Monthly Archives: November 2008

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



Filed under Enabler

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.


Filed under Announcements

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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Filed under Architecture

Geographical Information Again

Charles Arthur has posted a very interesting article about potential restrictions on the use of local authority data if it is deemed to be ‘derived’ from Ordnance Survey geographical data.

The net effect of this would be to prevent people from combining some local authority data with Google Maps to produce the kind of new information services we have been promoting through the ShowUsABetterWay competition.

The comments on Charles’ post add a lot of detail about the issues involved in the different licensing models of Ordnance Survey and Google Maps that is fascinating reading. The comment from James Rutter describing his local authority’s frustrations and how they have turned to Open Street Map as an alternative is especially instructive.

Not many people will have time for all the ins and outs of the legal and commercial issues here.

But I believe that most people will find it ridiculous and unacceptable that there seem to be these barriers to producing simple tools to help people locate and use public facilities based on industry-standard solutions.

This is especially the case when a lot of the data collection is being done by taxpayer-funded officials in local government. It is in the public interest that this data is as widely available as possible so there is a pressing need to resolve this issue of third party license ‘pollution’.

Well done to the Free Our Data team for continuing to highlight it.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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Filed under Enabler

Credit Where It’s Due

As well as getting information out of government, the Power of Information agenda is about better ways of getting information into government. The development of an interface to by Michael Houlsby at East Hampshire Council is a great example of a public official taking an initiative in this area to improve the service for both the public and his authority.

It has rightly also been picked up by the Minister for Transformational Government, Tom Watson MP, as an example of good practice.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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A Collection of Crime Data

We have been mapping out the landscape for crime data in the UK and the list of sources for England and Wales we have come across is below.  We don’t pretend this is comprehensive or 100% accurate (e.g. some references are to specific time data from a couple of months ago) so if you have any additions/corrections please make them by comment to this post.

A central initiative has been announced by the Home Secretary for all Police forces to produce some crime maps by December of this year. We hope this initiative will deliver some good results.  While innovation by anyone else who has ideas about how best to present and mash crime data would be helpful in this process.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

Local Crime Information Delivery on Police Websites

Avon and Somerset


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Filed under Crime, Sources