The Role of Universities and Research Organizations in the OGC


The OGC is a standards organization, but it is also at the forefront of an area of research, geospatial interoperability, which is rapidly being driven forward by technological advances and societal needs.  OGC membership helps universities and research organizations contribute to the development of 21st century scientific data collection, processing and dissemination practices. It also provides a fertile environment in which university geomatics, computer science, geography and geoscience departments can modernize and advance their curricula, research agendas, and technology transfer plans by working shoulder-to-shoulder with industry and government members. The mission of the OGC University Domain Working Group (UDWG) is to coordinate activities that serve the common spatial technology interests of OGC academic and research members.

The importance of OGC University Membership

One of the great science paradigm shifts in our age is that everything is now seen as related to everything else, whereas the emphasis in the previous two centuries was on studying phenomena in isolation. Consequently, in the geosciences as in other sciences, studies are more frequently interdisciplinary. This trend is consistent with the increased sharing of data, information and knowledge that characterizes our increasingly networked world.

The OGC’s practical work in developing consensus interface and encoding standards supports data sharing, but removing some of the obvious obstacles has enabled the scientific geomatics community to turn their attention to other problems. The OGC’s work has stimulated an increased academic and research focus on problem areas such as geospatial semantics, sensor webs, geospatial technology convergence, data fusion, service chaining in geospatial modelling, and data-driven science involving georeferenced data. The OGC’s university members are at the forefront of this new research.

As of September 2011, 151 of OGC’s 470 members are universities or research organizations, more than any other member category. The importance of this membership category and the value of OGC membership both increase as geospatial interoperability becomes more important.

The OGC promotes cooperation within the academic world and between academic members and government and industry members. The OGC is a global hub, an international center of excellence, for geospatial interoperability, and an idea space for academics. OGC membership helps university members connect with other university members on topics of mutual interest.

The role of universities and research organizations in the OGC

Government and industry members want to work with researchers on standards development challenges. Some OGC standards and candidate standards and some new applications are attractive to these members but pose problems that require particular expertise and imagination. Technology providers and users at technology’s “bleeding edge” need researchers who have the focus, intellectual energy and spirit of innovation to provide pre-market development services. Major government agencies and corporations in the consortium want rapid development and rapid market deployment of standards, but at the same time we sometimes hear that it is unfortunate that standards get developed and come into use before research has been done that would result in better standards.

In the private sector, companies – both technology providers and technology users – seek to refine their information technology strategies to stay competitive. In the public sector, cyberinfrastructure and SDIs are seen as economic multipliers, so governments recognize the value of funding research in areas such as sensor webs, rights management, workflow, service chaining and geosemantics that have broad application in market sectors. The economic multiplier effect becomes apparent when the expertise, contacts and market awareness gained by university and research members lead to start-up businesses, or improved competitiveness of established technology providers, or new efficiencies for technology-using companies or government offices, or new capabilities for consumers.

Open consensus standards provide interoperability that enables technology convergence and loose coupling (as opposed to custom integration) of networked resources. Standards also enable growth of the geospatial resources network, resulting in positive network effects such as Metcalf’s Law (“The value of each node increases with number of nodes”). Tremendous opportunity lies in the permutations, fusion and chaining of diverse systems and components. Convergence creates opportunities but also complicated new problems that manifest as opportunities for universities and research organizations. Often these opportunities emerge in OGC testbeds, pilot projects and interoperability experiments.

How the OGC is changing “geo-academia”

Within universities as within the larger economy, OGC standards and OGC membership are disruptive agents of progress:

  • Cyberinfrastructure and data-driven science (which, in a networked world, depend increasingly on open standards) are emerging as a powerful new component of the scientific method, as exemplified in the National Science Foundation’s “Earth Cube” initiative. (See more on Earth Cube below.)
  • OGC standards make geoprocessing more useful in more academic areas, thus raising the profile of geography and geomatics departments.
  • “Open access” in science is rapidly gaining ground for many reasons, including maximizing science funding agencies’ return on their investments.
  • New textbooks and course materials are needed as GIS becomes just one element in a larger, rapidly evolving GI science idea space.
  • Knowledge of geospatial standards helps equip students for a job market in which 20th century skills such as data conversion are supplanted by 21st century skills such as provenance tracking, rights management, data curation and preservation, interface management, workflow analysis, community representation in data modelling activities, etc.
  • With growing ease-of-use and applicability, enabled partly by standards, geomatics has become an essential computer competency, like spreadsheets. GIS and related easily integrated spatial tools provide a foundation for solving spatial/temporal problems much more effectively than can be accomplished without them.
  • Universities have much to contribute in the development of standards that have great societal value. The Water Information Services Concept Development study is an excellent example of how research results move into the OGC to inform standards development. The need for research increases as the network extends into more domains of activity and becomes more complex.

As new information and communication technologies reshape the institutions of science and education, departments – software engineering, artificial intelligence, spatial cognition, geomatics etc. – need to sort out new roles, and so do geographers, geologists, climatologists, biologists, etc. Overcoming technical interoperability obstacles often precedes the obsolescence of institutional policies that stand as obstacles to more efficient workflows and institutional relationships. Universities have an opportunity in the OGC to be at the forefront of such change, preparing students for new roles, new specializations, and new careers and businesses in science, business and government.

In the social sciences, too, there is much to study in the area of technology transitions, socio-technical “regime change,” and managing risk in a technological society. The new institutions and practices of geoscience, evolving through the work of innovators who understand the new media of scientific communication, offer scientists more opportunities for autonomy, mastery, purpose and selective collaboration, and such innovation has the potential to transform prospects for sustainability around the world.

In terms of network theory, the OGC is a “hub” in an “open dynamic network”. The OGC maintains formal alliance partnerships with a large number of associations and standards development organizations. Many of these, like the OGC, themselves contribute to digital connectivity, which puts them in a class of hubs that are particularly important during this period in which humanity is experiencing a historical step change in technical and human connection. It is in the nature of open dynamic networks that strengthening such links makes both the OGC and its partner hubs more likely to form new connections with other hubs. OGC university and research members benefit from a proactive OGC partnering policy that produces positive network effects such as this.

Areas for research

One domain of activity in the OGC that has particular value for open science is the work of the OGC Geo Rights Management Working Group (GeoRM WG). The Geospatial Rights Management (GeoRM) DWG produced the Geospatial Digital Rights Management Reference Model (GeoDRM RM) (now also ISO standards: ISO 19149 – Rights expression language for geographic information – GeoREL and ISO 19153 – Geospatial Digital Rights Management Reference Model (GeoDRM RM)). These groundbreaking documents will likely provide a basis for implementation standards that enable stakeholders to control the communication of spatial information for reasons of privacy, security and commerce. Advocates for open science deprecate the use of licenses that limit commercial re-use or limit the production of derivative works. These advocates recognize the value of integrating and re-purposing datasets and some, at least, recognize the value of policies that provide a basis for commercial data preservation business models. That’s important with respect to geospatial data, both because geospatial data are so often integrated and repurposed and because geospatial data sets are often complex and voluminous and thus potentially more expensive to curate than other kinds of data. At the same time, however, there are many use cases in which most reasonable people would agree that data access and use needs to be controlled.

Progress in this GeoRM area, however, awaits further research. Often, people mistakenly conflate access control with GeoRM, and access control is an area where the academic sector is already making a significant contribution. Through the Authentication Interoperability Experiment (IE) and the Shibboleth IE, the OGC’s university members have demonstrated a production strength, standards based, solution showing how protected OGC Web Services implementations can be made available across administrative domains. It is quite likely that universities or research organizations in the OGC would gain business and government support if they were to initiate similar interoperability experiments and testbeds focussed on GeoRM.

Another fertile research domain within the larger OGC idea space is the OGC Sensor Web Enablement (SWE) activity. Most geospatial data are collected by means of sensors, and thus it is important in the geosciences to have rigorous standard ways to describe sensors and sensor data in human-readable and machine-readable form. It is also important to have standard ways to schedule sensor tasks and aggregate sensor readings into data layers. Use of SWE standards is becoming important in scientific areas such as ocean observation, geology, hydrology and meteorology.

Web-resident sensors, data collections and online geoprocessing services can be published and discovered by means of catalogs that implement the OGC Catalog Services – Web Interface Standard (CS-W). This standard will likely become an integral infrastructure element for open access to geospatial data and for cyberinfrastructure. It is designed to work with the ISO geospatial metadata standards, but those who begin implementing in this area discover that some work remains to make those standards more generally useful. One important component of cyberinfrastructure is modelling. Distributed modelling architectures will depend on OGC standards such as CS-W, the OGC Web Processing Service and Web Coverage Processing Service interface standards, and potentially the (proposed candidate standard) Open Modelling Interface (the OpenMI).

There are still many open questions regarding interoperability between 3D spatial services and workflows at public authorities or other producers and users of 3D city models. The OGC CityGML Encoding Standard is the focus of much university activity. Many municipalities are beginning to create city models that have potential for various applications, the most prominent being virtual city guides and urban planning, but also disaster management, simulation of sound propagation and others.

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced in September 2011 that NSF is seeking transformative concepts and approaches to create integrated data management infrastructures across the Geosciences. The NSF announcement confirms that the NSF recognizes that all geoscience data have location as a common denominator. The goal is to create a prototype Earth Cube system for an agile and robust geosciences-integrating architecture with an inclusive governance paradigm. OGC university members are developing a set of white papers relevant to Earth Cube. We invite you to participate!


OGC membership provides a cost-effective way for universities to develop working relationships with private and public sector members. Enriched dialog between the academic sector and the other sectors broadens perspectives and leads to new opportunities. Membership helps geoscience communities and environmental management organizations contribute to the development of 21st century scientific data collection, processing and dissemination practices. It also provides a fertile environment in which university geomatics, computer science, geography and geoscience departments can modernize and advance their curricula, research agendas, and technology transfer plans. The OGC University Domain Working Group provides a forum for all of these activities.

Contribute your ideas to the US National Science Foundation (NSF) “Earth Cube”

NSF seeks transformative concepts and approaches to create integrated data management infrastructures across the Geosciences. The goal is to create a prototype Earth Cube system for an agile and robust geosciences-integrating architecture with an inclusive governance paradigm. OGC members are developing a set of white papers relevant to Earth Cube.


Learn more

See also the Geosciences and Environment Domain page.


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