Data Policy Ordnance Survey

Power of Information Taskforce – Homework for the OS

The influential Power of Information task force,  the group working within the Cabinet Office to suggest better ways of using Government Information has published their interim report back to government in a “wiki-like” form to allow comments from the community before final publication.

As any reader of this blog will expect, there is considerable discussion of the potential value and problems associated with  access to geospatial data in the UK. 

The report make a number of recommendations which don’t really appear to be that radical,  and are not a million miles away from suggestions I have made in the past, lets hope the influence of the cabinet office can move policy in Southampton with more success.

Here are the recommendations themselves..

Basic geographic data such as electoral and administrative boundaries, the location of public buildings, etc. should be available free of charge to all.

There should be simple, free access to general mapping and address data for modest levels of use by any user

Voluntary and community organisations pursuing public policy objects should benefit from straightforward standard provisions for ensuring access to geospatial data at all levels of use

Licensing conditions should be simplified and standardised across the board and, for all but the heaviest levels of use, should be on standard terms and conditions and should not depend on the intended use or the intended business model of the user.

The OpenSpace API, similar to but currently a constrained version of Google Maps should become the primary delivery point for the Ordnance Survey’s services

Although not a recommendation in itself, clearly a key point remains the OS view of derived data, and it viral effect on the creation of geospatial data in the UK, the current situation where even the smallest use of OS mapping in locating a new feature on a map results in the OS claiming IP on the whole map cannot continue.

Overall the report itself and the process by which it has been created are a great example of how Government can really make use of “web 2.0” approaches to change how policy is developed, discussed and communicated.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

10 replies on “Power of Information Taskforce – Homework for the OS”

For local government the issue of derived data is key as I’ve commented elsewhere. Because authorities have for years been creating their own datasets by digitising over OS data they have in effect been driving down a dead end road. The realization that the road was a dead end has only come recently with the knowledge that there are datasets available other than from the Ordnance Survey. We can’t afford not to sign the forthcoming Mapping Services Agreement for another four years because without an OS license we can’t continue using our own datasets. I can understand the OS wanting to prevent wholesale reproduction or copying of its mapping and there is a grey area between wholesale reproduction and datasets which are created for valid reasons but which follow OS boundaries quite comprehensively (like datasets of land parcels for instance). But for simpler datasets, for example conservation area boundaries, in no way is it in the public interest for the OS to prevent reuse of these datasets by claiming IPR over them. A conservation area boundary is of absolutely no interest to the OS. Most likely it’s been created without wholly reproducing any single OS map feature or polygon, so what is the point in OS claiming IPR over it???

We’re really in a catch 22 situation here. We can’t move away from OS mapping because of the derived data issue with our existing datasets. If there was not an issue here, we would swap mapping suppliers pretty quickly. Open Streetmap is superior in my opinion to the OS raster datasets and we are able to source alternative large scale mapping. We have also ensured that the new air survey that we have commissioned for this year gives us unfettered ability to digitise from it and submit data to public domain datasets like OpenStreetmap without any IPR issues. Yes we paid slightly for the privilege but it’s worth it to get some data out there in the public domain!

Be sure to be in touch with someone in OpenStreetMap project (if you are not already) when any data/imagery is available from the air survey you mention. Welcome to use me as a conduit if you need to.
Cheers, STEVE

Something of possible interest to you all…

The National Academy of Public Administration (in the US) houses the Collaboration Project — a forum of leaders committed to leveraging web 2.0 technologies. This report and its coverage are welcome news about government taking steps to encourage the use of collaborative tools. We’ve posted a link to the story on our website:

We’ve also got a repository of over 50 cases of government Web 2.0 initiatives, results and lessons learned (mostly US, but some international). Check them out here:

Things would be easier (in some ways) if the Ordnance Survey (OS) was still a government organisation – the government could simply change the rules. Trying to tell a private company what to do is more difficult. I suggest re-nationalising OS whilst the government has “Nationalising Companies for Dummies” out of the library.

I’m a bit confused here. What is the difference between the OS view of derived data and that of Google Earth? GE wants ownership of my data too when I use it in a GE mashup.


No I think you may have misread the TOS..

“11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

So, the question I’m being asked (by a local government department) is if I use Google Earth to obtain location information, is that Ordnance Survey derived information? I don’t believe so, as they don’t ‘own’ latitude and longitude, but my contact is going to prove nervous until I can say yes or no.

Thanks for your very clear articles, Ed.



You are correct, if you just use Google Earth to identify the location of a feature from imagery, you are free of the OS derived data virus.


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