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Building GIS&T Cyberinfrastructure for Innovation in Latin America

"Crossing Borders"

by Doug Richardson, Executive Director, Association of American Geographers

photo of Doug RichardsonThe AAG has been involved for several years in discussions with the Inter-American Development Bank; the Knowledge Partnership Korea Fund; and the National Science, Technology, and Innovation Secretariat of Panama (SENACYT), on the feasibility and potential benefits of creating a distributed cyberinfrastructure of linked Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIS&T) Innovation Centers in Latin America for economic development, environmental protection, and other needs. These three organizations have provided support to the AAG to help explore this idea and develop a feasibility study and proposed plan for addressing this concept.

Recognizing the potential roles of science, technology, and innovation for improving the social and economic development of the Latin American and Caribbean regions, the AAG recently gathered leading representatives of universities, government agencies, research centers, international geography organizations, mapping agencies, and others, for strategic planning meetings in Panama focused on how best to enhance GIS&T research and educational capacity in Latin America.

This process brought together the leadership of many international geography-related organizations, including Santiago Borrero of the Pan American Institute of Geography and History, Ronald Abler of the International Geographical Union, Graciela Metternicht of the United Nations Environment Programme, Dr. Rub�n Berrocal of SENACYT, Michael Goodchild of the US National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA), and dozens of other senior GIScience researchers and government officials from stakeholder institutions throughout the Americas.

Priority Needs

These meetings addressed the current status of GIScience and technology infrastructure and expertise at national, regional, and international organizations throughout Latin America and examined several GIS&T research and educational programs that could serve as useful models for the region. Participants identified gaps and needs in both the education and research areas for GIScience in Panama and Latin America and discussed the creation of employment opportunities for young researchers and scientists in the region.

Berrocal, the director of SENACYT, shared his strong support of national and Latin American efforts for the development of a network of interactive and mutually supportive GIS&T research and educational centers to support social and economic development needs ranging from public health and agriculture to transportation and tourism. Berrocal, a medical doctor and researcher, also discussed Panama's new national strategic plan for science, technology, and innovation, which provides a national science policy framework and context for the development of GIS&T.

The assessment and analysis by the meeting participants identified the following challenges and priority needs, as well as others, for developing GIS&T cyberinfrastructure and capacity in Latin America:

Establishing a Network of Centers

Participants discussed several ideas, potential organizational models, and locations for research centers that might address regional GIS&T cyberinfrastructure needs as defined by the region itself. There was consensus about the importance of engaging all sectors, including public, private, academic, and nongovernmental, in the creation and support of the pilot centers. Adapting the "multiuniversity center" concept employed by NCGIA emerged as one potentially relevant model for successfully structuring the involvement of a diverse suite of universities and public research institutions in Panama and throughout Latin America.

After extensive discussion, the group unanimously requested that the AAG work together with SENACYT and the other organizations involved in the strategic planning process to develop an implementation plan and funding for a prototype center designed to enhance Latin American GIS&T infrastructure and capacity for innovation and economic development, with Panama being an initial host for the prototype center. The Panama GIS&T Center would work to expand networked linkages to universities throughout the region, as well as to research centers, government agencies, and other institutions, such as national mapping agencies, the Panama Canal Administration, and existing private-sector GIS&T institutions.

The initial funding for the prototype would be supplemented by long-term sustainable support in the form of research and educational services, additional grants, matching funds, and in-kind resources (human and infrastructure), as well as private-sector support through grants of funds, GIS&T equipment, or GIS software. The implementation plan also addresses mechanisms for achieving long-term sustainability and development of the networked GIS&T cyberinfrastructure centers and for their interactions with governments, nongovernmental organizations, universities, and other centers throughout the Americas. For more information, see

Doug Richardson (with input from Patricia Sol�s and Candida Mannozzi)

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