The session after the coffee break featured a panel discussion. Sitting on the panel were Gesche Schmid (Local Government Association), Pedro Diaz Munoz (Eurostat), Julian Kirby (Friends of the Earth), Martin Whitworth (Environment Agency) and Leen Hordijk (JRC). The session was chaired by Ian Jackson (BGS) and each panel member was given 8 minutes in turn to address the conference before the audience before the audience could ask questions. Running briefly through the pitches:
Gesche Schmid: The main thrust of Gesche’s pitch was how joined up infrastructure, technology and GIS had, and would continue to, save local government money.
- Place Matters – most things happens somewhere
- Cuts – 25% spending cut, with 10% in 2011 alone. Looking for£5.5 billion saving in 5 years
- Accountability and transparency
- De-centralisation à Local control
- Civil Society – councils role as a facilitator rather than a “do-er”
By connecting systems and data you could drive efficiency and target resources. An example of this would be to link address databases with the social care register. If there was a emergency such as a flood which required citizens to evacuate, the emergency services would instantly know where vulnerable citizens lived and could assist them as a priority.
GI has been used in local government and it’s benefits are definable.
- GI has increased productivity by £230 million over the past 5 years
- £320 million increase in tech industry (i think – notes not clear, comments welcome to clarify this point) due to GI last 5 years
- £24 million saving by sharing data (mainly addressing data)
- £17 million saved by pulling local datasets into national datasets that are then shared (not clear if this is a subset of the 24 million quoted above)
Overall the message was that, if implemented correctly, GI could save local government a considerable amount of money. It was also a core component that would allow local government to improve access to knowledge to help informed decision making.
Pedro Munoz of EuroStat was next up and he gave a holistic view of the benefits of harmonised data sets. Examples of pan-European datasets that allow statistics to be calculated at a European scale were given, such as the calculation of CO2 emissions. Harmonisation is the key to doing this efficiently and helps inform policy at the European level. The argument for harmonisation extends beyond the confines of Europe, many of the datasets, including CO2, relate to global issues that require a global solutions.
Julian Kirby of Friends of the Earth (FoE) was the next speaker. This presentation had a slightly different pitch. Rather than look at INSPIRE datasets, FoE have decided to consider 4 categories:
- Land Area
- Green House Gas (GHG) emissions
FoE aim to disseminate information, to do so they must make data understandable. Using simple categories like those listed above, they hope that most people will be able to understand the statistics.
Julian criticised the lack of analysis of measurement of resource consumption in Europe. Knowing what you are consuming seems a basic metric to have if you are to try and use less. Further criticism was made of CO2 reporting. UK levels have fallen since the Kyoto agreement; however these figures do not include the impact of imported goods. If these are factored into the analysis, CO2 emissions from the UK have risen 16% since Kyoto.(ref to follow) Not such a great statistic and imports continue to increase.
The issue gets complicated further when you consider “resource consumption” rather than just focusing on reducing one specific pollutant such as CO2. Carbon impact reduction technology often consumes water, which itself is a limited resource. (Reference on paper for this to follow).
The environment theme continued with Martin Whitworth of the Environment Agency (EA). Martin reiterated Julian’s comments about presenting information in an appropriate manner so that it is understandable by non-experts. Martin showed a number of systems that the EA ran which are based on Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI). Some are public facing such as the Flood map, others are internal systems which help streamline processes and therefore have a cost benefit. One such example was the “fish pass prioritisation” system. This holds information on over 26, 000 structures that may act as a barrier to fish migration. Analysing the structures to determine the effects of a fish pass scheme is a complex task as there are many variables that must be considered. The fish pass prioritisation system allows the data to be managed and analysed efficiently. This efficiency and cost saving was central to Martin’s message:
“GIS and SDI’s have, through INSPIRE, come of age allowing government to do a better job for less”
The last speaker from the panel was Leen Hordijk of the JRC. Leen flipped things round again, and talked about what makes successful policies and how they might affect analysis and therefore data. Leen gave 7 tips:
- Prices right – don’t make things finacially impossible to achieve or implement
- Governments need to be “reliable partners” – meaning that councils/gov should know what they want and do not change the goalposts
- Set targets and stick to them
- Setting targets/challenges in a way that will aid innovative solutions to develop so should help targets be met (this feeds back into 2, don’t move the goalposts)
- Use globally suitable criteria and do not pass the burden to developing countries
- Keep indicators as simple as possible so you can measure success
- Get on with it
Good advice. Leen also connected back to earlier sessions by stating that INSPIRE should allow data from different sectors; physical, social, economic, to be linked together to drive policy making.
The panel then received questions from the floor that provided for a more discursive dialog between the panelists. A summary of the discussion is given below:
Julian defended the simple approach that FoE had taken commenting that some EU statistical research seemed bogged down by:
“Paralysis of Analysis”.
By going into too much detail, answers were almost prevented from surfacing.
A member of the audience stated that 38% of EU citizens felt badly informed about the Environment. However, if more data was made available then there was a danger that the public would “drown” in data and become more confused. Pedro Munoz responded that the key to informing the public was:
- Report a small number of parameters
- Provide clear analysis
- Report headline indicators
- Use structured information levels (Simple – for press/public consumption Detailed – for policy makers)
Ian Jackson, chairing the session chipped into the discussion at this point with a gem of a comment that:
“our job as data publishers/analysts was to make intelligent information available, not unintelligible data”
I found this to be a very informative session. The panelists gave strong opinions on what the role of the data creators and data analysts roles were, how they could contribute to a better understanding of issues such as climate change and resource consumption. At the same time, they could help local and central government save money by using tools that made data collection, processing and re-use more efficient.