A group of local government geospatial experts is building a national dataset of our country’s walking and cycling tracks. Gill Lawrence explains what they’ve achieved so far and what they’ve learnt along the way.
“We want your tracks data!” was the cry that went out into geospatial inboxes up and down the country. A group of enthusiasts across several organisations on a collaborating mission had created a common data model and vocabulary, developed a proof of concept and were now requesting councils to peer deeply into their data file structures to find their tracks datasets and contribute them to make a national dataset of walking and cycling tracks.
This project came about as an early initiative of the Local Government Geospatial Alliance (LGGA). The LGGA was formed to bring together the local government geospatial sector. The instigators of the LGGA were aware that the New Zealand local government geospatial community is made up of lots of small voices. This fact makes it challenging to work together or to represent ourselves as one body and difficult and time-consuming for other organisations to make contact with us (anyone keen for 70+ phone calls?).
The LGGA came into being to enable collaboration not only with our council neighbours but with external agencies. The aim was to find ways to reuse work such as policies, standards, ideas, schemas and role descriptions as well as to link, share and communicate.
The walking and cycling tracks project was created as one opportunity to collaborate to achieve a national dataset. It was initiated with a steering group meeting in August 2013 with representatives from four councils – Canterbury Regional Council, Nelson City, Napier City and Waikato Regional Council – as well as staff from Land Information NZ (including the NZ Geospatial Office), Department of Conservation and the NZ Walking Access Commission (NZWAC).
From the first meeting, it was obvious that there was enthusiasm and support for the initiative. This meeting sought to understand one another’s statutory obligations, what tracks data was already held in each organisation and covered a broad discussion of what we wanted to achieve. NZWAC was willing to provide the project team leader and Land Information NZ (LINZ) was willing to provide resourcing to collate data and provide an upload facility.
Key to the project’s success was that the idea was then put into a project management framework.
And so the work began. The project team was set up and started to work out how to collaborate – to grapple with understanding each other’s terminology, gradually working towards a proposed table structure, guidelines for presentation, geometries, symbology and storage.
Working together when team members are geographically spread with constrained travel budgets is a challenge. The team found ways around this. Members became adept at meeting virtually using Lync, with one team member masterminding pulling us in from the ether.
When a face-to-face workshop was required to develop the data framework and guidelines, NZWAC recognised the value in assisting a council that was unable to find the budget for a team member to travel to Wellington for the meeting. This showed the practical working together towards a common end that was typical of the project.
There were many actions that showed the strength of working together, to understand where each organisation was coming from, yet finding solutions that were practical and fit for purpose for all.
One example was that early on the team agreed on several fundamental matters that were essential to achieving the final goal: LINZ would host the dataset on the LINZ Data Service (LDS) (www.linz.govt.nz/data/linz-data-service), the ownership of the master dataset would sit with the LGGA and the dataset would be an Open Data dataset with creative commons licensing.
The project team also agreed that while a ‘gold’ standard of aggregated data would be a nice to have, in fact ‘fit for purpose’ was the best solution to progress the project at this early stage.
The working group also looked for a simple method of uploading data so that it is consistent and updateable, meaningful, useful and attractive for re-users, the public and other organisations.
There were challenges that future national dataset collaboration projects will also face. The most difficult is getting the data from the other organisations. But note: it’s not too late if you haven’t sent data and you know your council has some.
The dataset now exists in a draft form and is available from the LDS. In early February the dataset contained around 25,000 kilometres of tracks information. Since the data was put up on the LDS there have been 178 downloads of the tracks data and over 1400 views. NZWAC also features the tracks on its website (www.walkingaccess.govt.nz/kia-ora-welcome/).
The draft dataset is proof of a successful collaboration of parties who had a somewhat difficult assignment due to the challenge of a call to action to so many parties. It proved that with enthusiasm, initial boundary and goal setting, willingness and a commitment to the project plan and its actions list, successful collaboration can be achieved.
• Gill Lawrence is spatial information manager, Science and Strategy Directorate, Waikato Regional Council. She acknowledges the assistance of the Walking and Cycling Tracks Project Team and the Local Government Geospatial Alliance in writing this article.