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How to put on a brilliant Gazetteers @GIS Day event

Blog posted by: Georgina Carr, Digital Marketing Manager at GeoPlace, 07 December 2017.

On 15th November, we collaborated with people from over 60 local authorities across England and Wales to shout about location data. Local authority participants put on an eclectic series of events to personally reach their colleagues, make connections across departments, and raise awareness about the value of location data. Here’s what was great about the day, the highs and the lows, and top tips from the many event organisers themselves.

First of all, what is Gazetteers @GIS Day?

This year was the third national day of celebrating Gazetteers @GIS Day, a day in which we take time to talk about location data, what it can do to aid local authorities and their citizens, and to celebrate the people across the country who create this data: Address CustodiansStreet Custodians and Street Naming and Numbering Officers.

Gazetteers @GIS Day was inspired by GIS Day; a global day of all things GIS. Think of it like Christmas day for geographers. Off the back of GIS Day, we thought we’d take an even more niche angle (because that’s our style); we wanted to celebrate local authority gazetteers and why they and their creators are essential to delivering local authority services across England and Wales.

We invited these council data creators from across the country to join forces with us to promote what they do to the people they work with, and help to dispel some of the mystery behind gazetteers.

What shape does Gazetteers @GIS Day event take?

The events come in all shapes and sizes, each one as unique as its organiser. There is a thread that unifies them (this year the theme was ‘Connecting data for better outcomes’) and there’s a shared source of resources (a toolkit of freebies, promotional aids and online resources is provided by GeoPlace). But after that, it’s down to the organiser to decide what will work best according to their own skills and preferences, and what they think their colleagues will respond to best.

2017 GazDay goodies 1000px

Bitesize events

The word ‘event’ in itself can be a bit scary. Do I have to be an extrovert? Do I have to give up a whole day of my time? Do I have to do lots of preparation? Well, the more preparation the better of course, but it doesn’t have to be this way. This year one local authority reported on “the simplicity of everyone arriving at work with a pen and chocolate on their desk; really got them talking and interested in how maps and addressing could be useful to them.”

Moments like this take five minutes to prepare for, but the conversations that open up from such a simple gesture can lead to better connections between departments, knowledge sharing and improved understanding between colleagues. Low input – high output!

Other authorities have simply put an article on their intranet to announce Gazetteers @GIS Day and explain to colleagues what it’s all about.

‘Open desk’ events are a low key way to invite people to connect; have a few freebies, literature and some cake at the ready, and say that people can come and chat to you throughout the day and find out more about what you do.

One council said, “We do not have enough time to create a big event so each year we book a meeting room for 3 hours and communicate via our internal newsletters, emails etc. We put case studies around the room and have all our laptops to demonstrate.  We have the GeoPlace goodies, cakes and biscuits.  Each year we get a few more contacts.  At this level it feels manageable and we recycle and add to material each year”.

The preparation here is mainly getting in cake (a theme you will see recurring), asking GeoPlace for some freebies, and turning up with a laptop. And crucially a bit of communication beforehand – more on that later. The council reported that through this event, they gained “new contacts in the organisation who will benefit from the work we do”.


Many successful Gazetteers @GIS Day events are built on the principals that a lot of people like free stuff, are a bit competitive, and enjoy a short distraction. Hence in the past, lots of authorities have come up with clever ways to challenge people; quizzes, geocaches, puzzles, you name it.

A simple but effective one from this year was to have “a teaser of some freebies on offer, which should tempt a few visitors… they won’t be allowed anything unless they ask a question about what we do!!”. If you want to get some extra engagement, make them do some leg work for the free stuff. One authority made me chuckle: “we attached chocolates to contact cards, so people had to take our details”. Brilliant.

Something a bit technical

Demos go down really well. Show people in a visual way what it is that you do. Some great ideas from organisers include: let people locate their own property in the gazetteer; get people to find locations of a certain type of property (City of London found they had 44 branches of Pret A Manger within a square mile); challenge people to come up with a street name, and then tell them some background about why that is or isn’t a good name for a street. Some councils have used the day to launch new or upgraded software.

Something interactive and visual that gives people an insight into your everyday role can be really enlightening for people.

A good old fashioned stand

Lots of people find that a stand works well for capturing the attention of people who they might not usually get to engage with. “Success seems to be based on setting up stall somewhere with a lot of passing traffic (we were in the canteen), and by having lots of very visual and interactive elements. We produced posters that highlighted use of our data in accessible ways”.

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