Innovation UK > News > Innovation UK Vol5-2 > GeoVation

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Encouraging and supporting innovation for social, economic and environmental benefit through the use of geography

With the death of distance, never before has geography been more important. But, up until now, it has remained largely at the disposal of Geographic Information professionals and those who speak Java_Script. You also don?t need to look very far afield to see that our society today faces some unprecedented challenges. From the rapidly changing economy and the global issues of sustainability and climate change to the domestic problems of health inequality, alienated communities and social engagement. Responding to these challenges requires a level of local and global collaboration, between individuals, communities, businesses and government that has never been achieved before. It also needs great ideas, which is exactly what GeoVation is about.

GeoVation?s mission is to encourage and support innovation for social, economic and environmental benefit through the use of geography. Since ?everything happens somewhere? and geography is the stage on which every human and natural action is played out, there is huge potential in using geography to help address these and other challenges.

The GeoVation website, https://challenge.geovation., is an online portal where geography, geographic information and innovative people, like you, can come together to make great ideas a reality. Our aim is to bring together people with ideas with those who have the technical know-how and financial backing to make those ideas flourish and, in turn, drive the use of geographic information. GeoVation is open to all, for the benefit of all, and there is only one rule: that the ideas use geography.

The GeoVation Challenge

Over the last few months we?ve spoken to many people about the idea behind GeoVation, including at The Guardian?s Activate 09 conference, the government?s Adapting to Climate Change for Critical Infrastructure Summit and OpenStreetMap?s State of the Map Conference, getting feedback on the concept, as well as seeking early participants and speaking to other organisations that might want to get involved.

This work culminated on 20 July, when the GeoVation Challenge element of the community was opened with a breakfast and evening drinks events hosted at the Royal Society of Arts in London. A lively and enthusiastic discussion ensued with participants drawn from Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, AGI, consultants, businesses, social entrepreneurs, universities, education and community movements. Over 50 ideas were generated on that day alone, so we?re excited about what you and the wider GI community will be able to come up with. Through the Challenge website, you can meet other geovators and suggest, share and rate ideas and ask for and provide help to others developing ideas too. You?re free to make use of any technology or data that you can get hold of.

You only need to see the popularity of location-based applications on Apple?s App Store, not to mention the fact that satnavs are now relied on by millions of drivers across the world, to know that geography has gone mainstream. After a few false dawns the technology has finally caught up with our aspiration and location-based information is now embedded in our daily lives. The exciting thing about the GeoVation Challenge is that it might just unearth ?the next big thing?. That?s not to say that smaller-scale ideas aren?t welcomed too. The most striking thing about the Cabinet Office?s competition ?Show us a better way? was that many of the winning entries were map based and focused on community issues ? finding your nearest toilet, helping locate a recycling centre. Add to that the popularity of sites like FixMyStreet and Liftshare and it?s clear that possibilities are huge and varied. And the GeoVation Challenge is not just about trying to tackle serious issues with geography; it?s about having fun with geography too. One participant wants help taking aerial photographs using a digital camera strapped to a home-made rocket!

Ordnance Survey and GeoVation

In April this year a new Business Strategy for Ordnance Survey was published. Part of the strategy?s goal is to promote innovation for economic benefit and social engagement and to encourage individuals, community groups and commercial companies to innovate with geography. Supporting the GeoVation initiative is just one of the ways Ordnance Survey plans to do this.

Ordnance Survey has initiated and is supporting GeoVation, and is also contributing to an ideas development fund that will go to support the very best ideas, but makes no claim on the intellectual property and is keen to engage supporting partners in growing the initiative. So if you?d like to be involved, please get in touch. In addition, to provide some external perspective and guidance, we?ve recruited two GeoVation Champions ?Steven Feldman, an expert consultant on the innovative use of Geographic Information, and Stew McTavish, the Chief Executive of who has recently worked with Cancer Research UK on its own open innovation challenge.

Looking forward

GeoVation is on a very exciting journey for all those who use or could use geography more effectively in meeting their own objectives. If you want to contribute ideas, applications and data; collaborate with others to solve problems and create new and exciting solutions using geography; then you?ll be very welcome to join us for the ride.

Join the GeoVation Challenge at: or follow us on Twitter at

Comment from Steven Feldman

Geography can make a difference to our lives in so many ways, from the tiny but convenient enhancement to the planet-saving development or insight. Almost everyone has an idea for using geography when asked, creativity in the use of geography should not be the sole province of the ?experts? and the technically skilled. Hopefully, through GeoVation we can help some ideas from the wider community to flourish and perhaps contribute to the creation of some new geo-businesses.

Comment from Stew McTavish

As a newcomer to the world of geography and geographic information, I?ve been stunned by what is happening and what is possible. The Open Venture Challenge in aid of Cancer Research UK showed what was possible by engaging your supporters and endusers in collaboratively creating the next big thing. I think that GeoVation has the potential to change the way that people think about and interact with the world around them. But the best thing is that we?re just at the start of this GeoVation journey and the people we meet and talk to along the way will determine where we end up.

OS OpenSpace ? Ordnance Survey maps on your website by Tim Martin

There are a wide range of different web-mapping APIs out there, each of which has its own unique style and benefits. Ordnance Survey?s offering is OS OpenSpace which is free for anyone who wants to add maps on their website to help show their information. OS OpenSpace is about providing access to geographic data for the creation of exciting and interesting web applications. Users can pan, zoom through map scales, add markers and share information with the rest of the world. We launched it initially in January 2008 but it was given a revamp to coincide with the new Business Strategy in May 2009. As well as increasing the usage limits it now uniquely includes boundary information for the whole country from European regions down to individual wards. Since May 700 new developers have signed up, with an average of 55 joining each week.

Some examples of OS OpenSpace mashups

Geograph Photos on an OpenSpace Map Geograph asks people to contribute a photograph illustrating every map square in Britain. This app loads 25 Geograph photos onto the map at one time. Centre the map on your area of interest and click a pin to see a thumbnail, and then click that to see the full Geograph page.

Kent Trails

Kent contains an amazing patchwork of landscapes. You can ride along the White Cliffs of Dover with blue sea views across the channel, deep in the woods and through traditional English farmland. Kent is also home of the North Downs Way. Explore the 155 miles of trails along chalk hills, woodlands and valleys using this app.

Eastleigh District Scouts

The Scouts are well known for using Ordnance Survey maps for navigation and to teach map reading. Eastleigh District Scouts have taken it one step further and are using OS OpenSpace to highlight all their activities. The mapping makes it easy for parents to identify which groups are operating in their area and to access contact details and other information relevant to them.

Brent Council

Brent Council have recently updated the mapping pages of their website. They now use OS OpenSpace to show local schools, recycle centres and also a FixMyStreet application enabling residents to notify the council of any issues on their street.

CO² and You

We created this mash-up with data from Defra to show off the possibilities when using the boundary information available in OS OpenSpace. You can pan across the country comparing CO² output for each district from a variety of sources, including industry and transport.

Added the 04 October 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-2

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