OS Consultation; a fairy tale ?

The past couple of months seems to have offered a cathartic opportunity for the relatively small UK Geographic Information Industry to get some long terms issues off its collective chest.

In no particular order we have seen the following public responses to the Consultation for the future of Ordnance Survey. (Let me know if  you know of any more.. updated – thanks for all the links, keep them coming)

All these responses share a common opinion that the status-quo or Ordnance Survey’s own strategy (remember that?)  for it’s future is not acceptable.

In many cases the responses quite rightly identify the issue as something wider than just should OS make some data free, but what is the UK strategy for the use of Geographic Information in general.

This strategic view is something which has never been defined clearly, but is something OS has unfortunately tried to remain gatekeeper for, as it’s Director General is advisor to Government on all things geographical.

The consultation understandably and in my mind quite rightly has remained focused on the specifics of making OS data free, and in the great tradition of Civil Service options papers offers a Goldilocks Choice; one too cold, one too hot and one option just about acceptable.

Option 1 appears to maintain the status-quo and I don’t see anyone outside the Romsey Road distortion field supporting it.

Option 2 is perhaps something that may be achievable in the long term with continued technological change and changing market requirements, however at the moment this would put Ordnance Survey in a position where it’s current operational processes are financially unsustainable.

So Option 3 represents the obvious compromise,  some small scale data for free while allowing the cash cow of MasterMap to continue to fund a reduced but largely similar OS to the one we have today.

There are of course two rather large Elephants in the room, one of which appears to have been put into the “too difficult” bucket and the other is not mentioned perhaps because by making data free the issue will disappear ?

Postal Geography, the fact there is no single address register which can be used without major limitations is a national embarrassment, for a knowledge economy this is the equivalent of trying to run railways before a single standard time was introduced.   This is an issue bigger than Ordnance Survey, although OS has had it’s part to play in the current mess, this really does need strategic leadership from the centre.

Derived Data, OS must stop its current practice of claiming intellectual property rights to any geospatial product created with even passing reference to Ordnance Survey products as “derived” information. There is no direct mention of this is the consultation, and if OS data is made available using a CC-BY license then this may not be an issue, but I would really like to see this clarified.

I just can’t help thinking however them is a dreamlike / fairy tale element to this process, Goldilocks aside.  The consultation process ends today, and Government will probably shut down and enter Purdah in 2 weeks, I just hope we don’t wake up after the election and find the whole process was a dream and the new administration has much bigger issues to deal with.

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

21 Replies to “OS Consultation; a fairy tale ?”

  1. Of course Ed there is a third Elephant that you did not spot, although how you missed it with it being the biggest in the room is beyond me, perhaps you chose to ignore it?


    Who is going to pay for this free data? The consultation was at best hazy on this… Whenever central funding for OS data for government has been proposed Treasury have insisted that data should be paid for at the point of use – will they change this view to support OS free? It does not seem likely from the consultation, it suggests tariff rebalancing as a way to increase governments subsidisation of OS. Anyone have any suggestions on how I can convince my CEO that she has to put more of her rapidly shrinking budget into paying for data rather than delivering outcomes for the environment?

    It is for this reason that most government bodies including the steering group for the PGA (central governements collective purchasing agreement) can only state support for option 1 – maintaining the status quo.

    I think everyone agrees that option 2 would offer the most potential for innovation but that it would be expensive. It is my view that option 3 would just create more of a mess and ultimately a reduction in the cash available to organisations delivering key public services.

    This is my view and not that of my employer.

  2. British Cartographic Society (BCS)

    Consultation on Policy options for Geographic information from Ordnance
    Survey, Department for Communities and Local Government

    Response from the British Cartographic Society


    “The complicated, expensive, inflexible and often inconsistently applied licensing arrangements for the use of OS data and maps”
    “proposed Options 2 and 3 are both steps too far”
    “The provision of selected mid-scale and small-scale data free is largely to be welcomed”

    clear as mud?

  3. and the British Computer Society (BCS) put in a response which will be on line in due course (or contact me for a copy if you haven’t got enough responses to read already!)

  4. So folks, what do you think of the outcome, and am I, as a beleaguered GI manager in a local authority, right to be very very concerned? – We all have to make cuts next year, and any increase will be very unpopular….

    btw, my text check for commenting is “assume serpent” which made me smile 🙂

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