Land Portal Foundation and LandVoc: an AGROVOC use case

FAO/Luis Tato

A use case by Laura Meggiolaro, the Land Portal Foundation

1. Land Portal Foundation and LandVoc 

Metadata is at the heart of what we do at the Land Portal. What an odd statement to make for an organization in the land sector! But remember our purpose. We believe that access to information is crucial for achieving good land governance and securing land rights for landless and vulnerable people. When we established the Land Portal 10 years ago as a global gateway for land governance issues, we wanted to collect as much of the scattered data as possible and make it less hidden.

Our focus on metadata enables much of our work, which includes: 

  • Providing a platform for land data, publications, news, blogs, multimedia content and much more from an international network of organizations and institutions.
  • Aggregating diverse and highly dispersed content helps to make hidden data available to everyone.
  • Nurturing the information ecosystem by linking land databases, bringing fragmented data collections together and enriching content with metadata that complies with Open Data standards and principles. 
  • Stimulating debate among those working on land-related issues around the world through events, discussions and webinars. 
  • Visualizing and synthesizing data from diverse sources into unique portfolios of contextualized and actionable land governance information.
  • Supporting information providers from the land sector to utilize Open Data standards and encourage the creation and uptake of a standards-based data infrastructure based upon FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) principles. 

LandVoc Infographic, September 2021. Source: Land Portal Foundation, 2021 

LandVoc is the first AGROVOC sub-vocabulary hosted by FAO. When the Land Portal Foundation first discovered AGROVOC in 2012, only 20 concepts related to land governance were included in the AGROVOC vocabulary. This spoke to a larger issue in the land-sector community, as a study we conducted, in 2016, found that very few land organizations used standard vocabularies

We realized that to make AGROVOC relevant for the land governance sector --  the sector where the Land Portal operates and serves -- those 20 original terms were not enough. The Land Portal started, in 2013, to add new terms and definitions to AGROVOC from existing land glossaries, such as FAO’s Multilingual Land Tenure Thesaurus and the GLTN GLII glossary. Our commitment to AGROVOC deepened as we started convening external partners to validate new additions to LandVoc. 

In 2016, LandVoc reached a critical mass within AGROVOC, and the Land Portal asked FAO for the ability to "isolate" it from the expansive AGROVOC list. This request was directly aligned to our mission of making data more accessible to users. Now users could, for example, download LandVoc as a separate scheme. LandVoc hit another milestone, in 2020, when the Land Portal approached FAO about the possibility of creating an independent set of relations for LandVoc, creating an independent hierarchy within AGROVOC for the first time. 

Currently in its second version, LandVoc consists of 310 land concepts organized hierarchically and is available in ten languages - English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Khmer, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, Swahili and Arabic. It has its own website, maintained by the Land Portal. We helped establish a LandVoc Community of Experts (COE), in 2020, which convenes periodically to further develop the thesaurus and provide translations.  LandVoc is mostly a voluntary initiative with no full-time staff - a true labor of love!

2. Use case based on an information system(s) or practical use case(s)

LandVoc is the backbone of the Land Portal: We enrich every single piece of content on the site with LandVoc terms. The Portal’s content -- both originally generated and aggregated from across the internet -- range from academic papers and official reports to statistical indicators, data stories, blog posts, and news items. Aggregating external content and enriching them with our metadata is an especially important service we provide, as many of the publishers of land information do not use metadata standards themselves. Furthermore, when we tag content with LandVoc terms, the tags are transparently displayed, making it easy for readers to discover and access additional content. What we do helps information from our partners become more visible and discoverable to those who are seeking it. 

Because LandVoc is a linking tool, it can be used in a variety of different ways beyond the Land Portal’s own usage. Firstly, the hundreds of terms contained within LandVoc can be integrated into libraries, repository systems and websites that publish any kind of information related to land governance. This allows information to be classified, indexed and therefore more discoverable. Secondly, and closely related to this first point, because information is now classified and indexed, those searching for key land governance topics can have access to a wide array of information on their chosen topic matter, including its related terms and translations. 

Other organizations use LandVoc simply as a glossary and to manually manage their information. Individual researchers use it to make sure they are using appropriate terms in their writing. Across the board, LandVoc supports cross-language information discovery. It is a foundational tool that helps to improve the potential impact of data and ensures information is easily searchable and discoverable.

We encourage our partners, contributors, and publishers everywhere to reach out to us to learn more about using LandVoc with their own content metadata and how we can strengthen our data and information practices. LandVoc is meant to be re-used by others.That is how the land information ecosystem grows more robust. 

3. Benefits of using AGROVOC 

LandVoc goes beyond the sphere of land related matters. It can connect to and exchange information with other databases linked to other vocabularies. Since LandVoc is part of FAO’s AGROVOC, LandVoc concepts are mapped to other vocabularies such as: 

  • Cadastre and Land Administration Thesaurus (CaLAThe), 
  • Chinese Agricultural Thesaurus (CAT), 
  • Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA), 
  • Linked Thesaurus framework for Environment (LusTRE), 
  • National Agricultural Library Thesaurus (NALT),
  •  United Nations Bibliographic Information System Thesaurus (UNBIS), 
  • General Multilingual Environmental Thesaurus (GEMET), and more. 

Connections are being made between terms with one main goal -- making information more discoverable and accessible. LandVoc may have an independent hierarchy, but it shares infrastructure with AGROVOC -- and consequently, other sub-schemes. These built-in connections offer high potential for collaboration, and we are always open to exploring shared opportunities. 

The benefits of using AGROVOC extend to impact measurement and promotion.