Standardising on Geographical Information

The Warwickshire Observatory is a large user of Geographic Information (GI) for its day-to-day analytical and cartographic work. We have a huge amount of data stored in what we call the ‘Spatial Data Store’ – a corporate Geo-database.  We handle data in a range of formats, and it comes from many different internal and external sources. Key issues in making this GI available for widespread use and analysis (both within WCC and further afield) are the format(s) in which we provide it, its interoperability with different GI Systems (GIS), and how is is described (‘metadata’).

INSPIRE is a European directive for dealing with GI data sharing and associated metadata. INSPIRE (The INfrastructure for SPatial InfoRmation in Europe) Directive aims to create consistent geographic datasets so they can be easily shared and used across the continent – essentially a defined data infrastructure. This directive came into law in May 1997 and was transposed into UK law in December 2009. The lead organisations for INSPIRE are DEFRA, the Ordnance Survey and the Cabinet Office. Initially INSPIRE will just be for a limited range of environmental information, but the directives also includes a timetable for a much wider range of information to be include over the next few years.

As the Corporate GIS Team, we have a great interest in this, as having a statutory duty to comply with these standards affects the way we handle and store GI.  Our aim is to produce and manage datasets and their associated metadata to agreed standards, and whilst INSPIRE is an EU directive, an excellent spin-off could be well defined standards for all of our ‘corporate’ GI.

Last week, I went to the first day of the “Association for Geographic Information” (AGI) conference. As part of the conference I attended two talks in the INSPIRE workstream. Both were from bodies that were working to promote the directive. The first, presented by Snowflake Software, dealt with how they are supporting the  principles of INSPIRE by way of examples of its current use in Europe (for instance, CAFÉ – the Clean Air For Europe air quality initiative, and the use of open standards at the UK Met Office.) The second, from the Ordnance Survey, explained how the agency is providing web-based tools, such a metadata toolkit and a viewing portal to allow INSPIRE compliance to be achieved.

Take-up of the directive is currently slow in the UK, and there are some issues with the way it is being rolled out and communicated. Many elements of the directive are still being discussed and drawn up, with only the rules for Metadata implementation published. Metadata implementation is set for 2012. Ordnance Survey also mentioned that they are using an ‘open-source’ solution called ‘GeoNetwork’ for metadata, which was created by several agencies within the United Nations.  Incidently we have also been investigating GeoNetwork independantly for use as our own corporate GI metadata system. Full implementation is still someway off, but we anticpate that our metadata at least will be fully INSPIRE compliant in the next few months.


The UK Government’s ‘open-data’ site. Various government datasets can be accessed for use:

The Gemini 2.1 UK metadata standard:


Specifications for The UK Location Strategy:

Specifications for INSPIRE:

Warwickshire County Council’s “open-data” internet site:

The Association for Geographic Information (AGI):

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