Baltic Explorer helps to coordinate conflicting interests in regional planning

Researchers from the Department of Geoinformatics and Cartography of the National Land Survey of Finland developed Baltic Explorer, a collaborative web app, with which teams can easily prepare plans based on geospatial data.

A drawing containing different aspects of maritime planning, like cargo ships, recreational activities and a wind power plant.
Photo:
Arki, V., Ajanko, J., Luhtala, H., Tolvanen, H. (eds.)

‘The app can be used to prepare plans for sea areas, land use and crisis management. It helps to settle any conflicts of interest between different parties. The purpose is to engage different parties in a dialogue to find solutions together using the app,’ says Department Director Juha Oksanen.

The app was built in the BONUS BASMATI project, in which more effective means for engaging maritime spatial planning were developed. The project involved organisations from five countries in the Baltic Sea region. As maritime spatial planning is still broadly based on large paper maps, the jointly used app makes planning much easier.

The design of Baltic Explorer focused on ease of use, a feature highlighted in studies of users’ needs, so that anyone not familiar with geospatial data systems can use the app. With the app, users can easily produce geospatial data content created in and imported into the system and comment on the data during planning workshops.

‘Planning teams typically deal with challenging regional needs that are hard to coordinate. Although geospatial data forms the core of decision-making between various parties in many central planning processes, it is often processed by individual specialists in geospatial data systems. The requests of the planning team are forwarded to a geospatial data specialist who then attempts to present all needs in the form of geospatial data. A necessary perspective may easily be missing or incomplete. This may in turn lame decision-making processes,’ says Research Manager Pyry Kettunen.

Tested in workshops for maritime spatial planning in the Baltic Sea

Baltic Explorer was tested and its operation was assessed in national and international workshops for maritime spatial planning in Sweden and Latvia. On the basis of the workshops, the key functions required for real-time cooperation were identified and the software’s usability was improved.

‘Baltic Explorer enables real-time cooperation between users in map-based virtual environments, in which each user can create and edit map features. The app can also be expanded to enable the joint use of geospatial data analyses. Baltic Explorer was developed to use modern web technologies. As a result, participants in workshops can use the app quickly and easily from their web browsers without any separate installation,’ says Research Scientist Christian Koski.

Baltic Explorer rescued a remote university course during the coronavirus crisis in spring

Baltic Explorer was also used in university teaching during spring. The app was originally designed for workshops, with most participants being present in a shared space, but it also proved its mettle in remote teaching. 

At the University of Gothenburg, students used Baltic Explorer in a multi-phase planning game during a maritime spatial planning course. At the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, students used the app to outline a sea area between the coasts of Sweden and Finland.
 
In Gothenburg, Baltic Explorer’s flexible map workspaces were used remotely in multi-phase negotiations. First, the workspaces were used to identify the area-related requests of stakeholders. Next, a planner combined all requests and presented a preliminary plan to stakeholders. 

‘Plans needed to be revised due to changed procedures, and they were finally reviewed between stakeholders and planners. As students were not very familiar with geospatial data systems beforehand, completing such a complicated process set many requirements for the tools used. When we later discussed what tools students would like to use in the future, Baltic Explorer was clearly ahead of, say, conventional paper maps,’ says Research Scientist Mikko Rönneberg.

Baltic Explorer available as open source software

Baltic Explorer and similar collaborative geospatial data systems make it easier to engage in challenging cooperation, requiring negotiations, using map templates. The system’s requirement specifications, development and user experiences have provided knowledge about the key properties of functions of collaborative geospatial data systems. 

Based on this information, similar systems can be built for maritime spatial planning, as well as other purposes requiring cooperation in the field of geospatial data. Baltic Explorer is easy to use and develop, as it is available as open source software at GitHub.

The study was conducted under the BONUS research programme (Art 185), funded by the European Union, the Innovation Fund Denmark, the Swedish Research Council Formas, the Academy of Finland, the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science, and Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH (Germany).

More information

Department Director Juha Oksanen, +358 40 831 4092, firstname.lastname@nls.fi
Research Manager Pyry Kettunen, +358 50 443 2958, firstname.lastname@nls.fi

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