Be honest. If someone asked you to input a SHLAA to your GIS and upload a GeoJSON that displays all active TROs, would your response be ‘sure, NP’ or ‘uhhh, WTF’?

The ecosystem of place-based (AKA spatial) data is a complex one and the sheer number of different softwares, acronyms and processes can be overwhelming. This post aims to explain some of the jargon and demystify the brave new-ish world of geospatial democracy.

First off…what does geospatial actually mean?

The word geospatial refers to data that has a geographic component – in other words, data connected to a physical place in some way. It could be postcodes, coordinates, addresses, and so on. Most data used by councils has a geospatial element. This blog from OmniSci explains it really well in more detail.

That part’s easy enough. It’s when you get into how said geospatial data is actually used that the acronyms really start hitting you in the face.

Before we really get into it, you might be wondering: Why is knowing about geospatial important for people doing public engagement?

Well, the pandemic and the climate emergency have taught us that drastic changes to the places we live, work, and the ways we travel are needed if we’re to be prepared for the future. As such, almost every local authority decision has or will have a spatial consideration to it. All councils use geospatial data, but there’s a huge disconnect between how much of that is used for internal processes and how much the public actually gets to benefit from this information.

Our new product, Citizen Space Geospatial, aims to bridge this divide. It makes it easy and intuitive for citizens to take part in place-based engagement, which has a tendency to be dense, convoluted and mired in bureaucracy. By modernising these processes and making the most of rich geospatial data, not only do we lower the barriers to participation for ordinary citizens, but free up time, money and resources that would’ve been dedicated to manual paper processes and incompatible back-end software. Not to mention the fact that the data gathered is much richer, which in turn leads to better, more informed decisions. And informed decisions lead to more successful outcomes, and…you get the idea!

Here are some of the most common acronyms you’re likely to come across when running/learning about place-based engagement.

A brief geospatial glossary


A GIS, or Geographic Information System, put simply, is software that displays and makes sense of geospatial data. A GIS is used to view and manage information about geographic places – for example, show geospatial data, like all lampposts within a council boundary, on a digital map. Typically they’ve got a whole range of functions, not just displaying information.


A basemap is a background, non-editable, geo-referenced image that gives a point of reference on a map, providing visual references such as aerial imagery, topography, terrain and street layers.


A GeoJSON is a format for representing geographic data, such as coordinates or points, and any attributes that said point has. Or, to use the above example: a GeoJSON is the data file that contains information about all the lampposts within a council boundary. The point/coordinate indicates where the lamppost is, and the attached attribute indicates what it is. (A lamppost.) When uploaded into a GIS, this translates into visual data showing said lampposts on a map.


Polygons are representations of areas. A polygon is defined as a closed line or perimeter completely enclosing a space. A polygon can mark out areas of any size – a council boundary, a country, a residential garden. Sometimes used intergchangeably with the word shape.


OS stands for Ordnance Survey, which is the UK Government Mapping Department. All of HM Land Registry’s plans are based on information supplied by Ordnance Survey. Basically, OS supplies geographic information that is used widely by national and local UK governments.


The NPPF, or National Planning Policy Framework sets out government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own planning guidance:

This is just a small selection of terms that we think are useful to know for anyone looking at incorporating geospatial into their engagement process. To read more about Citizen Space Geospatial, here’s a good place to start.

Or, for a full demonstration of what it can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.