Friday, 13 July 2007

Whoops! Unanticipated Blessings Upon SDI-EA

One of the participants in last Thursday's hands-on training was Daniel Olilo from the regional remote sensing centre here in Nairobi, the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD RCMRD's constituency is member states from Djibouti to Zambia and a bunch of affiliates - in other words they cover the are very much of interest to SDI-EA AND they have the ear of their governments.

Anyway, Daniel went enthusiastically and enlightenedly back to work and, on Monday, pitches the whole open-standards publishing-to-the-web thing to his director, Wilbur Ottichelo, a man I've known and worked with for over 15 years. Wilbur calls me on Tuesday looking for a meeting and a chance to follow up on this tech support question. I say "yeah, sure" - we've been hoping for months to get RCMRD on board SDI-EA for all sorts of reasons: a centre of technical expertise, a long history of collaboration with UNEP and FAO, close engagement with the Kenyan national SDI effort, and so on and so on. A natural partnership, even stronger with their establishment of a Geonetwork Opensource node ( already publishing ISO 19115 metadata to the web. Wilbur and I agree that John and I will pop over Thursday afternoon which, by pure happenstance, will follow my director's meet-and-greet with Wilbur that morning.

So, off we go, have a quickie guided tour of the facility (which, to my chagrin, I realized I'd not visited in well over ten years - my, how it's grown!) and an excellent chat with Wilbur when, lo!, we're led back to the boardroom and find it converted into a networked training centre with eight RCMRD staff there raring to go for a re-run of last week's hands-on. And, of course, John and I are caught completely flat-footed. I hadn't actually caught Wilbur's intent, and neither John nor I were in the mental zone for a stand-up training session.

Nonetheless, into the fray, and this time in less than three hours we had the workers installed with their open standards server toolkit running and VERY beautifully accessing and combining geo-data from their different servers. A nice test of resiliency, if you ask me. Not least of all, Daniel's resiliency in very competently taking on the training role and supporting his colleagues with the skills he picked up last week. I love viral learning.

Most importantly, however, is that here is a technical institution whose very mandate requires servicing to governments on complex geo-data and remote sensing issues, and that has a truly unique business value to offer to SDI-EA. Most significant to me, thought, is that RCMRD is a training centre par excellence and today presents the prospect that, hey, my 'train-the-trainer' fixation arising from last Thursday's effort might already have at least one natural home.

To whit, UNEP, in a capacity building and tech transfer mode expends time and effort (but damn little money) to get RCMRD staff sufficiently up to speed where they can effectively render John and me jobless, at least in this outreach department. RCMRD get a marketable addition to their training portfolio, one that they can specifically target to the functionaries of the Government of Kenya, the IGOs and NGOs in Nairobi and their constituent members ates, some of whom at least are considering national SDI efforts. Meanwhile, UNEP and DEPHA and FAO and RCMRD (and interested others) work up some specific interoperability testbeds in the local environment and commit to keep these running for the next 2-3 years. As Kenya's national and international comms infrastructure is fibred and brought up to capacity they collectively provide a standard framework in which to measure responsiveness, utility, stability and the likes. Oh, what fun, methinks.

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