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Data and information
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GTOS is a facilitator, not a collector or "owner" of data. It serves to facilitate and coordinate the collection, exchange, processing, integration, and archiving of relevant data, and to promote the generation and use of data and information products. Since existing institutions and networks will have data and information management policies and procedures in place, it is most unlikely that these will be easily put aside in favour of any directives imposed by GTOS. The approach, therefore, has to be of building on existing data and information management practices by ensuring that their practices are compatible with GTOS aims.

In some instances, existing practices may be deficient and partnership with GTOS will stimulate improvement to the advantage of the new participant. In other cases, practices will be very much in line with GTOS principles and may have features which could be adopted to lead to improvement of GTOS overall. Thus while GTOS principles and high-level policies should be established and agreed upon, the implementation will use evolving guidelines rather than a rigid framework.

In this line, a GTOS Data and Information Management Plan was developed in 1998. The plan defines the context and establishes the overall principles to guide data and information management, and identifies the policies and proposed actions needed to move towards practical operations in the future. It is structure in three components:

  • process elements, which address mechanisms needed to enable implementation of the Plan, including the creation of Panels, working Groups and GTOS Data Centres. It outlines what is in place now, discusses requirements and proposes actions to be taken.
  • GTOS data management, defining policies, functions and required actions in a number of inter-related areas, including user requirements for data and information, custodianship of data and information, access and release of data and information products, metadata, data quality, data harmonization and archiving.
  • GTOS support, identifying data management activities that GTOS must undertake as part of its own operations, e.g. management of the TEMS database and development of GTOS Data Centres.

The GTOS Plan outlines the bodies and mechanisms through which the various aspects of the programme will be implemented. The Steering Committee is intended to function as a high-level body, setting overall direction. The Secretariat will have continuing responsibility for the implementation of the Plan and for application of developed policies and procedures.

In addition to the goals of GOSIC, the Plan focuses on the identification of Data Centres. these will be existing data and research centres which are fomally identified with GTOS with regard to some aspects of the GTOS end-to-end data and information management paradigm. Their functions may include one or more of: data collection, data assembly, integration, analysis, product generation, distribution, and archiving. Centres may be involved in the first level of verification of data but not necessarily have facilities for, nor take part in, further analyses. For example, they may have limited facilities for electronic distribution of data and/or archiving.

GTOS data and information users

GTOS data users and information users fall into four main categories:

  • Research scientists: mainly environmental and Earth system scientists associated with existing scientific research programmes. They  give considerable input to GTOS, particularly in the early stages of any activities, by providing advice on the variables to be observed, the techniques to be used, and on appropriate methods of data analysis and data management. Priority attention is given to the following research groups:

    -    The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP): This ICSU programme has from the very beginning substantially contributed to the philosophical development of GTOS. IGBP should become the main scientific research partner of GTOS.

    -    The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR): This is   potentially a very important user group for GTOS data and information. The CGIAR organisations are concerned with agriculture, forestry, livestock, land-use and other related activities and thus with sustainable development of developing countries.

    -   Global State of the World reporting: Several organisations prepare annual or biennial reports on the state of the world or the state of some segment of it (regional or sectoral). These organisations include the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Worldwatch Institute, the UNEP Global Environment Outlook (GEO) and the more sectoral reports of FAO, the World Bank and IUCN. The perceptions of the compilers of these broad overviews might help to identify important environmental questions and gaps in knowledge and understanding, especially relating to sustainable development and its achievement, that might otherwise be missed and with which GTOS could assist.

  • Technicians and managers: mainly national and international agencies and organisations associated with the operation and management of technical development and application programmes. They use data and information generated through GTOS for more efficient operation of their programmes. They also advise GTOS on their new and continuing data and information needs.
  • Policy makers and planners: mainly from national governments. They want GTOS data and information in forms that can be used in national planning. They often require the generation of secondary and tertiary data such as social, economic and environmental indicators. Consequently, they need to work closely with scientists to ensure that data relevant to their requirements are collected or generated.
  • International conventions: are an important means for regulating the use of the environmental and natural resources. Consulting the secretariats of  environment related international Conventions will provide insights into the types of data and information that States Parties to the conventions require to meet their convention obligations. Some of this contact work has already been done for GTOS but several relevant conventions have not yet been consulted, notably those concerned with coastal areas, and some of the larger regional conventions. Convention Parties are potentially an important user group for GTOS data and information.

Dynamic Atlas software

The Dynamic Atlas information management software, which had been developed by FAO, is being used to carry out GTOS data management activities in southern Africa and Central and Eastern Europe.

More information on Dynamic Atlas


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© FAO   ::   Global Terrestrial Observing System - GTOS   ::   16 May 2002