17 November 2009

Has Ordnance Survey Managed to Find a Clue?

This is better than I was expecting:

Speaking at a seminar on Smarter Government in Downing Street later today, attended by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, the Prime Minister will set out how the Government and Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s national mapping agency, will open up its data relating to electoral and local authority boundaries, postcode areas and mid scale mapping information.

The Government will consult on proposals to make data from Ordnance Survey freely available so it can be used for digital innovation and to support democratic accountability.


Data relating to electoral and local authority boundaries as well as postcode areas would be released for free re-use, including commercially. Mid-scale digital mapping information would also be released in the same way.


The highest-specification Ordnance Survey products and services – such as those used by property developers or the utility companies – would be charged for on a cost-reflective basis.

This suggests that people in government are gradually beginning to understand that they can give away much of their data - well, actually, *our* data - and still generate revenue by targetting particular remunerative sectors.

I was also interested to read this:

Freely available facts and figures are essential for driving improvements in public services. It puts information, and therefore power, in the hands of the public and the service providers to challenge or demand innovation in public services.

The Prime Minister has set out the importance of an open data policy as part of broader efforts to strengthen democracy – creating a culture in which Government information is accessible and useful to as many people as possible in order to increase transparency and accountability, improve public services and create new economic and social value.

Now, I'm not so naïve as to believe this signals a massive sea-change in the present UK government's attitude to open data, openness and transparency. But what's significant is that it clearly feels the need at least to mouth the words: that is, it's aware that it is not in Kansas any more, and that the Ordnance Survey in its current form won't be providing any maps for them....

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Richard Drake said...

Glyn, thanks for diligently tracking these key areas for people like me who don't have the time to do so.

I've been thinking much this year about how greater government commitment to open data (and open source, to a lesser extent) should impact the very closed world of research into anthropogenic global warming at places like the University of East Anglia and the Hadley Centre.

(We had a bit of an interaction on Twitter on AGW and Ross McKitrick's truth-based cap and trade proposal back in June, if you remember.)

Even if we disagree about how well-founded AGW concerns are, scientifically, surely you would agree that everyone gains from data and code being completely open in this area, which it most definitely is not at present?

This was triggered by seeing you on Twitter as I mentioned the importance of the open source language R for the more intelligent critics of the AGW 'consensus'. So, interesting to come over here and see that Tim B-L (whom I've met just the once at MIT and to whom I introduced the wiki idea in 1999) was doing something on a not too distant topic today, not far from us both.

Kind regards,

Richard Drake

Glyn Moody said...

@Richard: it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it...

Yes, I agree absolutely that data and code should be as widely available as possible: I've written quite a lot about the irony of scientists refusing to hand out their data...

More generally, neither side of any argument should fear more information being made available, which is why I always fight for openness and transparency in all domains...

Richard Drake said...

Very glad to hear you've made it a specific point of issue. The latest response from Keith Briffa of the Climate Research Unit at the UEA certainly makes light of the obstruction and unhelpfulness of the past - like posting data many months after you are required to by a Royal Society journal and not letting anyone know that you have. The eventual discovery is what led to a flurry of activity this autumn on the web on the Yamal (NW Siberia) treebore data, a subject of much curiosity for some years because of its key role in the temperature reconstructions of the United Nations IPCC.

But Briffa and the CRU are at least making the right kind of noises about the future:

All of the data produced at CRU (sampled from living oaks or pines at various sites around the UK and Scandinavia) have been provided on request. (All of the data used or produced in the analysis described here are provided on the Data page.)

That's good to know, but source code at every level, including for all the climate models on which our doom is apparently based, should also be made open as a matter of course. Such openness of code and data should indeed become international standards.

Glyn Moody said...

@richard: Thanks for the links.

I think what we're seeing is that the old ways of thinking are now being seriously challenged and found wanting. I expect to see all such research data routinely made available for all in the future: dunno when, though...