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How open data can support land use for the common good

http://theodi.org/blog/how-open-data-can-support-land-use-for-the-common-good

Open data on land could be great for land-based enterprises, but most cannot easily access it. We need to get this data into the hands of people who can use it to improve the environment and people’s lives, says Tom Kenny

From small-scale sustainable farms to community-run woodlands, initiatives using land for social good could be enhanced with better access to open data. CC BY 2.0, uploaded by Susanne Nilsson.

Land-based projects need access to key information in order to work properly. More information on land is available now than ever before. In an exciting development, the #OpenDefra programme promised the release of 8,000 government environmental datasets as open data. This data has already been used to improve flood defences, establish optimal positioning for solar panels and identify Roman roads.

At Shared Assets, we look for ways to make life easier for people who want to use land for the common good. Making information more accessible is an important part of this. Most land-based projects in the UK are not managed with much awareness of what kinds of data exists, let alone how to access it. We want to know how to change this, and how to unlock the full value of this data.

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Open data could be useful to a wide range of land-based projects, but we are particularly interested in ‘common-good’ models. These are developed by groups that use land to pursue social and environmental missions as well as to produce economic value. They might be small-scale sustainable farms, community-run woodlands or parks, or community renewable energy projects. They are innovative and productive, but often lack the skills, time, and resources needed to access and use open data. This deficit in access to information leads to wasted time, less value produced, or even projects failing. We believe the significant value of their work to society and the environment makes it essential to ensure they are supported to access and use open data.

Wider access to land data could lead to more common-good projects, each with a greater chance of being sustainable and better able to deliver social and environmental value.

The following are some of the ways open data might help land-based groups to develop and manage projects for the common good:

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Getting better access to land data may not solve all the challenges facing common-good land users, but it could help in a lot of areas. Large improvements to access don’t necessarily need to require substantial resources.

At Shared Assets, we have been exploring what information is most needed, what data is available, and how to make it useful. We have consulted a diverse range of land-based groups as well as the organisations releasing open data (including Natural England and The Environment Agency).

The land-based groups described a diverse range of information needs – including things like soil quality, biodiversity, land use, ownership, access to water, proximity to people and landscape characteristics.

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