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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has used open source tools and GIS mapping software from Esri to create a single source of statistical data that can be easily accessed by staff and the public.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has used open source tools and GIS mapping software from Esri to create a single source of statistical data that can be easily accessed by staff and the public.

The ONS’ Open Geography Portal (OGP) was created in response to the UK government’s push for open data, the most recent census in 2011, which required a large amount of data to be put online, and the European INSPIRE Directive. INSPIRE is an EU initiative that requires member countries to establish an infrastructure that helps make spatial or geographical information available online, more accessible and interoperable.

“Previously, we had a number of different products, some of which we could put on the internet, but some were too large. We wanted to have a single, authoritative data source,” Ian Coady, geography policy and research manager at the ONS told ComputerworldUK at Esri’s annual conference in London.

“We had a portal before, which was developed over 10 years ago, called Geographical Referencing Infrastructure (GRI), also by Esri, but it was only accessible internally.

“Now, the OGP is external and anyone can access it. Originally, we were going to put registration over the top of it, but we took it off because we wanted to make it as accessible as possible,” Coady said.

The OGP, which went live last summer in advance of the December INSPIRE deadline, contains thousands of data files, in various formats, ranging from text documents to GIS boundary files, spreadsheets and maps.

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For example, it holds statistical and administrative geographies, with a database of unique codes for each geography. Statistical geography is a geography that the ONS creates based on census data, while administrative geography refers to areas defined by things like parishes and council wards.

Users of the portal are able to browse all the data and look up comparisons between them. For example, users could look up a postcode and see what geographies fall into it.

“We’ve invested quite a lot to try to offer as many opportunities for search, including text search and browse,” said Coady.

Coady said that the system was designed as far as possible to be built on open source software and Esri’s off-the-shelf solution. This was because the ONS was keen to develop something quickly, and in an agile manner, so that it has the flexibility to respond to changes.

The open source backend systems behind the portal were developed by digital mapping experts Landmark.

As well as creating a single source of data, the portal has helped the ONS to reduce its costs by approximately £50,000 a year, mainly due to needing fewer staff.