By Laura Meggiolaro and Charl-Thom Bayer
An important precondition for good land governance is to have good land data that can be used to make informed decisions, formulate policies, and develop plans and strategies for the public good. Without solid data, modern governments are limited in their ability to carry out their functions and deliver public services – including land administration services.
There seems to be consensus on these issues among the community that gathered in Warsaw, Poland, to attend the annual FIG International Congress.
Although the data revolution has reached many sectors – one prominent example is the finance sector – the land sector lags behind in many respects. There is greater demand for land data, driven by digital acceleration, the introduction of new e-services, sophisticated technologies like drones, satellite imagery and other technologies that acquire a large volume of increasingly more precise data at an unprecedented scale and speed. Yet in many countries around the world, land data is still inaccessible, unusable, fragmented and represents a narrow set of perspectives.
The Land Portal posited in the paper we presented at the FIG Congress, “Open Data for Improved Land Governance,” that open data represents an opportunity to exchange and use data more effectively. It can be a tool or a means to increase access to data that already exist, to start a conversation among concerned stakeholders, to usher in innovation, and to broaden perspectives and participation in the public sphere. Although simply opening data may not be enough, it allows for data to be analyzed, visualized and improved. Opening specific data for specific purposes may help to take important innovative ideas further.
Governments represent the main custodians of land data, but they are also the main data producers and data users. In spite of that central role, the data that governments have access to is still highly fragmented across different agencies and jurisdictions. Data flows across government agencies are often not properly integrated, and data is not interoperable.
At the same time, responsibilities are often divided between central and local governments, and this creates further data fragmentation and inability to get a complete overview.
Our beliefs were reinforced by the many plenaries and technical sessions at the FIG Congress. For instance, we realized that the above complexities must be taken into account when approaching land data, and that there is a need for multi-stakeholder discussions around land data. This is reinforced by the idea that land administration is expected to break sector silos. It is expected to be inclusive and collaborative and open the door to other sectors and data that offer a broader understanding of land governance challenges. Land governance tends to be less defined spatially or economically. The notion of territory is replacing the more restricted notion of urban vs rural tenure, or housing vs land holding.
Over the past decade, the Land Portal Foundation has developed a few tools aimed at addressing the existing data fragmentation in the land sector. Most recently, the Open Up Guide for Land Governance was developed in collaboration with the Open Data Charter, building on ODC’s expertise developing similar field guides in other sectors with similar challenges.
Inspired and guided by Modern Land Administration theory, the Open Up Guide provides guidance to governments to progressively make land data more available for public benefit. The OUG focuses on public data published and administered by national or local government agencies while exercising their basic land administration functions – data produced and managed on a continuous basis, not project data. It emphasizes land tenure data, land value, land use and land development data, as well as policy and other legal data. The data types that the guide assesses include spatial and statistical data but also documents and other bibliographic data.
The wish is that this initial meta information on government land data, collected in individual countries, opens the door to more multi-stakeholder discussions and conversations around data inclusion and participation.
The Land Portal started piloting the Open Up Guide for Land Governance with national and local governments in Senegal and Madagascar in 2022, supported by GIZ national offices.
These pilots confirmed our assumptions as we found that land data across government agencies both in Senegal and Madagascar is fragmented, incomplete with limited availability. Our research has also revealed an important gap in data literacy and the capacity to manage data efficiently within government, especially in the land sector. At the same time, the most outstanding finding for us was an extremely vibrant and rich data ecosystem in both countries where universities, civil society and land agencies are committed to share more data and improve their data management practices.
In Senegal we found out that there is room for making data progressively more open and usable across the data spectrum with moderate effort. As the spectrum shows, in fact, between data that is completely closed and data that is fully open different stages exist. In Senegal action can be taken to – for instance – make available online data that already exists in a rather complete and high quality state but is not available to anyone.
In Madagascar we found the conversations generated around data between CSOs and government very useful and stimulating. The government clearly stated its political commitment to opening up more data and its willingness to work more closely with civil society and the private sector to improve the country's land data ecosystem.
In order to fully embrace the opening up of land data, substantive legislative reforms will be required, which is a lengthy process and for good reason. While neither Madagascar nor Senegal have adopted an Access to Information Law (ATI), both countries have ratified a range of international legal instruments that establish access to information as a right. A review of national land management legislation also reveals that provision is made for the public rights to access information. The legal and policy framework is not perfect, but it provides a sufficient legal basis for improving the availability of information going forward.
FIG is the premier international organization representing the interests of surveyors worldwide. It is a federation of the national member associations and covers the whole range of professional fields within the global surveying, geomatics, geodesy and geo-information community. It provides an international forum for discussion and development aiming to promote professional practice and standards.
FIG was founded on July 18 1878 in Paris by delegates from seven national associations - Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Switzerland - and was known as the Fédération Internationale des Géomètres. This has become anglicized to the International Federation of Surveyors. It is a UN-recognized non-government organization (NGO), representing more than 120 countries throughout the world, and its aim is to ensure that the disciplines of surveying and all who practise them meet the needs of the markets and communities that they serve.
Photo by Artur Malinowski on Flickr