Source: Group on Earth Observations
As the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) transitions to its second decade of operations, it is important to take stock of what the abiding vision of GEO is: “a future wherein decisions and actions for the benefit of humankind are informed by coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth observations and information.” There are several major trends that have made the open and unrestricted uses of public data available through the GEOSS portal essential to implementing this vision, including especially the rise of digital networks, e-infrastructures and technologies, and the uses of big data. Massive-and increasingly urgent-global public-interest challenges face humanity in the form of climate change, environmental degradation, management of common resources, food security, and health concerns. Open data support and are supported by these larger trends.
Indeed, there are many diverse opportunities and benefits to be derived from providing open data through GEO for unrestricted use worldwide. The main reasons are compiled in this Executive Summary and they are substantiated in greater detail in the body of the report.
Perhaps the most important reasons are the broad economic benefits and growth, both public and private. Public data openly served through GEOSS have been shown to be economic force enhancers, creating value many times over and providing much greater returns on the public investment than have restrictive, proprietary approaches. The generative effects from open data on digital networks are key in this regard.
Social welfare is enhanced for both individuals and society at large. Open data meet societv's expectations of appropriate management of public digital resources, provide diverse reputational benefits, and incorporate ethical principles for accessing and using public data.
Research and Innovation
Public research and private innovation opportunities expand with a policy of openness for upstream data resources. Such data can substantially reduce unproductive barriers to interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international research. They enable data mining for automated knowledge discovery in a growing sea of big data. Open data are essential for the verification of research results and in generating broad trust in them. They avoid many inefficiencies, such as the unnecessary duplication of research and the identification of erroneous results. They promote more research and new types of research. They permit the legal interoperability of data when multiple sources of data are combined for new knowledge. Citizen scientists and “crowdsourcing” approaches, which are promoted by GEO, are facilitated.
Moreover, open public upstream data are inputs to and stimulate downstream commercial research and applications that benefit Member economies and the larger society.
Closely related to the public research opportunities is that the education of new generations is significantly facilitated. Open GEO data promote the education of new students and the public, whether at school, in higher education, or increasingly at home. They also support important studies of data collection methods and management. This is why nonprofit research and education were given special status in GEO's first Data Sharing Principles.
Finally, there are key advantages for improved governance. Public data made openly available through the GEOSS portal support improved decision-making and transparency in government and society. Such data demonstrate leadership at home and abroad, thereby enhancing influence and legitimacy. For less economically developed countries, open data policies promote capacity building and help to implement “repatriation” objectives. Not least, open public data generally build freedom in society, and trust in governance and its many functions.
In sum, the Members and Participating Organizations of GEO stand to gain much more than they lose from making their public Earth observation data available on a full and open basis, freely and without reuse restrictions, as promoted by the GEOSS Data-CORE. They also will avoid all the negative effects that come with attempts at narrow cost recovery and policing leakage in the restricted uses of such data. It is thus imperative for GEO to seize the many benefits from publicly generated Earth observation data now, as the new Data Sharing Principles are being implemented for the coming decade. It is the primary organizational raison d'être of GEO to make those benefits a reality.