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Rhian French
Contributing editor

Geospatial – creating a chain reaction to sustainable economic growth

Trusted authoritative sources of geospatial information are fundamental requirements of a modern state.

Inclusive and sustainable economic growth can drive progress and generate the means to implement the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Urging world leaders to take concerted action to minimise the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres concluded: “We must work together now to set the stage for a recovery that builds a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable economy, guided by our shared promise — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

"Achieving geospatial maturity is a key technological enabler that facilitates progress towards these goals. It can be a catalyst for economic development and investment that benefits the country as a whole."
David Henderson, Chief Geospatial Officer, Ordnance Survey (OS)

As societies around the world seek to digitise records and expand their digital services and data economy, establishing an authoritative national base map facilitates the linking of data from different sources. This creates a geospatially-enabled nation. One that shares, integrates and uses a wide range of data to achieve social, economic and environmental benefits.

African girl holding a plant
Establishing a national base map facilitates the sharing, integration and use of a wide range of data leading to social, economic and environmental benefits.

Encouraging economic growth at the local level

In the UK, OS geospatial data is supporting local economic growth in Milton Keynes, one of the country’s fastest-growing cities.

The MK: Smart Future Cities project (MK:Smart) is a large collaborative initiative, partly funded by HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) and led by The Open University, which will develop innovative solutions to support economic growth in Milton Keynes, and help make major strides towards becoming an energy-efficient town and future smart city.

Using various location-based datasets from OS, the council-led consortium is creating an Open Energy Map. Large-scale mapping, satellite or aerial imagery, as well as geo-referenced address data, are used to identify which properties are suitable for various sustainable energy options to drive economic growth. For example, the first focus of the project included analysing the suitability of residential and commercial gardens for ground source heat pumps (GSHP), which extract warmth from the ground to heat radiators and water in the home.

Challenges include supporting sustainable growth without exceeding the capacity of the infrastructure, and while also meeting key carbon reduction targets. Another key consideration was the collection, collation and analysis of information from disparate sources, such as satellite technology, crowdsourced data from social media or specialised apps, to create a living Open Energy Map.

Innovative energy services needed to be developed through the creation of a state-of-the-art MK Data Hub, while demonstrating business value for the energy sector, and information about sustainable energy options, made publicly available so that residents and businesses become part of the decision-making process.

The use of location data has delivered many benefits. Available garden space – without obstructions, such as trees – can now be identified as potentially suitable for ground source heat pumps (GSHP). Suitable properties can then be attributed with address information and numerical data, relating to potential yield from an installed GSHP, with this dataset fed into the Open Energy Map.

Local residents and businesses can access the Open Energy Map, which includes contact details of local installation companies, from the council website, to see if their property is suitable for GSHP installation, as well as the potential yield. New datasets, such as roof suitability, will be added to present a range of options for any given property.

Map of Britain
In the UK, Ordnance Survey geospatial data is supporting local economic growth in Milton Keynes, one of the country’s fastest-growing cities.

Geospatial data as a vital component of a modern state’s infrastructure

On a national scale, the Government of Malta sees authoritative, quality-assured geospatial data as a vital component of a modern nation’s infrastructure, enabling effective policy-making, economic growth and the creation of sustainable and safe living communities for citizens. As a result, Malta has seen significant growth in the proliferation of, and demand for, geospatial information across the country.

MapMalta is a new national data model, underpinned by a large-scale, detailed topographic base map of the built and unbuilt environment, created by OS in collaboration with IIC Technologies and BlueSky.

A key challenge in its development was understanding the unique landscape – both urban and rural – of the islands, to ensure that the database provided an accurate representation of the human and natural environment, with each data object representing a real-world feature.

The MapMalta data model is represented by a Feature Catalogue detailing the capture specification for each feature, both for initial capture and maintenance. These features have been categorised with the unique feature identifiers, enabling all features to be managed throughout their lifecycle.

The data model for MapMalta reflects industry best practice and follows international standards. This will provide a framework for efficient maintenance, updating and feature lifecycle management compliant with European and international directives and standards.

Ashley Hili from the Planning Authority of Malta is confident it will deliver value to the nation, enabling the Planning Authority to satisfy both the current and future spatial needs of its users with new and innovative digital citizen services.

MapMalta underpins interoperability across government entities and supports the development of new government policies, as well as effective decision-making through the provision of reliable, accurate and flexible geospatial information. Crucially, it encourages economic growth by providing businesses with the information they need to make rapid and informed location-based decisions.

Valletta Malta
MapMalta underpins interoperability across government and supports new policies, as well as effective decision-making through the provision of reliable, accurate and flexible geospatial information.

Property rights and the link to prosperity

“When a government has the geospatial capabilities to build a base map, it sets off a chain reaction, enabling effective land administration that can supercharge a growing economy,” notes Guy Bewsher, Land Administration Specialist, Ordnance Survey. 

“Property rights are critical to building a strong economy and a more equitable world. Citizens with permanent addresses can secure and maintain work, and apply for mortgages, which can pave the way for inclusive socio-economic development that supports people living in poor housing.”

“It is also clear that where there is an effective legal environment and enforcement of land rights, external finance is more readily available. Inward investment by companies is also more likely, and companies are in turn more likely to invest in the infrastructure of their buildings.”

According to the World Bank, however, only 30 per cent of the world’s population has legally registered rights to their land and homes. Governments can only begin to issue secure, reliable land rights to their citizens once they have developed a detailed, mandated national base map.

Graphic showing property boundaries
Only 30 per cent of the world’s population has legally registered rights to their land and homes, according to the World Bank.

Encouraging economic growth at a national level

Ethiopia is a country looking to expand and maximise its land use with the potential to tap further into its extraction industry (mining metals, minerals and aggregates) to support economic growth. A national location strategy, in the context of the extractive market, therefore could benefit the expanding nation.

OS provided insight into using geospatial to support economic growth through the Investment Facility for Utilising UK Specialist Expertise (IFUSE) initiative, which helps the UK government share specialist skills and expertise with governments in developing nations.

OS experts led an interactive workshop for delegates from a number of African Ministries, explaining how the effective use of accurate geospatial information could benefit the mining industry, and the key environmental, land, health and safety and social governance issues linked to mining operations. Participants learned about the economic and societal benefits of a national location strategy, with 99% agreeing it increased their knowledge of the use of geospatial information within the mining industry.

The project also raised awareness of how accurate information about land boundaries and ownership, and effective governance, could attract overseas investment for the benefit of local people. Further opportunities were identified for short-term, targeted technical assistance from UK government into African institutions.

Realising a vision to modernise official mapping

In Rwanda, the Land Tenure Regularisation Project (LTRP) successfully registered all 10.3 million land parcels for the first time. National-level responsibility for providing geospatial information, including topographic, thematic and geological maps, lies with Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA).

OS has provided strategic advice for the continuous updating and maintenance of geospatial information, including the newly captured land parcel boundaries which are fundamental to the Land Administration System.

Information management experts from the national mapping agency for Great Britain took part in an in-country scoping study, to establish a common understanding between the Government of Rwanda, RNRA and OS. They authored a 64-page mission report detailing vision, strategy and a set of prioritised recommendations and options on how RNRA could move forwards, including a high-level delivery plan for the modernisation to help RNRA fulfil its role as the official national mapping organisation.

Speaking about the collaboration, Rhona Nyakurama, Land Administration Program Manager for RNRA said: “We hope to learn from OS’s experience of developing and implementing a national location strategy to inform our own approach to strengthening surveying expertise in Rwanda."

The overarching benefit of the report is the support it gives RNRA in delivering its vision to be at the forefront of sustainable development, economic growth and prosperity of Rwanda, through an efficient, transparent and equitable system of land management and land administration. A clear mapping strategy and framework for geospatial data management means future needs can be identified and planned for, enabling RNRA to develop a viable business and operations model, with potential funding models.

Furthermore, access to current data is improving the cross-government business process, transparency, and wider governance issues across areas such as spatial planning, as well as inward and local investment and development in Rwanda.

“Location information is needed to help support government transformation and national economic growth agendas, particularly in developing countries,” David Henderson concludes.

“Rapid technological development helps meet growing demand in public, private and not-for-profit sectors, and we need to ensure policymakers fully understand the benefits of establishing a robust location information capability – at a national level.

“Effective land administration can assist nations to achieve at least five of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Property rights are a catalyst towards meeting these goals in their capacity to increase investment and reduce poverty and conflict over land ownership.”

“Tapping into international geospatial expertise plays a key part in supporting economic growth and ensuring a prosperous future for all.”

Rhian French
By Rhian French
Contributing editor

Rhian French is a journalist and PR consultant for the geospatial, leisure and travel sectors. She has a professional and personal passion for geospatial and its role in better understanding the world. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (FRGS) and a member of the Association for Geographic Information (AGI). She is also a proactive and enthusiastic supporter of the Women in Geospatial network.