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Embedding spatial data in local government using web-based geoportals: a case study of Belfast City Council

School of Natural and Built Environment

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Prof C Lloyd No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Spatial data have a crucial role to play in service delivery and in assessing challenges faced by people living in particular neighbourhoods. In local government in the UK, levels of expertise in working with such data vary markedly. In most local authorities (LAs) there are Geographical Information Systems (GIS) experts who undertake work for policy teams using spatial data, but the use of GIS and spatial data is not fully embedded into the large majority of LAs. A crucial step in opening up the use of spatial data across LAs is the provision of easy-to-use tools for the interrogation of spatial data which, where appropriate, are linked to key policy or strategy areas. The project is closely aligned with an existing programme of work being undertaken by QUB and Belfast City Council (BCC) under the banner of the Geospatial Analysis Area Working Group (AWG). This work includes (1) development of a prototype spatial data portal which acts as a repository for data used by BCC staff, and (2) a series of ‘insight pieces’ which act as case studies where spatial data are used to answer key questions linked to core policy and strategy areas. The outputs from these case studies provide findings of direct relevance for monitoring and developing service delivery, but they also serve as exemplars to highlight the potential of spatial data in shaping decision making. The spatial data portal has been developed using an open source software environment called GeoNode; this enables registered users to upload spatial data, while anyone can view, query and download the data and make maps. This is appropriate for occasional users and those who require only simple visualisations. For many users a much greater degree of interactivity would be desirable, and for non-expert users for whom spatial data could play a key role, it is vital that available tools and the interface used are designed with specific decision making frameworks in mind. The proposed project will explore technical solutions to addressing this challenge – it will develop guidance and tools which can be used by staff across BCC to aid them in making best use of spatial data in decision making. The main objectives of the project are to: (i) undertake a systematic review of major web-based mapping platforms, (ii) identify one or more platforms which could meet the diverse needs of users in BCC, (iii) identify a small set of well-defined case studies which could serve as demonstrators, (iv) using the selected platform and case studies, construct a prototype BCC spatial data platform, (v) undertake user testing within BCC to refine the platform, and (vi) use the platform to undertake a set of exemplar studies which can be used to develop guidance for BCC staff.

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Natural and Built Environment (subject: Geography)
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Chris Lloyd’ on application
• State ‘DFE’ as Intended Source of Funding
• To apply, visit

Applicants should upload a 500-word (maximum) discussion to the ’Research Proposal’ section of the Online Application Form) which gives details of:

• Their understanding of the proposed research question(s) aim and objectives.

• The context for the research in terms of relevant literature and policy.

• A possible methodological approach.

• Options for analysing the data gathered.

Funding Notes

The successful candidate will be funded through a DFE studentship at the 2020/21 rate, a stipend of £15,285 and Home/EU fees at £4407. The candidate must have been ordinarily resident in the UK for 3 years (with no restrictions). EU residents may be eligible for the studentship covering fees-only.

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