The impact of satellite imagery on open government

The objective of the proposed workshop is to outline the value and limitations of satellite imagery for open government. An open-source and web-based playbook will be created during the event to offer policymakers a set of guidelines for the effective and meaningful use of satellite imagery. The playbook will offer an accessible framework that combines best practices from imagery providers, researchers, policymakers, and the civic tech community. Case studies from the use of satellite imagery to monitor deforestation, infrastructure development, and migration patterns will be presented alongside the framework to illustrate potential applications. The playbook created during the workshop will correspond to the structure developed for the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) web services playbook and the US Digital Services playbook, thereby extending the code and design to open government – in the true spirit of open source.

Satellite imagery has become a common tool to monitor development outcomes. The applications of satellite imagery range from monitoring deforestation to measuring the growth of refugee camps. This new medium has significant implications for open government. The overhead imagery is an objective and accessible source of information, and civil society has begun to use satellite imagery to hold government accountable. Consider, for example, the moratorium on new logging and agricultural concessions to clear forest in Indonesia. By Presidential decree, no new concessions for forest clearing activity were granted after May 2011 in an attempt to control the rate of deforestation. It is widely held in peer-reviewed publications that the deforestation rate increased after the moratorium was announced and subsequently enacted. Civil society, environmental advocates, journalists, and local landowners used objective and immediately accessible information derived from satellite imagery to hold government accountable for the failing policy. This sort of open and real-time assessment of environmental policy would not have been possible without the use of satellite imagery.

The cost of satellite imagery is declining rapidly. The availability, frequency, and resolution of satellite imagery are increasing just as rapidly. There are opportunities for the meaningful use of satellite imagery that did not exist five years ago. There are, however, limitations of the medium as a tool for monitoring and evaluation. Satellite imagery cannot measure gender inequality or the strength of governance institutions. The objective of the proposed workshop is to begin to create a framework for understanding both the value and limitations of satellite imagery for governance and economic development.

Panelists will lead a discovery sprint with participants to yield an initial decision framework that can help policymakers uncover opportunities to use satellite imagery for more meaningful engagement with the general public. In effect, the resulting framework will help policymakers tap into the multi-billion dollar industry of microsatellites. The suggested panelists for the session include:

  1. Dan Hammer. Senior Policy Advisor, The White House
  2. Dan Lopez. Vice President of Technology, Urthecast
  3. Jed Sundwall. Global Open Data Lead, Amazon Web Services

We expect participants to come from both the public and private sectors to effectively identify the intersection of what should be done and what can be done with satellite imagery for open governance.

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