Free Our Data: the blog

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


Archive for May, 2009

FOI request for OS to publish study delivered: the clock is ticking..

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Thanks to whatdotheyknow – the very public site where you can make Freedom of Information requests, assisted by MySociety (which previously brought you theyworkforyou and publicwhip, which track what Parliamentarians do in their work) – we have now filed our FOI request for the publication of the study that led OS to conclude that free data models don’t work.

The page is at http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_for_publication_of_study and the request – which has to be answered by June 23 – is as follows:

On May 12 2009 Sir Rob Margetts, chairman of OS, said in a public
speech that “We did, with outside help, a review of equivalent
organisations around the world” in determining the effects of a
free-data model, mixed model or private model on OS’s future
strategy.

I request the publication of all parts of the review that do not
contain commercial-in-confidence data, and the separate publication
of a full version of the review with commercial-in-confidence data
redacted.

Very much looking forward to this.

Which foreign map organisations did OS visit last year for its study?

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

An interesting question by Caroline Spelman: where did Ordnance Survey staff go in 2008?

Why might that be interesting? Because OS did a study of free data and other funding models last year as part of the preparation of its own internal study on which model would be best for the future. Would it be a free data model, would it be full private, would it be pretty much like the one it has? You may be able to guess. (Or read Sir Rob Margett’s speech as I recorded it. Or watch the OS version of it – they chopped out the detail of his speech and his assertions about cost to the government.)

(Apparently there was a “brisk” question-and-answer session. My question about derived data didn’t make it into the video.)

Now here’s the document answering Ms Spelman’s question. I’ve highlighted a few answers in bold. Can you guess why?

And does anyone know what funding models the mapping agencies of Finland, Canada, New Zealand and Estonia (Estonia??) operate?

Plus – have I missed any? There is of course one country missing from that list which should have been visited but wasn’t. Interesting to know why…

Countries visited by Ordnance Survey staff in 2008 (original: http://www.parliament.uk/deposits/depositedpapers/2009/DEP2009-0350.doc)

Country

Destination

Purpose

Australia

Melbourne

Representing Ordnance Survey and United Kingdom at an international conference on geographic information

Austria

Graz

Participation in a technical working group on the INSPIRE Directive

Vienna

Participation in technical working group on the INSPIRE Directive

Vienna

UK Delegate to International Cartographic Association Conference

Vienna

Technical participation in Semantic Technology Conference

Vienna

Technical participation in European Semantic Technology Conference 2008

Bahrain

Bahrain

Keynote speech by Director General, representing UK at Middle East Survey Technology Conference

Belgium

Brussels

Participation in Geographic Information awareness event in the European Parliament

Brussels

Technical participation in Mercator print equipment User Group Conference, sharing best practice

Brussels

Technical participation on behalf of UK in European Parliament meeting on Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)

Brussels

Technical meeting with European Commission

Brussels

Technical meeting with European Commission (Directorate on General Information Society and Media)

Brussels

Representing Ordnance Survey at European Centre for Public Affairs conference

Brussels

Technical meeting with team drafting the implementing rule for European Commission on the INSPIRE Directive

Brussels

Technical meeting with the UK Permanent Representation Team

Brussels

Technical meeting on the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS)

Brussels

Participation in EuroGeographics management meeting

Brussels

Technical participation in European Reference Framework Conference (EUREF) 2008

Brussels

Participation in European Public Sector Information (ePSI) conference

Canada

Toronto

Technical meeting with National Resources Canada

Vancouver

Technical meeting of Geographic Information Web Networks (Geoweb)

China

Beijing

UK Delegate to the International Society for Photogrammetric and Remote Sensing (ISPRS) conference.

Croatia

Dubrovnik

UK Representation (including presentation by Director General) at EuroGeographics General Assembly 2007

Denmark

Copenhagen

Technical participation in meeting on the INSPIRE Directive

Copenhagen

Technical participation in meeting of the International Standards Organisation Technical Committee (ISO TC211)

Eire

Dublin

Client visit Korec – supplier of surveying equipment

Dublin

Attendance at Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace) conference

Shannon

Transit departure airport for return from Dublin conference

Estonia

Tallinn

Technical meeting with National Land Board ‚ exchanging best practice and fact finding.

Finland

Helsinki

Technical participation in meeting of the Business Interoperability Group of EuroGeographics

Helsinki

Technical meeting with Finnish Land Survey‚ exchanging best practice and fact finding.

Juankoski

Visit to supplier to discuss paper stocks for printing paper maps.

France

Paris

Representing Ordnance Survey at a EuroGeographics business meeting

Paris

Technical participation in meeting on the INSPIRE Directive

Paris

Representing Ordnance Survey at a EuroGeographics business meeting

Montpellier

UK Delegate to the International Cartographic Association Workshop on Generalisation and Multiple Representation, and the Spatial Data Handling (SDH) Conference.

Nice

Business and sales attendance at the International property trade Conference.

Germany

Berlin

Technical meeting with CityGML ‚ regarding the production of 3D City Models

Frankfurt

Technical participation in a EuroGeographics Business Interoperability Group meeting

Frankfurt

Sales attendance at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Hanover

Technical attendance at CeBit Conference – Information and Digital Technology

Friberg

Technical participation in the Spatial Cognition 2008 conference, including participation in a workshop designing maps for orientation.

Bonn

Technical and Business participation in an Open Geospatial Consortium meeting.

Bonn

Technical participation at a 3D Special Interest Group meeting at University of Bonn, supporting Ordnance Survey’s contribution to the creation of the CityGML data format.

Bremen

Technical participation in the Spatial Cognition 08 conference

Dusseldorf

Technical visit to the DRUPA printing equipment exhibition ‚ for fact finding.

Hamburg

Pan-European conference on Geographical Information related matters.

Stuttgart

Technical participation in a meeting of the pan-European EuroRoadS Project Management Board.

Hungary

Budapest

Technical attendance at international technology analysis “Canalys” Conference

India

Delhi

Technical visit to Supplier

Chennai

Technical visit to Supplier

Italy

Milan

Technical and business participation in a meeting of Open Geospatial Consortium Technical Committee

Catania

Technical participation in a working group on TRI-Partite multimedia Object Description (TRIPOD) at Cantinetta

Technical participation in International conference on knowledge engineering – EKAW

Japan

Tokyo

Technical presentation to the European / Japanese Conference on Information Modelling and knowledge bases

Latvia

Riga

Technical participation in a meeting on TRIPOD

Libya

Tripoli

UK Delegate and presentation by Director General on “Perspectives on the challenges facing the geospatial industry; a view from a National Mapping Agency”.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg

Technical meeting with the European Commission (Directorate on General Information Society and Media on public sector information)

Luxembourg

Technical participation in a meeting of the European Commission on Geographic Information Systems

Luxembourg

Technical and sales participation in the “Apply Serious Gaming Conference” related to the use of high specification geographic information by the gaming industry.

Luxembourg

Technical participation in a meeting on TRIPOD

Luxembourg

Technical participation in an Ontology Web Language Experiences and Directions workshop

Malta

Valetta

Representing Ordnance Survey at EuroGeographics business meeting

Netherlands

Amsterdam

Technical participation in Urban Land Institute housing affordability seminar

Amsterdam

Representing the Ordnance Survey and the UK the Director General gave a keynote speech at GIN Congress

Amsterdam

Technical participation in Workflow and Production Management Technology Conference 08

Amsterdam

Airport for technical meeting on the development of the INSPIRE Directive at Hague

Delft

Technical participation at the 3d GeoInfo 2007 conference. Furthering expertise and knowledge of 3D data collection and systems.

Delft

Technical meeting on the INSPIRE Directive

Enschede

Technical participation in Data Quality Workshop at ITC, Enschede

Rotterdam

Research meeting with AND (Automotive Navigation Design) on use of Ordnance Survey data in navigation solutions.

New Zealand

Auckland

Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey at an international conference on conceptual modelling and to visit LINZ (Land Information New Zealand), the national mapping and cadastre agency of New Zealand.

Norway

Oslo

Technical Participation in meeting of Euro Spatial Data Research (SDR)

Poland

Warsaw

Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey, the Director General gave a keynote speech on geographic information and national decision making at Elblag Conference

Portugal

Lisbon

Representing Ordnance Survey at EuroGeographics business meeting

Romania

Bucharest

Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey, the Director General gave a keynote speech at EuroGeographics meeting

Sibiu

Representing Ordnance Survey at business Meeting

Slovenia

Maribor

Technical participation at conference on the INSPIRE Directive

Spain

Barcelona

Technical and business participation in Barcelona Euro SDR meeting

Barcelona

Technical participation and sharing of best practice in Photogrammetric Digital Camera user forum

Barcelona

Technical participation at 3GSM Congress

Madrid

Technical participation at meeting of ORCHESTRA – European collaborative research project on spatial data infrastructure

Madrid

A four month secondment to the Instituto Geogr√°fico Nacional (IGN) Spain to gain a better understanding of how Spatial Data Infrastructures can be implemented, both organisationally and technically. This was in return for a secondment of an IGN expert to Ordnance Survey in 2007.

Sweden

Norrköping

Technical participation in pan European technical project work associated with INSPIRE legislation

Norrköping

Technical participation in Mercator print equipment User Group Conference, sharing best practice

Stockholm

Technical participation at conference on the INSPIRE directive

Stockholm

UK delegate at Federation International des Geometries (FIG) Conference

Stockholm

Technical participation at Tobii Conference

Switzerland

Heerburg

Technical and business visit to Leica Geosystems

Zurich

Two visits to ETH Zurich University, one regarding the quality assurance of 3D buildings and attendance of a conference at ETH presenting Ordnance Survey work and best practice on the capture of 3D buildings.

USA

Baltimore

Technical participation and representation of Ordnance Survey at the Usability Professionals Association Conference

Boston

Technical participation at Vital Vision Conference

Chicago

Technical participation and sharing of best practice at Association for Manufacturing Excellence Conference

Denver

Technical participation at GI Science conference

Detroit

Technical participation in international conference in geographic information

Orlando

Sharing of best practice at Conference on SAP systems in Human Resource models

Salt Lake City

Technical participation in conference and workshops at GIScience 2008 ‚ sharing expertise of geographic information science and geographic information systems.

San Diego

Representing Ordnance Survey at BAE System user conference

San Diego

Technical participation at the ESRI conference on GIS and mapping software

San Francisco

Technical and business participation at the Oracle user conference

San Francisco

Technical and business participation at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Workshop

San Francisco

Technical and business participation at Where 2.0 Conference.

Savannah

Technical participation in discussions at ION GNSS 2008

Seattle

Technical meeting with Microsoft on the use of Ordnance Survey data.

St. Louis

Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey at Open Geospatial Consortium meeting

St. Louis

Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey, the Director General held a technical meeting with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency

Washington

Technical participation in OWLED / Washington Workshop

OS chairman’s speech: internal study shows “free” OS would cost government 500m-1bn pounds – but won’t publish

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

The following is the text – as captured in shorthand contemporaneously – of a speech by Sir Rob Margetts, chairman of Ordnance Survey on Tuesday May 12. It is not complete but does capture the major themes and quotations.

The context is that Sir Rob was explaining to an invited audience, including many existing customers of OS, how the new “hybrid” strategy had been determined as the best one for its future development. He took some pains to emphasise that the “free data” model had not been rejected out of hand; but that instead a special study had been commissioned to investigate it.

This is my shorthand notes of what was said. My own comments are at the end.

There were major issues affecting the sustainability of OS as it goes through its proposed strategy.

We examined the complete range of options very impartially and objectively. That includes the free data, utility model where you would make data available to anybody [for free]. We examined the fully commercial model.. and alternatives within that range.

Our study of the utility [free data] model was done because some hold that that is a good strategy, and some of us weren’t indifferent to it. Some [of the study team] going in thought it could be interesting.

The study was fully costed for the government, calculating the costs of change to the residual value.

We came to conclusion that the cost to government in the first five years would be between £500m and £1 billion. That wasn’t the only reason that we discarded it. We did, with outside help, a review of equivalent organisations around the world.

We wanted sustainability and high [data] quality and came to the conclusion that at nearly every organisation that had gone to free data model, the quality had declined and that users and customers were increasingly dissatisfied with the product.

And the attractiveness to staff and recruitment and retention had also reduced. We found no evidence that this model actually worked elsewhere.

Those that work had a user-pays model. We tried to understand and explain why. Think that comes to the responsiveness to needs of the organisation. [ie: the responsiveness of the organisation to needs.]

If customers are required to pay then they specify needs very clearly and give feedback on whether they have got value [for money].

Customer stimulation is a vital part of any organisation because it’s sustainable.

And of course [there’s] recruiting and retaining quality staff.. they want to work for a qulity organisation and respond to real customer needs.

That’s why we didn’t pursue [the free data model] but can affirm that we looked at it in detail.

We also looked at a fully commercial model but weren’t satisfied it would fulfil the fundamental strategy [for OS].

We believe use [of geographical data] has expanded dramatically and changed.. but that potential is still considerably underexploited.

Our No. 1 aim is to improve capacity of OS to assist the exploitation of geographic information and be one of fundamental enablers of that [exploitation] in the UK for social and individual benefit.

With the proviso that by doing that we have to keep a sustainable organisation that not only covers its costs but also has enough left over… about £20m per annum.. to invest in the products that the market needs for customers, whether private individuals or business enterprises.

Commentary: Well, we’re fascinated to learn that OS found that there’s absolutely nobody out there who is making a free data model work. We have already emailed the South African mapping organisation, about which we wrote in 2007, to find out whether they were contacted by OS, and if so what they told them.

We will also pursue Freedom Of Information enquiries to find out which organisations OS spoke to and what their responses were. Since these are all free data models, there can’t be any commercial confidentiality for the foreign organisations, can there?

The “£500m – £1bn” range is extremely wide, and we’d like to see the detailed working. I asked the minister with responsibility for OS, Iain Wright, who was there, if he would order OS to release its full study. He said that if there weren’t any commercial-in-confidence implications… I wonder if we’ll see it? Again, we’ll ready some FOI requests.

There were questions at the end, and one interesting one came from Bob Barr, who pointed out that there is always the possibility of “pay to change” – that when you have a database of 460m features with (to give the statistics that Vanessa Lawrence, OS’s chief executive, read) 5,000 changes daily, why not charge those who are changing it? (We’ve looked at that model before, though I would like to see some more recent Land Registry figures.)

Here’s the question as I recorded it.

Robert Barr: “this hybrid financing.. it seems to be today that payment will be at the point of use. Usually [in other online systems] there’s a model where you pay to change the database. Doesn’t it make sense for data to be paid for where you change it?”

Peter ter Harr of OS: “This is a model we have been looking at. There are advantages and disadvantages. It’s not always the user who pays [in the current model]. There are many OS products which are free at the point of use. It’s the information provider who puts it online who pays. We have been looking at the model in various other countries. It works well in cases where it’s part of the statutory process.”

And that’s it? We really, really need to see that OS internal study, as it contradicts pretty much every study that’s been published. It’s going to be fascinating tracking it down.

One other thing: the cost to the government isn’t quite the same as the benefit to the economy, nor the eventual benefit to the government through taxation. It was the latter (actually, both) that the Cambridge study looked at. We are perfectly happy to generate tweaked versions of the “free data” model that could keep OS charging for some products (such as MasterMap) while freeing other data sets. Now that would be a truly hybrid model.

If anyone has had sight of that OS study, or any part of it, do please drop me an email at charles.arthur@gmail.com. Or upload it to Wikileaks and let us know. We think it’s so important it ought to be out there, not locked away in an OS cupboard.