Digital Gazetteer Information Exchange Working Group
January 28, 1999
USGS, Reston, VA 1 PM

Meeting Minutes (by Gail Hodge & Linda Hill)


Fred Broome (Census)
Dan Cavanaugh (USGS)
Randy Flynn (NIMA)
Ron Grimm (LoC)
Linda Hill (UCSB)
Gail Hodge (USGS/BRD)
Mike Mulligan (USGS/BRD)
Judy Novakowsky (USGS)
Roger Payne (USGS)
Tina Pruitt (USGS)
Fred Rohr (USGS)
Robin Wooster (USGS)
Lou Yost (USGS)

Linda Hill presented the latest draft proposal for an NSF Digital Government Planning Grant. It is based on the previous draft with additional content under technical and policy issues.

This grant would provide up to $50K to hold a workshop on the exchange of digital gazetteer information. The purpose of the workshop would be to flesh out the issues and opportunities for research. It would result in a report and possibly a formal proposal for additional R&D. This event would be by invitation only, with key people targeted and general announcements via relevant listservs. Those interested in attending would provide a biography and statement of interest. The Steering Committee would review these submissions and determine who to confirm. Federal employees can attend at will.

Modifications to the Draft Proposal
The group made the following changes to the wording.

Under background - with regard to what a gazetteer is: Roger Payne suggested that we might get negative responses based on the "red-legged frog habitat" example, particularly since those involved in toponymic authority work might think of this type of name as ephemeral. However, it was noted that this type of "named place" has meaning to certain communities. Nevertheless, the point was made that we are stretching the meaning that a number of people attach to "gazetteers" and we must be aware that this might "raise eyebrows" in some circles and therefore needs to be addressed in the proposal and the invitations and announcements.

The group agreed to add more emphasis to the importance of the provenance of gazetteer entries. Generally, users of the gazetteer information understand provenance as a result of having the hardcopy in hand or because they are dealing with one source of gazetteer data at a time. The group thought that provenance must be highlighted in the digital setting where gazetteer data is being shared among applications from various sources. Provenance is an important and possibly mandatory element of the Content Standard designed for the description of gazetteer entries. Increased emphasis of the importance of provenance will be worked into this part of the document.

The issue of the precedence of BGN names was discussed. The background section seems to equate the files of all that are mentioned, without giving BGN precedence. It was decided that this issue may actually be a good one to include in the agenda. The workshop may actually serve to give broader acceptance of the names. Can something come out of the meeting that actually supports the position of the BGN? The authority process could be part of the discussion.

It was recommended that the "researchers in biodiversity and geography" should be stated as researchers who create and use gazetteer information heavily e.g., biodiversity, ecology, geography, natural history, culture, etc. This would provide more flexibility.

Workshop Format
The recommendation was made that the workshop be two days. Some thought that three days would be necessary to get any real work done. There should be some hands-on work on the part of the groups. White papers and position papers will be requested in advance. A social affair should be planned early in the workshop. On the day after the workshop, the Steering Committee will meet to coalesce the thoughts and action items from the workshop and begin the process of writing the workshop report and plans for research and development initiatives.

Workshop Topics

  1. Authoritative names versus variant names
  2. Provide BGN with a platform to remind federal agencies that naming must follow BGNs authority. It is important to have the federal agencies involved in the workshop in order to highlight this.
  3. The issue of a feature type thesaurus that is hierarchical and rich in term variants needs to be discussed. How detailed might it be? Can there be a common set and also one that is valuable enough for special uses? How do you have a thesaurus that is both high level and shareable across applications, as well as expandable in specific areas?
The workshop should also comment on fuzzy footprints (#4). This is highly dependent on applications. (ADL has done some research and one of the keys is how to make it clear how and where the fuzziness is ... how do you get to it and how do you show it to the user?)

Copyright issues should be addressed. There are other countries that copyright and claim intellectual property rights for gazetteer and gazetteer-like information. The suggested title is "intellectual property and copyright issues". In addition there may be warranties, disclaimers and other legal issues that should be discussed because they impact not-for-profit and commercial providers.

Do interchangeable gazetteers require standards? How does this play out when commercial vendors are involved; federal standards must reflect the user community and they must look to national standards (ANSI) first; the workshop would be a good step toward developing a standards process

Issue of scale -- where do names come from? The Digital Earth model should be kept in mind. National efforts need to work into an international perspective. The kind of structure needed incorporates information from all over the world, even though the scale may not be similar. You have to fully document the differences and the sources.

Do we need to consider more than one content standard?

Unicode (character and text encoding regardless of writing system) and differences in the character sets must be addressed. This will be reflected in the proposal with advice from Randy Flynn. He will likely lead this session at the workshop.

Possible Dates
The group discussed the second or third week of October. Linda noted that a general time period can be included in the proposal, but specific dates are not necessary. It was suggested that the meeting be scheduled before or after the UN Name Meeting. We also need to avoid end/beginning of fiscal year budget problems for federal attendees.

Possible Types of Invitees
All relevant federal agencies
Open GIS representative
National Geographic
Rand McNally

The group decided that commercial providers should be included. However, if one vendor is invited over another, there may be a problem with a federal person on the Steering Committee making this decision. Linda will check with Mike Goodchild about this.

There is generally a cap on the funding for international participants when they are invited.

Linda indicated that Janet Gomon had previously expressed an interest in having the Smithsonian host the workshop. Linda will contact Janet. Other possibilities mentioned included the World Bank, National Geographic, Gallaudet College, University of Maryland, or the NIH Natcher Center. It may be necessary to look for some sponsorship. The hosting organization would be responsible for arrangements.

Linda acknowledged that the budget part of the proposal still needs to be developed.

$50K covers part of travel expenses for invitees; part of salary for the PI; support staff if necessary, etc. There would be no cost for federal participation.

Steering Committee
Steering Committee will be made up of members from the group. They will be responsible for planning the workshop, inviting the participants, sending out the open call, reviewing the bios, etc.

Next Steps
Linda will redraft the proposal and then ask for volunteers to support the creation of the final version. In her cover e-mail she will require a reply regardless of whether the recipient has changes to be made. The respondent should reply to everyone on the list so that everyone can see the changes that are being suggested. The application deadline is March 1.