International conference highlights the potential for digital technologies to address global challenges

More than 200 international experts gather to discuss linkages between digital technologies and global challenges in regional context

Climate change adaptation and mitigation, rapid urbanization, increasing natural disasters, migration issues and unresolved humanitarian conflicts... how can digital technologies, data, related policies and legislation help address these complex challenges that today’s world is facing? More than 200 experts from 21 countries and 12 international organizations will meet starting today in Vrdnik, Serbia, to discuss this question and its particular relevance for the region at a conference titled “Digitally enabled development for a sustainable future in Eastern Europe.”

The three-day event brings together a variety of experts from the public sector, civil society, academia, intergovernmental organizations and the private sector to discuss challenges and opportunities in the implementation of digital technologies, to exchange good practices in digital transformation, to establish partnerships, and to learn from each other.

Particular emphasis will be on technological enablers of digital transformation, digital data, good tenure governance, and innovative services and applications, combined with a focus on regional and national spatial planning, next-generation farming, smart cities, and governance of land tenure.

The conference is jointly organized by the Serbian Republic Geodetic Authority, the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management in Europe, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The use of digital data and technology

The development community’s focus on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes the urgent need for reliable data and enabling tools to measure, monitor, evaluate and report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Transformative technologies, computing capacity, machine learning, the Internet of things and cloud technology are continuously increasing, and connectivity is constantly improving and transforming the way we do almost everything. More than 7 billion mobile SIM cards are registered globally, and drones and satellites can now acquire and deliver high-resolution imagery in a very short time. Geospatial data, analytics and services such as automatic change detection, machine learning and artificial intelligence have opened new opportunities for effective decision-making to address a plethora of social, environmental and economic issues. For example, in Serbia:

  • After the introduction of a new information technology system, new business processes and new services, Serbia has saved more than 6 million hours of waiting time for Serbian citizens since July 2018.
  • Using very high resolution satellite imagery and a new way of processing, overlapping with cadastre and other data, the Republic Geodetic Authority managed for the first time in Serbia to update the building register with more than 4.5 million additional objects, which will soon become part of the national fiscal and economic system.
  • In 2016, it was found that half of the population didn’t have an address, and Serbia managed to include 3 million people in the address register in less than two years by using innovative technologies such as crowdsourcing and a geospatial platform.
  • The establishment of a new building permit system in Serbia included several institutions and decreased the waiting time threefold (previously, it took months and, in some cases, even years).

Still, access to reliable and up-to-date data is not standard in every country. In many places, there are limited usable geospatial datasets. Those that are available are often badly structured, duplicated, or in forms that cannot easily be accessed. Rapid changes in technology bring new opportunities but also additional challenges, requiring integrated approaches to meet the new demands. However, due to the disruptive nature of the digital transformation, many governments lack a clear picture and understanding of their future data and technology requirements, especially when needed to address the SDGs and national to global development.

As next steps, changes in legal frameworks, updates of existing business processes, measures to ensure system sustainability, and cybersecurity – together with the need for a balanced approach between public access to data and personal data protection as well the development of sustainable partnerships with the private sector – will be necessary. This conference contributes to political will, understanding and coordination at multiple levels to ensure that we are able to leverage the best of our data, technologies, skills and resources to address these aforementioned challenges.

Global and regional initiatives

Participants will learn about the Integrated Geospatial Information Framework (IGIF), the Expert Group on Geospatial Information Management and its Implementation Guide and Country-level Action Plans. Adopted by the United Nations in 2018, the IGIF has been developed as a strategic reference guide and “plan of action” for developing and strengthening arrangements in national geospatial information management. It supports establishing new and innovative approaches to national geospatial information management; implementing integrated, evidence-based decision-making solutions; and maximizing and leveraging national information systems tailored to each country’s national situation and circumstances. Over the next few years, several donors, including the World Bank, will support countries in the preparation and implementation of geospatial strategies and action plans.

In addition, European Union Member States are in the process of implementing the INSPIRE directive, aimed at creating a pan-European spatial data infrastructure for environmental policies or activities with an impact on the environment. INSPIRE enables the sharing of environmental spatial information among public sector organizations, facilitates public access to spatial information across Europe, and assists in policy-making across boundaries. Countries from Eastern Europe and Central Asia can learn from INSPIRE to make better use of the available standards, technology and lessons learned from the implementation of proven international initiatives.

18 September 2019, Vrdnik, Serbia

Written by
Author
Lea Plantek
Communication Specialist, Europe and Central Asia
FAO
Lea Plantek
UN entities involved in this initiative
FAO
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
UNECE
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
World Bank
World Bank