In the field of Earth Observation (EO) activities, the critical point found for the Balkan countries is how to create a future environment of cooperation between partners at various levels where companies from across the world would be involved in joint projects. Experience gained in projects supported by the European Union (EU) paves the way toward future models of cooperation and will help to identify new products and market niches for these products and services. Future cooperation between Balkan partners becomes much easier if experience from initial projects is already available. In this sense, the OBSERVE project has significantly contributed by developing a network and capacity-building in the region.
Many activities within OBSERVE have been focused on collecting information and investigating the current state of affairs in the field of EO in the Balkan region. The analysis of this detailed data shows there are inevitable differences between the contributing countries due to history, politics and other reasons. On the other hand, we can find many common trends and common goals for the EO in the region.
The biggest weaknesses are that EO data regulation is not clear to the data producers. Data in many countries is expensive, incomplete, limited, outdated, unavailable or incorrect. Other factors include the use of standards regarding EO data, weak and irregular cooperation among data producers and providers, limited sharing of EO regional datasets in places such as the former Yugoslav republics and Balkan countries, and data compatibility with GEOSS.
Also, in many counties, most of the data producers or providers are only partially aware of the needs of end-users regarding EO data. Other areas that need improvement include the export of products and services in most countries, media reports of EO-related issues, informing professional societies about new data sources, data availability and data usage, and the cooperation between academic institutions and decision makers for EO data development and implementation. The completeness of EO data and the ease of access can considerably increase the annual income of EO data users by 10-25 percent.
Within one to two years, we should: set a common Group on Earth Observations (GEO) forum for networking and application exchange at the national level; consider and evaluate ways to participate in international standards bodies and activities in the EO domain, such as OGC working groups and the GEOSS Architecture Implementation Pilot; and develop different communication channels for the international and national exchange of ideas on various aspects of EO activities and environmental monitoring. Those could include the South-Eastern European Journal of Earth Observation and Geomatics, SEEJoEOG, e-forums or blogs for thematic discussions.
Within this time frame, we also should be able to meet goals of: promoting GEOSS as a common data platform in the region for data producers, providers and end-users that will allow the sharing and exchange of EO data; and strengthening scientific, research and educational cooperation through the expansion to market niches, the development of new applications, and the continuation of the knowledge-transfer concept of CARAVAN.
Ways to achieve these goals include: visiting target audiences at their location rather than transporting them to scientific and professional events, development of a model for training courses and workshops for the region as a permanent education for the professional community, the use of available tools, and organizing seminars by universities or professional associations tailored to the needs of the Balkan countries. The aim also should be to use the practices of the ISPRS Summer School Seminars as a model for cooperation in the Balkan region and promote the currently available exchange programs, such as Erasmus and CEEPUS, for students, researchers and professors.
Also key will be providing institutional support, at the regional and European level to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia — countries that are not yet GEO members — in order to help them to join the GEO and provide support for cooperation with ESA.
In order to achieve these goals, we also will need to encourage national bodies to perform market research on end-users needs, at the national and regional level, with the aim of getting objective information on real needs and achieving a qualitative collaboration between the end-user, EO producers and providers.
Within five to seven years, we hope to extend the initiative of a common GEO forum for networking and application exchange from the national to the Balkan region and further expand dissemination and stakeholder involvement, disseminate good practices to other parts of the world, and further promotion of GEOSS data-sharing facilities.
Longer-term goals include organizing permanent training courses and workshops in the region, increasing cooperation between the universities in the region, increasing funding for scientific research in the EO field and taking advantage of future EU open calls in the environment.
The OBSERVE project has contributed significantly to capacity-building in the region. Many strategic targets of GEO and the priority actions for institutional development and individual development, set in the GEO task ID-02, have been achieved within OBSERVE activities.
The future geospatial development of the Balkan countries also will be affected by economic development in Europe. As many geospatial innovations call for initial funding by public institutions, one can expect a selection of most the promising or financially attractive techniques. Despite all these potential obstacles and the difficult economic situation in Europe, we can be positive there is a future for EO activities in the Balkan region. Many examples of good practices (figures 1 and 2) are presented in the executive summary report (pdf), and show a variety of good and interesting applications in the region.
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