Workshop Conclusions

Integrated results from the Barcelona and Prague workshops and EnviroInfo 2009 Berlin workshop 5 (SISE).

The challenges of conceptualizing and implementing a Single Information Space in Europe for the Environment (SISE), as well as a Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) are manifold. Several important application areas relevant to the combination of environment and ICT were identified, including network monitoring, interconnected information systems, managing dynamic data flows, geographic information systems (GIS), decision support, and the chaining of services. When developing these systems, it is important to consider both the domain of application (natural ecosystems, energy policy, climate change, etc.) and the level of collaboration, ranging from global to national and regional initiatives.

Holistic Approach required, considering social, cultural and economic factors:

The lack of holistic approaches and the difficulty of introducing new indicators for political and other reasons were being specifically noted. ‘Best’ in terms of the environmental impact is not necessarily the optimum solution in terms of sustainability, if social, cultural and economic factors are not considered.

‘Geospatial Web’ for collaboration in environmental communities

The goal of a single information space will require an integration of environmental monitoring (ecosystem), environmental communication and collaboration (social networks), and the aggregation and annotation of existing environmental information (electronic content and data repositories). The vision of creating a ‘Geospatial Web’ was formulated that will seamlessly blend cartographic data with real-world indicators, environmental models, geo-tagged hypermedia as well as social networks reflecting collaboration in environmental communities. (Media Watch on Climate Change, 2009)

Make Information available in Semantic Web Formats, use Thesauri for inter-language Communication

Another precise claim was the need for distributed information resources published in semantic Web formats, accessible via semantically enabled discovery agents and complemented by approved semantic services. This ensures that information resources are physically accessible and encoded in a standardised way, containing explicit semantic references and having a well-defined life cycle. Integrating common vocabularies such as the General Multilingual Environmental Thesaurus (GEMET) will facilitate the flexible chaining of distributed environmental services (service discovery, data fusion, quantitative quality assessment, ontology extension and validation, standardisation, contextualised user interfaces, etc.).

Common Standardised Architecture and Format of Information Required

Quality of information in SEIS can be improved by explicitly addressing standards and data collection practices. Efforts must lead to a common standardised architecture and format of environmental information. We need to improve coordination and standardisation to avoid duplication and accelerate collaboration between organisations at European, national and local level. We need to create a common information base for Europe, which is able to manage the issue of privacy and restricted access to data, then “the informed citizen” can become the main driver of innovation. Starting from the
existing available information we must form “one intellectual picture”. This can bring us forward on the way to building the SEIS.

At the same time, the language barrier is still a big issue. Although a lot of information exists on national level, it is often only available in the language of this country which is detrimental to sharing information on a European level.

Benefits of Research Platforms, Education and Strengthening of Networking

Common research platforms like PEER can substantially contribute to this change process with their experience in managing multidisciplinary collaborative research across borders.

PEER – Partnership for European Environmental Research consisting of 7 large European research centres (ALTERRA, CEH, CEMGREF; JRC-IES, NERI, SYKE, UFZ) has the aim of a joint strategy, to build capacities and avoid duplicity.

The main results and conclusions of their latest activities were the following:

  • We need clearly defined drivers (e.g. political, scientific) to share information and develop information management infrastructures
  • A major cultural change is needed to actively manage, maintain and promote data curation

Education of young citizens in the environmental field has to be intensified and fostered to improve awareness building and understanding.

Moreover, a strengthening of the networking of Environmental Informatics disciplines in Europe with respect to sustainability, encompassing all areas of research, was claimed to be of relevance.

More interoperability and cross-border availability of data is required

A revolution in data collection is missing: We have to develop tools that are able to manage the complexity to integrate data coming from distributed sources, including user-generated content, highly automated data production by sensors, embedded systems, etc. This leads to the question: Who wants it, needs it and pays for it?

Results of survey ‘Implementation of EI Directive DIR 2003/4/EC”: There are big information gaps: language problem, heterogeneous approaches, semantics, standards, security – therefore EU has to work on semantic, organisational and technological levels.

Collaboration of environmental institutions, service providers and citizens without technical restraints

The enhancement of eEnvironment (electronic access to environmental information) efforts to improve public participation is crucial to improve democratic governance in environmental issues (eDemocracy). Further, streamlining and harmonising of monitoring and reporting obligations of public authorities will contribute to improve the usage of existing environmental data (EIONET Dataflows 2009).