A Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) is a framework to share, discover and re-use spatial data among public authorities, the private sector and citizens. SDI’s are based on a “coordinated series of agreements on technology standards, institutional agreements, and policies” (Kuhn 2005) that unlock geospatial information resources for a wide range of application fields, for instance environmental monitoring and policy making, transportation planning, health care, physical planning, national security, etc. They are an integral part of the e-government movement and open data initiatives.

INSPIRE is an EU Directive (2007/2/EC) aiming to establish an infrastructure for spatial information in Europe to support Community environmental policies and policies or activities which may have an impact on the environment (http://inspire.ec.europa.eu/). The Directive addresses problems regarding the availability, quality, organisation, accessibility and sharing of spatial information. INSPIRE may be seen as the legal framework of a European SDI.

BESTSDI is based on findings of the EU IPA2010 project “INSPIRATION – Spatial Data Infrastructure in the Western Balkans” executed in 2012-2013 and the follow-on project “Cooperation in the Western Balkans region – Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the region of Western Balkan” (IMPULS), financed by Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), being under execution.

While INSPIRATION focused on promotion of SDI and coordination of its further development resulting in strong legislative activities among the involved National Mapping and Cadastral Agencies (NMCA’s), IMPULS is a project aiming to provide support to the development of the Regional SDI’s in accordance with the INSPIRE Directive and SEE 2020 (South East Europe 2020 Strategy), as well as the improvement of interoperable spatial information and services in the Western Balkan region for efficient support to e-Government. The IMPULS project primarily addresses the internal needs of the NMCA’s in the partner countries and recognises a severe shortage of qualified staff able to develop spatial data infrastructures, both with respect to data and service provision as well as its usage.

BESTSDI refines and extends the IMPULS approach in three ways:

1) A successful SDI requires an active participation by in principle all national and local governments within a country as well as its private sector and – directly or indirectly – its citizens. This active participation is impossible withouth appropriate knowledge level about SDI of each stakeholder, especially professionals with academic education. Thus, education on SDI must be properly introduced in higher education study programs for future professionals and life-long learning courses for present professionals!

Promoting and implementing necessity for development of SDI curricula and courses BESTSDI goes beyond the NMCA-centric approach and addresses a wide group of SDI stakeholders, which are representative for the heterogeneous community of spatial data providers and consumers.

2) An SDI comes to life, if published geospatial data is widely being (re-) used, in particular for purposes other than those it was created for. BESTSDI covers both, spatial data provisions as well as its (re-) usage in application domains of regional interest. Regarding data provision, the project covers demands placed on physical science (primarily geodesy, cartography and remote sensing) which is a regional priority for Western Balkans. Data (re-) usage scenarios cover requirements arising in the regional priority domains agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The project also address demands related to other national priorities such as Architecture and Building (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo) and Environmental Protection (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia).

3) All BESTSDI partner countries are either candidate or potential candidate countries of joining the European Union. Thus, the implementation of the INSPIRE Directive as well as compliance with a wide ranging set domain-specific EU regulations which require geospatial capabilities – e.g. EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) or Environmental and Noise Directive (END) – is of strategic importance for becoming a full member of the EU. Therefore, the National SDI’s of the partner countries have to meet a diverse set of requirements that typically goes far beyond their traditional scope. BESTSDI builds the capacity to supply and maintain up-to-date geospatial data and reliable services in order to sustainably meet the requirements of selected domain-specific EU regulations.

By following such a demand-driven approach and by taking into account the complexity and heterogeneity of a multi-purpose SDI, BESTSDI takes SDI-related education in the partner countries a significant step further, supports a sustainable SDI evolution and contributes to the development of university-enterprise cooperation, entrepreneurship and employability of graduates.