Tories plans for GeoSpatial

Its not often that political manifestos get into the specifics of the GeoSpatial industry, but the British Conservative party seem to have decided there is political gain in terms of spatial data.  Under the heading “Digital Land”, they say:

And we will use digital technology to release massive value from our land that currently is simply not realised, introducing greater specialisation in the property development industry and far greater transparency for buyers. To make this happen, we will combine the relevant parts of HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the Hydrographic Office and Geological Survey to create a comprehensive geospatial data body within government, the largest repository of open land data in the world. This new body will set the standards to digitise the planning process and help create the most comprehensive digital map of Britain to date. In doing so, it will support a vibrant and innovative digital economy, ranging from innovative tools to help people and developers build to virtual mapping of Britain for use in video games and virtual reality.

If this means making MasterMap data open or indeed just producing a larger-scale digital data set than is currently available, it will indeed  have a profound effect on our industry.  This suggestion has been bobbing around for a while, but it is perhaps surprising that it is the Tories who are putting it forward to the electorate, as it will undoubtedly devalue Ordnance Survey which otherwise could have been sold off.

The implications for Scotland are interesting.  The remit of Land Registry is restricted to England & Wales, so Registers of Scotland would have to be involved north of the Border. Registers are responsible to the Scottish Government, who would have to cooperate in a political initiative, which seems unlikely. In contrast, the Ordnance Survey operates across both jurisdictions, and some will undoubtedly call for that organisation to be split.

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EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Prof. Jonathan Silvertown: 28th Apr

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Edinburgh offers its inhabitants and visitors a large range of sights and events to occupy and entertain throughout the year, notably its annual festivals. As a stroll through many Edinburgh bookshops confirms, much interest also exists in investigations of the city’s rich heritage and natural environments.

In close proximity to the Drummond Street location of the seminar lies St. John’s Hill, where James Hutton (1726-1797), later billed the ‘father of modern geology’, once lived. It was here, in sight of the Salisbury Crags, that Hutton’s early geological observations were made. To this day, Hutton’s profound statement Image1 ‘…we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end’ – can be found etched into a large Clashach stone at the spot where Hutton’s house and garden once lay.

It was in this context – and that of other lauded figures of the Scottish Enlightenment such as Adam Smith and David Hume – that Professor Jonathan Silvertown[1] came to deliver his EEO-AGI seminar outlining the vision of making Edinburgh a ‘Global City of Learning’. Silvertown, a professor in Technology Enhanced Science Education at the University of Edinburgh, came to describe the nascent Edinburgh Cityscope[2].

Perhaps uncharacteristically for an EEO-AGI seminar, initial emphasis was not placed on matters spatial. Instead, the case was made that developing technologies have a clear interplay with new pedagogies or – perhaps more readily understandably – new methods and practices in teaching. The experiential learning process – first championed in the 1970s by Kolb – has at its core the idea of learning by doing. This is where Edinburgh Cityscope comes in. Might students (or indeed anyone) be able to walk around Edinburgh, armed with little more than a mobile device, learning about – and even contributing to – information about the city?

In a previous role at the Open University, Silvertown was in the vanguard of those proposing the benefits of citizen science. In a highly cited 2009 paper, a citizen scientist was defined as ‘…a volunteer who collects and/or processes data as part of a scientific query.'[3]. To the GIS enthusiast, clear parallels exist with this idea and that of individuals out mapping, using for example OpenStreetMap[4].

So, what is Edinburgh Cityscope? Silvertown described a three-layer infrastructure that is currently undergoing development: first, a data capture layer; secondly, a storage and retrieval layer and – last of all – a presentation layer. Data capture could be from a multitude of devices, perhaps a student working on a field assignment where location is key (e.g. a georeferenced sighting of a particular species).

In terms of data storage, Edinburgh Cityscope has at its core an open GitHub repository[5]. The potential for beneficial sharing of disparate data among students, researchers and the public (both in space and time) is therefore high. Beyond the acquisition and storing of data, when it comes to analysis JupyterHub – and its ‘virtual workbench’ capabilities – will act as the ‘glue’ for users out collecting data using Jupyter[6] ‘notebook’ software (freely available across multiple platforms, based on IPython).

The icing on the cake – the presentation layer with web pages (with scope for associated mobile device apps and application programming interfaces) would then ‘join the dots’ in terms of configurable maps for presentation, reuse, and further analyses. For GIS enthusiasts, clear interest emerges from the possibility of presenting and analysing different ‘layers’ of data to address hypothesis-driven science. As if to emphasise the cross-disciplinary potential of Edinburgh Cityscope, Silvertown emphasised the work of Edinburgh University’s Professor Lesley McAra and the vision of Edinburgh Cityscope to inform social and political changes in the city over time. Elsewhere, the concept of ‘spatial humanities’ is similarly gaining traction.

Edinburgh Cityscope clearly has much potential and, when fully realised, will hopefully excite and ultimately engage. The notion that smartphones and other devices can in effect act as ‘pocket laboratories’ is becoming increasingly clear[7] and, to this writer at least, seems to offer far more scope to be useful than a lot of frequently witnessed smartphone activity…

Dr. Jonathan Henderson [8] works for Information Services at the University of Edinburgh. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Geographical Information Science in 2016, during which he conducted research on geographic biases in conservation research. [Photos: J Henderson].

[1] http://www.jonathansilvertown.com
[2] http://www.edinburghcityscope.org
[3] http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2009.03.017
[4] http://www.openstreetmap.org
[5] https://github.com/EdinburghCityScope
[6] http://jupyter.org
[7] http://doi.org/10.1038/545119a (Nature, 4th May 2017)
[8] http://www.researcherid.com/rid/G-3581-2011

Edinburgh Students travel to GISRUK

gisruklogo_gd A group of fourteen of the Edinburgh GIS Masters students travelled to the GIS Research UK conference with Programme Director Bruce Gittings and lecturer William Mackaness.  This trip has become an important feature of the Masters programme at Edinburgh, exposing students to the latest developments in geographical information science, and providing the first experience of an academic conference for many.  The conference featured introductory workshops followed by three parallel sessions of talks over three days. Bruce Gittings said “we feel that GISRUK is a great experience for our students, not only giving them a deeper understanding of current development but also planting the seed that perhaps they should be presenting their own dissertation research at the conference the following year”