On location - the impact of geospatial information

Knowledge skills are vital if we are to get the most value out of geospatial data.

Location information is used in a wide range of applications - from navigation systems to social and economic trend analysis.  GIS technologies allow us to digitally record location information.  But if this information is to be used - and useful - it needs to be processed, organised and stored effectively.

At a joint meeting of ISKO UK and BCS, the challenges and impact of geospatial information were explored. 

We all know that the amount of data and information is growing at an enormous rate.  The challenge is to ensure that the data being gathered is useful, accurate and accessible - and this is where knowledge skills are critical.  Mike Sanderson (of 1spatial) spoke about the importance of a common language interface to help enable connectivity and manage data quality.  You need rules to gather knowledge out of data.

'Five star', linked and open data

Public sector information and data should be useful and available for use by whoever needs it.  Driven by the transparency agenda in the UK, data.gov.uk is opening up the country's government data.  The aim is to ensure that such data is not just open but linked according to the 'five star' data rating originally outlined by Tim Berners Lee.  The data and its context (through the use of vocabularies) should be made available in machine readable format linked through URIs. 

Geospatial initiatives

A number of GIS-enabled projects and initiatives were described by the speakers.

  • Alex Coley spoke about UK Location, a cross public sector enterprise which is implementing the EU's INSPIRE directive. The project seeks to increase consumer choice, improve public sector accountability and productivity and encourage social growth through the sharing and re-use of public sector location information.
  • Jo Walsh of Edina shared examples of how geographical data is being used in research. These include Chalice - a historic place names project; geonames.org; the collaborative project oldmapsonline.org; openstreetmap.org (the free wiki world map). New areas of research are emerging which benefit from GIS tools, including the digital humanities.
  • In the UK the Health Protection Agency is tasked with providing data and information to government and the public. Matt Bull described how health based data is inherently spatial and GIS enables data sets to be brought together, analysed and visualised. The HPA maps disease, enables intelligent data use, identify hot spots, understand patient behaviours and enable better planning and provision of services. GI capability means you can model threats and make a difference.
  • The UK's Environment Agency (EA) uses location information mapping routinely, both internally and with partners and customers. The EA's Stefan Carlyle described the importance of GIS to the Agency. Without these systems the agency would not be able to effectively respond to incidents, meet legislative obligations, manage its assets, plan and prioritise its work and plan for the consequences of climate change. GIS is embedded in the organisation and has saved cash and speeded up processes. The agency is focused on open data and transparency.
  • AddressBase is a project seeking to create a unique national address gazetteer for the UK. The project brings together several public sector organisations which had previously built up individual address databases. Carsten Ronsdorf and Nick Turner of the Ordnance Survey explained that you need standards to ensure data is beneficial and impartial. Buildings and addresses are allocated a unique identifier (basic land and property unit or BLPU) and a unique property reference number (UPRN). Other potential uses for the UPRN include a governmental ‘tell us once' initiative and the UK-wide installation of 30 million 'smart' meters to households.

Fran Alexander has also written about the event on the ISKO blog.

You can find out more about ISKO here.

Image by Chokola.