This way, please

Spatial awareness is inherent in our lives. It operates in the subconscious, facilitating the process of evaluating alternatives ways of carrying out everyday tasks, be it choosing a school that is appropriate for our children, knowing where to find the closest 24hr pharmacy, or stopping at that one petrol station along our commute that has an automatic carwash. Our ability to formulate the best possible routes is reliant on the detailed information readily available to us.

While most of us take it for granted, the knowledge we accumulate while living and moving through our neighborhoods feeds an extensive mental spatial data repository. Thus equipped, our brains are able to do wonderful things: we analyse routes on the fly, often without a moment’s hesitation.

Because our memories store such rich, detailed content about the places that we use regularly, we apply these wondrous spatial skills unconsciously in everyday life. Yet the information that we use to do so is public, too. Restaurants, schools and petrol stations are not there for our exclusive convenience, but for that of many others too. Thus, a collective community information is created. That is what our minds are predisposed to access.

What our minds do so effortlessly for our lives is what spatial data tools seek to do for communities large and small. Abu Dhabi Spatial Data Infrastructure (AD-SDI) has extended this reach from an individual’s perspective to encompass the entire emirate of Abu Dhabi. Its constantly growing pool of data and interfaces replicates our mind’s spatial awareness on a much larger scale, from restaurant searches in Abu Dhabi City to lost mosques in the far reaches of the Western Region. Over one hundred thousand facilities from the health, education, social & charity, public infrastructure, and transport areas are already included. More are added every day by the members of the AD-SDI in a collective effort called the ADSIC Community Facilities.

The resulting data goes way beyond a mere Point of Interest (POI) dataset. From its inception, the AD-SDI community has sought to capture as rich a dataset as possible about each point. So, where a standard webmap might give you a hospital’s location and telephone number, the AD-SDI data includes data on available services (X-rays, MRI, departments, number of available beds, number of car parking spaces etc). In this way, AD-SDI is helping to create a facilities map of the emirate that begins to approach the content richness of the memories we carry around about the small number of places we know well.

What made this richness possible was the migration of AD-SDI Community Facilities from a single-source framework to community sourcing. The incentive to contribute is not just contractual: every member of the AD-SDI community knows that the more data they put in, the more services they get out. Today, data about, say, a hotel restaurant includes information about its licensing status, its food safety record, its role in the tourism sector etc. Each of the government bodies responsible for these various aspects of that business’ oversight maintains the data related to their individual mandate, and shares it with all the others through AD-SDI.

The reduction in redundancy and duplication is of course huge - but that is not all: it is leading to increasingly useful streams of information for the public, accessible through online government services such as the Abu Dhabi Physician Directory, the Government Department Finder, the School Finder, business locators, pharmacy directories, tourism & events calendars and more.