Free Our Data: the blog

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

Archive for the 'General' Category

OS changes OpenSpace licensing terms in developers’ favour: commercial use now allowed

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Just after our previous post, we find a press release from Ordnance Survey in our inbox:

Ordnance Survey has today unveiled revised terms and conditions for OS OpenSpace, its non-commercial web mapping service.

The OS OpenSpace API (application programming interface) is a freeservice that allows users to build mash-ups of Ordnance Survey mapping. It was launched to the public in January this year and to date has over a thousand registered developers.

(You might note that one thousand isn’t actually a lot of developers in this web day and age.)

The changes to the terms of use reflect the fact the components of the API are now available as a free open-source download – as OSGB Web Map Tools. Available from, the tools allow Ordnance Survey data licensees to build commercial applications for the Web.

At the same time as amending the OS OpenSpace terms in relation to OSGB Web Map Tools, Ordnance Survey has taken the opportunity to make some further changes that aim to provide greater overall clarity.

“Clarity” is one of those words that companies use either when they’ve been caught out doing something wrong, or when they’ve been forced to change something but want to make it look like it was their idea. Wonder which this was?

Key amongst the revisions is the introduction of new definitions of ‘Your Data’ and ‘End User’s Data’ to complement what is already defined as ‘Derived Data’. It is intended that the changes will clarify the position on ownership of each of these types of data, and will set out in clearer terms the various licences that are granted in relation to each of them.

Well, let’s see now…

Unlike OS OpenSpace, the recently launched OSGB Web Map Tools is released under a permissive free licence and does not restrict licensed developers to non-commercial activities or the use of any particular data source. [Emphasis added]

But then again it’s not quite there:

While the new map tools do not give free access to mapping, since the users must hold one of Ordnance Survey’s data licences, it does allow for third-party information to be freely overlaid and displayed.

Then again, if a licence can change once, it can change again. We’ll await developments.

Read the OS Webspace licence; download the tools (after reading the agreement).

Home Office responds re OS and crime maps

Friday, November 21st, 2008

I asked the Home Office yesterday whether the home secretary Jacqui Smith was still standing by her pledge that all police forces would have crime mapping by the end of the year, in the light of the fact that OS claims that plotting any data on a Google (or Microsoft or Yahoo or Ask..) map which is “derived” from an OS map breaks its licence.

The Home Office reply in full:

“Crime mapping is being delivered through ACPO as part of the Policing Pledge. We have been aware of this issue for some time and have worked with ACPO to ensure that forces remain on track to publish crime maps as part of the Policing Pledge by the end of the year”.

I’m intrigued by that “aware… for some time” bit. Because it seems to me that time is running out to hit that target.

Looking, for example, at the site for the county where I live, Essex, the crime figures and statistics page shows a tiny map of the county, and then simply gives you a listing of crimes (if you can figure out where you live; good luck with that if you’re near a boundary, because the map can’t be expanded) in the wards.

To have a crime map by the end of the year will mean changing that all over to something plotted within, let’s be generous, 20-odd working days (unless the Essex coders are going to work over Christmas). Four working weeks.

I may be a pessimist, but unless there’s a radical change in how OS interprets its licensing – or in how OS data gets licensed – I don’t see that happening. The argument about licensing remains. And commenters have previously noted their frustration over the OS licence, which prevents them getting anything done.

Is there a list of the UK police forces, and can anyone find any others that have introduced crime mapping apart from the Met (illicitly), West Yorkshire and West Midlands?

Ordnance Survey says Met Police crime maps break its licence. Does Jacqui Smith know? Or Gordon Brown?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Ordnance Survey has confirmed to me that the crime maps being used by the Met Police break its licence.

And any other police force that uses “ward boundaries” (subdivisions of their force’s policing area, which is how all police forces record crimes) or refers to an OS map in order to plot the location of a crime, and then plots it on anything other than a fully-licenced OS map, is also breaking the OS’s licence.

This, basically, derails any sort of useful crime mapping – and has to call into question whether police forces can meet the deadline promised by the home secretary Jacqui Smith in July.

Just to remind you what was said:

Every neighbourhood in England and Wales will have access to the latest local crime information through new interactive crime maps, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced today.

The rollout of interactive crime maps follows the announcement made by the Home Secretary earlier this month, as part of the Policing Green Paper, that every police force in the country has now delivered monthly crime information to the public on their websites. New interactive crime maps will take the rollout of local crime information to the next level.

By the end of the year every police force area will produce crime maps which will allow the public to:

  • see where and when crime has happened, down to street level for some crimes;
  • make comparisons with other areas; and
  • learn how crime is being tackled by their local neighbourhood policing team.

The new maps will give the public the information they need to hold their local police force to account. The maps will communicate to the public how they can get involved in setting local policing priorities to reduce the crime that matters to them in their area.

The Met Police then went and set up their own crime mapping site, which doesn’t give precise locations of crimes, but does show relative levels of crime, broken down by ward, and plotted – fatally – on a Google Map.

Yesterday OS sent me a statement which said:

“Our understanding is that the Met Police sourced their boundary information through the Office of National Statistics (ONS). We class this as being derived data therefore taking that outside the terms of our licensing. We are working with all the parties involved to find a solution.”

(Need to remind yourself about “derived” data? Be our guest.)

This though skewers Jacqui Smith’s publicly-announced plans for crime mapping. There can be no solution while the OS’s licence – which forbids one putting OS-derived data obtained under one OS licence onto a map that has another licence (or no OS licence at all), unless the two licences have an exactly congruent set of users and terms.

It’s never a good idea to tell a home secretary that the pledge they made publicly in July, allowing six months to happen, now can’t be met.

Then again, perhaps Jacqui Smith isn’t a formidable enough opponent. How about Gordon Brown, who is also in favour of crime mapping?

That said, there are some crime maps already available, which do use OS maps: West Yorkshire police; West Midlands police. As I’ll explore in a later post, they’re complete rubbish – they lack any sort of helpful positional API, multiple layers, or other features that make crime mapping useful. Though they do seem to build on an OS map. This means OS is offering some sort of API-based system. Pity that it’s pretty much hopeless.

Compare and contrast it with the Chicago output of Everyblock – for a particular police beat, or a neighbourhood – and you can see how prehistoric these UK efforts look. Even the ones that are breaking the OS licence. (And especially the ones that aren’t.)

If one good thing can come out of all this it would be for the OS’s stranglehold on geographical information to be broken by a political row in which it frustrates the Home Office – one of the most powerful departments in the country.

Are the Show Us A Better Way winners safe from Ordnance Survey?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

After the results of the Show Us A Better Way competition – the X-Factor for web services (as I think I dubbed it) – now here’s the letdown. Ordnance Survey has emailed local government organisations waving its copyright stick. And it’s quite a bit stick. One which, in effect, could prevent many – perhaps all? – of the SUABW winners (Free Our Data announcement; BBC announcement), and certainly those which might rely on local authority data that is in any way geographically related – from being implemented, certainly on Google Maps.

Which would only leave OS’s own OpenSpace product. Which as you know isn’t for commercial or high-volume use. Which would rather complicate things.

The OS, we’ve learnt, has circulated local government with a helpful Q+A about how they shouldn’t embed info on Google Maps (or of course other mapping companies such as Microsoft or Yahoo or..) if it has been “derived” from OS data.

Q I want to pass information I have captured, which has been derived from Ordnance Survey data, onto Google for Google to display on Google Maps. Can I do this?

A Any use of Ordnance Survey data, or data derived from Ordnance Survey data, should be in accordance with the terms of your licence. You are only able to provide such data to a third party in limited circumstances, for example, to your contractor undertaking authority business on your behalf, and only provided that such contractor enters into a Contractor’s Licence. (You should note that we believe the terms of the Contractor’s Licence are wholly inconsistent with what we understand to be Google’s standard terms and conditions.)

Therefore, you cannot pass such information to Google for display on Google Maps, and we must remind you that provision of data to Google in this way would be in breach of Crown copyright.

But what is “derived” from OS data? At local government level, pretty much anything if it relates to where something is.

Q What constitutes data ‘derived’ from Ordnance Survey data?

A Simply put, Ordnance Survey derived data is any data created using Ordnance Survey base data. For example, if you capture a polygon or a point or any other feature using any Ordnance Survey data, either in its data form or as a background context to the polygon/point/other feature capture, this would constitute derived data.

It should also be borne in mind that data from other suppliers may be based on Ordnance Survey material, and thus the above considerations may still apply. We therefore recommend that you verify whether any third-party mapping you use may have been created in some way from Ordnance Survey data before displaying it on Google Maps.

OK, then, how about another way of doing things? What if you run Google Maps and overlay info on top of that, rather than putting it “into” Gmaps?

Q I want to pull Google Maps onto my system and host my Ordnance Survey derived business information on top, so that no data will pass to Google. Can I use this solution instead?

A No. Although you will not be passing any data directly to Google, by displaying such data on top of Google Maps in this way and making such mapping available to the public, it appears that you will be granting Google a licence to use such data. This is the case despite the fact that you will be hosting the data on your system. Google’s terms and conditions appear to provide that any display of data on or through the Google services grants Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such data.

The terms of your licence do not permit you to license Ordnance Survey data to a third party in these circumstances.

If you’d like a copy to marvel at, then download the PDF. (Provided as a public service.)

Now, the OS is perfectly within its rights – indeed, it’s asserting its rights as required by its terms of business – to follow this.

But as implemented it would make it impossible for local government organisations to make available any geographical data about locations of objects they own. (And just for clarification, Google does not license OS’s data, not even through a third party. I’m sure I’ve heard phrases like “have to be a snowy day in hell first” but have no idea who said it.)

That means that things like school catchment areas (if given to geographical accuracy, or pulled off an OS-based mapping system) or postbox locations (if local government holds them) or recycling locations or cycling routes or toilets… gracious me, I seem to have listed the top five applications suggested for SUABW.

Let’s be clear, again: OS is perfectly within its rights to assert these rights. One can even argue that it’s obliged to. But I suspect that it’s not going to go down very well with ministers who have worked very hard to get the SUABW competition off the ground, and indeed into the stratosphere: let’s name Tom Watson (Cabinet Office), Michael Wills (Ministry of Justice) and Jim Knight (Department for Education). And of course the Department for Communities and Local Government put up some prizemoney for the competition too. Which OS – which reports into CLG – seems now to be, um, tripping up.

One could view this as a mistake. Or a political oversight. Or perhaps an attempt to force Whitehall, and in particular the Treasury, to decide whether it wants OS’s rights to prevail, or those of ministers who want more openness. In any event, I think that it might be the first test for OS’s new chair, Sir Rob Margetts, who as you’ll recall is required – according to the job advert – to

be an experienced Chair who understands how to build commercial opportunities in the public sector and who has the intellect to take forward a challenging debate about Ordnance Survey’s future strategy. S/he will have experience of change.

“Challenging debate”. Hope your season ticket to London is up to date, Sir Rob. to close, pursued by Environment Agency (updated)

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

The website, which has been featured here on a number of occasions – first for getting the list of telephone masts, and then for getting Environment Agency data about flood risks for England, Scotland and Wales – is shutting down.

The reason: it’s not really making any money (property adverts are one thing, but you may have noticed there’s been a tailing-off in house sales recently..) and – I understand – it was still being threatened with legal action by the Environment Agency. (We’ll check this with the EA and correct if necessary.) Update 11/10: the Environment Agency says it has not pursued any action since last year and that none is outstanding.

We noted in June 2007 that the Environment Agency asserted its copyright over flood risk data, forcing ononemap to remove it from its site.

What wasn’t told at the time was the efforts that the Environment Agency went to in order to obfuscate its data: it renders the flood maps as pictures, rather than using layers. That means each search is an individually-generated picture. There’s no “generic” map of the flood data.

So ononemap got to work – and recruited a handful of servers to crunch 24/7 through the data, using a colour-recognition algorithm to figure out what the flood risk for each part of the map was, and encode that back as its flood data. (Interesting legal question: since it isn’t using the EA data directly, but interpreting it as presented, is that a new database with its own copyright? Or is it simply a re-representation of the EA data, and hence an infringement of copyright?)

The site’s blog ( is no longer functioning, though the site is for now.

It’s a pity, though: an early attempt to try to make something of the data available on the web and create a useful mashup for would-be property buyers. But the latter are in scarce supply right now, while the right data weren’t ever available in the form needed.

Vote for the idea you think should win Show Us A Better Way

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

The government’s Show Us A Better Way competition has finished its first part – getting entries. And there are lots of them. (More than 500, by a rough count.)

We’ve been asked to help draw up the shortlist, and take part in the judging panel. And we’ve been specifically asked to get everyone out there to vote on their preferred ones.

You can: go to and get stuck in. Almost all of the entries are there, apart from some last-minute entries. (There may also be duplications: when you find them, leave a comment and I’ll try to fix it.)

You each have 10 votes; use them wisely.

How should you choose? Ah, yes, that’s the question. I think that ideas that truly deserve the £20,000 prize should be (1) widely useful [which I think rules out applications that would only run on particular computers or phones] (2) achievable [ie not requiring supercomputers, or everyone installing some custom-made widget] (3) beneficial (4) not duplicating something that could be or is already done commercially (5) has that magic something which makes you think “ooh, clever!”.

Those, anyway, would be my suggestions. You’re welcome to use your own criteria. But get voting and tell your friends!

We’ve also written about it in the Guardian. Even so, tell more people..

Show Us A Better Way competition closes Sept 30: get your entries in!

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

As the title says: on Tuesday 30th, the competition at Show Us A Better Way closes, and judging will begin.

The idea, just as a reminder, is to come up with innovative ways to use government-collected datasets, in order to demonstrate the value that can be generated from them.

There are already hundreds of entries – which means that the judging process will be rather complex. In fact, if anyone has ideas for how the competition could use crowdsourcing (aka voting) in order to choose the finalists for consideration by a judging panel, we’d be interested to hear so we can pass them on.

Ordnance Survey’s lobbying, part 1

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Coming late to posting this (I blame holidays), but Mike Cross entered an FOI request after we noticed in May that it had paid a lobbying company called Mandate about £49,000 for “consultancy and advice on Corporate Communications and Public Affairs”.

Except that that description seems rather askew from what we found in the emails (released on paper, and redacted – you know, blanked out – to protect the names of individuals in Mandate and Ordnance Survey). Our thanks by the way to Greg Wright, then shadow minister for the Cabinet Office and MP for Tunbridge Wells, who asked the question (not on our behalf; we’ve no idea why he asked it, though it seems to have been well-informed). Iain Wright of DCLG answered it.

And so to our first story on the topic, which appeared in Technology Guardian under the headline “Ordnance Survey hires PR company to lobby politicians” (can you tell our lawyers checked it first?):

The correspondence reveals that Ordnance Survey (OS) is targeting MPs from Westminster and devolved assemblies, civil servants and leading figures in the free data debate. The agency openly attends party conferences and other political events to promote the value of geographical data. However, earlier this year a Parliamentary question revealed that it had paid a company called Mandate £42,076.20 plus VAT since August 2007.

However, it refused to release emails on backup tapes on the grounds of cost, £11,250. The correspondence released – mainly between Nicole Perry, head of public affairs, and Mandate executives whose names have been blanked out – reveals a busy programme of meetings with politicians, especially those who have asked questions in Parliament about OS’s corporate affairs, or about free data.

Among MPs named are Labour’s David Taylor – “you might recall that he’d (sic) raised the issue of free data” – Conservatives Anne McIntosh and Paul Beresford, and several Welsh Assembly members. According to Mandate, Robert Kee (Conservative, Salisbury) “is a big supporter of OS, so I don’t think this [a Parliamentary question] is anything to worry about”.

This story (of which that’s only part; go to the story itself to read in full) generated a response from OS, which will be dealt with (and we’ll publish the letter in full) in the next post up.

Met Police put up first version of crime mapping system

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Apologies for coming late to this; I’ve been away (and Mike Cross has mislaid his passwords to the blog).

Anyway: the Met Police have made their first version of the much-promised crime mapping system available. It’s at and says it has been developed “in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Mayor of London”.

And the test version does come with a sort of data health warning:

Please note, that whilst every effort is made to record the details of crime and its location as accurately as possible, there are occasions when victims are unable to provide the actual location of a crime. In these instances, the site will not be able to display all the crime reported to the police.

So we make that, since 5 May 2008 when Boris Johnson came to power promising crime mapping, a total of 101 days to get to a beta implementation. As political fulfilment goes, that’s really not bad.

There are observations and criticism: Simon Dickson is only half-surprised that it’s built on Google Maps, not Ordnance Survey’s OpenSpace (“Here’s a extra-high-profile government mapping application, and they’ve made a conscious – and entirely predictable – decision not to build it using the tool provided by the government’s own mapping agency.”); though Tom Loosemore, writing in his personal capacity, comments that

The biggest missed opportunity is the lack of proper profile for your local coppers (aka your “Safe Neighbourhood Team”). The site should make it dead easy for your to contact them, and challenge/shape their priorities. After all, even coppers work for you…

True, though it’s still early days. My principal criticism is that it simply shows crimes against “average”. If you go for a postcode (the first half, eg SW12 is enough) then you get total figures for an area, but that too isn’t helpful – there’s no idea of whether that covers a large area (is Balham, where I used to live, larger than Wandsworth, which apparently has far more crime yet is still “average”?).

Basically, it’s still keeping the information inside the police station walls, and I don’t think that’s enough. This information doesn’t have to be personalised, but it does need to be localised – in fact, made precise.

Update: there’s a Guardian story which has some quotes from police people involved:

A Met spokesman emphasised that this version of the map is a test phase and will be subject to a technical review.

“The software development will enhance the service that we currently provide regarding the number, rate and geographical location of defined crime types within the capital,” the spokesman said.

Ordnance Survey appoints first (non-exec) chair: Sir Rob Margetts

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

So, what does anyone out there know about Sir Rob Margetts’s web 2.0 credentials? Because that’s what he’s going to have to show now that he’s going to be the Ordnance Survey’s new, first non-executive chair, as announced in a formal press release today.

Sir Rob, it says, is a CBE, Fellow of the Royal Society of Engineers and FIChemE (institute of chemical engineers). The appointment is initially for three years.


Sir Rob began his career with the ICI Group in 1969, progressing through a number of appointments within the group prior to joining the Board in 1992 and being Vice-Chairman from 1998-2000. Since 2000 he has been Chairman of Legal & General Group plc and in 2006 also became Chairman of Ensus Ltd.

(In case you’re wondering, Ensus aims “to become a leading provider of bioethanol to the European transport fuels market. Made from natural products such as wheat and sugar beet, bioethanol offers a renewable and environmentally friendly alternative to oil for petrol driven vehicles.”)

He is also a non-executive director of Anglo American plc and Chairman of the Energy Technologies Institute. In addition, Sir Rob was Chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) from 2001-06.

To be honest, on first glance it’s hard to see precisely what he’s bringing to this party. After all, what OS needs now is someone who can chart a course through the new web 2.0 world, where what matters is being able to see the best ways to exploit (in the most general sense) its intellectual property, amidst a changing political (small p), economic and online climate.

But back to the press release:

Of his appointment, Sir Rob comments: “I am delighted to have been invited to chair Ordnance Survey. It is a great privilege to join this organisation, which provides so much benefit to its users and enjoys an excellent reputation. I much look forward to working with Vanessa and Board colleagues as well as staff, business partners and customers.”

Vanessa Lawrence, who remains Ordnance Survey’s Accounting Officer and continues to report directly to the Minister, welcomes the appointment, saying: “I am delighted that Sir Rob will be joining us in the new role of Non-Executive Chair. With his outstanding record of business leadership and organisational development, I know that his knowledge, skills and expertise will be invaluable as we move forward in the coming years.”

Love the bit pointing out that Vanessa Lawrence continues to report directly to Ian Wright at DCLG. Why was that felt necessary? In case the media got the “wrong” idea about what this appointment means, one must presume. But then what’s the point of a chair over whose head the chief exec can appeal, since both are appointed by the same person?

Sir Rob will report to Shareholder Executive, the body that advises Ministers and senior officials on the government’s “shareholding” in organisations like Ordnance Survey. His appointment brings Ordnance Survey in line with other Trading Funds with Non-Executive Chairs who have already modernised their governance structures, such as the Met Office and UK Hydrographic Office.

Make no mistake: this is a shakeup of how OS functions. It’s a political (small p) shock to its system, but what will be interesting will be to see precisely how that plays out.

Anyone got any more information about Sir Rob Margetts, and in particular his approach to online intellectual property, business models and the web?

Show Us A Better Way offers £20,000 for developing prototypes

Monday, August 4th, 2008

The (British) government’s Show Us A Better Way competition has added another £20,000 string to its bow: this time, the prize – in addition to the original one – is available for prototypes of ideas that have been made on the site.

It offers a number of sites which will help with mashups, and links to useful code resources. Well worth investigating, since you don’t have to be one of the people with the ideas in order to benefit greatly from them.

Want the Postcode Address File for free? Just ask (updated)

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Some more remarkable achievements by the Showusabetterway website – the competition set up by the UK government asking people to suggest ways to use its data to create mashups and new services, and offering a £20,000 prize for a winner. (Or possibly winners. But read on.)

The latest win: the Royal Mail is joining in, offering its Postcode Address File. Yes, you can argue that it ought to make that available for free anyway, but let’s change the world one piece at a time.

To get the full file, all you need to do – as the site explains – is to email the Royal Mail.

For full access you should email the Address Management Unit at Put ‘Show Us A Better Way’ in your subject heading so they know to prioritise your request.

Please also in the email say (a) the format you’d like it in (given on the details page) and your physical address, so they can send you the data on CD if you want it.

(The link above will fill in the email with the subject line pre-filled.)

This is a hell of an achievement. As I understand it, the licences will only be valid through to the end of July, so be quick. But if you’ve ever needed to see what the full PAF looks like, here’s your chance.

Obviously, we would not condone using it in ways that breach the Royal Mail licence. We’re aiming to do this legally. But it’s definitely another success for the Power of Information taskforce and Tom Watson in the Cabinet Office. He said he’d have a go on June 29th; now he’s achieved it. Three weeks? For government and licensing regimes, that’s fast.

Crime mappers are doing it for themselves

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Today in the Guardian’s Technology section Heather Brooke – who was one of the key drivers behind getting access to MP’s expenses – writes (as part of the Free Our Data campaign) in Met keeps crime stats under lock and key about how the Metropolitan Police insist that (a) they’re not going to release data for crime mapping (b) even if they did, they keep it amalgamated on such a level that it wouldn’t be any use to anyone.

The Met also cites privacy as a reason not to release location specific crime data. Yet the Data Protection Act does not prohibit personal information being disclosed, even if one considers anonymised crime reports “personal”; and Boris Johnson’s pledge was only ever to publish crime data by street level, not by exact address. The law’s purpose is to ensure that disclosure is for a legitimate purpose. State-mandated ignorance benefits no one.

Crimes are not a great secret, particularly not violent crimes – such as the spate of stabbings in the UK in recent months – though without access to the raw data, how can we know how and where it’s rising? [Richard] Pope [of] thinks the main problem is that the police are not technically savvy, citing an encounter at a meeting between locals, the council and the police where the Met admitted it couldn’t provide incident detail broken down by area – so the council ended up paying the Met just to get this information.

But people aren’t necessarily waiting for the police. Take this mashup generated by MapMan which looks at that topic du jour, knife crime.

Via the Digital Urban blog, here’s London Teenage Murders 2007, Knife Assaults and Regeneration Areas: Mapped – A Clear Pattern Emerges:

Created using Google MyMaps the list has been compiled via various websites (such as with street names identified in related press articles and plotted on the map. Actual position within the street will not be accurate, but the street names themselves should be. Note the map relates to all murders, not just knife related incidents.

Using MapTube [URL corrected] the map can be overlaid with other data sets, such as a map uploaded detailing assault using a knife or sharp objects extracted from all hospital admissions (2007). The map is based on data with a cause code of ICD-10 X99 (assault by sharp object) and excludes all codes that may indicate accidental injury (ICD10 – W25, W26), self inflicted (ICD10 – X78) and undetermined intent (ICD10 Y28).

Figures are directly age standardised per 100,000 population with CI’s – Actual counts were excluded in the map due to disclosure surrounding low numbers. By overlaying the two maps you begin to get a picture of the extent of knife crime and the number of murders in London.

Each link is clickable for more information. Such data should really be available via either the or along with other locations of crime in the city. It may be alarming to see such incidents mapped but this is the city we live in and the public should have a right to view exact locations of crime in their neighbourhoods.

There’s plenty more: they then overlay urban deprivation and find an interesting correlation with the number of teenage murders.

OK, so you might find that obvious. But it also tells you where the energies need to be focussed – and whether parents in Hampstead or Notting Hill really need to worry about the possibility of their child being a victim.

(One other thing: the gender of the victims. I suspect it’s overwhelmingly male too, isn’t it?)

Anyhow, this is all stuff that’s been done at zero cost to the police. Maybe if they think they’re overcome with data, we could help them out some more. Make the data available for free, and we’ll help you for free.

(crossposted with the Guardian Technology blog)

Ordnance Survey seeks a chairman/woman. But why?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

How interesting: we note from the EPSIPlus blog (a bit late – since the job application has long since closed, so if you were wanting to do this, you’ve missed the boat) that Ordnance Survey is seeking a non-executive chair.

How intriguing. I think I’m right in saying that none of the other trading funds is chaired; and as the advert itself says, “It is within the plan to modernise the governance of Ordnance Survey; as a result Ordnance Survey are seeking to appoint the first Non-executive Chair in the organisations’ [sic] 217-year history.”

We hear that the appointee will probably be chosen sometime this month.

So what sort of person are they looking for?

The ideal candidate will be an experienced Chair who understands how to build commercial opportunities in the public sector and who has the intellect to take forward a challenging debate about Ordnance Survey’s future strategy. S/he will have experience of change.

Of change? Change, at OS? Why? How utterly fascinating.

The ad itself (click for larger version) says the role requires that they “develop and champion a clear and compelling strategy to a broad range of stakeholders; ensure the board is effective in delivering a strategy balancing the nation’s interest with commercial imperatives [emphasis added – CA]; scrutinise performance and governance structures in line with owner’s objectives. Evaluate board skills mix and performance.”

As if that wasn’t interesting enough..

Here are the “key responsibilities” laid out in the document:

The key responsibilities are to:

  • Ensure that the Board as a whole is effective in developing a strategy and corporate business plans for Ordnance Survey, scrutinising its performance against the endorsed plans and acting in the best interests of the Department for Communities and Local Government as shareholder, while balancing the need for Ordnance Survey to act in the nation’s interest within in a commercially competitive environment;
  • Ensure that the shareholder receives full and timely feedback on the organisation’s business performance, its progress against plans, the future development of the Corporate Plan, and any other issues requiring attention;
  • Ensure the maintenance of an effective board, with an appropriate balance of skills and experience, including key appointments as required. The Chair will be part of the selection panel for the recruitment of any new Chief Executive and Non-executive Directors;
  • Ensure appropriate governance arrangements are established and implemented in line with best practice and the requirements of a public body;
  • Actively contribute to the management of relationships with Ordnance Survey’s stakeholders both in Whitehall, the devolved administrations and beyond, and represent Ordnance Survey as appropriate with customers and industry players;
  • Acts as a source of advice and support on business issues to the Chief Executive and other Executives as necessary.
  • The Chair is responsible for upholding good governance at Ordnance Survey. S/he will ensure appropriate and effective Board sub-committees exist and will, in consultation with the Chief Executive, determine Board meeting frequency and agenda. A key role is to ensure that all Non-executive Directors are effective in the support and challenge they provide to the Executive team.

The Shareholder Executive, working for the Department for Communities and Local Government, takes a close interest in the performance management of Ordnance Survey. The Chair is expected to work constructively with senior Shareholder Executive officials.

The candidate is expected to have the usual abilities concomitant with these jobs – bulging address book, Cabinet ministers and heads of industry mobile numbers on speed dial, ability to leap tall buildings and to cure sick animals with their magic touch, that sort of thing.

On its face, it doesn’t look like the successful candidate will die from overwork: three or four days a month, which earns an annual remuneration of £40,000 – £50,000. But of course that would be to ignore how important this job will be. We’re looking forward to seeing who it is.

Obviously, if you’ve applied, do feel free to share the experience..

England and Wales schools database: available here in SQL format

Friday, July 4th, 2008

As part of the government’s Show Us A Better Way competition, it has made available all sorts of databases and datasets and APIs that haven’t previously been available – such as the list of all the schools in England and Wales.

Our only quibble with the latter was that it was only provided in Excel format – which as one commenter points out is a proprietary format (though free programs like OpenOffice will open it), and anyway to really begin doing useful things with such data you need to stuff it into a database; which calls for SQL format.

Never fear, Free Our Data is here. We’ve imported the data from the Excel file into a MySQL database and exported it as an SQL file which has all the required CREATE TABLE commands, with the data.

Grab a copy.
To make sure you’ve got the correct version (in case it gets copied and used elsewhere):

the MD5 checksum of the zip file is 3f46d71d84f6047ee0162d12a9456901

and of the SQL file itself (once unzipped) is 1021643b2c1c71773f20c7a4fbd1b8e1 .