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Building a user-driven GEOSS

By Hans-Peter Plag, University of Nevada, Reno; Michael Nyenhuis, University of Bonn; and Francesco Pignatelli, European Commission - Joint Research Centre

The workshop on "Building a User-Driven GEOSS: Methods to Capture, Analyze, and Prioritize User Needs," held in Sydney, Australia, on 10 April, focused on promoting a truly user-driven development of GEOSS by assessing current and other potentially useful approaches to identifying user needs.

As highlighted in the 10-Year GEOSS Implementation Plan and other key documents, it is absolutely essential that GEOSS be user-driven. GEO has therefore initiated a number of activities for collecting and analyzing user needs and observational requirements through GEO Work Plan Tasks, Communities of Practice, and Committees. A key goal of these activities is to inform providers about user needs and to support a prioritization of Earth observations that provide users with maximum benefits. The User Interface Committee (UIC) takes a leading role in these activities.

Understanding user needs

The morning sessions of the workshop reviewed the GEO initiatives, activities, and tasks that aim to map user needs and support the development of a truly user-driven GEOSS. During the afternoon sessions, additional activities were discussed, including ways to bring the collected information and analyses about users and their priorities to the providers.

Participants concluded that GEO’s current efforts to improve the understanding of what the users of Earth observations need in terms of decision support and to engage users in the development of GEOSS are broad and well suited to facilitating a user-driven GEOSS. However, GEO’s user-related activities may focus too narrowly on those user communities that are known to the UIC and other GEO bodies, while potentially large 'undiscovered' user groups may be overlooked.

Experience has shown that users have a strong tendency to express their needs in specialized language specific to their field and community. The diversity in terminology complicates GEO’s ability to collect user needs and convert them into well-understood requirements for observations, products, infrastructure, services, and information.

Another challenge is that many providers require users to register and log in before they can access data products they have discovered through GEOSS; this could lead users to rely on other search tools instead of GEOSS. The licensing required for accessing products, applications and software in the framework of the Architecture Implementation Pilot (AIP) could easily turn away potential users. In addition, users want to access products and services that respond directly to their needs, so meta-information on data availability is often not useful for them. While many users consider some metadata, such as information on accuracy, latency, or resolution, to be of value, they are less interested in metadata restricted to source information.

The Australian government uses surveys of what web users search in order to understand domestic user behavior. Similar surveys focusing on Earth observations could provide important clues about who is using Earth observations and derived information, when they use it and for what; such surveys could also lead to the discovery of currently unknown groups of Earth observation users.

The European INSPIRE framework involves stakeholders very broadly and thus guarantees that solutions arrived at have wide support. GEO may need to explore adopting a similar approach in order to more fully engage users in the design of GEOSS. For example, user and provider communities increasingly overlap and this needs to be more fully recognized in GEO’s assessment of user needs.

The workshop participants identified a set of questions that should be addressed in order to improve the linkage between users and GEOSS. They also agreed on a number of recommendations detailing actions that would integrate user feedback into the development of GEOSS and improve the match between GEOSS and users. Future workshops on a user-driven GEOSS will likely be required. The full workshop documentation is available on-line.