Major projects

Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM)

Project location Global
Starting date 01 October 2007
Completion date 31 December 2009
Client United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-HABITAT)
Project leader Christiaan Lemmen
Project officer Paul Schoonackers
Project type Contract research
Budget Euro 137,750


Land Administration Systems (LASs) provide the infrastructure for implementation of land polices and land management strategies in support of sustainable development. This infrastructure includes a legal framework, institutional arrangements, processes, standards, land information, management and dissemination systems, and technologies required to support the allocation, markets, valuation, control of use and development of interests in land.

In many countries such infrastructure is not available with a nationwide coverage. In
fact this is the case in only 25 to 30 countries worldwide. Most developing countries have less than 30% cadastral coverage. Moreover, it can be observed that existing land administration systems have limitations because of the fact that informal and customary tenures cannot be included in these registrations, which particularly affects the poor in society.  Existing land administration systems require substantial changes to include all existing types of tenures. But the need for this is not always recognized and institutional changes are not so easy to implement.

The Global Land Tool Network (GLTN), facilitated by UN-HABITAT, is a coalition of international partners, which has taken up this challenge and is supporting the development of pro-poor land management tools, to address the technical gaps associated with unregistered land. The security of tenure of people in these areas relies on forms of tenure different from individual free hold. Most off register rights and claims are based on social tenures. GLTN partners support a continuum of land rights, which include rights that are documented as well as undocumented, from individuals and groups, from pastoralist, and in slums which are legal as well as illegal and informal.

The Project

The overarching goal of the project has been the development of a prototype of a pro-poor land information management system for use in supporting the land administration of the poor in urban and rural areas, allowing the accommodation of local social tenures, which can also be linked to the existing cadastral system in order for all information to be integrated. This system is called the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM).

The objectives of the project were the following:

  • Development of a conceptual model explaining the objective, flexibility, capability and operability of the STDM in relation to management of a wide range of land tenure issues and with a specific emphasis on empowering the poor;
  • Development of a prototype open source software for the core content of the STDM;
  • Testing and validating the core STDM software; and
  • Development of relevant documentation and a user-friendly guide and training material.

Based on an original conceptual model a prototype software programme has been developed as a multi-partner initiative, based on open-source software development principles and meeting a number of specific requirements:

  • The STDM describes relationships between people and land in unconventional manner in that it tackles land administration needs in hitherto neglected communities such as people in informal settlements and customary areas. It supports development and maintenance of records in areas where regular or formal registration of land rights is not the rule. It focuses on land and property rights, which are neither registered nor registerable, as well as overlapping claims, that may have to be adjudicated both in terms of the ‘who’, the ‘where’ and the ‘what’ right. In other words, the emphasis is on social tenure relationships as embedded in the continuum of land rights concept promoted by GLTN and UN-HABITAT. This means informal rights such as occupancy, adverse possession, tenancy, use rights (this can be formal as well), etc. or customary rights, indigenous tenure, etc. as well as the formal ones are recognized and supported (with regard to information management).
  • Likewise, the STDM accommodates a range of spatial units (‘where’, e.g. a piece of land which can be represented as one point – inside a polygon, a set of lines, as a polygon with low/high accuracy coordinates, as a 3D volume, etc.).
  • Similarly, the STDM records all types of right holders (‘who’, e.g., individuals, couples, groups with defined and non-defined membership, group of groups, company, municipality, government department, etc.).
  • In regard to evidence, STDM handles the impreciseness and possible ambiguities that may arise in the description of land rights. In a nutshell, the STDM addresses information related components of land administration in an innovative way.
  • The STDM has the capacity to broaden the scope of land administration by providing a land information management framework that integrates formal, informal, and customary land systems and administrative and spatial components.
  • Not only in regard to formality, but the thinking behind the STDM also makes a departure in terms of going beyond some established conventions. Traditional or conventional land administration systems, for example, relate names or addresses of persons to land parcels via rights. An alternative option being provided by STDM, on the other hand, relates personal identifiers such as fingerprints to a coordinate point inside a plot of land through a social tenure relation such as tenancy. The STDM thus provides an extensible basis for efficient and effective system of land rights recording. The STDM is a specialisation of the Land Administration Domain Model (LADM), which is a similar effort initiated by the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG).
  • In STDM enabled land administration, data coming from diversified sources is supported based on local needs and capabilities. This pertains to both spatial and administrative (non-spatial) data. For example, it may be, in informal settlements, sufficient as a start to relate people-land relationships to a single point. Then attributes such as photographs and fingerprints can be attached to the records. In a central business district (CBD) of a city, a traditional cadastral map/register may be required while in a residential area, land administration needs may entail using a map derived from satellite images and combined with formal descriptions of rights and right holders. The STDM encourages and caters for all these variations.

Field test

High resolution satellite images are one of the emerging and a very promising source of spatial data for land administration. A large-scale plot of such images can be used to identify land over which certain rights are exercised by the people themselves, i.e., in a participatory manner. As a proof of the concept, World Bank, with GLTN funding, organized and led an exercise in Ethiopia in June 2008 which included doing preliminary test on the feasibility of high resolution satellite images. The results that came out of this experiment are encouraging. Similar initiatives in other countries like Rwanda are also yielding comparable outcomes.

The STDM development activity has thus far generated conceptual, functional, technical designs and prototyping. The next logical step is testing the prototype through a pilot project in a country which has slums, customary tenure, overlapping claims and non-polygon spatial units, etc.

FIG has submitted the Land Administration Domain Model (LADM) to the International Standardization Organization (ISO) Technical Committee 211 (geomatics group) with a view to making the model a descriptive global standard. The STDM, as a specialisation of the LADM, is integrated in this standardization exercise.


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