Jamie Clark, Deputy Director (Commercial) at the Geospatial Commission, provides an overview of how the Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA), that has been in place between the Geospatial Commission (GC) and Ordnance Survey (OS) since April 2020, has been delivering across the public sector, in the face of a challenging year for the UK.
Our perception of time is a curious thing. It can pass in the blink of an eye whilst simultaneously feeling like a lifetime, or at least that is how the last 12 months have felt for me. It feels like no time at all since we were agreeing to the final clauses of the PSGA, at the very start of the pandemic as we transitioned to mainly working from home. At the same time, the first year of the PSGA feels much longer than 12 months when considered through the lens of responding rapidly to the increased demand for geospatial data. Through PSGA, data is being delivered in easily consumable ways to support a range of applications and to answer a series of questions that were not even being considered by many even 15 months ago.
What the PSGA has provided
It would be really easy to make the majority of this blog about how the PSGA supports the delivery of all four of the missions set out in the UK Geospatial Strategy which you will be unsurprised to hear it does - it is almost like we planned it that way! Alternatively, I could focus on the details of the PSGA contract and the technical details of the first sets of deliverables of which there are quite a few, with some of them literally being a decade in the making, highlights include:
- Access to an extended product suite including AddressBase Islands providing address information for the whole of the UK and Crown Dependencies for the public sector
- User engagement to finalise the specifications for the initial set of the 70 new datasets that will be delivered through the PSGA over the next 2 years.
- Improved ease of access through a new OS Data Hub, including delivery of data through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to ensure access for all public sector bodies, especially those with limited data processing and management capabilities.
- Opening of Key Identifiers under an Open Government Licence
These areas could make for very interesting blogs (for me at least), unpacking the nuances of the 500-page contract, the technical details of each of the API services, or the data model for the new open identifiers datasets. However, that has never been the point, nor will ever be the point of the PSGA. The PSGA is all about the outcomes that it enables, and that is what I want to talk about in the rest of this blog. If you are however interested in the more technical aspects of the agreement and its deliverables, then you can find out more about these on the PSGA pages of the OS website.
What is different about the PSGA?
Previous public sector collective purchase licensing arrangements for OS data were just that, a licence arrangement to provide access to the data. The PSGA is different. It directly links to the OS Public Task, defining the data OS captures, in its role as the National Mapping Service provider. This ensures that our national geospatial data asset continues to evolve and develop to ensure Great Britain continues to have world-leading geospatial data for the next 230 years (well at least until the agreement ends!). The PSGA model provides a direct mechanism through which we can invest in our national geospatial data asset to deliver improved access to better location data that meets the needs of both the public and private sector over the length of the agreement.
This long term commitment in turn allows public and private sector organisations to safeguard and future proof their use of the critical location data provided through the PSGA to support the delivery of effective and efficient public services. Andy Marsh, Chief Constable, Avon and Somerset Police made this very point in his recent blog for the Geospatial Commission, which also provides a fascinating insight into the application of the data in keeping us all safe.
PSGA and COVID-19
The last 12 months have however shone a spotlight on the use of location data to deliver public health outcomes like never before. Early on in the pandemic, we blogged about how geospatial data was being used to inform the response. A comment on that blog posed the interesting question about opportunities to bring together a range of datasets, linked by location to deliver better public health outcomes. A large number of public sector organisations have taken that very approach at both national and local levels. They have taken a wide range of data from OS and combined it with a range of geospatial and non-geospatial data about COVID-19 cases, movement of people, and behaviour patterns to support their response, including analysis that underpins and targets their Vaccine Rollout programme. Local authorities have used location data available under the PSGA as the glue to bring a whole range of information together from central government, as well as local service providers and the private sector to support their public health decisions and interventions.
PSGA informing decision-making
We are seeing organisations that have had to bring together a range of data sets to try and inform their thinking in the last 12 months. In fact, it is harder to identify those that have not had to do this in one way or another. One of the key enablers that make this process considerably quicker and easier is the use of common identifiers when referring to geographies, be that local authority areas, postcodes, streets, or individual properties. The opening up of key identifiers was announced in 2018, and following a considerable amount of work by Improvement Service, GeoPlace, the Local Government Association, OS, and the Geospatial Commission, Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRN) and Unique Street Reference Numbers (USRN) were released under an open government licence as part of the PSGA.
This and the new open identifier policy opens a whole series of opportunities for both the public and private sector to share and aggregate data more rapidly and accurately. The importance of data aggregation within the public sector for the full range of public services is well documented. I, therefore, don’t propose to go into those here beyond highlighting that the Government recognises this importance, and has set up the Data Standards Authority with the aim of establishing standards to make it easier and more effective to share and use data across government. The early discussions that we have had with the DSA so far around the UPRN, USRN, and geospatial standards, in general, have huge potential, which is really exciting and something I am genuinely looking forward to seeing what more can be done in this space to support better outcomes - and I never thought I would say that about data standards!
PSGA and Housing Market
Being able to quickly, easily, and accurately link data sets is equally as critical for the private sector as it is for the public sector. This was very clear in the open letter from the property industry to the Minister for Housing setting out the significant opportunities that were possible through greater adoption and uptake of the UPRN within public sector data. A further example is that we have seen TelCos now using UPRN's across ethernet and broadband products within their wholesale business to help engineers locate customers and deliver equipment quicker and more accurately.
PSGA and Transport
PSGA is not just about the public sector. Access to high-quality geospatial data enables private sector companies of all sizes and in all areas of the economy to innovate and ultimately make better investment decisions through their use of geospatial data. It is for this reason that PSGA data on Great Britain’s transport network was made available as part of the Geospatial Commission’s transport location data competition to support them to initiate and take the first steps in finding innovative solutions to a range of transport challenges that are being faced by the public sector.
The examples I have highlighted above, whilst truly excellent and delivering significant outcomes for all concerned, barely scrape the surface of the use that is being made of the data that is being captured, maintained, and made available under the auspices of the PSGA. That said, I hope that it gives a small taste of the critical role that the data plays both in the delivery of effective and efficient public services today and in the future, as well as underpinning a significant amount of economic activity. This is only likely to increase as we build back better and greener!
The data is great and is only set to get better in the coming years which is really exciting. As set out in mission 3 of the UK Geospatial Strategy, you can have all the data in the world, but without access to people with the skills and capability to analyse and interrogate it, then it is unlikely to provide you with much help to achieve the outcomes you are looking for. OS has a huge amount of geospatial data science capability, residing within it as you might expect. However, previous public sector contracts have focused almost entirely on access to the data. Being able to access OS expertise to support their use of the data was a core requirement that came up time and again in our engagement with the public sector when we were developing the PSGA.
PSGA and the Emergency Response
Little did we know how much use these facilities would get in the first 12 months of the contract. For example, the PSGA provides a more robust Mapping for Emergencies offering than before, with 187 requests in the last year, including 168 covid-19 emergency requests. This provides support ranging from mapping for flood response, to an application allowing the customer to route from addresses to testing centres, calculating the nearest one to each address and everything in between. Mapping for Emergencies has supported work with supermarkets, to enable specific addresses to be identified and shared in order to prioritise supermarket delivery slots for vulnerable customers, who had limited access to services and support.
The PSGA customer support services have unsurprisingly been called upon extensively in the first 12 months from right across the public sector, including Police Scotland who is using OS expertise to support them in preparing for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) being held in Glasgow in November 2021. Related to government’s environmental ambitions these PSGA provisions have been used by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to support them in the creation of their new EPC register which is built using AddressBase data and uses the UPRN to maximise both its coverage and users ability to link it with other property information.
Over and above the standard user support the PSGA also provided an opportunity for a number of public sector bodies to have embedded support for a short period of time. This has included the Joint Biosecurity Centre, who were able to call upon OS to provide a spatial analysis capability as part of a multi-disciplinary team, to deliver their mission of providing objective analysis to inform local and national decision-making and support in response to COVID-19 outbreaks and the Commonwealth Games Team in Birmingham have also been able to make use of this embedded support model over the last year.
PSGA and Education
The PSGA is also supporting an increased awareness of the power of location data in the next generation by upskilling teachers and trainee teachers. Ordnance Survey ran 49 training sessions with over 1300 teachers attending. The sessions aimed at both the primary and secondary level aimed to improve the teaching of the geography curriculum. They provide skills, resources and the knowledge to enhance the teaching of a Geographic Information System (GIS).
Alongside the work of the Royal Geographical Society, ESRI, and Edina the pandemic has seen a significant increase in the geospatial resources and support that is available to schools, which can only be a good thing given the importance of geospatial in all areas of the economy, society and the environment. One of the resources available through OS helps to equip Primary School teachers to teach mapping to 5 -11 year olds as part of the national curriculum and was recently highly commended at the Geographical Association’s Publisher Awards.
PSGA, Public and Private Sector collaborate - could you use this data?
Despite these challenging times, the public and private sectors have fully engaged with the PSGA and supported the Geospatial Commission team and OS with both their time and expertise to ensure that the contract is delivering on its potential. This has included 300 public sector and 50 private sector organisations, supporting the finalisation of the specifications for the new data with OS. In addition, 20 public sector organisations have helped the GC with User Acceptance Testing of the various deliverables in the financial year 20/21.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have taken the time to provide direct feedback and input into the development and testing of the various deliverables and activities this year. Your input has been, and will continue to be, critical to the success of the PSGA and fully realising the opportunities it offers.
Finally, I would like to thank both the Geospatial Commission and Ordnance Survey teams that have worked hard over the first 12 months to get the PSGA up and running and delivering to support the outcomes we are all looking to achieve.
For more information:-
Through the OS Data Hub, public sector PSGA members, business users and developers have direct and immediate access to a range of OS datasets, including addressing information, road networks and property-level data.
Business users and developers get free access, up to a monthly threshold, to OS MasterMap, one of the most detailed location datasets in the world. For public sector members of the PSGA, access to the data is threshold-free.
Public Sector organisations have to be registered members of the PSGA to access data within the OS Data Hub. They can easily check if they are a member here https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-government/partner-member/member. If their organisation is not yet registered as a PSGA member, they can register here https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-government/licensing-agreements/psga-registration.
To access the OS Data Hub visit - https://osdatahub.os.uk/
Now back to work - PSGA year 2 is even more ambitious in terms of what we are aiming to achieve, so let’s get cracking!
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