Unlocking the geospatial potential of survey data

Article dated: 12 December 2011

Geospatial technologies - that is those concerned with place - are not only of ever-increasing importance in research, but are also powerful in aiding the public understanding of science. U.Geo logo

Recognising this, the U·Geo project has been exploring ways to enhance the geospatial potential of survey data made available through the Archive and its services. So far, this JISC-funded project, carried out by staff from the UK Data Archive and EDINA, has established an impressively comprehensive foundation for the Archive and its data services to build upon.

Viewing it as an essential starting point, the U·Geo team initially proposed the question, "What do geospatial data users want from Archive data?" They then conducted a series of in-depth discussions with researchers with an interest or experience in using Archive and ESDS data collections in geospatial applications. A report describing this user consultation is now available online.

U·Geo Browser

As a direct response to the consultation, the team has developed one of the project’s key outputs, a web application dubbed the 'U·Geo Browser' designed with one fundamental goal: to alleviate the problems associated with using social science survey data in geospatial applications.

The complexities of spatial units – the primary means of geo-referencing survey data – and their ever-changing boundaries lead to a minefield of potential problems and analysis error. The U·Geo Browser will make these spatial units more accessible, transparent and usable, and will help users easily find which survey data can be linked to which boundary files.

The key ingredients are enhanced metadata about large-scale social survey datasets available through ESDS, standard and time-referenced definitions for spatial units, and an intuitive faceted search and browse interface built on open-source Solr technology.

This interface allows for on-the-fly filtering of search results by relevant criteria. The U·Geo Browser also matches datasets with digital boundary files available from EDINA which can be used to map to the spatial units present.

Once fully developed, this first-of-its-kind tool will feed into largerscale resource discovery developments at the Archive.

Work toward the EU INSPIRE directive

A little less flashy but no less significant is the project's work on pushing Archive data catalogue metadata forward, through work exploring the metadata specifications of the EU INSPIRE directive and its relevance to social science data.

With EDINA's input, a roadmap for the Archive's metadata to become INSPIRE compliant has been drafted that will move this forward in tandem with the implementation of the DDI3 initiative.

A significant output of the project is the metadata mapping that formed the basis of this work, lining up catalogue metadata to INSPIRE, GEMINI 2.1 and DDI2 and DDI3 metadata specifications. It is hoped that this document, now published online, will form a useful basis for other institutions and data services to work from.