FIG Working Week 2000, 21-26 May, Prague

Europe's Official Mappers - Quo Vadis?

by John Leonard

Key words: National Mapping Agencies, Government policies, Public-Private collaboration, Global Mapping.


1. Background

Perhaps the earliest concept we were taught as surveyors was that you should work from the whole to the part. i.e. you plan the big picture before you start drawing the detail. The need for detailed regional and global mapping came long after individual nations had created their own "big pictures", so we either have to start again, or exploit as best we can what already exists. The choice that is made between these options will affect critically the future of National Mapping Agencies (NMAs).

2. National Mappers - What are they?

The first question for which an answer is sought is "What exactly is a National Mapping Agency?" Although every nation has one, this proves to be difficult to answer concisely and comprehensively. It is like asking, "What is a European?" because the NMAs of Europe (and indeed of everywhere else) are as varied as the cultures, economies, and politics in which they operate.

The Paper argues that notwithstanding these differences, there are also similarities between NMAs. There is a tendency for them to be somewhat steeped in history and, because of this and despite their ready acceptance of new technology, to be surprisingly reactionary when it comes to developing and responding to the new needs of their markets.

3. National mappers - Why Change or Develop? 

Already the policies and plans of the European Commission have a profound effect on the current activities of the mapping agencies of all European countries, whether inside or outside the European Union. But however omnipotent the Commission becomes, it is suggested that individual NMAs will continue to vary greatly in terms of the range of tasks for which each is made responsible, and the ability they have to customise their products to meet needs beyond those of their principal employers.

On the other hand, no one seems to doubt the benefits of consistent and "joined up" international geography, and it is increasingly difficult for any European country to isolate itself. Will this reduce the current differences of attitude held by national governments about the relevance of involving their mapping agency in international projects? Or will a "Big Brother" appear and do it for them?

New technology has a profound effect on the style and quality of the life we enjoy. This is inevitable, and frequently to our advantage. But in an ideal world it should be the real needs of those most in need that drive developments – not only in technology but also in the attitudes of those who direct the services provided to society – in the public and private sectors alike.

4. What to Change? - What to Develop? 

It is suggested that governments need help to understand exactly what they and their societies require of geographic and other information, and that changes of policy that they introduce will force everyone else to review their own positions, whether they be users or suppliers. The paper analyses the range of actions that will need to be taken, and the attitudes that need to be re-assessed if National Mapping Agencies are going to play a key role on the international stage – or even at home. It poses questions, but suggests that the readers are the ones to provide the answers.

5. Warning!

I have written this Paper in my personal capacity and the views expressed are mine alone.

CERCO (Comité Européen des Responsables de la Cartographie Officielle) is the voice of official mapping in Europe. As its Secretary General I have the privilege of working with the Heads and staffs of 37 different National Mapping Agencies. Clearly this advantage gives me no certain view into the future, but when considering the future destination of national mapping it allows me to identify the various starting points for this journey, at least in Europe.

Many CERCO members – the NMAs of Europe – may see their individual futures through very different eyes from mine, and they are much closer to the action than I am. Representatives of other parts of the Geographic Information industry will probably have still different views. In that case perhaps this paper will encourage debate – it is meant to.

John Leonard
Secretary General CERCO
c/o Dellbrook
Hubert Road

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