Geospatial Commission publishes guidance to value location data

The Geospatial Commission has today published guidance to help public sector organisations make more effective cases for investing in location data.

The 58-page document, ‘Measuring the economic, social and environmental value of public sector location data’, provides benefit appraisal advice to help government organisations to assess location data value based on best-practice and existing research and experience.

Similar to HM Treasury’s Green Book principles which help government organisations on how to appraise policies, programmes and projects, the Geospatial Commission guidance includes a seven step-by-step framework setting out an approach to understanding, assessing and articulating the value of a location data project from inception to completion. 

David Henderson“We all know the practical value of maps and location data in supporting our everyday life,” said David Henderson, Chief Geospatial Officer at Ordnance Survey. “But expressing that value in a way that supports future investment in geospatial data and services by government and business remains a challenge. 

“This work provides a valuable foundation on how to express those benefits and a more consistent approach to making the case for geospatial data.”

Some of the principles set out in the guidance are also relevant for data investments more generally and support commitments to improve the use of digital and data, as set out in the National Data Strategy and the Roadmap to Digital and Data 2022-2025.

The document has been produced by the Geospatial Commission, an expert committee part of the Cabinet Office that sets the UK’s geospatial strategy and promotes the best use of geospatial data. In December, the agency published a report on location data ethics as part of a project that aims to understand public attitudes on the use of location data. 

It was created in collaboration with Frontier Economics, a consultancy firm that provides economics advice to the public and private sectors. The company’s Director of Public Policy Practice, Sarah Snelson, highlighted the importance of geospatial data to unlock use cases in the UK economy but noted that existing challenges around its valuation are inhibiting its application.

“We have worked closely with stakeholders to develop a practical valuation approach that public sector organisations can apply,” Snelson said. “We are excited to see how the framework is used.”

Challenges for assessing location data value

Location data, also known as geospatial data, is an important asset for public sector delivery. It plays a key role in supporting government policy around the Net Zero and Levelling Up agendas, and was used extensively to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, government projects putting forward the case for its investment and sharing have struggled to understand, assess and articulate the benefits of location data. 

According to the Geospatial Commission, there are three main challenges preventing the public sector from describing the value of location data. These include its underestimation since location data value is often realised only when it is combined with subject-specific datasets, providing then new insights that can inform policy and operations. 

The value of location data depends on its particular uses, which makes it difficult to choose the best approach to estimating its value. For example, although mobile phone data can be important to understand the total hourly footfall on high streets, it might be less valuable for understanding priority land preservation areas.

An additional challenge that the guidance aims to help public organisations with is the difficulty in foreseeing the value of location data. The report notes that although some data may currently have limited uses, future technology and processing capability developments could unlock its value.Government Data Forum

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