|Sample of the parallel discussion in the Twittersphere|
At last week’s annual conference of the CRC for Spatial Information, we saw the (re-) launch of its “Spatial Data Infrastructures” (SDI) research agenda, which generated vibrant (online) discussions. Though this CRC has been operating for more than 2 years now, its Spatial Infrastructures program has been a bit of a wasteland. In part due to the lack of a dedicated Science Director, the program has to date failed to formulate any vision, nor a credible agenda, and delivered disappointingly little.
So at the start of 2012, Curtin University’s Geoff West was given the unenviable task of defining such an agenda, with limited resources and only four months to work with. Though the result is admirable in this context, it comes from a very low base and is in grave danger of becoming an ‘also-ran’ among many well-advanced, and well-funded Australian research initiatives that are already addressing specific SDI R&D aspects, such as WIRADA, NPEI, AURIN or AuScope to name but a few.
Each of these has a specific problem they’re addressing, and they are remarkably well-funded: tens of millions of dollars, where the CRC’s SDI program has to make do with about $400,000 per year.
There’s no point for the CRC with its limited time and budget to play catch-up.
So what to do? Can the CRC transform this from an ‘also-ran’ into a golden opportunity?
I think it can, and I see two possible areas to focus the research: Access and Licensing and R&D Integration.
Departmental Secretary, ANZLIC chair and CRC board member Drew Clarke indicated that as far as he’s concerned, the federal government funds the CRC, so should be able to direct its activities (within reason) to be deployed wherever they deliver best value for the government. And as we all know, the government has some issues to resolve in the SDI arena. The most pressing being the lack of openness of, and accessibility to fundamental spatial datasets. Last week’s discussions again confirmed that technology is no longer the limiting factor, and licensing and access regimes, as well as cultural issues, are now the logjam preventing Australia from maximising its economic benefit from spatial information.
The other opportunity comes from the observation that though the other initiatives mentioned before conduct ground-breaking SDI research, they focus on slightly different, isolated problem domains, and there is precious little exchange of knowledge and outcomes between them. There is an important R&D integration role to be played here. Facilitating and coordinating research agendas and outcomes, creating value and knowledge that is far more than the sum of their parts.
I firmly believe that fostering SDI development on the back of existing projects that address real business needs, is the only way to go. As an applied research organisation, the CRC is ideally placed to play that integration role, as long as it doesn’t get hung up on wanting to do ‘pure research’ in an area where it’s so far behind the eight-ball. Only then will the Australian spatial community derive true benefit from the CRC-SI's SDI work.