The Wales Institute of Socio-Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD) is an interdisciplinary, cross-institutional academic research group based in Wales, UK. One of the roles of the WISERD GIS/Data Integration Team is to develop a spatial framework that enhances a researcher's ability to discover survey (government and academic), public, administrative and 'grey' socio-economic data (both quantitative and qualitative) relating to Wales, with the aim of encouraging collaborative research and re-use of existing data. This paper describes the development of an online GeoPortal designed to meet this objective. Using free and open-source software (FOSS) components and services, a range of software has been developed to capture standards compliant metadata for a variety of data sources. This software has enabled the WISERD Data Integration Team to build a rich meta-database of government surveys (down to question level), geo-referenced semantically-tagged qualitative data (generated from primary WISERD research), grey data (e.g. Transcripts, journal publications, books, Ph.D. theses) and geo-referenced administrative data (e.g. education data from schools). Using a FOSS stack (PostgreSQL, PostGIS, GeoServer, GeoWebcache, OpenLayers/GeoExt/Extjs) a GeoPortal has been developed that enables end users to query the meta-database using a number of tools.
Tools for interrogating the data include simple keyword searches, more complex text queries, point-and-click tools and spatial analysis tools. These features enable the end user to query the meta-database using traditional text-based methods or by using a dynamic cartographic interface to search for data spatially. Moreover, using RDF and SPARQL, external data sources may also be linked and queried (e.g. Data.gov.uk, Ordnance Survey) to return any datasets pertaining to the search parameters. The results of the search are returned in traditional list format but with the ability to view more detailed metadata relating to the survey (e.g. response rates, number of questions, frequency, spatial coverage, collection techniques etc.). Results can be presented for discrete spatial units or as points prior to further spatial analysis and data pooling. The full paper describes the challenges faced during the development of the WISERD GeoPortal and the plans for the application in terms of usability testing, the incorporation of new data sources and the development of more advanced search and analysis tools. The paper provides an objective assessment of open source technologies for the discovery, reuse and analysis of disparate data and resources for the social sciences. We conclude by making a series of recommendations for those charged with developing geoportals using such tools based on user experiences to date.