Why do geospatial data standards matter?

4 minute read
Geospatial data standards exist for almost the same reason that data standards exist in general.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has guidelines which help ensure organisations manage their data's accessibility, quality, accuracy, and so on. In terms of data publishing, standards are in place to help lots of different users access and adapt lots of different data.

For example, if Ordnance Survey were to publish data in a way which worked best for our organisation, it could limit our users, and/or require them to download new software. That is not our intention; we have standards in place, based on feedback from our users, to ensure we keep our data accessible and easy to use. Because once that goal is accomplished, users can use the data to their advantage, and start building insight.

Geography matters. Place matters – everything happens somewhere, and geospatial data helps find answers and create new solutions. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic; government authorities needed geospatial data to plan programmes and distribute vaccination centres. The data that OS provides makes that kind of emergency strategy possible; and following standards makes that data easier to use, therefore making processes more streamlined.

"We want to ensure the data you’re using isn’t just useful for iPhones or Google, but useful to everyone. Geospatial data is a critical element, in times of need and in everyday life. It can help COVID prevention programmes, it can also help retailers, and supermarkets, and people to find pizza places. Standardised data can be used more easily, and make customers’ lives easier."

Peter Parslow, OS Data Standards Lead

How are standards decided?

The geospatial community has its own ISO Committee to establish standards for publishers of geospatial data. They work alongside the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).

Combined effort of ISO and the OGC has produced at least 90 current standards for publishing geospatial data. The British Standards Institution (BSI) wanted to establish which of these standards would be prioritised and promoted in the UK.

During late 2020 and early 2021, as part of the delivery to the Geospatial Commission under the Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA), Ordnance Survey devised two rounds of stakeholder engagement. The first round engaged with approximately twenty data publishers, and twelve central, devolved, or local government bodies and associations. The second round gained input from approximately one hundred data users.

The purpose of this research, carried out via online surveys, was to understand the audience: end-users such as data publishers and developers. Learning their individual priorities would help decide the standards.

Ordnance Survey considered these users’ inputs to make several recommendations towards standards for publishing geospatial data in the UK. The recommendations, along with a copy of the research findings, can be found in our recent report. OS’ findings are not exhaustive or finite; the Geospatial Commission and the BSI committee will continue to monitor and revisit its standards, in reaction to changes in technology, user needs, and so on.

Laptop with OS data

Why are these standards important?

Following data publishing standards helps to ensure that data remains FAIR:

  • Findable
  • Accessible
  • Interoperable
  • Reusable

By following this framework, data becomes simpler to find, use, and adapt, which means developers and users can start putting it to use much faster.

It also makes the data easier to create and enables flexibility for it to be used in different ways, by people of different skillsets. They can use the data to reach new insights and solutions; or even continue to achieve the same goals, but much more easily.

It worked for the Met Office and OS, and it’ll work for you too.

Ordnance Survey and geospatial standards

Ordnance Survey has become a centre of expertise for geospatial standards. We are consulted on a regular basis by governmental departments, national police forces, the MOD, local government authorities – they come to OS, seeking our standardised geospatial data.

A significant part of our success has been from dedicated research. We have taken the time to see what standards organisations and individuals want to follow, and an example of this can be found in our report ‘Geospatial Standards for UK data providers’.

See the questionnaires we sent to our targeted stakeholders, their responses, and our recommendations. We want to make the most of geospatial data and having these standards in place helps make that possible.

Geospatial standards for UK data providers

Geospatial data standards matter, which is why we have created a report giving our recommendations for geospatial data publishing in the UK

By Press Office

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