The Role of Geospatial in Government Services


© Lombard

Location data plays an increasingly important role in the timely delivery of public services.

OA highlight of the Locate22 conference presentations was the plenary address by Dr David Gruen, Australian Statistician and Head of Agency for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Dr. Gruen gave the audience an insight into how the government uses data, particularly location data, in service delivery. ABS collaborates with many other government entities to promote the use of geospatial data and increase awareness of geospatial data across the Australian Public Service (APS).

The following is an edited version of Dr. Gruen’s speech, the full version of which can be viewed on the ABS website at

Building Geospatial Data Capabilities

Prior to this conference, I was interviewed for a podcast [and] asked about my first exposure to geospatial data. While I have undoubtedly come across geospatial information many times in my career, a memorable example was the development of the drought map in response to the millennial drought. The drought map provided a visual representation of critical geospatial aspects of drought, as well as relevant community and government services – a visual representation that was both compelling and easy to understand.

More generally, location data and information provides essential information to governments, businesses and the community to improve decision-making at the local level, for example to support first responders in emergencies or in preparation for disaster. high risk weather season in Australia. This data also indicates the best places to build essential services like hospitals, breast cancer screening centers and health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They help guide critical infrastructure investments for economic development or climate risk mitigation, regional economic development strategies, and the delivery of employment and education services and programs.

The increase in the types and amount of data from the public and private sectors has led to an increase in user requests for information. We have responded with collaboration and partnerships across government and with the broader data community to develop capabilities, tools and processes to securely use, share and understand data in APS and with data. other governments.

In order to make the most of this rapid growth in data availability, we need to build the data skills and capabilities of the workforce in APS. Data work was primarily the domain of statisticians, economists, geospatial analysts and meteorologists. Nowadays, and increasingly, most roles in public service (and indeed in many spheres of work) require some level of data literacy.

The APS data profession plays a major role in improving the capabilities of the workforce in the public service. [It was] launched in September 2020… [and] I was appointed Head of Profession, with ABS as lead agency. Central to the work program is the Data Profession Strategy, which responds to the need to build global data capacity, as well as to develop niche expertise for specialist data users – geospatial being a prime example of specialized skill. The program aims to ensure that APS can attract, develop and retain people with the data capabilities needed to harness the unprecedented growth in data availability and value.

Late last year, we worked with Geoscience Australia, the National Recovery and Resilience Agency (NRRA) and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications to organize a recruitment drive specifically aimed at geospatial specialists. This round attracted a strong pool of 140 candidates from industry and government, allowing us to fill more than 20 geospatial specialist positions in APS, from Business Analysts (APS5) to Senior Executives (EL2), with the majority coming from from outside the APS. Given the success of this recruitment cycle, we plan to launch a similar process towards the end of 2022.

We also supported an Immersive Learning Experiences Mobility Program, which develops specialized data capacity for APS employees through job exchanges or secondments. So far, we have facilitated 13 short-term arrangements, where APS staff with data expertise work temporarily in another agency or department. Geospatial specialists figured prominently in these placements, with transfers between ABS, Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment and the new Australian Climate Service.

Australian Climate Service

[We] are an active partner of the Australian Climate Service, or ACS for short. The ACS was created last year as a virtual partnership, bringing together expertise and data from ABS, the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and Geoscience Australia. The role of ACS is to help government and the community better understand the threats posed by natural disasters, including those that have been intensified by climate change, and to limit their current and future impacts.

ACS provides data, expertise and advice to two clients: the new NRRA and Emergency Management Australia (EMA). The most recent floods in Queensland and NSW have seen ACS provide rapid response to data requests to help these agencies understand developments on the ground.

As part of the ACS effort, the ABS provided data to the NRRA within 24 hours to help it estimate the flood-affected population. The request came on a Friday evening, to fuel an urgent briefing this weekend. We mobilized quickly, established data sharing agreements, prepared the data and set up a secure transfer mechanism to transmit the data to the NRRA by early Saturday afternoon.

The data was based on the ABS Population Grid, which combines the latest ABS regional population estimates with an improved version of Geoscape Australia’s 2020 Geocoded National Address File (or G-NAF) – which also provided quick agreement to share improved data. The ABS provided population estimates at the Statistical Area 1 (SA1) level modeled down to the address level. The NRRA then used these point population estimates to dynamically estimate the number of people affected, matching the points to the extent of the floods as they moved and changed.

These are just a few examples of what APS is currently doing with data to integrate different data sources, including geospatial data, to meet critical information needs. It’s worth noting that not too long ago we couldn’t do these things because there was a lot less data sharing between agencies; the supply of data was more limited because the digital platforms had not reached a level of maturity allowing the generation and integration of large amounts of data; and we didn’t have easy access to the required technology, such as cloud storage.

We’ve come a long way, but undoubtedly there’s a lot more we can do provided we continue to increase data capacity across APS and in the wider community. The passage of the Data Availability and Transparency Act in March 2022 is also an important part of this journey and will be a key catalyst to support our future efforts.

Improved ABS locating ability

This audience is also interested in the work we are doing at ABS to improve our own location information and geospatial technology capabilities. This was in response to increased interest from our major customers in using location data and local knowledge to identify and respond to economic, social and environmental challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters have further heightened our customers’ interest in location data and analytics by demonstrating their invaluable role in addressing geo-critical challenges.

ABS has always provided a wealth of local and regional socio-economic data for use in location analysis. Our population and agricultural censuses have been rich sources of data on local communities and small population groups. New data from these censuses will be released later in 2022 – with the first tranche of census data to be released on June 28. I suspect that many of you are eagerly awaiting the new small area census data that will then become available.

The ABS is actively working to go beyond these traditional sources of regional socio-economic data. As a first step, we created a new Location Insights branch in June 2021. This is a virtual team which now includes over 70 staff located in Canberra, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Hobart. This branch covers our new work on the Australian Climate Service and Digital Atlas. The new Location Insights branch brings together ABS’ existing location and geospatial programs – our statistical geography, our geospatial and technology analysis domain, our statistical address registry and our team that compiles a wealth of socio-economic statistics on small regions.

This branch will play a key role in ABS’s ambition to use the new data sources I mentioned earlier to provide additional and timely location-based information for our economy, our people and our environment. An example where we already leverage geospatial data is our use of Earth observation (satellite) data products from Geoscience Australia and ABARES. We have used this data to compile and publish the first comprehensive set of national land accounts, which will inform environmental decision-making across Australia.

This branch will also feed these new and existing data sources into web data services for the Australian Climate Service and other users. The aim here is to ensure data gets into the hands of Australian Emergency Management and the National Recovery and Resilience Agency to enable better planning and preparedness for natural hazards and disaster response and recovery. . Additionally, we will work with Geoscience Australia on the Digital Atlas program to increase the amount of local socio-economic and geospatial data that is readily available and accessible for use in location analysis and decision making.

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