The Improvement Service’s Spatial Information Service, which has been mentioned in previous blogs as “proposed”, is now a reality. Despite the concept behind the service being widely welcomed by OSMA members and receiving support at Senior Management level, it has taken considerable time to secure funding, find the right people and then to get them into post. The Improvement Service has been able to recruit a team of seven professionals, with an ideal balance of subject area experience, as well as the expertise and technical ability to develop the service.
The recruitment was completed in December 2015 and we are currently planning out the future strategy and designing the operational delivery for the Service. We have also built our cloud based infrastructure and created some prototype applications.
Although many will be aware of the background to our new Service, it is probably worth taking a little time to review how we got here.
The genesis of the Service partly came from questions raised at the Spatial Information Board (SIB) about what Scottish local government was doing to meet the Inspire obligations. There had been workshops arranged by Scottish Government and these generally highlighted the need to provide direction and support. This is a fairly common cry about Inspire as far as I can see!
Additionally, there has been a long standing requirement from many OSMA members and a broad range of external organisations, for access to Scotland-wide consistent and quality assured datasets which originate from local government. It occurred to the Improvement Service that we had been involved in something similar with the One Scotland Gazetteer since 2003 and the methodology employed would be transferrable.
The underlying principle behind the service is therefore to access spatial data from all 32 local authorities, to work towards collating these 32 datasets whilst recognising that they may be called the same name but can contain wildly differing attribution from authority to authority, harmonising these to a common agreed standard (could be Inspire or equally something more relevant to our requirements) and then provide discovery/view/download services for all included datasets.
In previous blogs I may have let it slip that I (and many others) feel that the providers of datasets, in our case local authorities, incur the bulk of the costs involved in complying with Inspire, but gain very few benefits. This Service will help to spread and lower costs and effort to individual councils. We see Inspire very much as a catalyst in the establishing of a Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure but not the end game. If compliance with Inspire had been the sole objective for Scottish local government, there are several companies offering services in this area. The argument behind establishing the Service, accepted by the Spatial Information Board and senior management, is that by taking a collective approach we can deliver much wider benefits in terms of providing information to communities and citizens as well as providing the foundation for greatly improved services.
In the course of establishing the new service, the Improvement Service reviewed the custodianship of the One Scotland Gazetteer and in light of the establishment of the service, decided that it made sense to in-house its operation. This was not a reflection on the service provided by thinkWhere over the years, which was excellent, but more of a recognition that as we were adopting many of the OSG principles and methodology for the new Service that it made sense to spread our resources to the OSG. We are considering incorporating the management of a street gazetteer for Scotland in the same database as a future development. There are some potentially very large benefits from doing this, particularly around quality assurance, which has become an issue for both street gazetteers and OSG, exacerbated when they are used to support applications beyond those which they were originally intended. To an extent this is a challenge caused by the success of OSG.
So, in summary, the Spatial Information Service aims to support improving public services in Scotland, at a time of serious financial constraints, through working directly with Scottish local government and collaborating closely with a range of strategic partners. We will provide technical support and guidance to improve the management and availability of the spatial information created by Scottish local government. We have assumed responsibility for the development and operational management of the Spatial Hub and the One Scotland Gazetteer as well as keeping up to date on Scottish, UK and EU legislation and regulation, including INSPIRE, and will support Scottish local government in achieving the required levels of compliance in the near future.
Throughout this we recognise the need to make sure that communicating our progress and raising issues will be our biggest priority. We are working on a more formal engagement strategy and this blog is one channel which we seek to develop and to ensure that regular updates are provided.