Free Our Data: the blog

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

Transport for London really doesn’t like Ordnance Survey: response to consultation

September 11th, 2009

Good grief, the people at Transport for London (TfL) really aren’t happy with Ordnance Survey, or with its consultation or plans.

Thanks to the efforts of Christopher Osborne – see the thread where he gets OS to release this, the response from TfL to the OS’s “strategy consultation” via Freedom of Information requests at, and marvel at OS’s ability to try to keep stuff secret – we can now see that TfL really wants to do more with map data, but feels that OS is standing in the way.

We wonder how this is being received in Southampton.

We’ve taken the PDF and rendered it as a table, but you can download it here or view it as (possibly better formatted) HTML here..

I’ve added emphasis to some of the tastier responses..

Response from Transport for London to the OS Business Strategy Consultation

TFL: We are generally disappointed in the scope of this consultation and regret that it is not more wide ranging TfL has major concerns with the issues of Derived Data which over-ride many of the items of this consultation We do not think that OS has paid sufficient attention to its many Government customers and their Public Task We regret the enormous cost in both time and resources that Government bodies have to spend on procurring OS data.

OS: Goal 1: Promote innovation for economic benefit and social engagement TFL response
OS: Supporting Government’s objectives to make data more accessible and to encourage innovation by individuals and commercial companies, Ordnance Survey will promote the innovative use of geographic information and its potential application. TFL: OS appears to wish to promote innovation by launching such services in house, experience suggests that this is not the best way and that they should concentrate on making their data freely available and allow the market to innovate.
OS: Ordnance Survey will provide support to all of its users in their use of geographic information so that they in turn can support their customers and the wider public. TFL: We question whether OS is prepared to listen to their users to determine what support is needed, and fear that it imagines that one size will fit all.
OS: Key components of this goal are: TFL: Many Govt bodies could contribute to this Goal if they were not inhibited by the onerous and restrictive licence conditions imposed on their use of derived data
OS: An extended OS OpenSpace service
OS: This will provide additional data and usage rights to support the creation of any new publicly accessible application. It will provide greater access to free use of a number of Ordnance Survey products from 1:10,000 scale through to 1:1 million scale. It will also include official boundaries information. TFL: Provision of OS data on OpenSpace does not make it freely available. Users require access to boundaries in all formats and applications. The derived data issue is a continuing problem, even on the OpenSpace website gallery, demonstration users warn users not to create derived data on the site. There seems to be considerable interest in the BoundaryLine data from other respondents to this consultation. BoundaryLine has been frequently quoted as the “definitive” boundary dataset for UK, why then are the boundaries not coincident with the Boundaries shown on the OS MasterMap product.
OS: This service will benefit individual developers and organisations such as commercial companies, local community groups, national special interest groups and smaller charities that will be able to develop applications as long as there is no direct commercial gain from the specific application itself. Advertising and sponsorship alongside the application will be encouraged. TFL: In the OpenSpace FAQs it is stated that Govt bodies may use the API but it doesn’t seem to be encouraged, given the OS advice on the use Google maps by OS licensees we would suggest that this should be a priority.
OS: There will be limits within the system to ensure that the new OS OpenSpace service has a minimal impact on existing commercial users of the data but these limits will be applied in a more collaborative way. TFL: Govt bodies interested in using the OpenSpace Service would need greater assurance on the use of limits
OS: An upgrade path from innovation through to commercial services
OS: Through the creation of an innovation ladder Ordnance Survey will provide a clear path for those that wish to progress their ideas from early-stage right through to commercial development. The existing developer programme will be opened up to a wider developer community and financial entry barriers will be significantly reduced. TFL: Can the OS appoint an independent body (AGI?) to create the “innovation ladder” so that the disincentives that are built into the current usage of OS data are not carried forward? Can the OS then use the lessons learnt to overhaul their existing licensing terms and conditions?
OS: Removing minimum royalty charges for partner licenses
OS: For organisations licensing data as value-added resellers new or existing – there will be NO minimum royalty for the first year and a minimum royalty of only 1,000 per year thereafter. Where Ordnance Survey is providing a national dataset of its most valuable data (OS MasterMap Topography Layer) the minimum royalty of 1,000 will apply from year one in order to cover the additional costs of supplying that data. TFL: The partnership licenses appear to be wholly geared towards the commercial sector and seem to be completely inappropriate for the use by Govt bodies which is sometimes required. They certainly do not feel like partnership agreements as all the terms are in favour of the OS.
OS: Develop the Ordnance Survey Innovation Network
OS: Ordnance Survey wishes to create a friendly on-line community of commercial and non-commercial developers, partners and resellers who can share ideas about innovative uses of Ordnance Survey data and other data. The network will help individuals as well as small and large organisations to develop ideas, deliver projects and even commercialise their ideas, through making connections with other network members who can help them with the development of technology, services, products or seed financial funding. TFL: Can the OS look at the lessons that could be learnt from previous projects such as CODES, the Collection of Data from External Sources? In this project external bodies were requested to provide OS with data that could be incorporated into OS products. Data was supplied free of charge, OS required assurances and warranties that the data was supplied free of any external IPR etc, and that they were granted a non exclusive royalty free, irrevocable, licence to copy, sell, adapt, distribute etc etc. OS then went on to try to sell the data back to the organisations that supplied it. The whole experience did not seem very friendly and took a very long time to bear any fruit.
OS: Goal 2 Increase the use of Ordnance Survey data
OS: It is recognised that the framework under which Ordnance Survey prices and licenses its data and services has become complex and unwieldy. Working with Shareholder Executive and OPSI, this is being comprehensively reviewed as part of the drive to improve focus on the customer. TFL: TfL would be slightly reassured that this review by the Shareholder Executive and OPSI would lead to a desirable outcome if the OS included its customers in this review
[CA: woooah!]
OS: The overall aim of the work is to make data more easily available and encourage innovation and competition in the market. TFL: The OS has frequently in the past used the ‘level Playing Field’ argument to inhibit any negotiation on their terms and conditions of contract. Clear, concise and transparent terms and conditions would assist here. Innovation has been stifled in the past by OS insisting that any use of there data must fit into one of their existing contracts.
OS: Under the new framework, Ordnance Survey will continue to license its data both indirectly and directly to end customers. Partners will continue to have appropriate licences so that the price they pay reflects the market value of their end product. However, Ordnance Survey wishes to re-examine the boundary between the different licensing routes to check they best support the current market and rationalise the suite of licences available to partners. TFL: Many users of OS data, and derived data wish to make their information available free of charge. If OS wish to licence their data so that the price paid by the user reflects the market value of the end product, does that mean that the OS data will also be free of charge?
OS: In particular, Ordnance Survey expects over time to offer many more products to commercial partners so that they can distribute them to end customers in parallel to Ordnance Survey itself. It is also examining how to give greater flexibility over the rights customers have to use data internally in their own business and better facilitate the use of data within the public sector that contains shared public sector intellectual property. TFL: We can see no advantage in the OS competing with the private sector for the distribution of mapping products, because on a level playing field they will lose, and if it is not level everyone will cry foul. OS should concentrate on the collection of data and leave the distribution to the private sector. In the public sector there should be total freedom for Govt bodies to define and complete their public role.
OS: Ordnance Survey is also reviewing all of its licence documents with the aim of making them shorter and easier to understand. TFL: The OS should appoint an independent body to review their licence documents and pay them based on the number of words deleted.
OS: The pricing structure that accompanies the new licensing framework will be transparent and reflect the work that is being undertaken to reduce costs across the organisation.
Ordnance Survey recognises that there is a desire for rapid change to the current system. However, it wants to ensure that it takes decisions about its pricing and licensing model with a thorough understanding of the impact it will have on customers, Ordnance Survey and others in the market. For that reason, comments are very welcome here on how the licensing framework should be reformed as part of the new strategy.
TFL: One of the major problems for users is the derived data issue which both restricts what the user can do with the derived data but also requires that the OS data and the derived data are deleted at the end of the licence term. One way to overcome this would be to make licences perpetual, so that having “purchased” the OS data the user can keep it, and any derived data for ever. OS needs to differentiate between a commercially derived product such as Geographers A-Z map and a Govt body’s derived data which may consist of discrete points lines or polygons describing their area of interest. It must be recognised that the current rules on derived data make OS map data legally unusable for many Govt bodies and they have to resort to increasingly complex and costly methods to avoid creating an OS derived data issue in completing their public task.
OS: It is expected that work on a new pricing and licensing framework and the plan for its rollout will be complete by October 2009. Ordnance Survey has asked the Office of Public Sector Information, together with Shareholder Executive, to be involved in the work from today to ensure that its thinking is independently challenged.
OS: GOAL 3: Support the sharing of information across the whole of the public sector
OS: Accurate and high-quality geographic information is playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of better public services and ensuring the Government is held to account by citizens. The public sector at both a national and a local level is an important part of Ordnance Survey’s customer base and it is committed to ensuring they receive data and services that best meet their requirements. TFL: The Public Sector would be best served by open competition in the supply of mapping data services, but all previous procurement have been skewed by the near monopoly situation of OS. The Public Sector has to go through lengthy and costly procurement processes to access their data.
OS: In particular, it is recognised that public sector bodies need to be able to share data including data with shared intellectual property (IP) with each other in support of the development of policy and its implementation at national and local level. TFL: The Public Sector also need to share data with the public, who ultimately pay for all this, and with the commercial sector, who will also pay if we can get through the minefield of licensing.
OS: The Pan-Government and One Scotland agreements for the provision of geographic information to central Government in England and Wales and central and local Government in Scotland came into force on 1st April 2009. Ordnance Survey is delighted to be part of both of these agreements that will better enable the delivery of public services.
Ordnance Survey recognises that it will face increasing competition from commercial rivals to deliver geographical information services to the public sector and others. Ordnance Survey welcomes this and aims to continually improve its offering to provide the best value-for-money for all its customers.
TFL: By competing with commercial rivals to deliver GI products, OS can no longer maintain its UK definitive role. For example in the Address field there are now two competing products both effectively paid for by the public purse and neither definitive, such that for the 2011 census additional public funds will be spent harmonising and incorporating other data to produce a comprehensive address list, which is a plain waste of public money and resources. Surely a better strategy would be for one public body, such as the OS, to collect GI data, using the commercial sector as appropriate. The data should then be made freely available to the Public Sector and marketed through commercial partners who create GI products.
OS: Following the success of bringing the public sector, including the NHS and Emergency Services, into a single agreement in Scotland (One Scotland Agreement) Ordnance Survey is now in discussion with central and local Government in England and Wales to determine how the new Ordnance Survey business strategy might support a similar goal. This would provide a common platform for use in delivering core public services using geographic information from Ordnance Survey and its competitors. TFL: The Ordnance Survey always insists that their agreements are “commercial confidential to the parties”, therefore other Govt bodies are unable to compare the success or benefits of one form of agreement with another. Greater openness and transparency would assist here.
OS: As part of this work, Ordnance Survey will also be discussing with Local Authorities, Land Registry, Royal Mail and others how it can align its methods of data capture and provision to ensure efficiency for the public purse.
OS: Goal 5 Enhance value through the creation of an innovative trading entity
OS: The geographic information market is undergoing huge change as a result of advances in technology. There is less and less distinction between viewing data on a computer, via the internet or on a mobile phone. Data collection methods are also changing radically, with technology driving costs down and users increasingly making their own contributions back to the original source data. TFL: Data collection methods are changing rapidly and driving costs down, but we question whether they are driving standards up. OS maps of London 100 plus years ago show street furniture, drainage gullies, lamp post, the internal building layouts of public buildings, all features long gone from their latest offerings. While the overall accuracy may have improved, the quality provided is actually quite low and worse than previously claimed.
OS: If it is to thrive in this market and continue to fulfil its core public duties, Ordnance Survey must adapt to this, just as it did 30 years ago in the move from paper to digitally-based information.
It is believed that there are greater opportunities for the Ordnance Survey brand particularly in the consumer marketplace. To explore and grow these opportunities in a transparent and timely manner, Ordnance Survey will establish a wholly-owned subsidiary company. This subsidiary will further Ordnance Survey’s ability to offer new and innovative services to government, business and individual customers alike.
The new company will initially explore the development of an enhanced brand presence through an extended consumer leisure portal. Research has strongly suggested that a richer website operating under the Ordnance Survey Company name and brand, will attract a far larger proportion of leisure enthusiasts. It is envisaged that this company will explore the opportunities afforded by the use of the Ordnance Survey brand for affiliate merchandising.
The new subsidiary is part of the drive to ensure that Ordnance Survey is sustainable for the medium-term and value is generated for the taxpayer. It will operate on the same terms in relation to Ordnance Survey data as any commercial rival.
TFL: As a large user of OS mapping in the public sector TfL suffers significant restrictions on its use of OS data because it is not licensed to engage in activities that are regarded as “competing activities” with OS’s commercial rivals. We are concerned as to how this will develop if OS is going to enter the market with this new trading company. There are a series of complex competition issues which arise from monopolistic or dominant undertakings seeking to enter a downstream market on a commercial basis. TfL is extremely concerned by this prospect and questions whether effective arms’ length arrangements will really be put in place. At a wider level, we also question whether this is really the most effective strategy for deriving overall public benefit.
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International man/woman of mystery: the silent, uncommunicative type, apparently

September 3rd, 2009

The tale of the International Man/Woman of Mystery – who “approved” the Ordnance Survey’s international comparisons study (which personally I thought was woeful) – just gets more and more incredible, or less and less credible.

Two more FOI responses came back today. You’ll recall that we previously established that the IM/WOM works, or has worked, for a foreign mapping organisation, and is a foreign national.

So we asked: Please could you provide the following information, none of which identifies the person:

1) which NMA employed or employs them, and is the employment ongoing?

2) if the employment is no longer ongoing, when did it end?

3) Is the person male or female?

To which the response came back:

I can confirm that Ordnance Survey does hold this information, however I regret to inform you that your request falls within the Personal information exemption under section 40 (2) (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). We believe this exemption applies because in our reasonable opinion the provision of the information requested would prejudice the anonymity of the individual and would serve to substantively assist in identifying them and remove their anonymity. As has been pointed out previously the individual does not wish their identity to be disclosed, therefore we will not be releasing this information to you. With regard to this matter, we will also take the same approach with any further requests that, in our opinion, prejudice the anonymity of, or substantively assist in identifying the individual concerned.

Possibly to be expected, but any one of the answers would arguably not have identified the person, and have been useful.

And so we tried a different tack. There must have been some discussion with this person setting up their examination of the study, right? So we asked for internal emails and other communication with them. (It would be redacted, of course…)

Back comes the reply:

Thank you for your email dated 5 August 2009 requesting: copies of all OS emails, letters and notes from any telephone conversations to or from the internationally recognised expert that were made in relation to their review of this study (for example approaching them to carry out the review, sending them the review, receiving their comments on the review).

I regret to inform you that Ordnance Survey is unable to help you with your enquiry as we do not hold this information. A copy of the report was provided to the person concerned and engagement on this matter was conducted orally with no permanent record made of these conversations. [Emphasis added – CA]

So basically they called a Good Friend up and asked them to cast an eye over it. No emails to or from? No phone conversations or letters? No written or emailed comments?

Is it just me, or is that incredible for a study that’s being prepared for the minister in order to consider the best method of funding the national mapping agency of Great Britain?

There are some other areas that we can probe. But this is just amazing. A study best described as sloppy, and a review that can only be described as secretive. And this is the new model for Ordnance Survey?

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Wikileaks produces OS confidential briefing to ministers

August 27th, 2009

Well, well. Wikileaks, the organisation that has leaked details about Daniel Arap Moi’s finances and UBS’s dealings, has provided something altogether more interesting than the identity of the international man or woman of mystery.

It’s a confidential briefing document by Sir Rob Margetts, chair of Ordnance Survey, Vanessa Lawrence, chief exec of OS, and Charlie Villar (who Google tells us is a member of the Shareholder Executive) to “the minister” – hard to know who but since it talks about various options such as the OpenSpace concept, which was unveiled earlier this year, we assume the minister in question was Iain Wright – else this would hardly be confidential information, would it?

The document – a 22-page PDF – is available from

One very interesting page is p9, which seems to offer a comparison of the “current” trading fund model, the “utility” – is that “free data”? – model, and the “hybrid” model, though not much is made clear about what the hybrid model actually involves. Except that moving to it doesn’t involve any restructuring costs, which seems incredible.

Your opinions welcome: what does it mean? Can this report somehow be the source of Sir Rob’s mysterious “cost the government £500m to £1bn to shift to a free data model” claim? And does that claim – and this briefing – actually stand up to public scrutiny, rather than the minister’s private office?

You’re the public. What do you think?

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You cannot charge for property searches, councils told, and you might have to pay some back

August 6th, 2009

Interesting decision by the Information Commissioner: property searches are environmental data, and as such should be made available to councils under Freedom of Information regulations.

This is pretty big – particularly for estate agents.

Thanks to EPSIPlus forum for the pointer:

As the head of the IPSA noted:

The ICO has published two section 50 rulings today against Local Authorities in England.

East Riding of Yorkshire – The ICO has ruled Building Control and Traffic data is EIR and the Local Authority must make the data available in 35 days.

Stoke City Council – The ICO has ruled Building Control and Traffic data is EIR and the Local Authority must make the data available in 35 days.

Failure to comply by either Local Authority may result in the ICO making written certification of this fact to the High Court (or the Court of Session in Scotland) pursuant to section 54 of the Act and may be dealt with as a contempt of court. Data must be made available under the pricing terms of EIR. The ICO is not satisfied by the ‘made available under another means’ (CON29R requests) and the payment of a full Local Authority fee. This is because the Charging Regulations (CPSR) acts as a barrier to the data.

The Property Search Industry will now seek reimbursement of fees paid under duress / under protest. (emphasis added).

Now, that could get rather interesting. And for cash-strapped councils, not being able to charge for property searches (or even parts of them, but particularly the environmental data side of them) is going to make a difference. If anyone knows how much councils make from those charges, we’d be very interested to know more.

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Free our data, says Lords info committee

August 6th, 2009

Simon Dickson has picked up what we were remiss in missing: the Lords Information Committee. He describes it as Free our data, says Lords info committee.

He notes that its final report

couldn’t really have been more in favour of the free our bills [as pushed by They Work For You, which would show you details of bills in progress in committee] agenda.

A key recommendation, among those listed in its listed in the press release:

(I’ve copied and pasted these from All credit to Simon for what’s below, apart from any mistakes in the stuff in [italics], which are my additions

  • information and documentation related to the core work of the House of Lords should be produced and made available online in an open standardised electronic format (not pdf) that enables people outside Parliament to analyse and re-use the data
  • the integration of information on Parliament’s website, eg biographical info on Members to be linked to their voting record, their register of interests, questions tabled, etc [basically, like They Work For You]
  • Bills should be presented on Parliament’s website in a way that makes the legislative process more transparent and easier to understand [=Free Our Bills]
  • an online system enabling people to sign up to receive electronic alerts and updates about particular Bills [rather like planningalerts, but for legislation]
  • a requirement on the Government to start producing Bills in an electronic format which both complies with “open standards” and is readily reusable [a bit like the Conservatives’ suggestions]
  • an online database to increase awareness of Members’ areas of expertise
  • an online debate to run in parallel with a debate in the Lords Chamber
  • greater access to Parliament for factual filming
  • a trial period during which voting in the Lords is filmed from within the voting lobbies
  • all public meetings of Lords committees to be webcast with video and audio
  • a review of the parliamentary language used in the House of Lords to make it easier for people outside the House to understand

Let’s see how it pans out. Is there time for this to be implemented before the election? Or would either of the main parties put it onto their agenda – or even manifesto?

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UKHo selling off its SeaZone subsidiary: but why?

August 5th, 2009

The UK Hydrographic Office is selling off SeaZone Solutions – but hurry, hurry, the bids must be in by midday Friday.

What’s SeaZone?

SeaZone Solutions Limited (“SeaZone”) specialises in the market for Marine GIS data, software and services, and is the world leader in the provision of Marine datasets. The business supports numerous public and private sector organisations across a range of planning, regulatory, engineering and asset management activities. The business is primarily focused on the UK Marine GIS market, has turnover of c.£1.0m and employs approximately 20 people.

And why the sale?

Acting for the Secretary of State in his capacity as sole shareholder in Admiralty Holdings Limited (“AHL”), SeaZone’s parent, the UKHO invites applications from innovative organisations to develop opportunities in the Marine GIS market through the SeaZone business and brand. The UKHO is seeking a strategic partner which can provide commercial expertise, product development, market & sales channel capabilities and investment to capitalise on the market opportunities in the Marine GIS sector.

This will move through to a shortlist of proposals by September 21, with a plan to complete the transaction by October 2009.

You can also get the SeaZone financial statements for 2007 and 2008 (PDF).

Amidst all the talk of UKHO privatisation, it’s intriguing to see this happening. Why sell SeaZone? What can’t UKHO do with it?

It is expected that increased development activity in the energy sector and marine legislation will continue to drive the market for Marine GIS and provide the business with significant future opportunities in the UK and overseas.

Possibly it’s that “overseas” angle that UKHO doesn’t quite want to grapple with. Is this a sign of UKHO focussing more tightly on things, or is it just piecemeal privatisation? Your comments and guidance on how this fits into the wider matrix of things – and especially into the free data debate – are really welcome here.

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International man/woman of mystery is: international; from an NMA

August 3rd, 2009

The OS has responded to our latest FOI request to try to establish more details about its international expert. And what do you know, they really are international.

And they used to work for a national mapping association (but not OS.)

Keep your ideas coming….

1) Is the “internationally recognised expert (a) British or (b) a foreign national?
A foreign national.

2) Is he or she a (a) currently employed in a UK academic institution, or (b) employed in the UK, or (c) employed in a UK government department, or (d) a UK government agency or trading fund.

3) If so, which institution, business/fund or arm of Government?
Not applicable.

4) Has the person retired from any of those listed in (2)?
Not applicable.

5) Has the person ever been employed by the Ordnance Survey and if so on what basis (eg full-time, continuous part-time, etc)?

6) Has the person ever been employed by a foreign National Mapping Association, and if so on what basis (eg full-time, continuous part-time, etc)?
Yes; full-time.

(This would be why Ed Parsons – well, we had to ask – and Dave Lovell, executive director of Eurogeographics, have turned out not to be the person. Only 5,750m people to go then…)

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..but we’re just as quick: more questions re the international man (or woman) of mystery

July 31st, 2009

We’ve taken on Nicholas Verge’s suggestion and sent another FOI request to OS about the international expert.

So once more unto the breach:

Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for your previous reply re the international expert who reviewed OS’s internal study on International Funding Models.

I note that the person does not wish to be named. I would like to request further details about the person, none of which I believe will require their identity to be revealed:

1) is the “internationally recognised expert (a) British or (b) a foreign national?

2) Is he or she a (a) currently employed in a UK academic institution, or (b) employed in the UK, or (c) employed in a UK government department, or (d) a UK government agency or trading fund.

3) If so, which institution, business/fund or arm of Government?

4) Has the person retired from any of those listed in (2)?

5) Has the person ever been employed by the Ordnance Survey and if so on what basis (eg full-time, continuous part-time, etc)?

5) Has the person ever been employed by a foreign National Mapping Association, and if so on what basis (eg full-time, continuous part-time, etc)?

Editing error: there are two questions 5. Let’s hope this doesn’t somehow invalidate the whole thing…

(I’m considering setting up a separate category for the IM/WOM. Any thoughts?)

Update: and just for completeness, we have asked Ed Parsons – formerly of OS, now of Google – whether he is the IM/WOM.

He responds, emphatically, that he is not. One less person…

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Well, that was quick: OS responds to FOI re international expert; mystery deepens (if that’s possible)

July 31st, 2009

Following yesterday’s – yesterday’s! – questions to the Ordnance Survey about the identity of the international expert, we’ve had a response.

Here it is (emphasis added):

Thank you for your email dated 30 July 2009 requesting: the following information regarding the internationally recognised expert in Geographical Information and National Mapping, which I believe does not identify them personally.

We are pleased to provide you with the following information with regard to your request.

1) Does the “internationally recognised expert” work in a full-time or continuous part-time capacity for Ordnance Survey? – No.

2) If the answer to (1) is no, was the person formally commissioned on a contract basis by OS to review its study? – No.

3) If the answer to (1) and (2) is no, on what remunerative basis did the person review the study? – None.

So the international expert isn’t employed on any basis by OS, and reviewed the study for free.

Now I’m really fascinated. Who is this person? Why would they review this study for nothing? (Remember, we’ve ruled out Steven Feldman, Max Craglia and Robin McLaren.

Remember the definition: an “internationally recognised expert in Geographical Information and National Mapping”. More candidates, please. Or suggestions on how we can narrow their identity down further – while noting that they don’t want to be identified.

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OS publishes almost unredacted version of international study

July 26th, 2009

The OS has at last, in response to my FOI request (thank you published an almost unredacted version of its international study, fully known as ” International Comparison of Geographical Information Trading Models – Study report”.

You can download it from the OS’s page about it, which contains the interesting addition (or is it that we only just noticed it?) that this is a study “which was commissioned by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Iain Wright MP, and formed one input to the Trading Funds Assessment undertaken by the Shareholder Executive and HM Treasury.”


Anyhow, your opinions on what the study tells us – and especially whether it actually does manage to confirm any of the things that it was trying to confirm – are extremely welcome. Comments as ever are open.

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That international consultant and man of mystery is… (updated)

July 23rd, 2009

…is still a mystery. Ordnance Survey today responded at 18.18 BST (by my computer’s timestamp) to my request for the name of the international consultant who looked over the OS’s study justifying its own findings.

And the outcome:

I can confirm that Ordnance Survey does hold this information

I suppose it might have been done by anonymous peer review, but it’s unlikely..

however I regret to inform you that your request falls within the ‘Personal information’ exemption under section 40 (2) (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). We believe this exemption applies because having contacted the person concerned Ordnance Survey has been requested to withhold their name in this instance, therefore we will not be releasing this information to you.

This person is turning in to some kind of remarkable beast. Let’s just remind ourselves of what we wanted to know: who is it that OS described as an “internationally recognised expert in geographical information and national mapping” who OS said had reviewed its study into how it should organise and charge for its service, and who “agreed with the analysis and conclusions”.

And now this person turns out to be such a shrinking violet that they don’t want to have their names in the papers and on the web?

This “internationally recognised expert” doesn’t want to be named? Doesn’t want to be named on a strategic study into one of the most important mapping agencies in the world?

This is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

We will now begin making representations to the minister ostensibly in charge of OS, Iain Wright.

And we haven’t even looked at the latest version of the study itself that arrived by email. Wonder what non-gems are buried in that.

Meanwhile, the search for Spartacus goes on…

Update: First: OS points out that since a recent reshuffle, Iain Wright is no longer the minister responsible; it’s now Ian Austin.

Second: following comments, I have put the question directly to Robin McLaren of Know Edge (mentioned in the comments below as a possible International Consultant and Man of Mystery). His reply, besides that in the comments below where he says Know Edge was not retained, is:

No, I have not been involved in the creation or review of the Ordnance Survey study. Like you, I am mystified as to who this ‘International Consultant’ may be.

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Interesting: ‘severable improvements’ and derived data and Ordnance Survey

July 22nd, 2009

An interesting blogpost by cloudsourced about “Why OpenSpaces and GeoVation Vexes Me So“, talking about the key question – generally – about trying to build stuff using the Ordnance Survey’s OpenSpace API: why does OS want to demand that what you build with it becomes OS’s property?

Derived Data. The single most stifling element of the Ordnance Survey’s licensing regime is the practice of claiming copyright over any data derived from an OS base map. This has massive implications to anyone in a public sector body, or anyone who wishes to use their data. Any geographical data created by a public sector body (who almost exclusively use OS data) is not their’s to do what they like with, it is claimed by the Ordnance Survey under their copyright. Local authorities cannot share the location of its rubbish bins with the public, does this sound absurd to anybody else? Derived Data stops dead any effective sharing of public geographic data, and any innovation that would come from it.

This is a topic we’ve gone over and over. Interestingly, cloudsourced links to the terms & conditions of the OpenSpace API, which goes like this in section 5.4 on Derived Data:

5.4.1 You may create Derived Data, and You may permit End User’s to create Derived Data, in connection with Your Web Application. In the event that You or any End User creates Derived Data, such Derived Data shall be owned by Us

Flipping heck! Same old rubbish. But hang on, what’s this?

save that if any Derived Data is created which is a severable improvement (as defined by Commission Regulation (EC) No 772/2004, known as the Technology Transfer Block Exemption) of the Ordnance Survey Data then such Derived Data shall be owned by the person or entity creating the same.

Now the “severable improvement” bit caught my attention suddenly. Never noticed that before. But what is a “severable improvement”? It’s explained a little by crschmidt, who links to a discussion on the OpenStreetMap mailing list, where Richard Fairhurst describes it as

In practice, then, I read that to mean that if you use the Sustrans webmapping to find out where the routes go, this information is solely copyright Sustrans (who might be more willing to give permission) and not OS, even though it’s delivered through the medium of a derived work. So, if you had the wiggly lines already (whether mapped by GPS or NPE), you could tag them as NCN routes if Sustrans were ok with that.

My reading: if you’ve got something that didn’t come from OS, and which you can stick onto one of its maps wholesale, and remove wholesale, then it’s not – and cannot be – claimed as derived data by OS. But that doesn’t help if you don’t have it in some separate form; if you use OS as a base, then it’s derived data.

As Ed Parsons (formerly OS, now Google) points out in the comments

There is a relatively simple way to define derived information, and that is to ask what is not… If i create a new feature that is not represented as a feature on the original map/dataset it cannot be derived from it. If the OS would just agree with this it world more things forward.. but then we have been asking for this for years… At some point you have to move beyond cock-up territory to conspiracy…

We like Ed’s definition. It makes sense. I wonder quite what the effect on OS would be of adopting that definition. How sizeable a reduction in licence fees?

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Sounds like fun: Society of Cartographers summer school

July 13th, 2009

(A public service announcement for our cartographic readers.)

Booking is now open for the Society of Cartographers Summer School at the University of Southampton from 7-9th Sept 2009.

If you want to:

  • hear the Director General of the Ordnance Survey talking about the future of the National Mapping Agency
  • hear about the new UKMap large scale map database
  • take part in a workshop on Google mashing, OS OpenSpace or OpenLayers
  • keep up to date on crowdsourcing
  • see how people are using OpenStreetMap data in the real world
  • hear the latest ideas on emergency mapping, transport mapping, 3d mapping and wayfinding
  • network with your peers and leaders in developments in cartography

then check out the programme at:
and register at:

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Naughty, very naughty: Ernest Marples frees the postcodes

July 11th, 2009

An interesting new site – – is trying to make postcodes free.

The people behind it (the whois details tell you that it’s registered to a location in SW1A 1AA, which happens to be Buckingham Palace) are Harry Metcalfe and Richard Pope.

They insist, when asked the question of “where does the data come from?” that

We’re not saying. But, just to be clear: we don’t hold a copy of the postcode database ourselves, neither in complete form nor as part of a cache.

But their aim is clear enough:

Post codes are really useful, but the powers that be keep them closed unless you have loads of money to pay for them. Which makes it hard to build useful websites (and that makes Ernest sad).

So we are setting them free and using them to run and Jobcentre Pro Plus. We’re doing the same as everyone’s being doing for years, but just being open about it.

Hopefully the Government and Royal Mail will realise the value of this service and license us to offer it officially and for free. If not, and this website gets shut down, we’ll close the websites we’ve made that make use of this site’s lookup service. Permanently.

There’s a long list of people who have supported it. We’ll add our voice. The Free Our Data campaign thinks it’s a good idea to make postcodes freely available.

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OS expert isn’t Max Craglia either… so who is it?

July 10th, 2009

You’ll recall the famous scene in the film Spartacus (directed of course by the same man who went on to direct 2001: A Space Odyssey) in which the Roman troops have captured the rebel slaves, and are trying to find out which of them is Spartacus, their leader.

At which one man stands up and says “I’m Spartacus!” And another, and another…

Well, the search for the identity of Ordnance Survey’s “internationally recognised expert” who looked over its calculations for its international comparison of mapping agency funding models is like that. Only in reverse. “I’m not Spartacus!” seems to be what people are saying.

In response to a suggestion in the comments that the person in question might be Dr Max Craglia, of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, a specialist in geographic information policies. So we sent off a quick email to him, asking if he was the one. (Don’t know who he is? main profile, another profile.)

“I regret I am not the expert you are looking for,” he responded, sounding more like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars than Spartacus.

We’ve noted this in a roundup of what also happened at the Activate 09 summit, organised by the Guardian and part-sponsored by Ordnance Survey.

Among the other issues there were whether OS’s maps are fit for 21st-century digital economy purpose (Tom Watson MP, formerly of the Cabinet Office, thinks not) and also whether National Rail – the company owned by the train operating companies, rather than the nationalised success to Network Rail – should make its train running times available for free. Since it’s private-sector data, it doesn’t fall under the FOD campaign’s “government-owned or -generated non-personal data” umbrella.

Then again, the reaction on Twitter also suggests that with so many government billions being poured into the private rail sector, it would make sense to demand the data for free as a quid pro quo. It’s an argument that does have merits.

So in the meantime does anyone have any more (realistic) suggestions for who OS’s Spartacus is?

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