Glasgow – willsnewman (flickr)

Jane Drummond opened the 22nd conference and explained that Pink was the colour of the conference, hence the helpers were wearing Pink T-shirts. This also might explain the pink umbrellas last time GISRUK visited Glasgow.


Mike Worboys keynote gave “A Theoretician’s eye view of GIS Research”. He highlighted the dramatic fall in the proportion of GISRUK papers that covered the theoretical side of GIS. He mused that perhaps we had covered it all; in the end he highlighted several areas where there was still much theory to be discussed, including Geo-Semantics and Geo-Linguistics.

In The Urban Environment session chaired by Peter Halls we saw William Mackaness talk about Spacebook, a system of delivering directions via audio as users encountered various way points on a route. The research found that using Landmarks gave better results than street names in terms of getting someone from A to B.

Phil Bartie, who was a researcher on William Mackness’s paper delved deeper into the issue of Landmarks. He was using images to find out what people identified as landmarks and was analysing them semantically and spatially to distinguish related and unrelated features. His use of Trigrams, or groups of three words may well be a solution to issues with obtaining good search results from EDINA’s place name gazetteer.

Nick Malleson was next talking about using tweets as a proxy for ambient population. Despite the issues with the quality and bias of the Twitter data he found that it still overcame the problems of using census data for city centre population when assessing crime rate. The peaks seen in crime rate for the main shopping and socialising areas disappeared as they were adjusted for the number of people present rather than the number actually living there. Outside of these areas, crime rates were still high in areas where there were social problems as shown by using census data.

The use of Twitter in research continues to raise interesting questions about sampling validity and ethics, this would continue into the second day.


Thursday as the only full day in this years GISRUK program and had 3 parallel sessions.

Spatial Analysis: the best 2 talks being really quite different. Georgios Maniatis discussed error quantification and constraints in environmental sensors.  Georgios’ was looking at sediment movement in rivers, using a local reference frame offered accuracy improvements but added further complications, not least that a significant portion of the signal travel time was through water. Given the small distance from transmitter to receiver, errors could quickly become significant.

The other talk that stood out looked at visualising active spaces of urban utility cyclists. This was given by Seraphim Alvanides on behalf of Godwin Yeboah. Their analysis clearly showed that in certain areas of Newcastle the cycle infrastructure was mis-aligned with where cyclists actually rode. Cyclists used more direct routes to get to work and were more likely to detour on the way home to do shopping or other leisure activities. The fact that the Newcastle Metro which is operated by Deutsche Bahn, do not allow cycles onto their trains. In Continental Europe they seem more amenable to such integration.

Citizen Survey: This session looked really interesting and Neil Harris (Newcastle Uni) kicked off with a very interesting description of a heterogeneous sensor infrastructure which used a schemaless approach.  They had effectively decided to avoid XML and used key value pairs instead.  By using HStore they were able to hook things up with Postgres/PostGIS. The advantage of this approach was that they could integrate new sensors into the D’base easily by just adding key values to the main list. Key values may be seen as old hat by many, but with HStore it gives quite a flexible solution. The work is part of the Science Central project and will effectively pulls together all possible data feeds for the  Science Central to use.

The other presentation of note was by Robin Lovelace (Leeds) who invited discussion around the merits of twitter data in research.  This was not about the ethics around whether users knew what data they were giving-up, but more about the pro’s and con’s of using the data at all.

  • Con – unregulated data, unfocused, loudest voice dominates
  • Pro – diverse, low cost, continuous, responsive

Using Twitter data may raise the following questions

  1. Who made it? – the public
  2. Who owns it? – Twitter

As the discussion progressed it was mentioned that we may be in a golden age for social data, at the moment lots of people are providing information through social media and the social media companies like twitter are allowing us to use the info for free. At some point either the public will realise what info they are providing and seek to limit it, or the government will perhaps do so, and social media companies (who trade on information about users) may restrict access to data or try to charge for it.  Interesting and thought provoking.  If you want to find out more, look at Robin’s presentation and download his code from Twitter to set up a Twitter Listener.

Remote Sensing – I used to do remote sensing so i thought i would go to this session and see what was new. It turns out that it didnt have a huge amount of remote sensing in it, but there was a couple of gems worth mentioning. First is the work that Jonny Huck (University of Lancashire) is doing with sensors.  Jonny presented at last years GISRUK and it was good to see this being used in other people’s research, but the sensor work took a different direction. Jonny made a low-cost (£400) pollution monitoring kit that also monitored VO2 flux of users. This allowed him to crudely calculate risk of pollution.  It was simple kit using motes , smart phones and some basic gis for visualisation. I found it quite refreshing to see a simple approach taking off the shelf kit and running simple experiments. This will hopefully lead to discussion, refinement and some really insightful science.

The other presentation that i enjoyed introduced Whitebox – a geospatial analysis toolkit created by John Lindsay. This is an open-source GIS package and i was stunned by how many tools it had., over 370 at the last count! Possibly most impressive was the Lidar processing tool which will happily open 16Gb of raw lidar point cloud and allow you to process it. I dont know of another open source package which handles lidar.  John likes to call Whitebox open-access rather than open-source. Whats the difference? Well when you open a module there is a “View Code” button. This will open the code that runs the module so that you can see how it works and what it does.

Whitebox is relatively unknown, but John hopes to push it more and the audience suggested using GitHub rather than google code repository and to work towards OSGeo incubation.  It does look good and i have already downloaded it. Oh, it is a Java app so is easy to get working on any platform.

Plenary – I enjoyed the sessions and found something interesting in each one, but the plenaries were a bit underwhelming. Most conferences use the plenaries to bring everyone together and then get the big cheese’s out to show-off cutting edge research or to inspire the audience. The Thursday plenary didn’t seem to do this.

Friday – i was not able to attend on friday, sorry.

gisrukOverall – the conference was well received and i found some of the talks really interesting.  I would have like to be inspired by a keynote at the plenary and I hope that GISRUK 2015 in Leeds will use the plenary to motivate the group to continue to do great GIS research. Thanks to the  local team for pulling the event together, it is never an easy task.  You even managed to get the weather sorted.



AGIScotland 2013 – New directions in Geo

The 2013 AGI Scotland event marked a slight change in direction for the AGI, this being the first “showcase” event that they have run. 6 showcase events and the annual GeoCommunity event are scheduled across the year.

It was fitting that the first plenary speaker was from the Scottish Government. Mike Neilson is the Director of Digital and represents the top end of the digital restructuring that has occurred in the Scottish Government. Mike reinforced the importance of digital in governing a country and that there was a push to make more public services available on line. This would encourage the public to get online, but Mike was acutely aware that there was a danger that moving services online would exclude those who could not get online, perhaps due to financial constrains. Improving digital connectivity was important as Scotland, especially Glasgow, currently lags behind the UK average which impacts on the social and economic development of the Country.

At a recent meeting of the Spatial Information Board, 6 priorities were agreed and these will form the focus of activities in the immediate future. These are:

  1. effective use of spatial data thru inspire
  2. data sharing and collaborative procurement
  3. build GIS capabilities capacity
  4. embed spatial data within broader data agenda
  5. promote awareness of benefits of wider use of spatial
  6. mechanism for hosting spatial data

The restructuring of digital data teams in the government seems to make sense and looks to provide sensible, hierarchical structure. However, the Scottish Government are looking for feedback and input from the GI community on what they see as being important and where they think digital data is going.  To provide feedback you can contact shonna or follow them on Twitter @digitalscots

The second plenary speaker was Anne Kemp, Atkins. Anne pointed to the changing role of the GI professional and urged us to step out of our insular groups and comfort zones and to interact with other groups who use spatial data. Anne strongly believes that Building Information Models (BIMs) are the future for many aspects of GIS. BIMs focus on the lifecycle of anything in the built environment, from planning to operational management. Calculations suggest that effective use of BIMs can save 20% in the cost of construction and operation of new infrastructure.  The use of BIMs has been mandated by the government for England and organisations, such as the Environment Agency and Highways Agency, are currently aligning themselves to meet the 2016 target. Interestingly the Scottish Government does not have a similar mandate and seems to have no plan to do so. This raises interesting questions. Many large engineering companies and consultancies are GB wide organisations and tend to operate to organisation wide best practices, of which BIM is almost certainly going to be. Will much of BIMs seems to just represent industry best practice, mandate from central government which then filters down through local government would ensure best practice and potentially interoperability across infrastructure. Certainly the feeling from the floor was that if BIM was being adopted wholesale south of the border and that BIM management was seen as an exportable skill-set, it might be sensible to mandate it in Scotland as well. (cough trams, cough cough Scottish parliament, cough).

Next up was a double act from SEPA’s Dave Watson and Duncan Taylor who introduced Scotland’s Environment Web (  Scotland’s Environment Web (SEWeb) brings together information on Scotland’s environment. It merges environmental data, information and reports, from known and trusted sources, so they can all be viewed in one place. SEWeb links to 30 WMS which are organized in themed groups. Dave and Duncan outlined the pro’s and con’s of this approach.


  • Each organization is responsible for their own data
  • Reduces development time and maintenance
  • Maintains 1 version of the truth
  • No singl point of failure


  • Many points of failure which it is hard to track and sometimes confusing for the user to know who to contact if there are problems


  • No standard look and feel to symbology and styles
  • Issues with data scales.

The current work represents Phase One. Phase Two will allow users to download data and there is a business case to support forestry assessments.  There is a longterm aim to add WFS capabilities to SEWeb.

One of the sites that feeds data into SEWeb is Scotland’s Soils, run by the James Hutton Institute.  The soil map is based on the 1984 1:250,000 mapping and has 580 different mapping units although the web map uses a simplified unit scheme. You can also access the data through an iPhone app which gives you access to the soil structure at over 600 points across Scotland.

It is great to see this data being made available, but I can see the “ugly” issues mentioned by Dave and Duncan.  Just move from Scotland’s Environment to Scotland’s Soils and the maps are very different. From a usability side of things the map controls are completely different.  We, as GIS professionals, have no problem knowing how to use either. They are intuitive to us, but we are experts. The average member of the public may well struggle. Imagine if they finally learn to use 1 map interface then find that the map on the other site is completely different. Not ideal. The solution would be to develop a consistent interface and share the code. However, this would mean that all partners would have to agree to use the same libraries to build their web maps.

Other highlights from the event included Astun Technologies Mike Saunt who talked about “Doing something with this Open Stuff”.  Mike showed how local government was making data available, and importantly, accessible. Councils could then share data feeds automatically therefore saving time and money. However, Mike highlighted some of the problems that arose when making data open with examples where url’s did not resolve because of typo’s. More worryingly was an organization that was promoting it’s WMS but was also serving a WFS. The organization was not promoting or linking to the WFS and Mike suggested that they may not be aware that they were serving the WFS.  The solution is to ensure you understand what you are making available and why. If you don’t have the skills in house then get someone in to ensure everything is set up correctly.  This is kind of what Astun do and using services like theirs is a cost effective way of working.

Another talk that really shone was Crispin Hoult from Link Node. Crispin introduced the concept of GIality which is the use of geospatial data in augmented reality. This makes a lot of sense. You have a location aware device with a host of sensors in it and can use this to visualize changes to a landscape while you are actually in that environment. This semi-immersive technology would certainly help the visualization of developments like windfarms or new housing estates and takes us beyond the “comfortable” use of overlays on paper maps.

The day finished up with Anne Kemp talking about the future of AGI Scotland and the strengthening community of GIS professionals in Scotland.  There was mention of the Chartered Geographer in GIS qualification but it was pointed out that to become chartered you had to join the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) which did not have a remit in Scotland. Anne noted this and said she would look into it.  She also mentioned other recognised professional qualifications such as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) who offer a GIS orientated qualification. Will be interesting to see how the CGeog GIS issue progresses this year.  It does seem the best suited but is not perfect if you are living and working in Scotland.