NASA satellite image

ODI Data Infrastructure Programme Lead Leigh Dodds introduces a new project – exploring how to unlock the potential of open geospatial data and technology – and shares thoughts from the community on the difficulty of working with Ordnance Survey data

By Leigh Dodds

Like many industries, the geospatial sector is undergoing a period of rapid innovation. We see two key drivers for this accelerated development.

The first is that it is now increasingly easy for many organisations to collect geospatial data. Low-cost satellites, cheaper LIDAR sensors, the use of machine-learning to extract features from images and the ready availability of GPS-enabled devices mean there are ever-increasing volumes of geospatial data for organisations to use.

The second driver is the availability of technologies, tools and platforms that allow us to make better use of geospatial data. And particularly, to access, use and share that data online. The ability to render complex 2D and 3D maps right in the browser means we’re never far away from a map or the results of a geospatial analysis.

This trend means that geospatial data is becoming vital infrastructure for many commercial sectors, as well as for many public sector services.

Everything happens somewhere, and recognising and using this geographic context can provide new ways to explore and analyse existing datasets. But the importance of geospatial data means that problems with accessing and using it can have significant impacts on how we can create value from all types of data.

At the Open Data Institute (ODI) we think every nation needs a strong geospatial data infrastructure that provides equitable and ethical access to data, and supports the creation of the next generation of public and private services.

This is why we welcomed the announcement of the UK's Geospatial Commission last year. It is also why, as part of our 2018 innovation programme, we are planning to explore ways to support and enable the publication and use of open geospatial data.

Our focus will be on the UK, but we are open to extending our work to other countries if we can find additional support and funding through our network.

Our plan is to examine the variety of ways open geospatial data is being collected, published and used, as well as to identify new guidance and prototype new tools and approaches that will help make geospatial data as open and accessible as possible.

We'll be working in the open to share and test our thinking, and working with our members, partners and wider network to help us identify the areas where we can have the most impact.

Working in the open will also help us to align with the work of national initiatives like the Geospatial Commission and other public and private sector initiatives.

As an illustration of how we can bring together the ODI network, we recently collaborated with the cross-government team who have been exploring options for making the UK’s Ordnance Survey MasterMap more open for small businesses.

Working with our node network (franchises of the ODI, hosted by existing organisations) we held four workshops across the UK to help us learn more about geospatial data user needs.

We're publishing a short report that summarises what we learned from the community.

The issues highlighted included:

  • technical issues with the current arrangements for accessing and using MasterMap and other related geospatial data
  • legal or licensing issues that make it difficult to use Ordnance Survey data, particularly in multi-stakeholder projects
  • the need for better discovery tools, open identifiers, and services to support linking geospatial datasets

The community also shared their opinions on approaches that could help deliver ongoing, sustainable access to open geospatial data.

We'd like to hear your views on the report, and if you’re interested in contributing to the wider project then please get in touch.

Image: @Nasa on Unsplash