So on Monday night I attended the RSA debate on the “Free our Data” campaign. I was originally scheduled to speak representing the OS, but was replaced on the night by my boss.. I was quite happy for this, as Vanessa is much better at representing Ordnance Survey and the other Trading Funds than myself, I sometimes have personal conflicting views with my organisation which often leak out by mistake !!
So what are my thoughts..
I very much enjoyed the event, not sure to what extent it was really a debate, many people came with their existing views and agenda well established and I doubt if many of these were changed by the end. I was very impressed that the event attracted so many people on a hot summers evening – well over 200 people !
Much of the debate did focus around the OS and its position in the UK GI market, you can understand why this happened, but I did feel for the non GI industry part of the audience, who may not have picked up on all the intricacies of some of the arguments around Ordnance Survey.
For me a key point that I personally think needs clarification is the difference between business models and licensing frameworks, in relation to the OS in particular. There remains an active and valid debate around the business model of OS which actually boils down to who pays – taxpayer or user and which model would provide the greatest benefit to UK PLC.
My personal views around this are quite clear and well known, in that I believe the user pays model is best, primary because it establishes a direct link between the beneficiary of data and the supplier. A model funded by general taxation would put the OS in the general melting pot of Government spending and traditionally, in all countries, the funding of geographic information is never high on any politicians agenda, look at the chronic underfunding of the USGS for example. This is not the case interestingly I would suggest for statistical information, which perhaps more directly is seen to drive policy ?
I think it is important however to separate out the business model debate from issues around the licensing of OS data which is of concern to some of the OS partners represented at the event.
I don’t think anybody would argue that there are no issues with current OS licensing, the framework today is a result of a number of years incremental additions, changes , and modifications which have resulted in something which is difficult to understand and even more difficult to change to better reflect the needs of our partners in rapidly changing markets.
There are some elements even, which I personally find very difficult to defend, but the bottom line here is that there is no silver bullet which is going to change these overnight – change is absolutely needed in my opinion, but it will take time and commitment both from the OS in trying to find simplicity while maintaining a level playing field, and from our partners who need almost unbearable patience.
if you attended I’d be interested in your views, the debate will be podcast in due course from the RSA website.
Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.