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How to put on a brilliant Gazetteers @GIS Day event

Posted: 07 December 2017

GC GeoPlace blog

By Georgina Carr, Digital Marketing Manager at GeoPlace

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 Custodians, Street 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”.

Some other ingredients for success

Geographical positioning:

  • In the canteen
  • Near to cake
  • By the coffee machine

(You can see the theme building)

More on cake

One cannot over-emphasise the importance of cake (and chocolate and sweets and any other sugary foodstuffs). The word ‘cake’ appears 20 times in the feedback we have from event organisers this year (plus more counts for chocolate, sweets and biscuits). It’s a universal way to attract people and breaks down obstacles to engagement.

GIS Day cakes 2017

Don’t be shy – use all of the communication channels

One thing that always surprises me is the variety of ways that the people find out about Gazetteers @GIS Day. Here’s a look at the feedback we received this year from local authority organisers who put on events:

How people heard 2

16% of people were made aware of it by reading the desk calendar that we send to people at Christmas! I couldn’t have predicted that, but now I know that it’s definitely worth using that channel as well as the many others, even though it’s one of the less obvious ones.

The more channels you use to promote your event in advance of the day, the more people will hear about it. Something that organisers stress every year is the importance of promotion.

Amongst the tips that they offer are:

“Advertise, advertise, advertise!”

“Advertise with the posters, intranet, newsletters, email”

“Utilise internal communications to promote your event several days/weeks beforehand to rustle up interest”

“On the day, perform a floor walk to further promote the event and entice more people with the temptation of chocolates”.

“Share your event by word of mouth as much as possible […] talking to people in person got the best result”

Make the most of every channel available to you! Here are a few examples:

  • Send an email to colleagues (template email provided on the GeoPlace website to make life easy)
  • Post an article on your intranet or internal newsletter (template provided on the GeoPlace website)
  • Put up posters in advance of the event (provided on the GeoPlace website)
  • Put flyers on peoples’ desks and in the kitchen (you guessed it… provided on the GeoPlace website)
  • Tell your colleagues in person
  • Start the activities ahead of the day. For example, you could send out a quiz or a challenge a few days before, and tell people they can find out the answers/get prizes on Gazetteers @GIS Day.

Measuring success

Not every event has 50 people turn up from different departments, attracts the attention of Councillors or Chief Executives (although some do), or gets the office floor buzzing with competitive excitement. It’s easy to hear about other busy events and be discouraged if one’s own event doesn’t quite match the hype. One authority commented that they set up a good display in a popular area and advertised on the intranet, but “only a few interested parties came to speak with us. A lot of the freebies did disappear but not during the hours we manned the stand [...] we have the quiz running until Friday and are getting new entries, so that part was more successful”.

Without having had dozens of conversations with people during the day, it’s difficult to measure the success of what you’ve accomplished. It’s also easy to underestimate such a vague concept as awareness-raising. But even people taking freebies or just reading an article are fantastic for putting you on the map. It could be that new people become aware of who you are or have a chance to think about how your work might relate to theirs. It’s difficult to measure, and yet it’s so valuable. And even just a couple of worthwhile conversations can be so useful.

Through evaluating the event, and working out what you want to get out of it, you can build on it for the following year. Perhaps next year one could think about using more channels to advertise, advertise further in advance, associate the freebies with more interaction, or in this case, the authority could start running the popular quiz in advance of the day to help promote it.

I liked what this authority said when reviewing the event: “Not giving up too easily, we are going to do an article in the staff magazine next month and next year we will attack it again, no doubt stealing yet more ideas from the more successful authorities. It was our first attempt so live and learn as they say.”

Growing year on year

I have noticed a trend among some authorities that the event grows in popularity each year that it’s put on. “Each year we do this event, more and more people are asking about the mapping and what it can do for them”. There seems to be something about the familiarity of the repeated event, or perhaps the improvements made after the trial and error of preceding efforts, that leads to a natural growth of some events.

At GeoPlace

Here at GeoPlace we like to mark the day as well. There are always fun and games, plenty of chocolate, and this year on the GIS Day theme we did a ‘bring and share’ of foods from all over the world, to celebrate the many countries represented by our staff. We had a scratch map, and people could scratch off the country that their dish was from.

We also put some time aside over lunch where people could drop in and take part in some activities. For example we had a challenge where pairs took it in turns to throw and catch stress toys (one of the freebies in the toolkit for local authorities), whilst one of them was blindfolded. We got a bit carried away at one point, as you can see here (sorry Richard).

[wpvideo vltwd7m8]

In summary

So how do you put on a brilliant Gazetteers @GIS Day?

  1. Choose a type of event that suits you, your resources, and your colleagues
  2. Look at what is available on the GeoPlace website
  3. Order your freebies
  4. Include some fun
  5. Show people what it is that you really do
  6. Add some cake
  7. Utilise every channel available to spread the word
  8. Learn from your experiences and those of other organisers
  9. Evaluate, adjust, repeat
  10. And enjoy!

Parting words

If you’d like to get a bit more insight into what it’s like to put on a Gazetteers @GIS Day event and are perhaps considering it yourself, a good place to start might be checking out the Knowledge Hub discussions about this year’s events here: https://www.khub.net/group/geoplace/group-discussion/-/message_boards/category/16764216. The Khub is a wonderful place to get inspired about what peers in other parts of the country have done, and ask them any questions that you might have.

My favourite part of Gazetteers @GIS Day is simply hearing about the many different events that have taken place across the country, each one unique in form and with different kinds of outcomes, and all of them together building a better picture of the immense value of location data within local authorities.

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