BACKGROUND: The 1980s marked the occasion when Geographical Information System (GIS) technology was broadly introduced into the geo-spatial community through the establishment of a strong GIS industry. This technology quickly disseminated across many countries, and has now become established as an important research, planning and commercial tool for a wider community that includes organisations in the public and private health sectors.The broad acceptance of GIS technology and the nature of its functionality have meant that numerous datasets have been created over the past three decades. Most of these datasets have been created independently, and without any structured documentation systems in place. However, search and retrieval systems can only work if there is a mechanism for datasets existence to be discovered and this is where proper metadata creation and management can greatly help.This situation must be addressed through support mechanisms such as Web-based portal technologies, metadata editor tools, automation, metadata standards and guidelines and collaborative efforts with relevant individuals and organisations. Engagement with data developers or administrators should also include a strategy of identifying the benefits associated with metadata creation and publication.
FINDINGS: The establishment of numerous Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDIs), and other Internet resources, is a testament to the recognition of the importance of supporting good data management and sharing practices across the geographic information community. These resources extend to health informatics in support of research, public services and teaching and learning.This paper identifies many of these resources available to the UK academic health informatics community. It also reveals the reluctance of many spatial data creators across the wider UK academic community to use these resources to create and publish metadata, or deposit their data in repositories for sharing.The Go-Geo! service is introduced as an SDI developed to provide UK academia with the necessary resources to address the concerns surrounding metadata creation and data sharing. The Go-Geo! portal, Geodoc metadata editor tool, ShareGeo spatial data repository, and a range of other support resources, are described in detail.
CONCLUSIONS: This paper describes a variety of resources available for the health research and public health sector to use for managing and sharing their data. The Go-Geo! service is one resource which offers an SDI for the eclectic range of disciplines using GIS in UK academia, including health informatics.The benefits of data management and sharing are immense, and in these times of cost restraints, these resources can be seen as solutions to find cost savings which can be reinvested in more research.