Unlocking the Power of Local Government Information

Having gathered some advice from colleagues, this is our draft recommendation for local councils wanting to follow a Power of Information approach:

- Ensure you have a copyright notice or a licence to tell people what they can and can’t do with your information (which is also your intellectual property). Every local authority owns its own copyrights and database rights. You are required by law (the Public Sector Information regulations) to publish the terms under which your material can be re-used.

- To minimise bureaucracy and cost it makes sense for your information to be available for people to re-use for free under a simple standard licence. The best way to do this is using the plain English “PSI Click-Use Licence”, administered by the Office of Public Sector Information.

- All you need to do is adopt a policy for your Council’s information to be licensed by “The Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office”, who also licences Crown copyright information for the government. This is explained here:
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/advice/psi-regulations/advice-and-guidance/psi-guidance-notes/extension-of-click-use-licence

- The wording you will need for the mandate is:  http://www.opsi.gov.uk/advice/psi-regulations/advice-and-guidance/psi-guidance-notes/extension-of-click-use-licence-annexb.pdf

What are the benefits for a local council in taking this approach?

- You have to publish your terms and conditions for re-use by law. This is the cheapest, easiest and  best way to fulfil your statutory obligations, now and into the future. It costs you nothing and you have a long term solution for licensing your copyright material.

- Your information will be re-used by people building services in and for your local community. By allowing this to happen you are helping the community, supporting initiatives to improve education, health, the environment and economic development in your area.

- One free global licence covers all the material you specify. It is quick, simple and enabling – public services at their best!

- If everyone adopts the same approach to licensing, it will be easier for everyone to re-use local authority information – including local authorities themselves! Using the same licence across central and local government means that all our public sector information can be used together more easily and simply.

What problems do you avoid?

- Breaking the law! Councils are often monopoly information holders. If you trade in information you may encounter legal or competition issues as this is a regulated area. For example, by law you cannot enter into any exclusive agreements and you cannot unfairly discriminate between different re-users on price. If you trade unfairly and someone complains, you will be investigated by the Office of Public Sector Information – a process that will take time and cost money.

- Figuring out a price to charge. This isn’t about providing access to information, but the terms and conditions under which people can use that information. The additional cost of letting someone who already has your information, say a document from your website, go on and re-use it, is nil. It costs you nothing to allow re-use for free. This basic fact makes pricing of information re-use very hard to do.

NB If you do opt to trade, taking part in the Information Fair Trader Scheme is a good way of making sure you are doing all the right things. Meeting the standards of IFTS also takes expertise, time and resources.

We’d be interesting in any comments, both positive and negative, on adopting this approach for local government data.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Unlocking the Power of Local Government Information

  1. Adrian R D Norman

    This is sound advice to PSI holders among whom local councils are an important group. However, there are about 100,000 PSIHs in the UK of whom perhaps 10,000 have PSI that could be re-used. The objective of the EU Directive on PSI re-use is to enable commercial re-users to build up a sector of the European economy worth about EUR 50 billion per annum (according to the PIRA report).

    What is needed is a market place where PSI holders and re-users can make deals efficiently. The characteristic common to the City markets and their counterparts around the world, and to the likes of e-Bay and Amazon on the internet, is very low transaction costs. This efficiency is achieved by meeting the traders’ needs e.g. for discovering who to deal with, for common practices and contract terms that do not generally need to be negotiated, for price setting and for dispute resolution. The principles of markets have been studied and described by economists for centuries.

    PSIKEY is a proposal for a European market for PSI, embodying in practice the aims of the Directive. It is based around a union catalogue holding the combined information asset registers (IARs) of all PSI holders covered by the Directive. The IAR contains metadata which describes the PSI, relevant standards for format and content, the intellectual property rights therein, the commercial terms on which the PSI may be re-used and the official to contact if necessary. Most contracts will not require discussions between the parties.

    Would-be re-users use PSIKEY to find PSI of interest without having to contact every possible holder, which would be a waste of re-users’ and holders’ time if the answer was negative. The contract would be standard, with the pertinent parameters like frequency of updates and payment terms included in a schedule.

    PSI holders display their IARs in PSIKEY’s shop window. Since most PSIHs will be copying a model IAR from another PSIH, the listing process is trivial except for the precedent setter. In most markets, the participants club together to set the rules and establish the precedents. In the case of local authorities, if one displays an IA record but others have not done so, re-users are likely to approach those other LAs directly, causing administrative costs to the PSIHs.

    IARs are PSI and therefore re-usable by PSIKEY since they contain no sensitive data, such as confidential or private data. They may of course be the “index card” describing an information asset which is sensitive. PSIKEY will make available a tool, PSIDER, for compiling an IAR of electronic assets automatically.

  2. Pingback: Unlocking the Power of Local Government Information | DavePress

  3. I found this really interesting – I’ve heard mixed reports about Click-Use, and arguments to and fro about whether Crown Copyright (I work in central government) is enough, and the implications of using other licences such as CC or GPL, for software we release.

    This isn’t a whine, but to be honest these issues are just too far down my list to really get the attention they need, and my team is too small for us to really get under the skin of it. I suspect there are many of us in government temperamentally predisposed to open up the information we help to manage, but never quite managing to get it done. Similarly when it comes to building APIs to data.

    Could the Taskforce provide some kind of help – boiled down practical guidance, a helpdesk, some priorities, template business cases or model approaches – that we could use to help us move foreward in this area quickly and confidently?

  4. Listening to Richard Allan Chaiir of the Taskforce talk about all this and scanning this page I wanted to reassure that there is lots of help around in government. We err on the side of wisdom of crowds that providing re-useable data opens up lots of potential and that the user will drive and encourage innovation as will the increasing numbers of colleagues across the public sector who just expect this stuff to be available. have you spoken to your friendly OPSI contact? Check us out.

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