Map with colorful pins

We explore how local government organisations in the UK are engaging with geospatial data, and how they are using open source GIS tools and applications

Local government in the UK is responsible for collecting and managing large amounts of geospatial data to support delivery of local and national services.

We decided to run a short survey to learn more about how local government in the UK is engaging in the publication and use of geospatial data, and their use of open source geographic information system (GIS) tools and applications. We thought this might give some useful insight into the challenges they face and opportunities for support.

We ran our survey between August and September 2018. During that period it was shared via Twitter, with some direct contacts and the Geospatial and Spatial Information forum on Knowledge Hub. In total we had 38 responses from different organisations.

We’ve published the anonymised results under an open licence for anyone to access, use and share.

Here are a few of the insights that we found in the data:

Local government departments are going beyond their statutory requirements, but may still be unaware of all the options available to them to support data releases

  • 37% of respondents are publishing more geospatial data than is mandated by INSPIRE (the EU directive which aims to create a EU spatial data infrastructure), indicating a desire or need to publish additional information than is covered by that legislation.
  • 18% of respondents had not heard of the Ordnance Survey “presumption to publish” approach, suggesting that there is more to be done to highlight this scheme.
  • 5% of respondents were also not aware that they could apply for exemptions to support release of derived data. Of those that had applied for an exemption (39%) the respondents has mixed views on the process – some thought it was very streamlined but others had encountered a lack of support or help.

Local government teams needs to be able to easily release geospatial data for use by small businesses, startups, researchers and community groups

  • 61% of respondents said that they had received requests to release geospatial data from local small businesses (26%) and startups (34%).
  • Researchers were another important category of geospatial data used (53%) followed by community groups (47%) and journalists (16%).

Local government GIS teams use data from OpenStreetMap but are not contributors

  • 55% of the respondents said that they used data from OpenStreetMap as part of their work. Of those that had decided not to use data from OpenStreetMap, the main issues highlighted were lack of quality and accuracy, and the availability of alternatives under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA).
  • While half of respondents has used OpenStreetMap data, 74% of respondents had never contributed back to the map. Only 11% had directly edited the data.

More help is needed to support local government organisations in releasing geospatial data

  • Legal, technical and privacy issues were the main blockers to the release of geospatial data from local government. 58% reported that they had refused release of data on these grounds.
  • Asked to provide more detail about these blockers the primary issues highlighted were related to copyright, licensing, and derived data. Privacy was another consistent theme.
  • In a final, open question about the key challenge to releasing geospatial data, licensing was also raised as a key barrier, along with lack of resources and technical skills. Concerns over quality and accuracy of data held by the organisation was also highlighted as an issue discouraging release of data.

Next steps: further research

Overall we find this provides useful insights into some of the challenges being faced at a local level and has promoted additional questions for exploration. For example, we’re interested in learning more about what types of data GIS teams are using from OpenStreetMap.

We plan to explore these issues further with those organisations which are successful in securing funding as part of our local government geospatial stimulus fund.

We’re also interested in learning more about the technical challenges and support required to help local government release more geospatial data. We recently released an update to our Octopub publishing tool that allows publication of geospatial data with automated conversion from Shapefile to GeoJSON.

The licensing issues highlighted echo similar concerns reported in the workshops we ran earlier this year to understand geospatial data user needs. We plan on spending some time exploring how we can create guidance around licensing and derived data issues over the coming weeks.

Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more about our current work on open geospatial data or want to provide input or feedback on any of the issues we highlight above.

Photo by delfi de la Rua on Unsplash