What happens to little geospatial metadata in the big big open data world?
CLARITY - Open eGovernment Services
13Jun
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What happens to little geospatial metadata in the big big open data world?

by ivonne   |   13 Jun, 2017

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Bio: Sanna Jokela (MSc) has been working with geographical information in Finland for over 10 years. She has been dealing with open data issues before she knew they were open data issues: fighting for the more easy access to data, creating data portals and participating in enhancing the utilization of the datasets. Currently she is working as a GIS consultant in Gispo Ltd which offers training, consulting and guidance on open data and FOSS4G software.

I’m a geographer and a GIS specialist and open data enthusiast. In my head open data and geographical information go always hand in hand. And when I’m talking about open eGovernment services - I tend to think that geographical information services are essential part of it all. In this case, I want to address the importance of geospatial metadata in open data portals.

In Finland National Land Survey of Finland provides metadata portal for geospatial datasets and everybody can use it to create metadata descriptions for their datasets. The national metadata portal was created to meet with the EU’s INSPIRE directives demands on metadata for geospatial information. The directive was created in 2007 and in that time open data was not yet risen to the status where it is now and hence data storage and opening of the data has been dealt through other services.

Although creating metadata descriptions with INSPIRE compliances are usually quite a burden to people, there are some things that I like. Geospatial information is described quite detailed which helps in the usage of the datasets. You can see what is the coordinate system, the spatial type of the data, where the data is located and even a preview of the dataset visualised. All these information is quite crucial for the user when deciding on whether to use the data or not. 

You might think that it would be easy to incorporate the download abilities to the metadata services and serve this as a open data portal as well. But nothing is ever easy. Since the law on geographical infrastructure in Finland stated that the download services should be provided by the data producers, not jointly -  at the moment in Finland almost all government offices have also their own download sites for open and non open datasets. There are also lots of cities and regions that have created their own open data portals. Luckily we also have a nationally supported open data portal called opendata.fi which harvests the information from other services. The opendata.fi is maintained by the Government ICT Centre of Finland. 

And now to the problems. Multiple services, different users and user requirements and harvesting information from portals to another usually drops something out if the schemas are not compatible. In this case this is what happens: the information from the national geospatial metadata portal is harvested into opendata.fi service and since there are no places for the geospatial “stuff ”this information is dumped to the “Technical Extra information” -section (as a not very easy to read list, see example). For the users, you really have to know what you are looking for. And then again for users who are not familiar with GIS terminology, this information does not open up at all.

The same thing is about to also happen in the source, when cities are creating open data portals - do they describe their own GIS datasets thoroughly there or do they add that information into the national geospatial metadata services? And if they use their own portals, do they take into account the spatial metadata context? In the ideal world all the little details should be documented, but since metadata issues are not the most sexiest things in the world, probably the city officials/us all will do this only once and choose the easiest way.

Anyhow, I’m hoping the open data portals are not dropping out the little crucial and important metadata for geospatial information. I’m not talking about adding the whole INSPIRE schema to the portals, but just a few important elements. When trying to understand GIS datasets, you need to see it - you need to see and visualize the data on a map, only then you can decide whether you need it or not. You need to know where the data was created, where it is located, you need to understand its history and in which coordinate system it is created - otherwise it can be useless to use. 

Hopefully the improvements in both technology and procedures for handling data are going to change in the future and the creation of metadata descriptions and storing data become essential part of our working culture - fluent and easy for data providers and users. And we get some support also for the little big GIS datasets. 

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