Below is an excerpt from a keynote address that Robert Buergenthal delivered during the Land Symposium, a part of the Latin American GeoSpatial Forum in Mexico City on September 25th:
The international development community and countries throughout the world are increasingly focused on improved land management. Old, paper-based systems contribute to corruption, undermine transparent governance, and overwhelm both land management and justice sector institutions. Improved land management can bring numerous economic and social benefits to countries and their people.
Information technology is not a solution to all of the world’s land disputes and tenure issues. However, when combined with sound land management practices, IT can secure paper records, make information more accessible, build public trust by strengthening governance and the rule of law, and provide governments with an infrastructure that sustains economic growth. At a most basic level, operational efficiency allows countries to do more with less. IT allows government agencies to be more accurate, and operational efficiency helps governments serve their people better.
Given the extremely rapid advancement of geospatial, mobile and cloud-based technologies, the land management decisions taken today by both government officials and the donor community will affect the development of countries for decades. When national land management institutions decide to move away from paper systems and consider a “technical solution,” government agencies and international donors must make informed and sound decisions on behalf of the people they serve. They must also have a sound basis on which to make those decisions.
A very simple framework can be used by both governments and donors to ensure that fit for purpose land tenure and information systems meet the competing challenges and expectations of each unique country or region. A “Three S” decision framework — Sustainability, Scalability and Security — should be used when governments update, modernize, transform or improve their existing land information and management systems.
Sustainability: Countries and donors understandably focus on sustainable results. Unfortunately, sustainability is rarely incorporated into technical project designs. Many countries implement technology to systematically map and register lands, but fail to install systems that can incorporate new land transfers. Land information has a short life-span in highly dynamic countries, so land tenure and information systems must be designed to support continuous change.
Scalability: The end goal for a land tenure and management system is not the initial installation. Modernization is a long-term effort to support the operations of government agencies to fulfill the critical needs of their people. Scalability does not refer only to the ability to adapt to new technology. It also refers to the ability to meet increasing demand, serve more internal and external users, incorporate data from other national sources, and integrate with other government institutions such as the judiciary or Ministry of Finance. Scale also includes the ability to link systems together. Technology platforms must be intelligent enough to exchange data in real time and drive process efficiencies for government agencies on behalf of the people served. Linking key offices also facilitates improved transparency of government agencies from the federal, to the state, to the municipal level.
Security: Recent attacks on computer networks and companies demonstrate the importance of creating land tenure and information systems that are as secure as possible. Can one imagine a national attack on a land registry or cadastre that destroys it or changes title ownerships? Irrespective of the IT management tools used, security protocols in land tenure systems must be robust. They must not only secure private information, but also protect public archives, ensure information transfer protocols between agencies, and include enforceable staff codes of conduct and ethical behavior.
All too often critical land-related discussions exclude the experience and expertise that private sector information technology providers can contribute to international development and improved land administration. Irrespective of a particular philosophical approach to issues surrounding land rights or respective technical solutions, shared objectives will only be met when national decision makers and international donors have the full picture and an understanding of all potential solutions. They must also know how best to evaluate those solutions. Adherence to the “Three S” analytical approach can help create sustainable, scalable and secure land management systems. In so doing, they will also produce the social and economic benefits for which we all strive.