Category Archives: Enabler

Web Usability Guidance

A new set of web usability guidance has been published by the Central Office of Information as a follow-up to some work by the Taskforce.

The aim of this is –

To help Web editors and Web content developers incorporate the basics of usability across all public sector websites.

Richard Allan, Taskforce 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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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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A Good Postcode Summary

Tom Steinberg on the Task Force has drawn my attention to this very good summary of the situation with postcode data in the UK from the Spatial Miscellany.

A dataset that reliably links postcodes to all the common aggregation boundaries and to geographical coordinates remains a key element of an analysis layer for many uses of public data.

Following comments to an earlier post on this I have been pointed to the National Statistics Postcode Directory.  This appears to be the ideal solution but is not freely available, I assume because it inherits chargeable IP from the Royal Mail and Ordnance Survey elements it uses.

Richard Allan, Task Force Chair

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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:

– The wording you will need for the mandate is:

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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