StackMaps: mapping user needs

September 4, 2014

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On 9 July I hosted a brand new event called StackMaps. StackMaps aimed to consider how the geospatial data government holds can be used to produce high quality user-facing services.

The idea was to bring together some of the people in government currently developing digital services that include information about location. This meant inviting a mixed crowd of more than 70 geographers, developers, user-researchers, designers and cartographers to connect at the Impact Hub in Westminster.

Simon Everest introduces StackMaps

Simon Everest, host and author, introduces StackMaps

There are existing communities around geographical information (GI) such as the INSPIRE Directive and UK INSPIRE.  However, these groups have formed around the needs and interests of specific interests – those collecting and analysing data – rather than users of services built with that data.


We had presentations from Ordnance Survey and 2 of the exemplar programmes – Rural Support (Common Agricultural Policy) and Land Registry.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were able to show the work they have been doing to help farmers claim their EU subsidy entitlements. Hitesh Patel and Alasdair Hendry explained the work they were doing to make it easier to apply online. Currently farmers are required to submit information drawing on printed maps of their land, which is then ‘digitised’ by Defra staff. Brad Fisher and Emily Ball then bravely (and successfully) did a live demonstration of services the department has already built – importantly showing that Defra is creating services which are usable for staff as well as farmers, in contrast to the complex specialist GI tools often available within government.

Angela Jackson and Nick Davies from Land Registry showed the work the team have done on a proof of concept for a new digital land ‘register’. This included the concept of a public GOV.UK page for each and every property which combines information held by Land Registry with other useful ‘feeds’ from different parts of government. This could be information on flood risk, environmental quality, or local measures from bin days to planning restrictions. Importantly, not all of the information was presented on a map – sometimes a ‘yes/no’ is all that’s required, derived from the location you’re interested in.

John Abbot from Ordnance Survey talked about the state of the possible in current geospatial services, from the Public Sector Mapping Agreement to Oculus Rift. John emphasised the potential uses that can be made of the work Ordnance Survey does, the access to it that the public sector has (through the Public Sector Mapping Agreement) and the potential to integrate it with other technologies (including open source products).

We ran a series of workshops during the afternoon, talking about user needs for reusable data/information government holds (with Defra’s Alex Coley), user needs for more transactional services (with Angela, Nick, Alasdair and Emily), a session on business opportunities (with Hitesh and Land Registry’s Andrew Trigg) and lastly a technical session (with Paul Downey from GDS, Ian Hold and Ian Bennett from Ordnance Survey). These sessions were full of ideas and discussion – I’ll try to write these up in separate post – please bear with me!

Paul Downey hosting the technical mapping workshop

Paul Downey hosting the technical mapping workshop


What’s next?

Initial feedback has been good and there’s clearly a desire for more opportunities to share knowledge and information, both through events and online connections.  There was a lot of interest in StackMaps as it was the first we’ve attempted on this subject and a wide selection of people and organisations attended with very little notice. If you didn’t get an invitation, please don’t take it personally; if you would be interested in attending a similar event in future, do let us know in comments below (or you can contact me directly).  We are in the process of establishing a mailing list, and some online resources for sharing links, and hope to run a second event later in the year.

In the meantime, you can see some of the presentations from StackMaps by clicking on the links below:

Reprinted from the Digital Transformations Blog under Open Government License 2.0.


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