Property Writes – March 2013

Megan Wierenga Aumentum, Newsletters, Resources March 12, 2013


The Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, held in Washington, D.C., brings together representatives from governments, civil society, academia, the private sector, and the development community to discuss issues of concern to land practitioners and policymakers worldwide. This year’s theme is Moving Towards Transparent Land Governance: Evidence-Based Next Steps.

The Thomson Reuters team will present on new partnership models, the continuum of land rights, and a cadastre project in Cross Rivers State, Nigeria. We will also hold a hands-on training workshop for our OpenTitle software product, a system in use in Liberia, Bolivia, and Angola to map, record, and document land and resource rights. To learn more about these presentations and sessions, click here.

Land Administration Reform through Institutional Reform and Integrated Land Information Systems in Cross River State, Nigeria
Nigel Edmead
Wednesday, April 10, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
Panel Topic: Implementing New Approaches to Spatial Data Acquisition
Location: Preston Auditorium

Nigel Edmead will present insight into the steps taken by the government of Cross River State, Nigeria, in its efforts to establish the foundation for a functioning, efficient, and transparent land administration framework.

Recognizing that the institutions responsible for managing land information lacked modern tools and skills to accomplish their tasks in an efficient manner and that spatial data was managed independently by various government agencies, the State launched a project that consolidated disparate land administration functions and equipped a new land agency with the infrastructure required to support modernized land administration services.

Funded solely by its government, Cross River State has reformed its land laws, established a geodetic network , reorganized and consolidated government agencies, trained and equipped staff, streamlined and modernized workflows and processes and implemented a state of the art land information system (LIS). With the necessary base established, the State has changed the perception by citizens as to what they can expect when conducting land transactions, and laid the foundation for continued reform and service delivery by the government.

A New Partnership Paradigm: How Technology and Organizational Structures are Converging to Change Private-Public Partnerships
Christopher Barlow
Thursday, April 11, 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Panel Topic: Increasing Private Sector Participation in Land Sector Service Delivery
Location: MC 4-100

Christopher Barlow will present models in which governments and technology firms are partnering to more effectively deliver, manage, and maintain land and property information systems. The paper highlights government operational trends and also technology trends resulting in new partnership structures. Specifically identified are governments’ and also firms’ risks, benefits, and constraints influencing the readiness, willingness, and ability to structure such partnerships.

OpenTitle – Experiences and Results
Nigel Edmead
Tuesday, April 9 at NOON during the World Bank Conference
Location: MC2-850 in World Bank Headquarters

Join us for a hosted lunch to learn how OpenTitle is being used to document and manage land rights for communities in Ghana, Bolivia, and Liberia. OpenTitle adheres to the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM) and uses industry-leading technology to record private, public, and customary/traditional, individual, and group land rights. During this session you will learn how OpenTitle is being used to record the land rights of the marginalized and those currently off register and to secure land records in post-conflict situations.

OpenTitle – A Hands-On Session
Nigel Edmead
Wednesday, April 10 at NOON during the World Bank Conference
Location: MC2-850 in World Bank Headquarters

We are hosting a follow-on lunch, Wednesday at noon, for participants to get hands-on practice with OpenTitle. OpenTitle expedites the

documentation of informal land rights through the application of affordable technology. During this instructor-led session you will learn how to use OpenTitle to capture and manage land rights information and how to generate property folios providing the documentary evidence of land rights, all within a single easy-to-use desktop application.

Seating is limited for the two OpenTitle luncheons. To learn more about this event including session and discussion topics, visit the conference website. Thomson Reuters is proud to be a sponsor of this exciting and valuable event.


A Brief History of Land Rights in Bolivia

In Bolivia, 65 percent of the population—approximately seven million people—are classified as poor, and 90 percent of the poor live in rural, indigenous communities’ people known locally as comunarios.

For generations, comunarios have occupied and worked the land near the capital of La Paz. However, they’ve had limited or no legal means to prove the land they work or possess is rightfully theirs. The comunarios’ property holdings have traditionally been passed down to each succeeding generation based, in most cases, on oral history which serves to describe the characteristics of the holdings—“from this tree, south to the river, the land belongs to us.” And even if they are aware of the correct steps to take, there are numerous other obstacles they must overcome in order to legally register their property. First is the relatively high cost of initiating the registration process (up to 5 percent of the land and property’s value). It includes official fees, plus the cost incurred by traveling to-and-from government offices. Compounding this situation is the relative complexity and the need for citizens to contract private sector professionals, such as lawyers and surveyors to complete the process.

The Consequences

Efficient and definitive administration of land ownership and occupancy rights is critical to the Bolivian economy overall. In agricultural and rural areas, investment in labor and capital can only be made when individuals, communities and third party entities can be confident of future returns. Planning development, agricultural production and the long term conservation of valuable land resources are all inhibited if land tenure security does not exist. And, in Bolivia, land rights are generally considered to be insecure. A long history of inequitable and exclusionary relationships between individuals, families and communities over the same land has led to enduring, hostile and in occasions violent conflict. As a result, many women and children are forced to go out to work so that the men can stay home to guard their undocumented property.

Unsurprisingly, the poor economic growth and enduring poverty levels among the marginalized groups of Bolivia has been attributed by a number of private and public sector studies to the lack of clear, secure, and negotiable rights to land and resources.

Previous Attempts to Solve the Problem

In 1996, the Bolivian government tried to address the issue by establishing the Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria—INRA (National Institute of Agrarian Reform). The department is responsible for the verification, administration and management of land information. But, after a very good start in 1996—51.5% percent of untitled property was identified and registered, 9.9% is in the process of being formalized—INRA states that 38.6% remains to be formalized .

There are multiple issues contributing to this situation. First, the 51.5% percent of land that was titled is mostly in the eastern part of Bolivia. This area consists of large tracts of land and richer agricultural areas which have been easier to title due to clearer available documentation. But much of the land in the Altiplano region is undocumented and so, remains untitled. Other key barriers to establishing land ownership in the Altiplano region are the deep-rooted disputes between individuals and between individuals, and the lack of legal provisions available to these communities to settle such disputes, as outlined above. Finally, there is quite simply a lack of tools, technical skills and sufficient budget to effectively accomplish the task of boundary demarcation and development of a database of property rights.

A Mercy Corps-led Solution

In 2012, Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian agency, partnered with Fundación TIERRA (Taller de Iniciativas en Estudios Rurales y Reforma Agraria), a Bolivian non-governmental organization (NGO), to help find and implement a simple-to-use and effective technology solution to the issue of land ownership. Mercy Corps subsequently contracted Thomson Reuters’ to provide the tools for managing an inventory of property rights. Thomson Reuters recommended the OpenTitle software for this project.

Adhering to the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM), OpenTitle offers governments, partner organizations and communities a flexible, affordable, participatory and user-friendly land management software product that can be incorporated with other local or larger national land information management systems. The system can be easily configured to encompass distinctions between tenure types and use rights and records site-specific ground features helpful in informing subsequent land management decisions. Information can be collected and maintained at the local level without the need for outside custom software development. Individuals can be trained in the use of OpenTitle, and the peripheral devices (GPS, Camera, and printer/scanner) in a matter of days, and there is no requirement for in depth understanding of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or information technology (IT).

OpenTitle and Bolivia

By partnering with Fundación TIERRA—which has worked with the Altiplano communities for more than twenty years—the equipment and software was installed and customized to the specific configuration needed by the non-government agency in just six months. In July and August of last year, Bolivian based Thomson Reuters staff conducted train-the-trainer sessions with Mercy Corps and Fundacion TIERRA staff, who in turn trained have been training the community Saneamiento Interno (Land Formalization) Committees. The OpenTitle system in Bolivia is being used to collect spatial and ownership information, identify and document disputes and settle them with the individuals or the communities directly involved—in real-time while in front of computer screens, and with the participation of community members and community chiefs—known locally as “Mallkus”—who help facilitate and warrant the accuracy of settled disputes.

The Results

“There have been some challenges,” said Matthew Alexander, program director and Bolivia country representative for Mercy Corps. He explained that some Mallkus and individuals within the communities had never seen a computer before. “Also,” he added, “The training had to go beyond just teaching the use of software, e.g. turning on the computer and using the mouse. After all, the goal was always to empower not to burden the communities.”

However, Alexander has praised Thomson Reuters team in Bolivia for their support, knowledge, and dedication, and their “commitment to do what was needed to get the project successfully launched.” Presently, OpenTitle is helping produce the property titles which will give landowners the ability to pass the land to their children, giving individuals the right to participate in the community as a person and incentives to invest and produce in the land. “This will create economic opportunities, stability, and a better quality of life for rural Bolivians” he said.

The Future

The OpenTitle product is helping Mercy Corps and its partner, Fundación TIERRA, expedite the process towards accurate property titles to Bolivia’s indigenous communities. In doing so, it is hoped that a new era of equitable land ownership rights and economic development is being ushered in the Altiplano.

Ultimately, an improvement of Bolivia’s ranking across key indicators developed by Mercy Corps will be a measure of the project’s success. It is Thomson Reuters hope that technology enhanced by experience—ground-based training, easy-to-use technology, and commitment to finding adaptable solutions—will assist in securing land tenure and property rights for more people and communities in Bolivia.


Sharon Sayles-Belton, former two-term mayor of the city of Minneapolis, and presently Thomson Reuters Vice President of Community Relations and Government Affairs, recently spoke with Property Writes on the subject of property values and taxes.

Q: During your two terms as mayor, Minneapolis experienced a considerable increase in property values. How did this rise in values and expanded property tax revenue come about?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: We were fortunate during my administration to have our tax base in the city of Minneapolis grow. However, that was part of our strategy, to look for opportunities to actually grow the tax base.

Q. Can you explain the strategy you developed?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: We did a considerable amount of work through our planning and zoning departments to determine how much land in the city of Minneapolis was underutilized, what the opportunities for development were going forward, and what our vision for redevelopment might look like. We also discussed with the public the opportunities we had to grow the city, expand the tax base, and hopefully improve city services.

Q. Why do you think the strategy worked?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: We were successful because it was the right vision and the correct approach to link property values to the information we had about underutilization of land in the city. However, just as important was the very deliberate manner in which we communicated with our constituents about being able to increase or improve city services without raising taxes. So when the tax payer looked at redevelopment projects, they found information that described the investment, the return on that investment, how much the tax base was going to grow and what we were going to be able to do with that new revenue.

Q. So did this strategy help assure citizens and community stakeholders their tax revenue was both fair and equitable?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: Yes, I believe the issue of fair and equitable is accurate. But there is much more. To say we had discussion with the community on that topic does not clearly portray what really took place.  Our communication strategy started at the grassroots level, while also being embraced as a vision by the city leaders. And why is that important? One of the things that the grassroots citizenry did was to talk at the community level about their vision for their neighborhoods and for their community—they talked about shortcomings and about development opportunities. They also talked about the benefit they would derive as a community—and they were able to bring those conversations to city hall. I mention that only because I think one of the reasons why most people believe that the process was fair and equitable was the fact it percolated up from the neighborhood groups.

The neighborhood groups talked about the investment opportunities and the priorities. We compiled that information from all parts of the city and used it to create a city-wide master plan. And as a whole, there was general agreement that specified the areas of the city where we were going to invest. It was, in my opinion a piece of masterful planning, and it was collaborative and inclusive. And because of that, at the end of the day most people believed it was fair.

Q. How did you decide where to invest?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: We looked first at areas of the city that had the most serious needs. Those areas received the highest investments. And stable areas were not ignored. They were reinforced with lesser investments that all were able to agree on as a community, but investments nonetheless that were still going to be of great benefit to the city as a whole. And then there were some key investments made in the city’s central business district such as those along our riverfront that were of benefit to everyone—I think that was important too.

Q. How did the city respond to citizens who said “my property tax rate just went up?”

Mayor Sayles-Belton: In fact we experienced just that. Individuals who been paying lower property taxes saw increases in their property values—and property taxes—as their neighborhood began to improve. And they came to city hall saying: “I know my property value went up, but so did my taxes, and I don’t have new income to pay for that.” It was really a source of a lot of frustration, particularly on the part of some of our older citizens who were retired.

Q. How were you able to handle those situations?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: Well one of the things we were able to point to was the fact that there was a higher level of service available in the community. There was more and easier access to goods and services than previously because of the strategic investments we had made. We also pointed out that there were increases in property tax, but only as a result of property value increases. And while, for a time, they would be somewhat limited in their ability to leverage that, there were other good things that happened in the community that improved the overall quality of life.

Q. So public interaction was essential in helping to communicate how the community was benefiting from the increase in property values?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: There was a concerted effort on our part to make sure everyone understood the correlation between first, the increase in property values; second, the expanded tax base; third, the increase in revenues collected by the city; and forth, the priorities on revenue spending. This was done so they could see that all four issues were interrelated. This effort was a constant and ongoing conversation with the citizens in our community so that they would have and understand all the facts.

Q. What venues did you use to disseminate this information?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: We used a number of vehicles. The city of Minneapolis during that time began to use more of the Internet, which was just evolving then. But we still needed to find vehicles to make sure that the information was available to the public, so we networked with the public libraries and with the nonprofit community in the city and with our neighborhood redevelopment organizations. Our city council members produced individual newsletters and communication documents that we then pushed out into the neighborhood. We wanted to make sure that everyone understood that they were deriving a benefit and that everyone’s community was going to improve. And while some people never stopped assigning fault, as a whole the community came to believe that this was a strategy that worked well for the city and for them.

Q. What was the most important lesson you learned in respect to this program?

Mayor Sayles-Belton: One of the key elements that kept so many of our citizens informed of the strategy and objectives of our program were our partnerships with neighborhood organizations. It was a process that we tried to advance at every level because at its very core it recognized the importance of citizen engagement and citizen involvement. That is a lesson we learned in Minneapolis, and one which still applies to this day.


By Christiaan Lemmen of the University of Twente (ITC) with Peter van Oosterom of Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
Businesses and governments throughout the world have long reaped the economic benefits from universally standardized systems of measurements such as ISO 9000 Quality Management (QM); ISO 14000 Environmental Management (EM) and dozens of others. Until late last year, the “standards’ world” lagged behind in the establishment of a land administration domain model (LADM). However, in November of 2012, under ISO/TC 211 Geographic information/Geomatics, The Land Administration Domain Model (LADM) was approved as an official International ISO Standard: ISO 19152. It defines terminology for land administration, based on various national and international systems. We were both main contributors to the development of LADM.

What is LADM

The field of knowledge on land administration is called the land administration domain. This knowledge is used to define a model that contains all possible people–to–land relationships. Unlike conventional systems that are not designed to include customary or informal tenures, LADM facilitates the development of global cadastral coverage, not based on dogmatic practice, but rather on a wide range of standardized and well-defined options, which can be adapted to local situations. It covers the whole range from survey, via (2D and 3D) spatial representations to spatial units (parcels) and administrative units, to rights, restrictions and responsibilities that the parties (persons) have.

The Importance of LADM

Many countries have developed individual and specialized land administration systems with intricate levels of complexity between required data and process data. So when new technologies are introduced or new requirements need to be supported, in the traditional system development approach, the software is not easily extended for future needs. In addition, less developed countries often lack the knowledge and technology needed to design the essential data models and develop and implement the required applications and systems. Also, it is common practice during the development process to disregard “informal relationships” between people and land due to informalities not recognised or seen as “illegal.” As a result, when new systems are implemented or when changes are needed, the wheel is reinvented and the same lack of functionality is reimplemented over and over again. This cycle has considerable impact on the continuity of development and maintenance and operation of systems. To remedy this situation, a data model standard was needed to make the process less daunting and adaptable locally. LADM is such a tool. It can be used for the efficient system development, according to the principles of the model driven architecture (MDA), resulting in realization of modern land administration systems and supporting good governance.

The Global Impact of LADM

The great majority—75 percent—of people-to-land relationships worldwide are not documented. This represents approximately 4.5 billion cases globally. This lack of documentation often results in land disputes or land grabbing. This is one of the reasons that propelled the development of the LADM data model. It helps facilitate the quick and efficient setup of land registries. The LADM also provides support in the development of national information infrastructures in situations where land administrations are organized with distributed, central or decentralized responsibilities. In addition, LADM can be used everywhere, both in developing countries and developed countries. The European Union is using it to build up the INSPIRE data infrastructure for spatial information (theme cadastral parcels). It will help to make spatial or geographical information more accessible and interoperable for a wide range of purposes supporting sustainable development.

Dr. Christiaan Lemmen holds a MSc and Ph.D. degree in geodesy from Delft University of Technology, The
Netherlands. He is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth
Observation (ITC), University of Twente, and an international consultant at Kadaster International.
He is chair of the Working Group 7.1 ‘Pro Poor Land Management’ of FIG Commission 7,
‘Cadastre and Land Management’, and contributing editor of GIM International. He is director of the FIG International Bureau of Land Records and Cadastre OICRF.

Dr. Peter van Oosterom obtained an MSc in Technical Computer Science in 1985 from Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. In 1990 he received a PhD from Leiden University for this thesis ‘Reactive Data Structures for GIS’. From 1985 until 1995 he worked at the TNO-FEL laboratory in The Hague, The Netherlands as a computer scientist. From 1995 until 2000 he was senior information manager at the Dutch Cadastre, where he was involved in the renewal of the Cadastral (Geographic) database. Since 2000, he has been professor at the Delft University of Technology (OTB institute) and also Head of the Section ‘GIS Technology.’ He is the current chair of the FIG joint commission 3 and 7 working group on ‘3D-Cadastres’ (2010-2014).