Nov 292011

Today we are in day two of the JISC Geo Programme Meeting and we are liveblogging as appropriate – so any spelling issues etc. will be corrected as soon as possible – please do comment on content etc. below.

David Flanders of JISC is introducing the day: The aim of today is to identify recommendations for the future.

There will be three sessions which run as presentation and then break out groups around a theme. Each table will have a scribe. The goal will be to discuss potential recommendations for how JISC should advance spatial. That recommendation will then be written up by the project manager and the scribe for a given group and posted on that project’s blog and they can then be looked at further, a soft of ad-hoc community consultation. We will run this process three times today.

Training Non-GIS Experts in the Use of Geospatial Tools and Technologies at Stanford University – Patricia Carbajales

I will be talking about the way that we support our community around geospatial tools and our approach. In terms of putting this into context we started in the 1970s seeing GIS used mainly by developers but we have now reached the point where an increasingly broad group of users use GIS technology, in 2011 we have general users engaging with these tools. And there has been a real evolution in GIS. We have moved from being the provider of map data, we are abkle to provide tools that assist decision makers. We are moving to a place where there are hundreds or thousands of geospatial data users who really don’t care that much about the quality of the data and we have to give them the basic technology to understand and use the tools and data. And we are also looking at how those results impact our environment and our society.

GIS in Higher Education enhances educational goals – that’s a really important message to get across.

We have a center for excellence in GIS and we want that to be a space where users can help and support each other. These can be really interdisciplinary user groups. It is important to have the faculty on board. No one department has full ownership. Everything is a communal good in this space. And we think that GIS benefits from being very unique and at the same time very diverse. Students are from diverse course backgrounds but we have to always be aware to be able to offer examples from their discipline or specialism. We have to make our support relevant to them and we try to create more of a learning environment than a traditional teaching environment.

Our keys to success start with ensuring students have a really sound basic understanding of the concepts and basic priciples. We need to teach basic mappiing know how. We need as experts supporting those students and faculty member we have to have suitable examples to hand from their field.

In terms of the principle causes for failure. We need to be aware about how we plan, manage and keep our support user/customer focused. We have to offer comprehensive, simple and flexible support.

The form our support takes is through class support – we work with classes where students have to learn ARCGIS in one week and do this through homework around that work so that classes can focus on using those tools. We also undertake project management for those class projects – to help find data and help do the analysis. Allowing the professor to focus on the application itself.

We also provide instruction, consultation, data resource center and support center for all members of the university.

We then also collaborate, provide a daa resouce center and offer technical support for the specialist spatial history lav, digital humanities lab, etc.

And finally we undertake outreach work with the wider community.

At Branner Library we provide a center where students and staff can come in and get one hour of intensive one on one support.

So, we try to encourage “thinking with maps”. We focus on GIS education to raise awareness to stimulate interest and provide a sound foundation. And we provide a learning environment rather than a teaching environment. We see this as a sort of pyramid of engagement that begins with awareness and peaks with higher level modeling applications. At each level of detail fewer users need to gain these skills but all have a route to reaching this high level understanding of geospatial.

For the higher level skills we hold workshops and these are hands on and take place as needed by students – we don’t make students wait for a full session to run if they need that support ow. We follow on with consultation on a one to one basis. We tailor to cover most frequent needs. We also push students to practice between sessions – I always tell the students that like tennis there is no point showing up for a session every few months if you have not practiced in between. We also gather feedback

The workshops are always hands on. In one workshop they find out how to make a map from the beginning to the end.

Right now we use ARCGIS, it’s waht the US market demands and it allows deep analysis of the data. We have a campus wide licence and we get free support from them around that. But we also use Google Earth and maps because it is easy and familiar to students and that works well for collaborative use of geo or publishing of data

We would like to offer other more specialized skills for spatial analysis but only where demand is demonstrated. Tools like PostGIS are too niche to need regular workshops to be run at present.

Our main objective is to establish a geospatial foundation for our learners. We have limited resources and some very specialised groups. Faculty;s involvement is critical but often that is not easy but it does provide enforcement of fundamentals. The human resource of workshops is so important. If you take an online course then ask students to come back they rarely will. If you are there while they take a course and can then bring you questions it makes a big difference. The majority of students like that human interaction very much.

Increasingly we are thinking that expanding our support for programming languages such as Python would really help us with what we do


Q1) Are your training materials available for others to use?

A1) Our materials are public and available for others to use, especially the Google training. In most of these workshops there are training materials a well as tutorials around that. We do demos every 15 minutes in those sessions, they are very interactive and all join in. We take it very slowly to encourage them to understand what they are doing throughout. We teach undergraduates and postgraduates in the same way.

Q2) Do you do any tracking of students that go to the workshops?

A2) We have one to one consultations a week after the workshops. But three hours is a huge investment for the students and the hour of one to one consulation is hugely helpful to students so they usually come back again.

Q3) We just produced a Python for ARCGIS course so you’d be welcome to use that from our website!

A3) Thank you, we need that!

And now onto our next presentation:

Mapping the Republic of Letters – Nicole Coleman

This is an in-depth look at one geospatial project. This is different as we really don’t use GIS in this project but geospatial is increadibly important to this project. This is particularly inspired from the historical mapping in the period of the letters we are looking at (1500-1870).

We take inspiration from early maps in the way in which the maps themselves are a reflection of the perspective at that moment in time. This feels relavent to how we visualise and how we map the correspondance we are looking at. In fact we created a timeline and map for the intellectual property around our project. We are trying to think differently about space and time for this material.

One of the things we have been doing is to try and establish visual ways to browse and explore the data to enable scholars to find suitable materials, to navigate, to understand the choices they are making for a visualisation. The original materials are always linked back to their original archive copy so you can explore the historical resources you are visualising and know where they have come from.

I’m just going to walk you through a few case studies to illustrate the challenges we have,

So, looking at the Athanasius Kircher, we only have letters sent to him, not those he sent. Paula Finland was the lead on this project and she was keen to look in more detail at the nature of the letters. We have used Fineo, a multidimensional content viewer that allows you to look at the locations, the languages and, because it is relevant to this histoical figure, the faith of the correspondant to understand their work.

British and Irish Travellers in Italy – students went through this dictionary of travellers. These are really detailed entries of arrivals and departures of travel although not all are consistently detailed. What has been interesting about looking at the areas recoded is that sicily is treated as a city – a peculiarity of his archive.

We can take this data and look at who was in a city at the same time. You can look at particular periods of stay or particular individuals. You can also connect to data on the individuals involved with information on that person’s age at the time of that stay, etc.

So looking at the temporal context was really helpful but did not give us the complete picture but we also wanted to look at relational information. So we have a kind of a network graph tool. So in this visualisation a dot indicates a person, blue lines indicate a very loosely defined relationship.

These tools are really exciting for exploring this sort of data were connections are just not that apparent but can be discovered and explored through these sorts of tool.

Voltaire’s correspondance is our largest data set. He was very very prolific. We should note here that the tool we have developed uses contemporary country boundaries because there are not good shape files available for the geography at the period although for our research it is actually more important to look at cities really. We have also tried to indicate on the timeline shown with the map where letters are available but are not mapped. This is really important as it tells you how representative the visualisation is of the data.

Looking again at a map with the tool Inquiry, a map of source locations for letters written by Voltaire and we can see most letters do not include the source locations.

Putting letters on the map draws our attention to these materials in a different way. So for instance this letter from Panama becomes very visible. When you look at this letter the content may not be so exciting. This is another way of understanding the data we have and which materials are and are not significant. And indicate trends or unexpected patterns in letter sending – for instance few letters are exchanged with those in Spain and indeed looking at a letter exchange to Madrid this turns out to be to a non-Spanish correspondent staying in Madrid.

Benjamin Franklin, Caroline Winter is working on this project, and we’ve been looking at a comparison of exchanges of Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. They had common correspondents but do not appear to have corresponded with each other. But you can see various second degree connections between Franklin and Voltaire. So we take this data out of a spatial context and out of a temporal context for this specific network diagram. We balance this sort of network relational graphing with spatial temporal contact visualisations.

We can look at Benjamin Franklin’s network at the time of his stay in London. And in this case we compare with the network of David Hume. Looking at how that experience connected him to the Scottish Enlightenment (hence Hume used here).

We are now moving to breakout groups so blogging will pause for now.

So, we are back after a most excellent lunch and discussion session!

Presentation of an ‘Emerging Geospatial Innovation Themes Map for UK Universties and Colleges’ by Gregory Marler (Programme Evidence Gatherer for the JISCgeo Programme), No More Grapes Ltd.

Gregory is next up to present. I’ve been reading the various project blogs. Geospatial is obviously frequently mentioned in your posts but also data is a huge theme as is usability. I tried to group all the projects according to how they are using data and who they are using it with.

There were some interesting posts on people and geospatial data. So JISC G3/IIGLU did some usability testing on Potlatch, one of the editing tools for OpenStreetMap and that was hugely useful to the OpenStreetMap community who made some changes to the interface as a result.

There was also discussion of teaching without calling it teaching – things like GEMMA that shows users through example and practice so that users can get their hands on the data. NatureLocator also encourages users to learn and explore more.

It’s important to keep telling people about your projects – forums, blogs, tv (if you can, meetings, word of mouth, even emails are important. You’ve probably collected email details from people to try the Beta – have you told them again that they can try it now the bugs are fixed! Remember to update your potential users with any key changes you make. And you need to make sure that you flag up key information to all your audiences – techies want information on the end service as well!

Some of the blog posts were long but most were nice and short and readable. Images are particularly powerful – particularly screen captures of emerging products. There was real variety of scope, some about the technology – and great sharing of experience there – some about the research. The key message here was learn and have fun – it’s been huge fun reading the blog posts!

And I will finish on a joke from a project that posted a whole page of lightbulb jokes!

“How many green building consultants does it take to change a lightbulb?”

“None, we were all at a conference!”

And so for a wee while we will discuss project blogging a wee bit.


Comment) Our lab blogged an awful lot. But JISC work we didn’t blog much. We were so busy doing the work we didn’t have much time to blog. We thought we would do a lot of blogging but actually we didn’t want to give too much away so we were fairly quiet.

David) But you were coding hard. I feel like blogging frees you up to share as you go, when it’s useful, rather then writing a big final report. And the average was 17 blog posts which is equivelent to

Comment) We found blogging really useful as we were a consortium as it was a way to track progress to have a reason to share expertise and chase project partners. And work got done quickly and efficiently and we had lots of interest in

Comment) In terms of blogging the final report is a write only document. I’m not sure they are ever read. Blogs are read. You pay people to write stuff so the fact that they are actually read by potential collaborators and the community.

David) So how many of you looked at the analytics? Or didn’t?

Comment) I didn’t want to put pressure on myself, I just wanted to get started, to make links to other work etc.

Comment) I’ve not blogged before but have written lots of formal reports. It’s a really different way of communicating. If you can explain the concepts to a really novice user then you really have to understand your work. Thinking about that can really help you rethink what you are doing and throws up challenges for yourself. There can be real snobbery about these things, you had to be very formal in language. I don’t think it matters, you need to communicate the ideas across. I really enjoyed the different sort of writing we’ve seen this.

David) So how has this gone in terms of convincing your organisations about blogging? I know some institutions require really strict reporting?

Comment) We have rigerous internal processes for project management and the team struggled with doing something additional. We did improve a bit I think but we all struggled with being informal in that way, you worry about pressing publish. It is useful to see something a different way – and lighter more sensible way is nice. Trying a different methodology helps but it’s a start.

Comment) A concern and interest I have is about publication. Humanists tend to write journal articles – there is a paper there on the blog that just needs to be pulled together and allows me to reuse and publish all that work we’ve done.

Dave) There is a real mixture on those blogs: serious research work, light and silly content, project management, technical discussion. We had Greg there as a recent graduate to be a reader for these blogs – to give an outside view on what was working well, who was enjoying the blogs.

And now we are having our next breakout discussion, this one focussing on geospatial data and the needs for creation, management, repurposing, expressing, analyzing and sharing of geospatial data.

And after that lively chat we move to the last presentation.

Presentation on ‘The Myth that is Project Sustainability’ and ‘Future Strategic Funding Areas for JISC’ by David F. Flanders (JISC Programme Manager) and Matthew Dovey (Programme Director, Digital Infrastructure (e-Research))

Obviously any discussion of funding is subject to change. You need to speak to programme managers and there is some advice and guidance we can give as those that regularly read bids. Please don’t take my comments as gospel.

How many of you want to continue your project? And is it sustainable to continue?

And what would you want to sustain? Is it a product? the next big Facebook maybe?

Is it about skills? Those bespoke services at can translate into income from student fees

Staff? Attracting and maintaining staff is important to think about in sustaining.

Community? Change how we do things? Ironically this is the most expensive of the options but we do have a great community here, it would be super to see it continue to thrive.

My advice to you is that if you want your project to continue to innovate then you need to continue to bid. Bid bid bid. It’s not fun, it may not be perfect but it works, it produces products in an increadible way. In you moving forward you are going to bid for more things. But where will you bid? A lot of our projects are moving from a research project that is very innovative into something that can be taken forward. Maybe a product, maybe skills, maybe something else that can be taken forward. Which of these things can be taken forward.

I really do believe that spatial should be across all of our activities. I am going to try to show you some future plans of the JISC teams to get an idea of where spatial might fit into that bigger picture.

So, here’s the big pucture. We have a top level strategy, we innovate, and we take some of those into services. That balance between innovation and service can be tricky. If you are interested in creating a service it’s not as nice a space as an innovation space. Business managers, legal teams, etc. come into that. There is much more there than just the product and the vision may be very different from your original innovation.

In recent years our budget has been a pretty good split between innovations and services. You should really go for that innovations chunk of the pie chart.

So we have an overview of the people of JISC and that is important if you are looking across the full spectrum of JISC activities. Under innovation there are four teams: learning; user and organisations; content; infrastructure – huge potential across all of these for geospatial. And the key names here are Tish, Craig and Catherine. If you have a project that applies to these strategic thinkers then contact them, email them, call them, ask them about upcoming funding. A little bit of effort can really help you in feeding into these programmes, to hearing about the opportunities.

My boss at EDINA is Rachel Bruce who leads the infrastructure team. We are the largest team in innovation. It’s not a bad idea to know about our team going forward. In addition to Rachel she has two directors working with her inluding Matthew Dovey who is here to walk us through some of the new diagrams and branding we are currently thinking about:

In terms of infrastructure as a whole we have three broad areas: Information and Library Infrastructure, Research Management, and Research Infrastructure – about doing that research.

Digital Directions is a diagram that shows elements that underpin these themes includes geospatial, authentication etc.

If we look at library and information systems we have areas there around emerging opportunities, resource discovery, and curation and preservation. In Research Infrastructure we have research information managerment and research data management – the support available to the researcher. What are the tools that research teams need? How do we feed recognition for teams into things like the REF etc. And in Rsearch management we have research support, research tools and repositories and curation shared infrastructure – the ways in which data can be reused, preserved for the future etc. on a technical and social level.

The key thing about geospatial is that it features in all of the areas here. So when do we keep this integrated into wider programmes and when do we fund geospatial as a specialist area. And on that back to David.

So that was a very whistle stop tour of a very varied portfolio. The main message is please do bid. And here is my bidding advice:

  • Contact the programme manager by phone/skype and tell them about your idea to make sure it is in scope to meet the strategic objectives. It exponentially improves your odds.
  • Add a use case and image/diagram on the first page of your bid. Most reviewers read 5 to 10 bids at a time so they have to be readable.
  • Repeat back whats written in the call – you really need to make sure your bid clearly indicates how your idea meets the call and why.
  • Less is more. Five pages with diagrams is great
  • Focus on what you are going to do, rather than why it is important
  • Say which human is going to do what – the more specific you can be, the better. It helps people understand the intimacy of the bid.
  • Clear budget – explain why the numbers are as they are. A Paragraph with percentages is really helpful… x% will go into development, x% to dissemination etc. That’s really important for markers.

And an addition from Matthew: the focus moving forward has to move from a geospatial led activity to an application led activity. Think about these things as a researcher led proposal that answers a real problem. Embedding those tools is essential. Think about sustainability. Bidding for more funding is a sustainability model but that is questioned at a certain point. Our funding is finite so are there are other revenue streams. Can you commercialise? Can you charge poeple outside of UK Academia but keep it free to HE? Can you get some cost recovery from your host institution? Just have a think about those elements.

Please do take advantage of Matthew’s time this afternoon with any questions.

So with that here’s the next few days lined up… tomorrow we have the Space-Time workshop and also the Review panel going on in parallel. Then on Thursday we have PELAGIOS2 – an open hackday. And in parallel we have the Geospatial Service Review session.

One last reminder. We want comments on how we can improve what we do. So do fill in our survey!

And finally I have run 8 programmes over the years and this has been one of my favourites. Your work has impressed me immensely!



 November 29, 2011  Posted by at 11:58 am Events Tagged with:

  2 Responses to “JISC Geo Programme Meeting – Day Two”

  1. I saw some people trying to take photos of the slides as I flicked through them too quickly. So my slides are available at Most of the images were made using

  2. The unplanned discussion about blogging as documentation was very interesting. I think everyone enjoyed it. It was surprising how many of you had been new to blogging, and I wouldn’t have guessed having read them.

    There was a mix of people using Blogger, WordPress(.com or hosted yourself), or university blogging systems. I’d like to ask what people thought of the one they used, and would you use the same system or a different one for your next project blog?

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.