Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


How OS costs hold back local authorities housing associations: the view from the ground

An interesting post that we came across by letting Blogdigger trawl the web for mentions of “Ordnance Survey”. Extract:

In the field I work in housing (asset management) the use of maps would be particularly beneficial. On top of this, I also help manage some patch related data for our housing management team. Being able to link all this into some automapping system would make many tasks I perform so much easier. In addition, visual tools are staggeringly useful when persuading people or explaining things to a new audience.

Being able to show a map which outlined that 80% of our Decent Homes failures are in one half of our stock would be a lot more powerful when persuading our board to release extra funds, for instance. The human mind responds strongly to visual stimuli, and maps in particular plug straight into a particular part of the brain.

Of course, to do all this, we need a certain amount of geographical data. There’s the maps themselves and then there’s geocoding our properties. Which leads to enquiries like the above. No doubt we could afford that, but in good conscience can we really spend £16k on what is effectively a glorified A to Z? £16k after all could supply brand new kitchens to four families, or ensure 8 homes have brand new central heating systems which will cut fuel bills and keep people warm should the weather change. We have to consider the opportunity costs.

As the post title says, this isn’t the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (where making something free means it gets abused, as in email carriage and spam). It’s the opposite: by enclosing the land, you keep out precisely the people who could make the best use of it. It’s like having farmland and then charging anyone who’s a farmer or wants to learn thousands of pounds to work it.

The writer concludes:

And so what will we do? As is often the case, my answer is DIY : We’ll collect the data ourselves. As ridiculous as it sounds, because of the restrictions on the data we’ll be much better off simply collecting the information ourselves and using any one of a number of open source applications simply generate the maps ourselves. Or so is my intention.

GPS equipment is now within the reach of the average citizen and a procedure for geocoding our properties could easily be included within our stock condition procedure or even included in with caretaker duties or a void routine.

But…isn’t this a bit ridiculous? Aren’t we going against a sensible division of labour? Instead of information being collected by experts en masse, we’re going to be taking a piecemeal amateur approach.

Yes, that’s how creating an ‘internal market’ generates inefficiencies. The council’s data might not be as good as the OS’s, and you’ll have duplicated work. Stupid.

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