Dissertation Abstracts

Spatial Data Infrastructures at Work: A Comparative Case Study on the Spatial Enablement of Public Sector Processes

Author: Dessers, Ezra , ezra.dessers@kuleuven.be
Department: Centre for Sociological Research (CeSO)
University: KU Leuven, Belgium
Supervisor: Geert Van Hootegem
Year of completion: 2012
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: sociotechnical syste , spatial data infrast , production process , task division
Areas of Research: Organization , Work , Science and Technology


Spatial data are data that relate to a location. Spatial data have always been crucial for governments. The term Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) refers to clustered initiatives to promote and optimise spatial data access, use, and sharing. The actual realisation of SDI objectives thus takes place in the processes of organisations. In this study, processes are defined as spatially enabled, when there is a high performing integration of spatial information in the various process steps. The essence of the spatial enablement concept may be described as facilitating the realisation of objectives through spatial information. In short, a process is the setting in which one can see the SDI at work.
Processes thus provide a suitable unit of analysis for studying an often overlooked component of SDI, of how work is organised. Because an information infrastructure is inextricably bound up with inter- and intra-organisational arrangements, the functioning of the SDI is likely to be affected by the way in which task division and coordination is arranged in the various processes within and between organisations. In this study, the term process structure is used to refer to sum total of the ways in which (1) a composite task (the production of a good or service) is divided into distinct tasks and (2) the coordination is achieved among these tasks. The main research question of this study is: What is the relation between a process structure and the level of spatial enablement of that process?
This study uses a qualitative case research design to determine the degree to which process structure is associated with the level of spatial enablement in public sector processes in the Flemish Region of Belgium. The unit of analysis is the inter-organisational process, in which the impact of inter- and intra-organisational structures is studied and analysed. Four cases were selected: zoning plan development, traffic accident registration, address data management, and flood mapping.
Although the present study is clearly situated within the SDI research domain, the subject of spatially enabling public sector processes could be regarded as a specific case of the more general issue of adopting inter-organisationally proposed objectives in the context of processes that encompass parts of many different organisations. The main conclusion of the research is that, in order to successfully implement an aspectsystem such as spatial enablement in the context of inter-organisational processes, the focus must best be placed on the architecture of the inter-organisational chain and its intra-organisational links. The most striking result however is that the functioning of the inter-organisational chain, and more specifically the coordination and mutual alignment between the organisations involved, might be hindered by intra-organisational fragmentation.
It may advisable that further SDI initiatives should go beyond the development of SDI networks, and focus more on specific chains within these networks, in order to implement the SDI aspect in accordance with the needs and objectives of the various stakeholders involved. Focus on the SDI at work, to gain an SDI that works.

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