Managing Malawi's spatial data ... by Carl Watson

CSCUK fellows collecting field samples in
Devon, Salome Mkandawire (left) and
Grace Manzeke (right)
Salome Mkandawire, a GIS expert from the Malawi government Surveys Department, has just spent a busy month training with Carl Watson, a Systems Developer & Analyst at the BGS. Their aim was to share good data practice and information management experience as well as research international standards for spatial metadata. Here Carl explains why BGS is a leader in these fields and asks Salome how this CSCUK Professional Fellowship is helping the National Spatial Data Centre in Malawi...

Salome is one of two Fellowships visiting BGS via funding from the Commonwealth Scholarship Council (CSCUK) gained through the combined BGS-University of Nottingham Centre for Environmental Geochemistry. Grace Manzeke from the University of Zimbabwe is the other Fellowship and will follow-up soon with another blog on her experience. 

Salome was motivated to come to BGS and learn about our practices because of recent developments in the Malawian geospatial community,
"In Malawi we are setting up the National Spatial Data Centre (NSDC) which will be the data bank for spatial data. The NSDC is important for facilitating seamless data development, information sharing, and collaborative decision making across multiple sectors of the economy.

The National Spatial Data Centre should have well trained staff in different areas of Geographical Information systems and Web GIS, Information management, Metadata creation and also human resource management."

My first objective when organising the training programme was to make sure Salome experienced the wide range of activities carried out by the BGS and partners. I arranged a series of meetings with experts who could describe their roles in the data management workflow, from field data capture through to public dissemination of spatial knowledge built on well structured, fully managed data.
Over the four weeks we spent time talking to data verification and information management officers, observed how the physical and digital records were managed and even fitted in a couple of field trips to Devon and Derbyshire to experience how important it is to collect and describe data correctly.
High level data model for metadata, taken from
Database design principles and best practice was covered by walking through BGS examples and corporate documentation and supplemented by the book ‘Database Systems: A Practical Approach to Design, Implementation and Management’ by Connolly and Begg.

With the help of BGS experts and online resources (see external links listed at the end of the article) we explored why data centres need to take metadata seriously. By walking through documented standards on spatial metadata and logical data models such as that available at we identified what the most important attributes were for Malawian spatial datasets. This work will feed directly into the section of metadata in the NSDC standards document and may even lead to the development of new functionality in the Malawi Spatial Data Portal (MASDAP).
“The Commonwealth Fellowship has enabled the transfer of skills and knowledge relevant to my home country [Malawi] because I have learned the importance of information management, the creation of metadata and systems by seeing how important this is to the British Geological Survey.
I will be able to teach other members of staff in Malawi the importance of managing the various datasets from different organizations which we have at NSDC and the Department of Surveys, this will help to avoid the duplication of efforts and easily find data.
Currently, we are digitizing our analogue data therefore, the training came at the right time as I will help in data management and creation of metadata of all the scanned sheets and digitized maps. The metadata creation for all the physical and non-physical data will be done using knowledge gained.”
This month has illustrated that the BGS has a lot of staff who are very experienced and knowledgeable about all manner of data management issues, we have spent so many years working with and adapting international standards that we almost take it for granted. The CSCUK Professional Fellowship has been a great way to share our knowledge and develop closer relationships with spatial data experts in an interesting part of the world. I hope that the Malawi NSDC is a great success and I’m sure we will work with Salome and her colleagues again in the future.
External links / suggested further reading:
GoGeo, containing training course on metadata.
Previously blogs about BGS work in Malawi.