Report Feedback

The beta version of the Taskforce report has attracted several hundred comments which we have been working through this week as we draft the final version. I hope that we will be able to make this final version public at the start of next week.

Perhaps not surprisingly the section on geospatial data has attracted the most discussion with over 30 comments registered.

A number of these have asked for more emphasis to be placed on access to address and postcode data and others have picked up the issue of ‘derived data’.

On the derived data issue the guidance sent to local authorities about the incompatibility of OS and Google Maps licenses is very instructive. This reinforces strongly the view that there is a problem we must urgently address if a public body cannot plot the location of public services on a map and then display this on commonly used platforms like Google Maps.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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Report Delivery

We have now produced a beta version of our report back to Government.

This will be open for comments for 2 weeks and we will then make any final edits based on the feedback before presenting this to our sponsoring Minister, Tom Watson MP.

It has been an interesting exercise over the last few weeks putting the report together on a wiki and then publishing it using blogging software (more WordPress) tailored to allow commenting. As a separate exercise we may document the Taskforce’s own working practices for others in government to learn from these (both the positives and the negatives).

Richard Allan, Taskforce Chair

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Gestation Period

This blog has gone quiet recently because we are now working on our report back to Government. I had hoped to do this in December but we have needed a little longer to do justice to the subject.

It will reflect our experiences over the last 9 months and offer some recommendations for the areas of work we believe Government should tackle as a priority.

The plan is for this to be published shortly in an online, commentable form. Full details will be announced here.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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Crime Mapping Coverage

The Home Office has announced that crime mapping is now available for all 43 Police forces in England and Wales.

These have been implemented on a force by force basis so there is not as yet a consistent way to access each of them. You are instead advised:

To see a crime map for your area, go to the website of your local force and search for ‘crime map’.

To facilitate this, a full list of links to the individual Police force sites is available on the national Police website.

Feedback on the different implementations would be interesting to inform the next steps for crime mapping development.

It should also be an objective of this process to create better availability and consistency of the underlying crime data sets so that other parties can innovate with their own versions of crime maps.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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Geographic Data that Should be Free (In All Senses of the Word)

The problem of the status of public service geographical data that we have discussed could be fixed by the Ordnance Survey simply declaring that certain categories of data are completely free for re-use even if they have been derived from OS maps.

My candidates for this are:

All government administrative boundaries – e.g. constituencies, wards, super output areas, health authorities, school catchments etc.

All point data for the location of public service outlets – e.g. schools, hospitals, public toilets, daycare centres etc.

I can’t think of any good reasons why such data should not be declared as free for re-use in all senses of the word, i.e. that no license fee should be payable but also that no restrictions should be placed on how it is re-used so we stop worrying about Google Maps terms and conditions etc. for this class of data.

The major advantage in doing so is that anyone who wants to experiment with this data, both inside and outside government, is able to get on with innovating without having to worry about legal problems.

I could only see a potential disadvantage if this data brought in significant revenue for Ordnance Survey that they would then miss out on. I may be missing something, and please tell me if I am, but I can’t see there being a lucrative market for this basic public service location data.

So the balance of public interest here seems firmly in favour of making this data as widely available as possible. And this does mean lifting any cloud around licensing for re-use from it by declaring that derivation is not an issue in these particular circumstances.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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Pre Budget Report and Trading Funds

The Pre Budget Report has a paragraph with relevance to the information reuse agenda…

4.54 The HM Treasury/Shareholder Executive assessment of trading funds has considered the potential for innovation and growth from increasing commercial and other use of public sector information. It will shortly publish some key principles for the re-use of this information, consider how these currently apply in each of the trading funds and how they might apply in the future, and the role of the Office of Public Sector Information in ensuring that Government policy is fully reflected in practice. For the Ordnance Survey, this will involve consideration of its underlying business model. Further details will be announced in Budget 2009.

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Access Layer Components

The Task Force work has been divided into two broad areas – exemplars and enablers. The ShowUsABetterWay competition has taken forward the exemplars strand. On the enablers side, we have been working on a model for a different architecture for public service information.

Our enablers work looks at what is needed for a usable Access Layer according to this model. I have tried to illustrate this with some simple questions from a re-user perspective. These are:

DISCOVERY – can I find the data that I want?

LEGAL – am I allowed to use the data?

TECHNICAL – is the data in the right format?

COMMERCIAL – can I afford the data that I need?

I shared these questions during a very useful workshop we recently took part in organisd by the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Discussions at the workshop generated some additional questions that we also need to ask of the access layer.

INTELLIGIBILITY – can I easily interpret the data that I am accessing?

DEPENDENCIES – does this data depend on anything else that could affect my use of it?

This last point on dependencies is drawn from the free software world where software is bundled into packages that are managed by tools like apt for Linux. Each package is constructed so that it is aware of its dependencies on other software packages.

Package libraries have grown up for related software families like the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network, CPAN, and this model has been deliberately adopted for the Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network, CKAN.

The discussion that is ongoing around the use of geographical information that can be regarded as ‘derived’ from Ordnance Survey data is a very good illustration of the need to have dependency information associated with any public dataset.

Data that is dependent on Ordnance Survey data may have very different re-use characteristics from data that has been constructed independently. These significant differences may also apply in respect of other dependencies, for example on Royal Mail Postcode Address File data.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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