The Current Status and Development Direction of the
Trinidad and Tobago National Spatial Data Infrastructure
Carlene Boodoo, Rehanna Jadoo, Lisa Ramoutar
Masters Candidates, Department of Surveying and Land Information.
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad, W.I.
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Trinidad and Tobago today is poised on the brink of a Spatial Data Sharing
revolution. The data resources, technology, analytical and technical skills
required for successful data sharing are available in the Twin Islands. However,
views on this issue are segregated as data producers are not yet convinced as to
how sharing data would benefit themselves, their organizations, and the country
as a whole. Therefore data production continues to be done in isolation with a
great potential for data duplication and repetition of errors. Some of the major
challenges faced by the spatial community in Trinidad and Tobago today are as
follows: limited, incomplete and/or dated spatial data; lack of spatial data
availability; lack of data standards; ownership, law and policy issues; and the
reluctance to share data. The authors address these issues by extensively
reviewing NSDI literature, by looking at the NSDI implementation experiences of
other countries regionally, by attempting to assess the current status and
development direction of the TTNSDI and by determining what is preventing the
TTNSDI from moving forward.
Key Words: National Spatial Data Infrastructures, Trinidad and Tobago,
Development Direction, Spatial Data Sharing
Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) today is poised on the brink of a Spatial Data
Sharing revolution. The data resources, technology, analytical and technical skills
required for successful data sharing is available on the Twin Islands, but are
segregated as data producers are not yet convinced how sharing data would
benefit themselves, their organizations, and the country as a whole. Hence the
country is faced with three major challenges that are obstacles on the electronic
path to spatial data sharing:
1. A lack of spatial data availability in some disciplines.
2. The reluctance and fragmented approach to sharing data, among
organizations and government ministries/agencies that house integral
spatial data sets.
3. The use of in-house standards, formats, coordinate systems and
projections, and technology to produce and store spatial data, which differ
from organization to organization and across Government ministries and
This paper seeks to address these issues by extensively reviewing NSDI
literature, by looking at the NSDI implementation experiences of other countries
regionally, specifically Jamaica and Cuba, by attempting to assess the current
status and development direction of the TTNSDI and by determining what is
preventing the TTNSDI from moving forward.
The objectives of this paper are to:
• Investigate the current status and development direction of the NSDI
initiative by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GOTT).
• Highlight the benefits and challenges of implementing a TTNSDI.
• Provide recommendations for the way forward.
The methods used in this report are as follows:
• Research of current local, regional and international literature.
• Exploration of progressive regional NSDIs.
• Data collection through the development of questionnaires.
• Analysis of findings.
4. STUDY AREA
The Twin Island State of T&T are the southernmost islands in the Caribbean
archipelago and is located just about 11 km (7 miles) off the northeastern coast
of Venezuela (Fig. 1). The geographic coordinates are approximately; latitude:
11º 00' north of the Equator and longitude: 61º 00' West of Greenwich (Fig. 2).
Trinidad is the larger island and has an approximate area of 4,768 km² (1,864
square miles). Tobago, the smaller of the two with an approximate area of 300
km² (115 square miles), lies 30 km (20 miles) to the northeast of Trinidad. The
population of T&T, taken from the last Census in 2000, was 1,262,366 persons.
T&T's economy is primarily industrial-based, with an emphasis on petroleum and
Figure 1: Map of Caribbean
Figure 2: Map of Trinidad and Tobago
5. THE IMPORTANCE OF AN NSDI IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
T&T, as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), has limited natural resources,
which include wetlands, watersheds, land and coastal land as well as petroleum,
natural gas and asphalt, and their by-products. Some of the natural resource
management issues facing the country are: “environmental management;
hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation; coastal and marine resource
management and international marine boundaries” (Opadeyi, 2002). The
management of these resources are further exacerbated by climate change, sea
level rise and natural and environmental disasters. Another major resource
management issue that is often overlooked is the “human capital” aspect that
manifests itself as the “brain drain” of the country where qualified, skilled and
educated nationals migrate to other countries seeking better standards of living
with respect to basic amenities and career options. The previous are examples
of just a few resource management issues. Other resources that need to be
properly managed are summarised in Table 1 which is based on the SIDS/POA
It is critical that these resources be managed efficiently and effectively
especially in the context of achieving sustainable development. Data for each
issue mentioned exists in disparate spatial databases in organizations, and
government agencies in the country and efforts are being made to build
infrastructures to access, analyse, and share these data sets to facilitate better
management of limited resources.
Table 1: The 14 Priority Areas in the SIDS/POA for Trinidad and Tobago. Rated with Respect
to National and Regional/International Levels of Implementation (UNECLAC, 1998)
Priority Areas by SIDS/POA National Regional/International
Climate Change and Sea Level Rise High Very High
Natural and Environmental Disasters Medium
Management of Waste High High
Coastal and Marine Resources Medium Very High
Freshwater Resources High
Land Resources Medium Low
Energy Resources Low Low
Tourism Resources High High
Biodiversity Resources High High
National Institutions and Administrative Low Medium
Regional Institutions and Technical Medium Medium
Transport and Communication High High
Science and Technology Low Low
Human Resource Development Medium Medium
6. THE STATUS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTION OF NSDI IN TRINIDAD
Two questionnaires were created and circulated to get an update of the status
of the TTNSDI. The first, was intended to obtain an expert opinion on the current
status of the TTNSDI, was sent to a lecturer at the University of the West Indies
(UWI), St. Augustine, Trinidad. The other questionnaire was based on the
Readiness Index developed by Fernandez et al. 2005, and was sent to
Government agencies involved in the initiative. The response to the second
questionnaire was quite reflective of the absence of SDI culture within the
agencies involved in the initiative as the information was not forthcoming. This
therefore limited the ability of the authors to analyse the current status of the
initiative in the country.
The following was established based on the information obtained from the first
questionnaire; the GOTT took the initiative to establish an NSDI in November
2008. The objective of the initiative is to create an infrastructure to support
decision making throughout Government. The Central Statistical Office (CSO), of
the Ministry of Planning, Housing and the Environment, are the leaders of this
initiative and are earmarked to create an NSDI unit. Currently, preliminary work
is being undertaken to initiate the NSDI development process but there are many
hurdles. Major obstacles include a lack of understanding by Government officials
of what an NSDI is and how it should actually be developed. Also, the
implications and costs associated with an NSDI have not been well articulated
and therefore there is a lack of appreciation of what needs to be done to ensure
success. A possible solution to these challenges is for the GOTT to rethink the
entire strategy presently adopted. It is difficult to estimate a time of completion for
establishing an NSDI in Trinidad and Tobago; it could possibly be done in 10
7. CASE STUDIES
In 2008 an assessment of the SDI readiness of eleven Caribbean countries was
carried out (Delgado Fernandez and Crompvoets, 2008). Jamaica ranked second
highest in terms of its readiness behind Cuba who ranked first in the assessment.
The purpose of doing case studies of both of these Island Nations based on the
results of the Readiness Index was to highlight the similarities in the roadmap of
their progress, yardsticks by which Trinidad and Tobago can measure its NSDI
The SDI readiness assessment indicated that Cuba’s national initiative to
establish an SDI began in 2001 with the main objectives at that time being
capacity building and increasing the Government’s awareness of SDI culture and
its integral role in managing the country’s resources. Subsequently, in 2005 a
National Commission of the SDI of the Republic of Cuba (CIDERC) was officially
established, through government approval, thereby designating a single agency
responsible for Cuba’s NSDI. The CIDERC act as an umbrella agency for all the
stakeholders involved from all the main sectors of the country, and provides a
legal framework to which the NSDI can adhere.
Cuba, very much like Jamaica, opted to start with education with respect to SDI
culture and the value and role of spatial information. This endeavour included
offering seminars, workshops and courses. Even more important was the choice
to form associations with universities in Cuba which resulted in the establishment
of SDI specialisations being available to students pursuing GIS programmes.
This ensures an increase in the number of individuals with skills necessary to
comprehend and support the infrastructure, which is critical to the success of the
In 2004 Cuba launched, as an experiment, a National Geospatial Portal which is
now up and running and offering various services as well as access to
fundamental data sets. A major limitation of the website is the lack of an option to
be navigated in languages other than Spanish. Cuba has also sought to adopt
standards with respect to their data. They currently observe the ISO TC 211
which provides standardisations for digital geographic information.
Funding for the NSDI initiative has been mainly governmental but they have
received some external funding from UN agencies, and countries such as the
Netherlands, Australia and Canada have assisted in the educational aspect of
In 1991, with great foresight, Jamaica established the Land Information Council
of Jamaica (LICJ), part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, with the aim of
fostering a national networked GIS for their country. The LICJ is made up of
several sub-committees, with representation from both the government and
private sectors, each playing a role in developing and implementing GIS in the
decision-making processes of the country. The LICJ was then handed the role of
undertaking an NSDI initiative which stemmed from a clear recognition of the
benefits of creating, maintaining and improving the availability and accessibility of
geospatial data, products and services. The long-term vision also included the
relevance and importance of utilising geospatial data in achieving sustainable
development and improved natural disaster management.
The LICJ has been involved in GIS training and education, which appears to
have been successful in attracting stakeholders and subsequent funding for the
development of the NSDI. Participating organisations, both governmental and
private, make up the following groups (LICJ, 2008):
1. Land Management Group.
2. Planning and Environment Resource Group.
3. Development, Demography and Social Economic Group.
4. Utilities Group.
5. Security Group.
The LICJ website currently provides information on NSDI metadata
implementation, and technology and architecture. However, it does not yet
provide any information on NSDI policy, standards and legislation. It has been
indicated that the current phase of development involves the establishment of a
Geospatial Web Portal. This is to take place in four phases, and according to the
LICJ (2007), the first has been completed and the second and third are
underway. The four phases are (LICJ, 2007):
1. The installation and configuration of computer components that allow
geospatial data to be published to the internet.
2. Commencing initiatives centred on obtaining and collecting geospatial
datasets inclusive of their related metadata for several aspects of the
3. The design of the actual portal which will allow the end user to search a
database for a dataset that is of interest.
4. The final phase will involve the integration of the local portal with other
portals around the globe. This will allow global data sharing to become a
In the Caribbean Jamaica has, so far, been a major leader in the development
and implementation of GIS in the management of their country’s resources. They
have accomplished the major task of attracting participation from both
government and private sector agencies. The key to their success thus far may
be in the integral role that education and training has had in the process. Jamaica
has recognised that GIS technology must become part of their education system.
In September 2001 ESRI donated US$1 million in GIS Software and training
material to the Government of Jamaica in aid of their GIS in Schools Education
Programme (GISSEP) (MOEYC, 2004). GISSEP was officially launched in 2002
and so students of primary and secondary institutions in Jamaica are currently
being trained and educated in GIS and GIS software. In November 2004, Mona
GeoInformatics (MonaGIS), UWI, Jamaica established a new strategic direction
providing services to the campus, as well as the public and private sectors. The
services includes “delivering training courses, among them, GIS modules for
undergraduates in Geography and postgraduates in Life Sciences, as well as
specialized training for UWI staff and the general public, environmental modeling
for insurance, telecommunications and bauxite companies, three dimensional
rendering of architectural plans, and mapping and consulting services to different
public sector agencies.” (Principal’s Report 2006, UWI Mona Campus, Jamaica).
8. DISCUSSION AND RECCOMMENDATIONS
T&T ranked seventh among the nine countries that were ultimately ranked
according to a composite readiness index (Delgado Fernandez and Crompvoets,
2008). The country lags behind other countries in the region in terms of its
progress with establishing an NSDI. Based on the experiences of those countries
and the literature reviewed the authors propose the following steps for the
successful implementation and establishment of a TTNSDI (Fig. 3). It is apparent
that the first step that the GOTT should take is to establish a GIS agency that is
solely responsible for fostering GIS in the country. This agency should first and
foremost begin with capacity building and GIS education with the aim of
increasing SDI culture and attracting funding and participation from all sectors of
society. Once this has been accomplished the next step is to establish spatial
data standards and legislation to ensure consistency, integrity and transparency.
This paves the way for the assessment of the existence and availability of core
datasets held by data producers and users participating in the NSDI process.
These steps create the foundation upon which the geoportal will be based. The
geoportal is a significant component to the NSDI as it is the first glimpse that the
user and data producer has into the world of the NSDI and therefore must be
constructed carefully and intuitively, with both the user and data producer needs
These are the key steps in establishing an NSDI, however; one must take into
consideration the time frame in which it can be accomplished, as experience has
shown that even with the availability of the required resources it can take up to or
more than ten years.
Figure 3: NSDI Roadmap
Lack of spatial data availability, data standards and reluctance to share data are
the three major challenges faced by T&T in terms of sharing spatial data. It is the
view of the authors that the development and maintenance of an accessible and
useable TTNSDI can overcome some of these challenges by facilitating the
proper management of limited resources using GIS application tools and the
The GOTT has recognised the need for an NSDI in T&T which is now in its
foetal stages. However, it is clear that there are uncertainties and lack of
understanding among those involved in the initiative resulting in a failure to
progress beyond the planning stages. In order to move forward, the authors
have proposed the following steps as the roadmap to initiating and establishing a
1. Establish a GIS Association that is not a unit of a Ministry but comprises
experts from all sectors of society. This will ensure accountability,
transparency, and responsibility.
2. Capacity building and Education.
3. Create/adopt spatial data standards, and establish legislation to govern
the creation and storage of spatial data and metadata.
4. Assess the existence and availability of core datasets to ensure that
standards are adopted and legislation observed.
5. Develop a network of spatial databases that adhered to number 3 & 4
above and develop a geoportal that will complete the Nation Spatial Data
The authors also believe that GIS education is the key to an NSDI success. It
shouldn’t only be a top down approach but also a bottom up approach. GIS
education need to be introduced at the primary and secondary educational level.
This is however beyond the scope of this paper but there is room for further
research into this aspect of setting up an NSDI.
Crompvoets, J., F. de Bree, P. van Oort, A. Bregt, M. Wachowicz, A. Rajabifard
and I. Williamson (2007). Worldwide Impact Assessment of Spatial Data
Clearinghouses. URISA Journal, 19(1):23-32.
Delgado Fernandez, T. and J. Crompvoets (2008). Evaluating Spatial Data
Infrastructures in the Caribbean for Sustainable Development, GSDI 10
Conference Proceedings, Feb 25-29 2008, at
http://www.gsdi.org/gsdi10/papers/TS1.1paper.pdf, [accessed 19
LICJ (2007). The Land Information Council of Jamaica, at
http://licj.org.jm/index.aspx, [accessed 19 February 2009].
MOEYC (2004). Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture, Jamaica, at
http://www.moec.gov.jm/projects/gissep/home.htm, [accessed 25
Opadeyi, J. (2002). Spatial Data Infrastructure and the Cadastral System of
Trinidad and Tobago: the Caribbean Experience, FIG XXII
International Congress, April 19-26 2002, Washington, D.C., USA.
UNECLAC (1998). Implementation of the SIDS-POA: A Caribbean Perspective.
Port of Spain.