Apr 30, 2013

White House Earth observation strategy relies on data interoperability

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The White House hopes to better coordinate the government’s more than 100 earth observation programs by improving data management and promoting interoperability, according (.pdf) to the Obama administration’s National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations, which it published April 19.

“The strategy will serve as a blueprint for future investments in U.S. Earth-observing systems,” wrote Peter Colohan, a senior policy analyst at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in a White House blog post.

“It will help agencies compare notes, prioritize activities, and improve the quality of data about the planet,” he added.

The strategy lays out a data-management framework for earth-observation data generated, disseminated and used by federal agencies. The framework aims to maximize the likelihood that Earth data is available in a timely and usable manner; facilitate the use of open, machine readable-formats and APIs; and encourage uniform tools and practices to increase interoperability, says the strategy.

The framework relies on three data life cycle process steps—planning and production activities, data management activities, and usage activities—which are all interdependent of one another.

“Inadequate documentation at an early stage can prevent later use; generating products from original data may yield new derived data that must also be collected and managed; and user feedback regarding data may change or augment documentation relating to the data,” says the strategy.

The process requires data and associated metadata to be incorporated into federal data archives, where they are evaluated, validated, added to and integrated into new or enhanced data sets, according to the document.

The following guidelines for Earth observation data also apply to legacy systems—requiring agencies to preserve compatibility where possible. The strategy says, agencies that produce or manage such data should:

  • Establish a public open data policy;
  • solicit and acknowledge stakeholder requirements and feedback for data use;
  • make data and services available in ways that support a web-based, service-oriented architecture approach;
  • provide data access to all interested users;
  • determine what data require long-term preservation and plan for preservation;
  • support data durability;
  • implement interactive discovery and access mechanisms compatible with Data.gov and Global Earth Observation System of Systems; eEnable integration and interoperability decision-support tools; and
  • provide sufficient resources in agency funding submissions for data-management and information delivery.

Interoperability is fundamental to this strategy, says the document. This requires agencies and stakeholders to coordinate standards, protocols and standard vocabulary. From a participation perspective they must also clarify implementation details, such as data content, data dictionary, protocols, schema and formats within metadata.

“Agencies should evaluate the searchability, usability, openness, and utility of their data on an ongoing basis,” says the document.

This evaluation will allow them to see if data are being used for intended and unanticipated purposes and whether the resources required to support data distribution have increased or decreased due to a more systematic approach, says the strategy.

The White House strategy will contribute to the publication of an official “plan” to be published in fiscal 2014—what the administration hopes will become a regular cycle of earth observation plans updated every 3 years. The scope of the plan, according to the White House, will examine a 10-year outlook for earth observation activity.

The plan will include the assessment of existing and planned observing systems based on their impact on societal benefits, how they complement other observational systems (be they international, non-civil or commercial), risk and readiness, and strategic redundancy, says the strategy.

This assessment, according to the strategy document, will lead to a cross-agency plan to coordinate earth observations from space, sustain long-term observations, deliver integrated information, affordably deliver observations while identifying shared resources, ensure interdependent federal and non-federal observing systems, improve user engagement and leverage national security assets.

For more:
- download the National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations (.pdf)
- read the White House blog post

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