The NSW government has consolidated the environmental data holdings of nine state agencies into a publicly-accessible website, with more datasets to be added over time.
Stage one of the sharing and enabling environmental data (SEED) portal was set live in December last year.
It incorporates 1200-plus land, water and air datasets from agencies responsible for environment, planning, resources and energy, primary industries, industry, water and spatial services.
The site is being developed in three stages, with further data types and sets to be added, including from the resources industry - which collects environmental monitoring data around mines - and from research bodies.
The idea for SEED originally came out of a review of coal seam gas mining in NSW by the state’s chief scientist and engineer Mary O’Kane.
Community consultations as part of that review found that “people wanted the ability to form their own judgements about environmental conditions and impacts – including but not restricted to those related to mining”, according to the government.
“Further consultation conducted as part of the SEED development indicated a broad requirement for environmental data across the community," it said.
Users of environmental data are varied: they include everyone from community groups such as Lock the Gate Alliance, to local councils and land services, Aboriginal land councils, and farmers.
A farmer in a regional area can use SEED to “obtain objective scientific facts in an easy to understand format, in order to participate in community discussions”, according to the government.
“Or a landowner can see what resource rights are held over a property and what current and planned activities are occurring nearby, in order to ascertain potential impacts on water, air quality and noise."
The SEED website is designed so that anyone can access, analyse and visualise environmental data, without requiring a scientific background.
That caused some challenges when trying to scope technology to underpin SEED: a review process found that the breadth of capabilities could “not be met by individual market-leading technologies and that a unique and technically innovative approach was needed".
The government - through a cross-agency project team - ended up using seven proprietary and open source technologies to create the SEED data sharing platform.
They include Sitecore’s CMS, CKAN for data cataloguing, GeoCortex for data visualisation and mapping, GeoServer for publishing and sharing spatial data, PostGIS for storing spatial data, FME for data ETL, and AWS EC2 to host the environment.
The NSW government partnered with Informed Solutions to build SEED. The firm in turn called upon other partners, including PolarSeven, LinkDigital and AAM.
SEED has now been live for a year. More datasets continue to be added, and the portal has become much more than the solution it was originally intended to be back in 2013.
“The ultimate aim is to provide a place where information and data about the environment from government, industry, research and citizen science is easily discoverable and accessible to all citizens,” the government said.
In keeping with its purpose as a community resource, the government continues to take feedback through the site on how to improve it and the kinds of additions that might be useful.
“This will assist us to prioritise new data sources and future development."
This project has been named a finalist in the state and local government category of the iTnews Benchmark Awards 2017/18. The full list of finalists can be found here.