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How we’ve been exploring the geospatial sector

Tue Nov 20, 2018
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As part of our project Open geospatial data and technology in the UK, we’ve been engaging with different communities around geospatial data to broaden our understanding of the sector and to set our work in context

Geospatial data is data about a place, and most data has a ‘location element’ to it – everything happens somewhere and can be mapped with geographic coordinates. Geospatial data can be used in many different ways – it can help us to calculate transport routes, support town or identify areas most at risk of flooding.

Researching user needs

Discovering what users need is the springboard for our research, and we’ve been gathering user needs through workshops, surveys and interviews.

In February 2018, in collaboration with a cross-government team, we organised and ran four workshops with geospatial data users. These highlighted a range of issues around UK geospatial data, including issues that relate to how the Ordnance Survey (OS) is currently publishing and licensing its MasterMap product. A clear message was the need for sustainable access to data, through reducing the friction around technical and legal issues – which in turn would lead to increased innovation. Read our paper ‘What geospatial data intermediaries and users need.

We also spoke to a range of innovative geospatial startups, software developers, risk management specialists, and geospatial consultants about their experience using geospatial data. The key user needs were that there should be: more user-friendly licensing tools; better standards around data quality and discoverability; and more consistent data publishing practice particularly in local and central government.

Geo events, meetings and forums

ODI technical consultant Deborah Yates presented at an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) event in September, outlining the ODI’s geospatial project, describing how the team is exploring the evolution of geospatial data and developing prototypes and guidance.

The OGC event also gave us an opportunity to meet more of the geospatial community, and learn more about OGC current and future projects, including its innovation programme, which includes looking at interoperability challenges, and its citizen science experiment which aims to engage millions of global citizens in collecting one billion data points across areas such as air and water quality, pollution and human health.  

We also attending several geospatial events where we were able to glean information about the latest cutting-edge data capture technologies: from low-flying drones to intelligent bicycle lights. We also gained useful insights into other stakeholders’ views – from the UK government, through to research institutions and private sector – on all things geospatial.

Geospatial events

At Geo Business 2018 we heard from project teams using data-capture technologies such as terrestrial laser scanning, imaging total stations, drones, satellites and airborne LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging).

The Internet of Things (IoT) intelligent bicycle presentation by Philip McAleese of See.Sense described a novel data capturing technique: bicycle lights including sensors which detect road issues, monitor cycling routes, and share anonymised data to help improve services.

UK Government Head of Geography David Wood discussed growing the geo community in the UK, professional outreach, and embedding geography into the policymaking cycle.

Mark Enzer, Chair of the Digital Framework Task Group, discussed data for the public good and the concept of the ‘national digital twin’ – a digital model of the national infrastructure which will aim to monitor our infrastructure in realtime, and to simulate the impacts of possible events, eg natural disasters, or a new train line.

Geospatial Commission Chief Executive William Priest discussed how GPS and mapping data are fast becoming central parts of our daily lives, which rely on access to geospatial data – a ‘fundamental building block of digital economy’. He posed the question of whether we are able to keep up these changes, and to handle the related privacy and regulatory issues.

We came away with a sense of the government’s policy objectives for geospatial – and digital more broadly – and the range of tech companies offering geospatial platforms.

We also visited State of the Map 2018 and blogged about the event. The event gave us the opportunity to network and strengthen ties with the UK and international OpenStreetMap (OSM) community and also to learn more about the the ecosystem around the OSM project. The key themes included: working towards greater diversity and inclusivity; the importance of OSM; local community; humanitarian uses; and transport applications.

The UK Mapping Festival covered topics such as the value of geospatial data; the importance of geospatial data in unlocking value within the UK economy; why geographic data is crucial for auditors and insurers; and energy saving through heat-mapping.

We heard about a Bladerunner-inspired technology by Nautoguide, a company with a mission to make maps more accessible for all. The system uses a new cartographic language and enables voice control of maps for people with disabilities who might not be able to use a keyboard or input device.

Geospatial data is hugely important in post-catastrophe situations, Mark Anquillare at Verisk explained in his talk, describing how the insurance sector is using artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision – key elements used to assess damage after a catastrophe such as an earthquake or flood.

A presentation from Transport for London described its latest open data project – the cycle infrastructure database – which provides a comprehensive record of cycling infrastructure in London. The database already includes 240,000 infrastructure assets, 480,000 asset photos, and will be linked to Ordnance Survey and and OpenStreetMap.

Main takeaways from the UK Mapping Festival:

  • The value of geospatial data to society in planning our futures, how we get around and in managing the natural and built environment.
  • The importance of roofs in geospatial data. Roof data and imagery for purposes as far ranging as insurance claims and the positioning of telecoms and 5G, to predicted and actual hurricane damage to using the roof type as a proxy for affluence/poverty.

Partnership working

We are working with several partners across the public and private sectors:

  • OpenStreetMap UK
  • Geospatial Commission
    • The Geospatial Commission has been set up by the UK government and aims to develop an ‘ambitious, sustainable strategy for UK geospatial data, which will drive investment and innovation and boost the whole UK economy’ – and as such is a key partner in our geospatial work. Our team has regular meetings in place with our Geospatial Commission counterparts, and we are responding to its ‘call for evidence to be geospatial world leader’.
  • 1Spatial
  • Ordnance Survey
    • As the UK’s national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey (OS) is key to any UK-based geospatial data initiative. We have set up regular meetings with the OS team, and co-working protocols to help us to work together on ODI and OS projects.
    • We have also joined the OS MasterMap customer group, which is providing advice and shaping how MasterMap can be made more openly available.
  • Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
    • We are also in regular contact with the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, discussing the ‘digital land’ – and the improved use of geospatial data in that sector.

Next steps

We’ve published the results of some of our research in a geospatial research report, and we’re now moving on to develop some guidance to help address some of the issues highlighted in our user research, eg, to help people navigate questions around licensing of geospatial data.

We’re also invited interested parties to tender for our local government open geospatial data stimulus fund. This piece of work aims to grow the public sector’s understanding of how to collect, publish and use open geospatial data, with a specific focus on collaborative approaches. The deadline for proposals is 31 October 2018.

If you are interested in learning more about our work across the geospatial sector, please get in touch.

Image credit: Photo by NASA on Unsplash