The Lockerbie question and OS funding

This week the guardian “free our data” campaign recaps on a years activities and what progress has been made, not a great deal I’m afraid, awareness may have been increased, but this is still not an issue on the political radar screen because as Charles and Michael point out, there really is nobody in government with the remit for information.

This week a comment I made at the Open Knowledge conference last weekend is used, I think, to support the campaigns aims, maybe it can be used in that way, but my intention in bringing up the “Lockerbie question” was to point out the dangers of under-funding national mapping.

The “next Lockerbie” – a disaster such as a plane crash in a remote area – could bring problems for emergency services. Last year the government ended its “National Interest Mapping Service Agreement”, which funded the mapping by Ordnance Survey of remote areas that a private organisation might not bother with. As recently as 2004-05, Nimsa made up 11% of the Ordnance Survey’s turnover. The effect, says Ed Parsons, until December chief technology officer of OS, is that changes in remote areas of Scotland may go unmapped for years – “which is fine, until the next Lockerbie happens”. OS says it will continue a “mapping for emergencies” helpline service.

I would argue that the demise of NIMSA points out the major weakness in the argument for direct taxpayer funding of national mapping activities, in the one area of the work carried out by the OS which was directly funded by government, that funding was cut when the money got tight, and these activities were sacrificed to allow DCLG to continue to fund tasks it deemed more important.

The only organisations which actually value information are those who use it, and it therefore is logical that they should pay for it.

However, although I firmly believe the current funding model for the OS is the correct one, I am not going to argue that as currently defined the licensing framework around the crown copyright data the OS manages is fit for purpose.

There needs to be a fundamentally new approach to licensing OS data which allows greater access to information, and yes for some types of data and for some types of user this would be without cost to the end user. This could be achieved with minimal impact on the financial performance of OS but could inject a major boost to the UK GI industry.

Written and submitted from the BA lounge, Schipol, using the BT Openzone 802.11 network.

2 comments

  1. Charles Arthur

    The intention wasn’t to co-opt you or suggest you support our ‘free data’ model, Ed. I did think though it was a very pertinent point – and raises the question of how important government funding is.

    Had a meeting today with Baroness Ashton at DCA, who is in charge of OPSI, and mentioned your Lockerbie point – to emphasise that OS does need government funding for those elements that commercial organisations might overlook. Why map Skye, or the outlying islands?

    She’s very interested in the whole debate, which is about as much as we can say specifically.

  2. Ed

    Hi Charles,

    Well it’s good to see some interest, at least from politicians in the debate – look fwd to your report

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