Much of Defra’s work relies on good access to, and use of, various kinds of geographical data. At present Defra has numerous local repositories within individual organisations which, in addition to being costly to maintain, can also lead to problems where the data within them gradually diverge ultimately leading to inconsistent advice.
One of the most fundamental data sources is Ordnance Survey data. Ordnance Survey provide a huge volume of data widely used across Defra. Although OS does provide a central facility for accessing them, it doesn’t provide the full range of capabilities that Defra needs. As a result, the bulk OS data are currently duplicated many times across the Defra network.
The data are used in a variety of ways including:
- Providing basic geographical context to other data
- Deriving particular subsets of the data such as the locations of forests
- Simple queries about a place such as address lookups
- Deriving new data such as the boundaries of protected areas
- Summarising the data to underpin more complex analysis (e.g. a summarised view of height to identify how important this factor is in determining where a species occurs)
- Combining with other data sources such as satellite data to discern more about particular parcels of land such as habitat condition or what crops are being grown
Technology in this area continues to evolve rapidly and there is now an opportunity to see how this can be levered to improve Defra’s internal machinery. In particular through the recent CAP-D work a variety of these technologies were exploited by Defra. The organisation now wants to explore how these investments could be levered more broadly across Defra.
Working with the specialist staff across Defra we will look at how the previous developments could be used to efficiently share, access and use the OS datasets across the organisation with the overall goal of significantly reducing the duplication of these sources. The work will also begin to work with OS to see how the data supply chain can be improved to make it more efficient.
The work will include assessing how data can be integrated with other sources – particularly satellite data which will become a key evidence source for Defra over the coming years. An early demonstration project will look at detecting unexpected loss of tree cover (e.g. through illegal logging or storm damage) which will use satellite data combined with forest locations derived from Ordnance Survey data.
The Proof-of-Concept has potential broader utilisation across government. Ordnance Survey data is used across a wide range of departments and the issues experienced within Defra are likely to be repeated elsewhere. We hope that, as lessons are learned here, they can be reused more broadly across government.