Oct 102011

After some fantastic help from James Reid at EDINA we thought to put together a blog post summarising some of the conclusions we have come to over INSPIRE.

At this stage it may be  worth having a look at my earlier but less informed post regarding INSPIRE to understand how my understanding of the issues has progressed.

For INSPIRE to be something that universities need to spend time and money complying with, then there are several questions needing an answer. We are not in a position to answer all of them with 100% certainty but with the help of James here are some conclusions we have come to.

1. Are universities  “public bodies” or more accurately public authorities? This appears to be one area that the fog has lifted from. The INSPIRE Regulations will only apply to public authorities and James has taken the trouble to check out this area with Edinburgh  and is certain that universities are public authorities for the purposes of INSPIRE.  So one “Yes” to INSPIRE

2. Do universities hold and control datasets that match the data described in any of the INSPIRE data Annexes? After looking through the datasets collected for the IBIBS project I have found 11 (or about 5% of them) that match up with some of the data themes in Annex iii. The IGIBS data is probably not  representative  of the total extent of data held by Aberystwyth University and a data inventory of data held by some of  the academic staff would be needed to quantify the amount of INSPIRE data held.  So another “Yes” to INSPIRE

3. What is the public task of a university?  Here is where the situation becomes less clear.  There appears to be no public task defined for universities. The problem seems to stem from the fact the universities are not covered by the PSI Regulations and therefore have not needed to define a public task for themselves.  Again James has made some progress on this and pointed to a publication from the National Archives that helps explain the process 0f defining a body’s public task.  There has also been some slightly ambiguous advice from the Scottish Information Commissioner that includes a suggestion that it may be relevant for a university to seek legal advice over the  issue. So there seems to be no clear answer to this question. A case of  “we dont know yet”

4. Do those data identified in 2 above relate to the public task of the university? Again until we know the answer to 3 above  we can only guess at the answer to this question. Commonsense suggests that research and teaching must be part of the task if it is ever defined. So my guess would be a “probable Yes”

5. Will there be any attempt to enforce the regulations? Again no way of knowing the answer to this and it may even involve some judicial intervention to clarify the situation. Strictly speaking if Universities are public authorities for the purposes of the INSPIRE Regulations then they are already not complying with INSPIRE as they have not established a complaints procedure to deal with questions over INSPIRE data provision as required by the Regulations. So currently a “NO” but with the uncertainty surrounding public task it could be a complicated or impossible job to enforce this regulation at present. So this will have to be a wait and see area.

 Posted by at 11:51 Uncategorized Tagged with: , , ,  Comments Off on INSPIRE and Universities: An update thanks to James Reid
Sep 052011

I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with some people from EDINA and the DCC in Edinburgh on Wednesday. The aim of the meeting was to get some input and advice from some experts on the ideas I have for a spatial data management best practice report.  So a big  thank you to Martin Donnelly of the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), James Reid, Stuart McDonald, Chris Higgins and Michael Koutroumpas from EDINA.

I had a long 7 hour train journey from Aberystwyth so my apologies for the overdose of PowerPoint slides that I had time to create before the meeting. It was extremely helpful to talk to experienced and knowledgeable  people about the direction the report, which is one of our outputs from the IGIBS project. My background in environmental science leaves a few significant gaps in my knowledge and, as Chris put it, “a sanity check” on my work was well worth the time needed to attend the meeting. I even had the opportunity for an evening walk on Arthur’s Seat and a lunch hour looking around Edinburgh as a bonus.

Some of the key advice from the meeting centered around the following; INSPIRE and how it will or wont impact on Universities,  insights into the not so obvious but very significant benefits of writing a data management plan and where it fits into good data management, some great pointers to other studies and sources of information that will feed into the report, the need to make the report easily accessible to its audience and some great institutional  case study examples from Australian through Californian to British Universities.

Another theme that emerged from the discussion was how INSPIRE and the need for good data management can be viewed as a threat but it is also a great opportunity for academic staff to gain easier access to the ever increasing amounts of spatial data being created around the Globe. A viewpoint that will help to make the report more appealing to time starved researchers.

We also had talk of semantics and just what do you call a spatial data infrastructure (if you don’t want to use SDI). It was suggested that UK Location has moved towards Location Information Infrastructure as a way of making an SDI label more intelligible to the uninitiated. I found this much more enlightening and useful that the recent update from UK Location on “Data Things” and abstracted “Data Objects”  but a few hours of digestion may make this a little more understandable to my irretrievably ecologically orientated mind.  It reminded me of some reading I had done about old Norse governance and how their aassembly was called the “Thing” and met in the “Thingstead”.  I remember thinking that they didn’t have a proper word for it so just called it the “Thing” but I guess that just shows how language develops over time and maybe we can look back to SDI in a few years with the benefit of a really useful label for it, whatever that may be.

As a result of the meeting I am re writing some sections I had drafted and adding some new summary sheets for subsections of the intended audience and more importantly I don’t feel like my original thinking was miles off the mark, just a bit  under-informed and lacking some focus.  So creating the rest of the report will also be made a little easier once I have digested the new material I have been pointed towards.

So thank you once more gentlemen and I look forward to meeting you again if the occasion arises.


Jun 022011

Hope all those concerned with getting some favourable coverage for Biosffer Dyfi Biosphere are watching their televisions of an evening right now; specifically BBC2 for the next few weeks as Springwatch, that stalwart of Aunties nature programming is at Ynys-hir!

Isnt it brilliant turning on the box and seeing the intrepid trio sitting out on that decking with the evening sun on Mynydd y Llyn in the background?  I am unhappy to hear about the heron numbers going down, shocked by the cannibal Barn Owls, and flabbergasted nobody has pointed a camera at the Pied Flycatchers yet, did I miss that?  Being from Scotland, I get such a kick out of seeing these wee beauties round here – they are pretty scarce elsewhere.


Pied Flycatcher – photo by Rainbirder (Steve Garvie) 

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Seriously though, this is a great advert and national recognition for some of whats best about the Dyfi area, hope somebody steering Biosphere Reserve developments is taking notes.


Apr 232011

On the 11th of April, on a fine Spring day, we had the kickoff meeting for this project at the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE) at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT).  Eight people attended:

  • Chris Higgins (EDINA, Project Manager)
  • Michael Koutroumpas (EDINA, Senior Software Engineer)
  • Nicola Osborne (EDINA, Social Media Office)
  • Richard Lucas (IGES)
  • Becky Charnock (IGES, Research Assistant)
  • Colin Chapman (WAG)
  • Paul Guest (WAG)
  • Simon Agass (WAG)

The basic structure of the day was as follows: some scene setting, a briefing from each of three partners and then discussion of the four Work Packages (more on these and the project plan in a later post).

Each of the partners had been asked to provide:

  • essential background to this project from their perspective
  • what others need to know to understand why they are in IGIBS.
  • what they want and what they expect out the project

That was the morning, in the afternoon I tried to get people talking around the Work Packages (more on these in subsequent posts) with the aim of maximising the area of overlap between our different business objectives.  If you are interested, here is a copy of the set of slides used to structure the day.  IGIBS Kickoff Meeting Slides Apr2011

Reasonably successful, probably the most important outcome is that we have now all met each other and have a clearer idea where each is coming from.  Here are the slides from WAGs Colin Chapman IGIBS_WAG_forWeb.  We could have spent a lot longer working through the project but, given its only a 7 month project, that was probably not appropriate.

Over the last few months I have also met with each of the three partners separately (including a visit to EDINA in Edinburgh) and now; post kickoff meeting, post consideration of our proposal reviewers comments, I would tend to agree that we need more clarity on our main use cases.

This is the main meat of Work Package 2 (Stakeholder Engagement) led by IGES, but in general, I think we are looking at two main scenarios:

  1. A student wants to view his data alongside reference data from the public authorities, ie, WAG.  The “WMS Factory” tool allows him/her to quickly generate a WMS so that he can visualise his data alongside the other INSPIRE type View Services from WAG.  The distinguishing feature of this project is access control.  The user will be able to restrict who can see their data to himself, the department, the university, etc.  There are various reasons why this might be required, eg, it’s a work in progress, its sensitive, commercial, etc.  Of course, from the UK National SDI side; WAG will have the ability, if required, to control access for some of their services: to the individual, dept, university, other public authorities, etc.
  2. A more general use case, where somebody simply wants to be able to publish their data in a standards compliant, ie, WMS, way, so they can view there data with other interoperability services.  So far, questions that keep cropping are: how much metadata do we capture, and what about portrayal?

I have always had a nagging feeling with this project that a “WMS factory tool” is too obvious.  Has it been done before?  If not, why not?  Is it too hard?  Is the portrayal problem a showstopper?

Interestingly, I am writing this post from Utrecht where the AGILE 2011 conference has just ended.  On Tuesday there, Sven Schade from the JRC delivered a paper on a “GEOSS Service Factory – Assisted Publication of Geospatial Content”.  This is addressing a very similar or the same problem, but concentrating on the Web Processing Service (WPS).  More information when I have it…

Finally (for the moment), WISE was a great place to hold the kickoff meeting.  Neutral territory in the heart of the Dyfi Biosphere in surroundings imbued with a positive appreciation of sustainable development.  The facilities (including accomodation) are first rate and the staff very helpful. I would urge anyone genuinely interested in working towards a balanced relationship between man and nature to visit CAT and consider using the facilities at WISE if possible.

 Posted by at 21:52 Uncategorized Comments Off on IGIBS Kickoff meeting at WISE
Apr 032011

As project manager of the Interoperable Geographic Information for Biosphere Study (IGIBS) project, the pleasure of the first blog post falls to me.

The project formally started 2 days ago (on the 1st of April) and is scheduled to run for 7 months up to the end of Oct 2011. Its a partnership between EDINA, the Welsh Assemby Government (WAG) and the University of Aberystwyth. The Kickoff meeting is being held next week (11th April) at the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education down the valley from where I am typing this at the Centre for Alternative Technology – a location central to Biosffer Dyfi Biosphere.

The original proposal (more information to follow) has left us with some flexibility around exactly what we implement in this short project and we intend that the Kickoff meeting helps drill down to the detail now the project is real and not just an idea in a few peoples heads. Again, more information in subsequent posts on this.

Basically, the overarching idea is to try to improve the connect between the UK’s National Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) as manifested through the UK Location Programme and the UK’s Academic SDI. We want to do this by focussing on pressing use cases emerging from research and education related to a particular area – the Dyfi Biosphere. If you dont know where this is then shame on you, its a lovely area in mid-Wales around the River Dyfi (pronounced Dovey) estuary at the Southern end of the better known Snowdonia National Park.

The idea behind the UNESCO WNBR (World Network of Biosphere Reserves) is a network of exemplar areas exploring and showcasing how people can live in harmony with nature. This is often referred to under the umbrella term of Sustainable Development. For the purposes of this project, the definition of Sustainable Development we will be working to is that from the Brundtland Commission, ie, that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Research and education is a key element in achieving the UNESCO Biosphere designation and the project will benefit significantly from the involvement of the University of Aberystwyth’s Institute of Geography & Earth Sciences (IGES) – the main Higher Education facility within the Biosphere area.

Our area of expertise is interoperable Geographic Information (GI), and by that I mean GI served up over the internet in accordance with open geospatial interoperability standards from, primarily the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and ISO TC/211. The other major contextual initiative for this project is the INSPIRE Directive – Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe. In this respect, the involvement of WAG in this project is especially welcome and we hope to be able to begin enumerating some of the benefits of public authorities making their data access services interoperable in accordance with INSPIRE – at least, in so far as it relates to their relationship with the academic sector.

In IGIBS, we will investigate the practicality of creating a tool that enables users to upload and instantiate an OGC Web Map Service (or View Service if you are coming from the INSPIRE world) allowing users to view and analyse their data in combination with a range of other interoperable distributed data sources, eg, reference data from WAG. To enable a broader range of use cases, we will use Shibboleth to secure the WMS where appropriate. Much prior art being brought to this project, particularly in the area of access control from the ESDIN project and the UK Access Management Federation (EDINA provides technical and operational support for the UKAMF).

On the whole, I think this project is rich with potential. Having spent a few hours reading round some UNESCO web sites, my only regret is that the project is not 5 times longer in duration and 10 times better resourced. But then again, a short focussed project with a good team can sometimes deliver a punch way above its weight. More after the Kickoff meeting…

 Posted by at 16:19 Uncategorized Tagged with:  1 Response »