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Policy

The Fifth Committee of Experts meeting was held in New York during the week of 3rd to 7th August 2015. For those who are not aware, UN-GGIM (United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management – hence the acronym) is a formal part of the United Nations system with a mandate from the Economic and Social Council (which, alongside General Assembly, the Security Council and the International Court of Justice make up the main bodies of the UN).  

This short report (written by James Norris at Ordnance Survey) isn’t about UN-GGIM as an organisation, if you’d like more information then drop us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or look at these FAQs http://ggim.un.org/about.html.

Unlike many conferences and events UN-GGIM operates at a political level rather than organisational, and attendees are nominated by - and represent - their Member States. This meant the UK delegation comprised Peter ter Haar (Ordnance Survey), Ian Coady (ONS) and myself. Other UK representatives included Vanessa Lawrence (Co-Chair of UN‑GGIM) and Louise Brooke-Smith (Immediate Past-President, RICS). UN‑GGIM provides a forum for discussions at a strategic level on topics relevant to the geospatial industry, such as legal and policy frameworks, international standards, global geodetic reference frame to name but a few.  The full list of topics, and the papers discussed can be found on the UN-GGIM website - http://ggim.un.org/ggim_committee.html.

So how did we represent the UK? UN‑GGIM is now in its fifth year of existence. Over this time, we at OS have taken the lead in coordinating activities relating to UN-GGIM. This has included working very closely with colleagues across government, both in Whitehall and at the UK Mission to the United Nations in New York to ensure that UK is properly represented.

Making alterations and notes to the final document to be adopted

The meeting follows a set agenda, with formal papers published ahead of time. We consulted with a range of key stakeholders across not only from Westminster but also the Devolved Administrations and UK Industry. This included, central Government Departments such as Cabinet Office and Defra, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, and RICS and AGI. The Policy and Engagement Team at OS then drew all the responses together into briefing notes that were used during the session.

During the Session, agenda topics are introduced, either by leaders of the Working Groups, or by Member States with a significant interest in the topic; the floor then is open for general debate and discussion. Formal interventions can be made by representatives of Member States – this is where the briefing notes come in. Some of the topics have a wide scope and potential impact, such as legal and policy frameworks, so a considered and balanced approached was taken reflecting the views of the wider UK.

Okay, but what did we achieve? The primary achievement for UN‑GGIM was the continued support and backing of Member States to advance and promote the importance of geospatial information to senior policy and decision makers. UN-GGIM has also made significant progress in a number of topics including the adoption of a UN General Assembly Resolution for a Global Geodetic Reference Frame. The resolution is the first of its kind to be agreed by the United Nations and recognises the global importance of location and positioning for many different areas of development. Also adopted at the meeting were important guidelines for international geospatial standards, and examples of good practice. This is an area where the UK, through its work with Ordnance Survey International and the Kingdom of Bahrain, was cited as a global example of cooperation and partnership.

Other key achievements related to sustainable development and the post 2015-sustainable development agenda, as well as the application of geospatial information to land administration and management. Both of these provide opportunities for the UK to take an active lead as thought-leaders. The final outcomes document for the session has recently been published on UN-GGIM website and can be viewed here.

Another key topic that was discussed was the adoption of the Second Edition of the report “Future Trends in geospatial information management: the five to ten year vision”, the draft of which can be seen here.

The UN Headquarters where the meeting took place

OS authored the first version which was published in 2013 and has been translated into all six official UN languages plus Korean and Japanese. At its Fourth session the Committee decided that an update of the Future Trends report should be completed in 2015. The Second edition of the report has also been produced by OS. And as well as exploring new areas, highlights changes to the trends identified in the original report, showing how the role of governments is changing, and documenting the increasing role of data collection technologies and processes.

The 2015 version of the Future Trends report observes that in a world which is increasingly driven by the consumer, the most significant geospatial information changes will not come through singular technologies, rather the linking of multiple technologies and policies. The updated report explores these ideas through a series of themes, focusing on four emerging and developing trends: Artificial intelligence and Big Data; Internet of things and smart cities; Integration of statistics and geospatial information; and, Indoor and outdoor mapping. The report has taken into account submissions from representatives from UN Member States as well as individuals and organisations from across the world, and as lead author, I would like to thank those who provided submission, participated in workshops and reviewed the final version of the report. Thank you. 

It would not be right to finish this report without mentioning the work over the last 5 years of Ordnance Survey’s former Director General and Chief Executive, Vanessa Lawrence. Vanessa stepped down from the role of Co-Chair at this meeting, a position she has held since 2011. In recognition of her work, a certificate of appreciation was presented by the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Wu Hongbo, to Vanessa. The write up of the presentation, and the text on the certificate, can be found here.

Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo presenting Certificate of Appreciation to Dr Vanessa Lawrence

UN-GGIM continues to grow in both reach and influence across both the UN System, but also national organisations and Governments. It was an honour to be part of the UK delegation to UN‑GGIM again this year, and I look forward to working with other government departments and organisation in the year to come as the UK continues its support for such an important topic going forward.

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