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Land Explorer – our journey so far.

Julian Thompson

We’re very excited about the progress of Land Explorer; our software platform that helps you find, access and manage land.

With development continuing to go from strength to strength and our first minimum viable product (MVP) soon to be launched, our Digital Coordinator, Julian Thompson talks about his story and that of Land Explorer.

2015 a question: how do we access data to help common good land users find, access and manage land?

2016 research and data dive: the data scientists at DataKind alongside the Ecological Land Cooperative discuss what is needed to support common good land users.

2017 prototype build: Kate Swade and Tom Kenny, build a rapid prototype to showcase what’s possible and bring Julian Thompson on board to focus on rolling out our platform…

2018 product build and accelerator: this year has been about building out our product for launch with Ordnance Survey MasterMaps, integrating Land Registry data and more. With the exciting addition of being accepted into Unfound the platform coop accelerator programme: with the rise of the online gig economy, the National Co-operative Development Strategy has called for support for “platform co-operatives using new technology for shared ownership services.”

Land Explorer: our journey so far…

With a background working in the private sector, developing software for marketing, in my professional capacity my only involvement with “Land” was in relation to clients in the property sector: Estate Agents and Property Portals… How to sell houses and encourage people to sell, to keep the market moving and the money flowing.

As you can imagine, this wasn’t very fulfilling work – however much I enjoyed being good at my job and employing my skills to craft the best solutions and applications.

So, in 2016 I decided that “proptech” – helping to inflate the property bubble, wasn’t for me and I quit… my journey into the world of Shared Assets and the land question was on.

Having run companies and worked for myself for many years, it wasn’t too much of a shock to the system to go freelance and apply a varied skill set to help a diverse range of clients. I enjoy the freedom of freelance work and assorted challenges it brings; though this work didn’t evoke a passion and still wasn’t a vocation.

2017 brought me to a show at the Cumberland Arms a great traditional pub in the heart of the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle: Three Acres and a Cow. A last minute decision to attend that changed the direction of my career. I’d like to thank Robin Grey and his players for their insightful, enjoyable and inspired telling of our story about Land and its history. Their show moved me to learn more and to take action. Not only that, but I saw my current position with Shared Assets advertised in their newsletter….

“Changing the story isn’t enough in itself, but it has often been foundational to real changes. 

Making an injury visible and public is usually the first step in remedying it, and political change often follows culture, as what was long tolerated is seen to be intolerable, or what was overlooked becomes obvious. 

Which means that every conflict is in part a battle over the story we tell, or who tells and who is heard.” Rebecca Solnit (quote borrowed with thanks, from the Three Acres and a Cow website)

Shared Assets’ story is of common good land use, with shared benefits – creating an environment where this can flourish. Part of the story of our land is held in the data we have about it: where is it, how much is it worth (with value being derived not only from commercial price, but its use and the natural capital it contains), what is it suitable for, who owns it, is it public or common land, is it for sale, or does it flood, amongst other information.

Information that helps shape our decisions surrounding the use of Land… How can we make it productive? What does our community need? Land on which to live, work, play, generate or grow?

“…use data to not only make better decisions about what kind of movie we want to see, but what kind of world we want to see…” DataKind.

Finding the answers to these questions, in the story land data can tell, and the journey toward publishing it in an easily accessible and shareable format started in 2015. A conversation round a table asked the question: “how do we access data to help common good land users find, access and manage land?”

This question inspired further research; convening the Ecological Land Cooperative, with the data scientists at DataKind.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century; characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. This includes Geotech and how we plan our environment.

A revolution like this is about more than harnessing data – it’s about bringing together amazing people. We bring together top data scientists with leading social change organizations to collaborate on cutting-edge analytics and advanced algorithms to maximize social impact.DataKind

The outcome of our research was that actionable information on land is often obscured, difficult to find or analyse, frequently requires payment and needs significant time, skills (and patience!) to acquire.

All of these things are available to large developers, where significant increase of land value through the granting of planning permission drives an industry towards ever greater profits, as part of the property bubble. This leads to councils selling land worth millions to offshore companies and pension funds land banking in the greenbelt.

So, we saw a demonstrable need for a service to provide transparent access to government (and other) geospatial data, for common good land users, to level the playing field. To allow greater participation in planning our environment & access to information to base better decision making on.

Our next generation Land Explorer (building on the excellent prototype released in 2017) contains:

  • Additional Data (Greenbelt, Brownfield, Land Registry)
  • Drawing Tools (pins, polygons, circle & lines for measurement and area calculation – so you can label)
  • Detailed Maps (Ordnance Survey)
  • Save & Share functionality
  • Community Area for you to discuss and help us understand what further tools you’d like to see developed.

With our new product launch planned for summer 2018, we eagerly await the outcome of the geospatial commissions deliberations and now start to look forward to where our journey will take us next.

(and to Summer!)

#CommonGoodLandUse #SharedBenefits #SharedAssets #PlatformCoops #Unfound

We’re always interested in your views and opinions – if you’d like more information on Land Explorer, how it can help you, or to be involved in workshops and discussions about the tools that we’re developing, please get in touch!

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