Free Our Data: the blog

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


In The Guardian: how and why South Africa set its data free

Following on from our earlier post about South Africa’s free mapping data, we got in touch with Derek Clarke, head of the CDSM (South Africa’s mapping agency) to ask him what effect the imposition of zero costs – a corollary of the 2000 Promotion of Access to Information Act. (That’s a Google cache link, in HTML.)

In South Africa’s freedom includes its data, we ask whether the move from a charging system, which used to bring in 5% of the budget, has brought any benefits – either in reducing waste, or expanding use, or both.

Derek Clarke, head of the agency, says yes to both: most of the clients for the CDSM’s mapping data before were government agencies, and in Clarke’s pithy words “government paying itself makes no sense but causes administrative waste.” And has use grown? Yes, by 500% (we make that sixfold), he says.

Is it a model for others? Clarke again:

“This model should be applicable to all developing countries where the government must play a developmental role. The same situation does not apply to developed countries with mature markets. However, governments of developed countries should evaluate the opportunity cost of geospatial data – it may be more beneficial to make data free.”

We’ve put the questions and answers from Mr Clarke online already, but the article aims to deal with the critiques we know will follow from any suggestion that the UK might have something to learn from South Africa…

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