maathai, ex-head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, David Western, and world-reknowned elephant researcher Iain Douglas-Hamilton. Much of the material is what you might expect of traditional wildlife-and-protected-area conservation issues; others, however, have focus on community-based conservation effort, and one, for heaven's sake, concerned the determination of genetic diversity of the Bongo (Kenya's most endangered antelope).

The fact that UNEP has ended up helping sponsor SCGIS is entirely the result of accidentally meeting the powerhouse behind their efforts, Lucy Wariungi. That accidental meeting arose from having gotten another spur from Kate Lance about a Kenyan metadata presentation slated for an ICT conference back in February. I ran away from work (our Governing Council, in fact) and gate-crashed the conference and, thus, ended up taking tea with Lucy and with Richard Okello Oluoch of KWS. Life has not been the same since.

John and I have, of course, taken the chance to subvert some impressionable young people to the joys of SDI. This has been instructive inasmuch as the vast majority of these students and their lecturers are of the mindset of having to build their own stacks - gather their data, hardware, software, skills and personnel in one room and then start their analysis. The potential for component-based services is a novelty and EA-SDI just had to grab the opportunity to prosetalyze. So we've had one keynote presentation (here 9Mb, sorry) on SDI in general, the UNSDI and the SDI-EA effort; another keynote from Craig von Hagen about FAO's SDI-without-being-an-SDI, plus a tech workshop demonstrating open-standards publishing data, plus lots of Q&A over coffee and samosas. A serendipitous discovery on Friday resulted from a presentation by a small start-up company in Nakuru out there promoting open standards and open source on a commercial basis - it would seem that John and I have been out there undermining his market not even aware of his existence. Whoops. Must work on a bit of capacity building to remedy that!

There are two really nice outcomes of all this is. One is that there are now at least half a dozen local 3rd-year students seriously pursuing me to help them organize internships with UNEP, a task that I relish. The second is that we have a have finally nailed down Kenya Wildlife Services for a WFS installation session with John and Mick. This means (fingers crossed) that we'll then be that many steps closer to another goal of mine, namely getting national authorities able to directly load to the World Database of Protected Areas ( ) starting with a showcase here in East Africa, namely, KWS.

Well, actually, there may be three possible nice outcomes, the third being the possibility of trying to schmooze an invitation to Mpala Ranch and Research Centre out on the Laikipea Plateau to see of we can't get some interoperability going there. If it does work out then that's one that I'll do with Sabrina and Mikele rather that with John.

The next task is to try sell Lucy on the idea of SCGIS becoming advocate for evolving an East African conservation SDI... get all these important researchers to actually start doing something about serving data and information to their colleagues, especially the ones across the borders in Tanzania and Uganda. What you think, Lucy?

1 comment:

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