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It's always difficult knowing when and where to start, but with the fresh look to and inclusion of the location tab this has been made easier with a fantastic step to 'putting place within the heart of decision making'.

As this is the first blog from the UK Location Team, I really should give a quick rundown of what I think we're all about, the opportunities that this offers, and the steps the location community are taking to take things forward.

As the UK Location Technical Board Chair (the AIB) some insight into the extent of the imminent and longer term changes that are a real positive shift in the way that the public sector uses information with the power that a location context provides.

With the rest of the public sector on board, and particularly the work that the Transparency and Open Data team we have a path for achieving what the UK Location Strategy sets out. That said when you’re faced with reviewing a 300+ page EU document to make sure that INSPIRE won't be overstepping the mark just before your second child arrives it's perhaps not so obvious. It can sometimes be a balancing act with people easily getting lost in the technical detail and missing the bigger picture that we are all striving towards. Luckily I got through that document before my daughter was born, just three weeks ago.

The first phase of INSPIRE is the provision of location data, as is (this means as it currently is designed) through web based services. We are progressing well in terms of deciding specific scope under INSPIRE, making it available through common services and promoting its use. The big wins for the UK from INSPIRE at least won't be evident until we move into phase 2 (given the maturity of location data within the UK and the greater access that the open data initiative is bringing to bear). Phase 2 can loosely be described as providing the data provided in phase 1 in a common format. Though the timescales for the start and finish are different for different data and when it was created, the principal is that core reference data is first. These two phases show that provision of location data is now only about open standards through web technology and will lead to huge improvements in the availability to information, its ease of use through both web based and desktop tools and providing a core framework of reference data that can underpin the wider linking of information.

Though as ever things are not quite as simple as I've described them there are common approaches to delivery that we as the wider public sector location community are adopting. The infrastructure that we are putting in place is aimed at making data open in terms of the standards that they are built upon and in most cases this also means open in the wider sense. Other data that is not entirely open should at least be accessible through the same services and so barriers to access are then reduced.

I am an ecologist and geographer by background and have spent many years using many of these datasets to help make environmental management decisions or build solutions. Bearing that in mind I am keenly aware there is a lot of work to do in meeting the data formatting phase. I'm also the Environment Agency’s (EA) Evidence Manager for the Directives Reporting Service and first became involved in the work of UK Location Programme in the early days because of the Environment Agency’s management of some early core reference data under INSPIRE and the close link to other data that we collect and report for various environmental directives that will also be available as part of our obligations under INSPIRE.

I also lead one of the first UK Location Pilots looking at providing our data to those phase 2 requirements. The Pilot has just moved into a business as usual operation, and I'm sure I'll be back to describe more about this in another post.

The pilots for phase 2 were started to ensure that we have the technology in place at the right time, although as with phase 1 the approach that we have taken is a federated one with those with specialist knowledge leading and developing the UK Location Infrastructure. In future blogs posts we will hear more from those the UK Location Working Groups, first up will be James Reid who leads the Metadata Working Group, which has been instrumental in the delivery of the Discovery Metadata Service.

So what opportunities will what we're doing bring? Well I guess that depends on whether we are looking at the short term or longer term impact. I'm not going to quote any predictive financial benefits. It's sometimes more interesting to consider the day to day things that could change and effect providing and using the data.

So what opportunities will what we're doing bring? Well I guess that depends on whether we are looking at the short term or longer term impact. I'm not going to quote any predictive financial benefits. It's sometimes more interesting to consider the day to day things that could change and effect providing and using the data.



Alexander Coley is Evidence Manager for the Environment Agency’s Directives Reporting Service and UK Location Programme Technical Director. Ecologist, geographer and data geek. Striving to solve old and new problems by enabling innovation through access to useful and usable data.Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

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  1. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    Alex, kudos for finding the time to blog in between all your various 'duties'. I am posting this response wearing two hats.

    Firstly, as an Exec Director of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), the organisation behind 30+ open, geospatial standards - OGC WMS, OGC WFS, OGC GML, etc. being the most widely recognised and adopted. I would like to make readers aware of a straightforward (fairly high level), single document that outlines the role of open standards in INSPIRE:

    Secondly, as Chair of the OGC Business Value Committee. There is very limited information relating to the use of open standards and return on investment or business value. This may be in part due to the nature of the business and the numerous components or elements involved in programmes, such as UKLP, where standards just fit in. There are some quantitative measures included in this report from Catalunya region in Spain: 

    If there is any way to measure the usefulness or impact of using open standards as part of these ongoing efforts, I know there are communities trying to determine the value of using open standards that would be very interested. We (the OGC) have a great deal of qualitative information about the advantages of using open standards, but it's harder to obtain tangible figures on resulting benefits. Happy to share more information as applicable, would also like to see greater representation of the UKLP within the OGC. 



    • Replies to Anonymous>

      Comment by alexrcoley posted on


      Many thanks.

      You are right the OGC's open standards underpin both INSPIRE and the UK Location Infastructure. 

      The links are useful and I am sure will develop with many more UK based examples.  You are right that there has been little information relating to the use of open standards and return on investment or business value in this domain.  It is something that we are also keen to explore as part of the UK Location Programme activities on benefits realisation and could fit well with any future case studies that draw out those issues.





  2. Comment by Anonymous posted on


    Bravo! Following the UK initiative ( and Sir Tim's many inspiring talks/posts) has been enjoyable, and now more so with the location tab as a header for the main UK Open pages. The fact that location is a headline topic proves something ( and points to those in the spatial community have made their case). Many nations need similar perspectives and actions. You continue to lead.

    As for economic benefits that can be proven, it is the age old issue of economic models having a hard time explaining public good. When power grids were put in place, the ROI was not totally certain. Skeptics about take-up were everywhere. What kept it going? People (and skeptics included) began to have personal "stories" of how new infrastructures changed their lives. Granted, not many utilities are open and publicly owned - but that too is proof if value.

    Our challenge will be to maintain openness and public contributions for public good long after value and commercialization become pervasive. But those questions would not be possible if it were not for those, like you and all in the UK effort, who are blazing a trail.

    I say that knowing Sir Tim has shown the UK exceeds the US in open data. I never thought I would see the day.

    Now, perhaps a conversation with one particular former colony I know and love would be of use?

    Bravo & regards

    James Boxall FRGS. Dir. GISciences Centre Dalhousie University Halifax Canada

    • Replies to Anonymous>

      Comment by alexrcoley posted on

      Many thanks James,

      The Location tab aims to be a focal point for Location data that is available under the INSPIRE directive from the UK but also more widely. This has been driven by the UK Location Strategy and its aims to maximise exploitation and benefit to the public, the government and to UK Industry from geographic information and to provide a framework to assist European, national, regional and local initiatives. 

      It recognised the close associations with what is now the Transparency and Open Data agenda and that location information can and does act as a core reference to enable linking of much wider information from other domains.