Free Our Data: the blog

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

Derek Clarke, head of South Africa’s mapping agency, responds to our questions

We earlier noted some questions we had about South Africa’s free mapping. So we emailed Derek Clarke, the head of the Chief Directorate, Surveys and Mapping. Here are our questions, and his answers.

  1. How is the CDSM’s funding guaranteed, and is it enough to keep up to date with changes in South Africa’s geography?
    Funding is 100% from the Parliamentary vote. It is not enough to satisfy all client needs – but must be seen in the context of affordability for the country.
  2. How much has the move to a ‘free data’ model cost, compared with the revenues you received before from selling digital data? Or have you found a way to compensate for that by increasing revenues from other sources?
    Previously the revenue generated was approx. R3.5 million [£243,000 at current exchange rates – CA]. It has had no impact on us as all the revenue had to be returned to the central revenue fund of government. Previously there was no incentive to sell data, except for the satisfaction of knowing that you have happy clients. It should be noted that most of our clients are other government departments and therefore the money paid is government money – government paying itself makes no sense but causes administrative waste.
  3. Is this [free data model] sustainable?
    If we did retain revenue generated it was insignificant compared to the operating budget – approx 5%
  4. Has the number of organisations, both public and private-sector, taking the CDSM’s digital data increased with this move?
    Yes, by about 500%. This figure could be inflated because some requests could be over-serviced (getting more than what the client really needs)
  5. Do you think that the economy as a whole has benefited from this move (that is, have the taxes generated by private-sector companies

using your data, or savings made through using it, compensated for any loss in revenue from charging for digital data)?
Yes. This was one of the motivating factors to make data free – to stimulate the private sector in providing services and to reduce their input costs. The spin-off being job creation.

  • Do you think this model is applicable in other countries, such as the UK?
    This model should be applicable to all developing countries where the government must play a developmental role. The same situation does not apply to developed countries with mature markets. However, governments of developed countries should evaluate the opportunity cost of geo-spatial data – it may be more beneficial to the country to make data free. Please note that the price of data and copyright are two different issues. It is possible to have free data but still have copyright on that data. Copyright on free data is not used to restrict the use of the data but rather to ensure that the user acknowledges the source and also to ensure that no other party claims a copyright on that data.
  • We’ve also followed up in this story in The Guardian Technology section.

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