Enhancing the Use of GIT for Evidence-Based Decision Making in Bhutan

Mr. Sonam Tobgay has been working with the National Land Commission of Bhutan for seven years and he is currently a senior survey engineer. For at least the past five years he has been working to collect data and maintain the national spatial data infrastructure (NSDI) in Bhutan, and through his work he found out about the UNOSAT training.

Sonam Tobgay

There are two projects that he has been focusing on for the last three years. The first is the topographical base map preparation for the entire country. At a scale of 1:25000, this dataset will form the core of Bhutan’s NSDI. The National Cadastral Re-Survey Programme is the second project he is working on with a team of 80 people (20 surveyors). These two projects will contribute towards developing a comprehensive repository for NSDI and will eventually inform the National Land Use Zoning (NLUZ) project. This is something that is particularly important in Bhutan, where approximately 70 per cent of the land is tree covered while arable land is only about seven per cent. The zoning project will help to delineate the land use zones of the entire country, to assist in the optimal future utilisation of natural resources in a sustainable manner. With both projects the impact from the UNOSAT training can already be seen. The training focused on the use of GIT in evidence-based decision making. This is something that Mr. Tobgay and the zoning project strive to integrate, and the training provided the tools and necessary know-how to support the implementation of such a massive initiative.

Besides meeting with colleagues and sharing some of the information and knowledge that he has gained thanks to the training, there are two very practical and specific examples of how he is already putting this knowledge into practice. Since the training ended he has performed a spatial analysis which will determine the average slope of a parcel of surveyed land. He reports that as per the country's laws, generally, land with a gradient of more than 45 degrees is not used for agriculture and construction purposes. Having this criterion as a background, he used the newly learned techniques from the training to design an analysis which calculates the average slope of a certain region. Afterward, by overlaying with the data that was being surveyed in the field, he could crosscheck what the average slope really was, allowing for better performance thanks to more robust analysis and greater data reliability. These were all techniques and knowledge that he acquired from the training, which aligns clearly with UNITAR’s objective of strengthening evidence-based decision making.

Currently, there are approximately 20 data collectors in the field working under Mr. Tobgay on the National Cadastral Resurvey Programme measuring thousands of land parcels. In the past, it has been very difficult to get in touch with all these collectors, due to the remote locations they may be operating, presenting a difficulty in coordinating their work. The course introduced an app called Epicollect5, which Mr. Tobgay has since been using to monitor and crosscheck data collected in the field. He can quickly see who is doing what and where, receiving information, videos and pictures daily. All of this can be visualised using the app, allowing him to track data in near real time, thereby making more efficient and effective use of time and resources. The project has scaled up, and there have already been discussions to implement the use of these technologies at the national level. Mr. Tobgay credited the culture of curiosity that exists within his department, and in Bhutan in general, for the success in implementing these new ideas and tools. There is a tangible excitement about the potential that GIT offers.

The practical application of knowledge gained during the course has increased the quality, speed and efficiency of Mr. Tobgay’s work, but more importantly for him, the data that his department now collects has more credibility. There are more sources of data, meaning they are not only dependent on data from the surveyor, as field data was not always reliable. Using multiple sources of data and data analysis combined with data from Epicollect5, one can perform cross validation. Data authenticity was the main concern of his project and the training has really helped in this regard, resulting in better use of data, better quality of reports and more confidence in the information they are presenting.

Learning about the various functions and tools of software like ArcGIS was one part of the training. For Mr. Tobgay, of equal or perhaps even greater importance than the tools and the types of data one can collect, is how one uses the data. This more theoretical aspect, of new ways of thinking about the use of data, was of most value for him, expanding his understanding of what is possible. It will perhaps have the longest and most far-reaching impact. Mr. Tobgay said that the

“training was a door… to the possibilities that [GIT] can give us.”

Mr. Tobgay is excited about the future, and the continuing impact that the training will have. There have been discussions about a joint venture between UNOSAT and the National Land Commission, building partnerships for training, disaster risk reduction and sustainable land management. This training has created advocates for evidence-based decision making in Bhutan. The true impact of this will hopefully be both long lasting and far-reaching.

Read the full impact-story of UNOSAT training in Bhutan

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