On the other hand, at least some of the sectoral agencies may possibly not always be eager to share their data with the Ministry of Environmental Protection beyond their formal obligations. This may be especially relevant with respect to subnational-scale aggregated data of sectoral programmes. It is also not uncommon that the agencies themselves, as well as their offices or research institutions, officially or unofficially try to charge each other for information, even in cases where it formally must be provided free of charge and without restrictions (see Section 3.4).
Under any circumstances it will be necessary to establish good working relations with the most important federal agencies involved in environmental monitoring and data management (the list may include the Agency for Hydrometeorology, the Sanitary Committee, the Committee for Water Resources, the Committee for Land Resources, the Agency for Forestry, the Committee for Geology, the Committee for Statistics, and others (see also Sections 3.1, 3.2 and Appendix 1)). Such relations will also be important from the point of view of establishing actual networking and data exchange mechanisms.
To mitigate the possible friction between some of the involved parties, it would be helpful to obtain a principal approval of the programme by some of the top-level national authorities, including the Presidential Administration, the Government, and parliament committees (see Section 2.2 and Appendix 1), as well as by the corresponding authorities of the territories selected for pilot projects. This will be especially relevant if the networking programme needs the co-ordination of its funding strategy with regard to the allocation of funds within the federal and local budgets, or if tax/financial advantages for the programme are desirable. Another reason is that some of the participating institutions may require that the programme should hold a mandate from top Russian authorities.
However, it must be kept in mind that a co-operation agreement between the programme and any agency or authority may not necessarily guarantee reliable links to lower positioned institutions, nor access to their data. It is very common that an agency does not have complete control over such data, since many activities are performed by the institutions on a contract commercial basis so that the resulting intellectual property does not formally belong to the supervising body. Therefore, in order to involve some institutions in the programme, agreements must be made in certain cases between the programme or single institutions, or even parts thereof.
Since regional programmes usually involve a broad range of users with various requirements, procedures and standards, they provide a very demanding environment for examining the efficiency of networking in helping to find answers to practical questions arising, and for matching the procedures adopted within the network with international standards, e.g. in terms of classification, analysis and presentation.
As soon as the national network reaches its full capacity, regional programmes are likely to become one of the main consumers of its data. They will also continue to contribute to the development of international links between co-operating national environmental information systems.
One sort of target regional programmes may be represented by problem-specific programmes dealing with the international and transboundary problems of air and water transboundary pollution, migration and distribution of protected species, transportation of wastes, natural and man-induced accident prevention and emergency response. Another kind of target programmes may be of a more comprehensive nature, and be related to general problems of environmental protection and management in areas falling under several national jurisdictions (e.g. the Circumpolar Arctic).
Global initiatives are also very suitable for linking to the networking programme. However, they often incorporate much longer time-scales and require co-ordination on the level of top national officials, which is probably not appropriate at the early stage of networking development. At a later stage global initiatives, like regional programmes, will inevitably become very important network partners.
The strengthening of environmental information network activities should include components associated with all aspects of the environmental information process, including the creation of information resources, their management, distribution and use.
While it may seem natural for a networking programme to pay more attention to the already existing data and take less account of the data collection activities themselves, a notable effect can be achieved by restructuring current multi-sectoral system of environmental monitoring to provide harmonised and more focused spatio-temporal and thematic coverage, while avoiding the duplication of efforts. This idea is already partially present in the concept of the Unified State System of Environmental Monitoring. However its implementation will definitely be impeded by the attempts of agencies and territories, first, to keep their control over information and resources allocated to data collection (if any), and, second, to follow their own goals, which may be different from those of the system. A comprehensive project for the restructuring and harmonisation of the monitoring network, accompanied by the transfer of field and laboratory analytical technologies, will then make an invaluable contribution to the building of the capacities of the existing systems of environmental information.
Transfer of technology and know-how in the field of data storage and management is also important. In fact many information system offices operate completely out-of-date equipment and procedures and thus are incapable of efficient management of large stocks of data. To achieve a really comprehensive treatment of a problem, attempts should be made to assist in the introduction of appropriate information technologies at all levels, from field sites to top-level decision makers.
Strengthening is also required in the field of treatment of environmental information. While the traditions of mapping in Russia are very deep, routine analysis of digital environmental data is at its initial stage. The approaches and procedures widely implemented elsewhere (e.g. statistical analysis of environmental quality data, fate and transport modelling, use of remote sensing products, geoinformation technologies, methods of assessing the economic value of the environment) are known and used by the research community and selected sectoral institutions, but are not applied in the everyday practice of environmental decision-making. Among limitations are the lack of expertise and of technological capacities.
Reporting capacity building will be needed to bring the quality of reporting products to standards which would meet the needs of users and decision-makers. The analysts must be able to integrate and present information in a way that is useful and understandable from a user's point of view. As with information analysis, the assistance needs can be envisaged on both the knowledge and technology sides. Users and decision-makers must in turn be able to appropriately understand the reported environmental data. Hence by supporting the already existing system of general and specialised environmental education (see Section 3.3) the networking programme can notably increase the number of qualified environmental information users.
The problems of transfer and dissemination of environmental information are discussed in Section 4.5.
The main limitations currently are the lack of knowledge about available information resources (both digital databases and paper products and publications) and the absence (or high cost) of necessary telecommunications and hardware.
Besides the UN and UNEP databases, access to information resources of other international, regional and national institutions, such as the EEA, ESA, EPA, USGS, and NASA will be greatly appreciated by the user groups listed above.
Although legislation to underlie a public-domain policy already exists, no legal or administrative mechanism is available to put it into practice. As mentioned above, the only practical way to obtain data is to buy them from their owner or another holder, provided that the necessary care is taken to avoid conflicts with the interests of national security. The costs are in general negotiable, while some institutions (e.g. the Committee for Statistics) have a more or less defined policy for fixing a price.
International organisations which regularly work with Russian authorities, as well as the authorities themselves, normally have no problems in obtaining data that should be regularly supplied to them in accordance with certain regulations or obligations. However, whenever a non-standard request is made, the most feasible way to solve the problem is, again, to order and/or purchase a required data-set.
Generally speaking, it is unclear how the public-domain concept is to be applied in practice. For many organisations working with environmental data, selling their information is a very important source of funding (and sometimes the most significant one). Any attempt to require free delivery is likely to result in declaring the respective data-sets as "non-environmental", which is not difficult to do with the existing vague classification systems. If the elaboration of a special mechanism to encourage (e.g. economically) data exchange is considered, this must be subject of a separate comprehensive research. However, as the economic problems become less acute, more institutions are likely to be interested in exchanging data rather than in making a financial profit from them.
In general there is a number of activities which in any case may facilitate the access to environmental data in Russia:
All of the above will hopefully help to eventually create an informed and competitive market of environmental information, which functions in accordance with regulations and good practice.