Geospatial Data and Local Government

Written by Integrated Skills

Dec 13, 2022

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GIS Technology

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“Place matters to people” says the Local Government Association (Geospatial Information policy | Local Government Association) at least in the context of geospatial information policy, and we at ISL agree. The reality though is that, for most members of the public who consume geospatial data, it is just ‘data’ – they don’t necessary perceive or define any difference between data type.

In recent years geospatial data and business intelligence has become increasingly intertwined. As well as geospatial data being increasingly displayed on maps, local government is using data in geographical information systems (GIS) to inform key policy decisions. Public health analysis relies on a ‘location’ element as does flood risk assessment to name but two examples.
GIS data rich maps are de rigour. Not only are these maps easy to use, but they are easy to understand by those using them to inform them before making key policy decisions. A view of the data on a map is great but is not really sufficient where there is a need to correlate, analyse or research more deeply. Location based software platforms allow for the provision of geographic analysis to users in a way that’s easily accessible, whether via a desktop, mobile device or Cloud based software package such as that provided by ESRI and its network of partners, including ISL.

Location based data is also key in the management of operation activity. Within local government environmental services provision, geospatial data held in GIS software products is often used in combination with data in non-geospatial based systems to inform decision makers. For garden waste collection, for example, which is nowadays typically a paid-for service the collection location can comprise of more than just an address and postcode. Decision makers need to know (i) the geocode (x, y coordinate/easting & northing/latitude & longitude) of the exact location of the bin (which is especially important in rural areas where the bin is placed at the end of a long driveway or off the main road) and (ii) confirmation that the client renewed their annual service subscription. Other examples of paid for waste and recycling collection services that require confirmation of payment combined with a geocoded location includes commercial (trade) collection and bulky collections (sofas, white goods, etc).

Geospatial analysis is often applied to the investigations of fly tipping and graffiti removal. Analysing the location of fly tips over time can assist investigators pinpoint potential suspects, and possibly identify new likely fly tip sites. The municipal authorities in countries like Bahrain use geospatial based software solutions to pinpoint offensive graffiti that needs quick removal. It would be interesting to review the progress of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) solutions combined with geospatial data applied to the prediction of fly tips and offensive graffiti.

Waste Management Integrated Skills

In recent years a number of English local authorities have amalgamated into Unitary Authorities while others have created wholly owned private environmental services companies to operate a unified, cross borough boundary waste & recycling collection service, such as Ubico, which covers eight local councils in the west of England. In these situations, ‘location’ or ‘place’ is a key aspect of what they offer, and how they do it. If a member of the public sees an overflowing street bin in Stroud they can report it on their smartphone which will automatically record the geocode although that individual lives in a neighbouring borough and just happens to be visiting that day. Local authority boundaries were historically based on various factors one of which is geographical features such as the course of a river, edge of a floodplain or public highway. With modern building techniques and planning policies, combined with an ever-expanding street network, adhering to such boundaries create unbalanced waste & recycling collection routes. Using geospatial data provided via the Ordnance Survey combined with empirical data such as number of bins, bin size and expected weight, GIS based route optimisation and waste management software can provide balanced collection routes that cut across historical boundaries resulting in reduced mileage, reduced fuel costs and more even workload (and hours) across the fleet.

Pretty much all local authority services that rely on a fleet of vehicles can operate more efficiently after an optimisation exercise based on geospatial data analysis. Social care transportation is one as is cash collection.

Place and location, and the GIS software to manage this geospatial data, historically has been the preserve of the planning departments within local government. The digital transformation drive has led to GIS being applied beyond the planning department into environmental services, schools, etc. Increasingly authorities with centralised IT teams are hiring specialist GIS team members to provide a GIS impetus to their digital transformation programmes.

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