Title: Spatial Data Infrastructures at work. A comparative case study on the spatial enablement of public sector processes
Authors: Dessers, Ezra
Issue Date: 4-May-2012
Abstract: Spatial data are data that relate to a location. Spatial data have always been crucial for governments. From local communities to countries and beyond, governments need information on issues as land ownership, road infrastructure, land use, population registration, economic activities and military assets. It has been estimated that over 80% of governmental data has a locational basis. Knowledge of the location of an activity allows it to be linked with other activities or features in the same or nearby locations. Furthermore, locations allow distances to be calculated, maps to be made, directions to be given and decisions to be made about complex, interrelated issues.Over the past decade, the world has seen an increasing shift towards the shared use and hence exchange of spatial data across organisations. The term Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) refers to clustered initiatives to promote and optimise spatial data access, use and sharing. Despite the large amounts of money that are invested in SDI development, spatial data continue to be hoarded, and organisations seem to resist the assumedly obvious benefits of sharing data. The possible success of an SDI depends on the degree to which organisations succeed in adopting SDI objectives. The actual realisation of SDI objectives with regard to spatial data access, use and sharing takes place in the processes of organisations. In this study, processes are defined as spatially enabled, when there is a high performing integration of spatial information in the various process steps. The essence of the spatial enablement concept may be described as facilitating the realisation of objectives through spatial information. In short, a process is the setting in which one can see the SDI at work. Processes thus provide a suitable unit of analysis for studying an often overlooked component of SDI, of how work is organised. Because an information infrastructure is inextricably bound up with inter- and intra-organisational arrangements, the functioning of the SDI is likely to be affected by the way in which task division and coordination is arranged in the various processes within and between organisations. In this study, the term process structure is used to refer to sum total of the ways in which (1) a composite task (the production of a good or service) is divided into distinct tasks and (2) the coordination is achieved among these tasks. The main research question of this study is: What is the relation between a process structure and the level of spatial enablement of that process?This study uses a qualitative case research design to determine the degree to which process structure is associated with the level of spatial enablement in public sector processes in the Flemish Region of Belgium. The unit of analysis is the inter-organisational process, in which the impact of inter- and intra-organisational structures is studied and analysed. Four cases were selected: zoning plan development, traffic accident registration, address data management, and flood mapping.<br>Although the present study is clearly situated within the SDI research domain, the subject of spatially enabling public sector processes could be regarded as a specific case of the more general issue of adopting inter-organisationally proposed objectives in the context of processes that encompass parts of many different organisations. The present research applies concepts from the Modern Socio-Technical Systems (MSTS) approach to individual processes within and between organisations. The main conclusion of the research is that, in order to successfully implement an aspectsystem such as spatial enablement in the context of inter-organisational processes, the focus must best be placed on the architecture of the inter-organisational chain and its intra-organisational links. The most striking result however is that the functioning of parallel as well as sequentially structured inter-organisational chains may benefit from less fragmentation of the intra-organisational (sub)processes. In other words, the functioning of the inter-organisational chain, and more specifically the coordination and mutual alignment between the organisations involved, might be hindered by intra-organisational fragmentation.It may advisable that further SDI initiatives should go beyond the development of SDI networks, and focus more on specific chains within these networks, in order to implement the SDI aspect in accordance with the needs and objectives of the various stakeholders involved. It has yet become unavoidable to manage and (re)design inter-organisational chains in order to further advance the role of SDI as an enabling platform for a spatially enabled society. Focus on the SDI at work, to gain an SDI that works.<w:latentstyles deflockedstate="false" defunhidewhenused="true" defsemihidden="true" defqformat="false" defpriority="99"
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Research Group Work and Organisation
Centre for Sociological Research
Public Governance Institute

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