Between 1979 and 1987, the British government published three major national reports that focused on mapping, satellite remote sensing, and GIS and geographic information. The first was a report on the future of the Ordnance Survey, the United Kingdom’s National Mapping Agency; the second was a report by the Select Committee on Science and Technology of the House of Lords in 1984; and the third was what has become to be known as the “Chorley Report on Geographic information.”
The first two reports influenced the subsequent one. For example, the Select Committee Report urged the government to carry out a further study because it had come to realize that the issue was not the technology (the GIS), but rather the huge range of applications and added value that could be produced by bringing geographic information together inside GIS. In the United Kingdom, the government must respond to a Select Committee report; it acceded to that recommendation and set up a Committee of Enquiry into the “Handling of Geographic Information.” This was chaired by Lord (Roger) Chorley, a former Senior Partner of Coopers and Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and reported in early 1987.
The Committee of Enquiry concerned itself with all information that is described in relation to geographic space and could hence be used either singly or in combination. It commissioned a number of studies by private sector bodies, including one on market demand for geographic information in the private sector. Unusually for the time, 6 of the 11 members were from the private sector.
The committee invited submissions and received almost 400 written ones from organizations and individuals and met on 22 occasions to consider the evidence. A key section of the report was entitled “Removing the Barriers” and considered the availability of data, linking data together, the need to raise awareness of GIS, the importance of education and training, the need for specific further research and development, and the appropriate role of government for coordination of national efforts. A total of 64 recommendations were made, mostly in these areas.
The government responded and accepted a number of recommendations, but disagreed with the Committee of Enquiry in one important respect: the proposed creation, with government money, of a Centre for Geographic Information (CGI). The government, probably correctly with hindsight, said that the GIS community, especially users of it, should form a consortium to take forward the proposed role of the CGI. From this was born the Association for Geographic Information (AGI), which still operates successfully 20 years later. The AGI is a multidisciplinary organization dedicated to the advancement of the use of geographically related information. It covers all interest groups, including local and central government, utilities, academia, system and service vendors, consultancy, and industry. By design, no one group is allowed to gain primacy. It now has well over 1,000 members and a substantial number of corporate members.
The importance and influence of the “Chorley Report” was established partly because it avoided “capture” by the technical experts and took a “bigpicture” view of the future, strongly influenced by private sector perspectives and written for an intelligent lay audience, not the cognoscenti. The credibility of the chairman was important in the prestige the report was accorded. In many respects, it also had a substantial influence in international developments for a period, at a time when the United States and United Kingdom dominated the GIS world.
David W. Rhind