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Evangelising the role of gazetteers

16/11/16

Today's Gazetteers@GIS Day is demonstrating the value of address and street data and equipping its champions with tools to promote the cause, says Steve Brandwood, executive director of engagement at Geoplace

Address and street data has found a niche in most local authorities, but many are not harnessing its full potential and there is evidence that they can do a lot more.

Gazetteers – the registers of address and street data within the boundaries of local authorities – provide a rich resource that can be combined with a range of other data to produce a range of financial and service benefits. They are already doing so, but can do a lot more with the right investment and commitment.

GeoPlace is promoting the cause with its series of Gazetteers@GIS Days, one of which has attracted 66 councils from across England and Wales today. These have picked up on the success of GIS Days, which have run around the world since 1999 to demonstrate applications of geographic information systems, to enable councils to show each other how they can place location at the centre of their services.

They provide a forum for the evangelists to show the value of the data; and gives custodians and street naming and numbering (SNN) officers a toolkit to promote their work.

It comprises a variety of items and templates that support the efforts to raise awareness of gazetteers within an authority. Much of it is simple stuff: encouragement to produce articles in internal magazines, setting up stands in a town hall’s reception area, a cost-benefit leaflet and an ‘I’d like to know more’ form. But it is all valuable in building awareness of gazetteers and providing the first steps to closer working with colleagues from service and planning teams throughout an organisation.

The days also provide a chance for sharing ideas and experiences, all directed at promoting good practice and spreading the understanding of gazetteers throughout the public sector.

It is not just the location data specialists who benefit from these days; they are supporting services that are at the heart of what councils and other public authorities do. Examples include providing information for the coordination of streetworks, the management of electoral registration, planning decisions, combating fraud in benefits payments, protecting public rights of way, street cleaning and the management of street lighting and furniture.

The value of address and street data has been proved beyond doubt. A rigorous cost-benefit analysis, carried out by research and consulting firm ConsultingWhere and commissioned by GeoPlace, has demonstrated a 4:1 return on investment on local land and property gazetteers (LLPGs) and local street gazetteers (LSGs).

It showed that investment in the data produced a net benefit of approximately £86 million between 2010-15, with the promise of further benefits in the region of £20 million over the next five years.

There are also benefits in the quality of services. These include better prevention of illegal tipping, more efficient licensing of commercial premises, better responses to customer calls through an understanding of their location, and more effective management of electoral rolls.

While a Gazetteers@GIS Day is a great experience, it is possible to learn more, and begin spreading the understanding of gazetteers, with a series of steps on the GeoPlace website. They go from learning from the experience of previous days, to ordering the toolkit to discovering additional resources.

The core message is that gazetteers are highly valuable assets for local authorities, and that the wider the understanding and the more they are used, the more value they are going to provide.

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