Why is this relevant to IGIBS? I almost hear you say… well there are many reasons but for me the relevance lies in one of the outcomes for the project which is a “best practice model” for a university department’s interaction with the academic SDI. Clearly the INSPIRE regulation could have a very significant impact on that model.
The INSPIRE directive of 2007 seeks to establish a Community wide infrastructure for public spatial data. Relevant to IGIBS is both the likely effect of INSPIRE on HEIs and the degree of preparedness there is in the run up to the deadline for Annex III spatial data requirements in 2013. Annex III data categories are the greatest in number (21 out of 34) and the most HE orientated. They cover a range of environmental subjects such as habitat and species distribution, atmospheric quality etc.
While it is clear that almost every University will hold data that could fit into Annex III, I have found very little firm advice about what HEIs’ obligations are likely to be. My very short and inadequate working summary of the directive is as follows:
To create an infrastructure in which public bodies make their policy forming and task enabling environmental geospatial data findable, available and analysable by the wider community.
So my first question is “will a University be classed as a public body?” Luckily (or so I thought) there is some firm advice from DEFRA on this. In their Guide to INSPIRE regulations 2009 they helpfully point to the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) as a guide to defining a public body. Now in the EIR blurb they helpfully point to the Freedom of Information definitions of a public body. Finally I tracked down a list and confirmed that Universities are likely to be a public body. Which, after some well publicised FoI requests about climate change, we all knew anyway! This Chinese whispered chain of advice leaves me wondering if the definition of a public body is quite as sewn up as I thought. Is it possible that for the purposes of INSPIRE HEIs won’t be classed in this way? Well the usual side step is used by me (and by DEFRA in their guide above) in that it is only the courts that make a final ruling.
Therefore, it is possible or even possibly likely that HEIs are public bodies for the purposes of INSPIRE. So which data might they need to make available? I think INSPIRE regulations will be designed to only include data that are part of a body’s major role. So Natural England will need to make their data on species distribution accessible to the public and to other bodies. Whereas they (probably) won’t have to make their data on the locations of staff development sessions available; as it isn’t part of their main role as a conservation organisation.
This leaves me wondering what the public role of a University is. Well as I am sitting in one writing this it should be a simple question to answer. A few conversations over coffee later and there is clearly no consensus on the complete role, so my summary of suggestions will have to be….. “a mix of education, research and other less easily defined contributions to society and the economy”. Ultimately the decision about HEIs’ obligations may again be made by the courts. If I were to guess then if geospatial data is used for research or teaching then it is contributing to one of the major roles of a HEI and so could come under INSPIRE.
So after half a day’s work I am still looking for firm advice on what HEIs should be preparing for in the next couple of years. Now I am sure that somewhere there are discussions going on between more astute and better informed people than myself. What I am unrealistically hoping for is a publication from DERFA in the next couple of months that will give firm guidance to lowly short contract researchers like me, oh and Vice Chancellors. So I can finalise a report and they can direct preparations for INSPIRE which might include extending a few peoples’ contracts.
The best guess I can make about “ best practice” would involve HEIs welcoming INSPIRE, as the development of the national SDI can only help in research and teaching and in adding value to the academic SDI. In terms of actions that should be taken, then it’s more difficult to be so certain. A minimum response to current INSPIRE regulations should involve cataloguing and metadata creation for all those poor and unfortunate orphaned geospatial datasets currently in the workhouse or on the streets, as this is not only preparation for INSPIRE but also part of best practice. As for any other actions well that is above my pay grade.