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I wouldn't start from here: what if we didn't have INSPIRE?

In September I attended The 10th annual EU INSPIRE conference in Barcelona, with my colleague on the data programme, Jason King. INSPIRE is an EU framework Directive, incorporated into UK law since 2009, that covers the UK and the Devolved Administrations and Gibraltar.  It has implementation milestones running to 2021.

INSPIRE aims to improve environmental policy making across the EU by creating a European Spatial Data Infrastructure, based on spatial data services delivered by Member States. INSPIRE requires public authorities in Member States to:

  • Make spatial data easy to discover through the provision of standardised metadata
  • Make spatial data easy to access through internet services
  • Harmonise spatial data using a common data models and specifications
  • Put in place arrangements to ease data sharing between public bodies

As Defra's INSPIRE Policy Lead, which covers the UK INSPIRE National Contact Point role, I attend EU policy committee meetings and chair the UK INSPIRE Compliance Board.  Jason is Defra's INSPIRE Technical Lead which means that he is responsible for ensuring the delivery of a number of functions which include coordinating the contributions of all those in the UK with an interest in INSPIRE, monitoring the implementation and use of INSPIRE in the UK and identifying and giving advice about the priority issues to be addressed in the maintenance of the INSPIRE Directive (both at a national and European level).

At the INSPIRE conference last year I was disappointed that sessions billed as 'workshops' were in fact extended 'death by PowerPoint' presentations and I wanted to do something different. So, this year I proposed a workshop called 'I wouldn't start from here – what if we didn't have INSPIRE'.  It was designed to be provocative and participative and to get participants thinking about the point of INSPIRE.  We had a run-through to test the format two weeks before the conference with David Buck, James Cattell and Andrew Newman from the Programme Team, and Paul Hodgson, who runs the London Datastore for Government Office for London, and Halil Siddique who is responsible for INSPIRE publishing at the City of London.  (Thanks to you all.)

My slot was first thing on the first day of the conference and being on at 0900 on the first day of the conference was a concern as I thought there might be a bottleneck at registration or that delegates might not arrive until later in the day.  But after 15 mins I had to put a sign on the door saying 'Sorry, workshop full!'  and I managed to negotiate extra space for the second session as there was such great demand to take part.  I was helped in the sessions by Jason, Ulla Kronborg-Mazzoli of Denmark and Marc Leobet of France.

The workshop attracted the attendance of most of the EC INSPIRE Coordination Team, the INSPIRE Team from the European Environment Agency, several people from the EC Joint Research Centre and representatives from nearly all Member States.

INSPIRE feedback
This is pretty good feedback.

I am pleased to say that everyone in the room took the opportunity to engage with the questions we asked and all participated very fully in the workshop.  We drew out some interesting points on INSPIRE which fit well into the wider debate taking place following the publication this year of the EC 'fitness for purpose' review of INSPIRE.  I have been asked to present the findings from the workshop at the next INSPIRE policy committee in December, which gives us a further opportunity to influence the EU discussion and direction of INSPIRE.

The feedback poster after we finished had some very flattering comments:

  • 'The best start to an INSPIRE conference ever!',
  • 'A proper workshop',
  • 'Good way to make everyone participate'
  • 'Good to activate the brain cells'
  • 'Open atmosphere'
  • 'Good that there were no PowerPoints'

Which means that the challenge now is to think up something equally interesting and engaging for next year's conference.


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  1. Comment by Ulric posted on

    John, great build up and you got great feedback, but you don't give us anything on what you actually _did_ that worked so well (apart from a powerpoint moratorium)! Can you share the secret of your success?

    • Replies to Ulric>

      Comment by John Dixon posted on

      Hi Ulric,

      Thanks for reading and contacting me. I didn't use any slides at the workshop which is why it was so good!

      We had two 90 minute sessions. For the first session as an ice-breaker we used the anti-problem ( with some modifications. Participants were asked first to work on the question 'How could INSPIRE be worse?'. When the groups had something down, they were then asked to group them into themes, and once that was done they were given a small amount of money to allocate to priority themes to make it work.

      In the second session, after a 30 minute coffee break, participants were asked 'If we didn't have INSPIRE what would we want?' and were asked to quickly identify a goal/aim/vision for filling an INSPIRE-shaped hole. They were then asked 'What will it take to reach that goal?' and then as before were asked to list the top 5 essential components. Finally, participants were asked to discuss and comment on how the INSPIRE community is currently meeting those components.

      At the end of each session the breakout groups came back together and reported their findings to the whole room.

      Does that help?

      All sessions were videoed and I will add a link when the videos are added to the conference website.

      --John Dixon

  2. Comment by Brad Fisher posted on

    John, is there any chance to upload your presentation for viewing? INSPIRE is a great initiative BUT at the same time within the geo industry (supplier or a manager of geo technologies or data services) we often approach is as a 'to do' item because it’s a 'requirement' (as opposed to viewing it as a value-add benefit & tool to support data sharing, enabling standards etc). I'd be interested to understand your viewpoint, particularly feeding into the 'fitness for purpose' review that you bring to our attention.

    Then there is the looming question if we will still be required to align to INSPIRE beyond BREXIT (I attempted to google this but using the word 'INSPIRE and BREXIT' doesn't quite narrow down the answer!). If the industry often view INSPIRE as an 'overhead' as opposed to a ‘benefit’, will the end-user support ensure that these benefits are retained beyond that TBC date when we say goodbye to the EU?

    • Replies to Brad Fisher>

      Comment by John Dixon posted on

      Hi Brad

      Thanks for your interest. I didn’t have a presentation - see my response to Ulric, above, about how we managed the session - which may help.

      The REFIT document can be read here We generally welcome the report and have been party to the discussion around it, which continue. You will see in the Staff Working Document (paragraph 5.2.3) that the European Commission has undertaken to 'explore "simplification of rules" and the "simplification of use" to try to better achieve the value add-ons that you mention. We are well engaged in the discussion and I hope to be able to write another blog some time next year to report on how the discussion goes. And I do recognise the account of your experience of INSPIRE.

      On exiting the EU, everything is under discussion. The approach being taken is that until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period the Government will continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation.

      Hope this helps

      --John Dixon

  3. Comment by Karen Fullerton posted on

    Hi John,

    The videos of the discussions are available on the INSPIRE Conference website:

    Here are the direct links on the INSPIRE Youtube channel:
    'How could INSPIRE be worse?':
    'If we didn't have INSPIRE what would we want?':

  4. Comment by Abigail Page posted on

    "I have been asked to present the findings from the workshop at the next INSPIRE policy committee in December"

    Dear John - is a summary of the findings available? (apart from the video).
    Thanks, Abigail

    • Replies to Abigail Page>

      Comment by Andrew Newman posted on

      Hi Abi, I've asked John to get in touch with you directly on this, Thanks @AndNewman