[geo-discuss] quasi-public goods

Giles Lane giles at proboscis.org.uk
Mon Jul 25 17:02:13 UTC 2005

Dear All,

I met with Phil Watts (the head of pricing and licensing strategy in  
the OS' Corporate Office) last week and we spoke at length about both  
the Creative Commons-style license I proposed to them back in April  
and other aspects of GIS and public good. Phil acknowledged the gap  
in OS provision of data for the (as he put it) 'charity and voluntary  
sector' and I gave him a crash course in the legal concepts behind  
Creative Commons and reciprocity of trust in non-monetary exchanges.  
Apparently the OS is now moving (albeit slowly) towards addressing  
this gap and it seems we have an opportunity to engage the  
strategists in the corporate office (both Phil and Dave Lovell, the  
head of public affairs).

There seems to be a good understanding of the benefits this will  
bring. Clearly it supports the non-profit sector and also the OS --  
not only in terms of helping them understand more about what people  
need from GIS, but also in helping them deliver their public service  
remit. As part of our Social Tapestries work Proboscis will start a  
'double-bottom line' value-chain analysis later in the year looking  
at what each entity in a non profit use of free GIS data would bring  
and what benefit they would receive. We think there is scope to  
outline more than just benefit in kind, but demonstrable economic  
(read monetary) benefits as part of this.

A big concern that the OS has is that if they are providing data for  
*free* they should receive some benefit from its use. This might be  
from analysing how its is used and changing their data collection/ 
surveying to address a previously unknown need (see our proposals on  
public authoring and a 'public knowledge commons' in our recent Urban  
Tapestries reports) or simply in terms of enabling non-commercial  
uses that help them achieve their public service remit to reach  
everyone, not just a few market segments. I think Roger offered some  
interesting examples of this kind of 'reciprocity' back at the event  
in April and it would not be hard to create some scenarios exploring  
this. If we can link these back to the value chain analysis I think  
we would have a powerful argument for the OS making data available  
for free at some point in the near future.

Phil explained some more about OS licenses for the public sector  
which I (and most public sector people I know) was unaware of -- such  
as a Local Authority License similar to the Central Government  
license. What is particularly of interest here is that schools are  
included in the license and in theory have access to OS data (not  
just maps). In practice most don't have the IT staff to access and  
use the data, or the local authority doesn't have the capacity to  
deliver the data, or it operates an internal market and charges the  
school's budget for access. OS and BECTA are working on a scheme to  
make access available to all schools to get around this issue. I  
think there's some really big opportunities here for local mapping if  
hackers are prepared to develop software that schools can use (we're  
working on something like this with the Urban Tapestries software  
platform and this was of great significance). I'd like to see how  
this kind of licence for local authorities extends to organisations  
like Tenant Management groups on council-owned housing estates and  
other independent groups/communities whose remit is directly linked  
to local authorities (again we're working with a tenant management  
group on an estate in west London to help them plan their  
regeneration strategy using Urban Tapestries).

Phil also offered some interesting insights into the problems of  
government ownership and the lack of investment over the last 10-15  
years. From the OS' point of view it seems that becoming a Trading  
Fund has enabled them to embark on a big investment programme to  
catch up with the competition. I get the impression that being  
absorbed back into mainstream government is seen as a sure way to  
continue the previous 15 years' lack of required investment and lose  
the OS its leadership in GIS. In regard to NIMSA there is also the  
impression that it will not continue after the present agreement  
ends, or will do so in a much reduced state. On the subject of  
percentage of revenue generated from all forms of public purse  
sources he also estimated that it was now no more than 50% of all  
monies received.



Giles Lane
2 Ormonde Mansions, 100A Southampton Row, London WC1B 4BJ
T:     020 7209 4042
M:    07711 069 569
W:    http://proboscis.org.uk

On 25 Jul 2005, at 13:29, Roger Longhorn wrote:

> Jo,
> At 07:10 24/07/2005 -0700, you wrote:
>> I dug out the 1999 paper which the OS website quotes everywhere on  
>> the
>> subject of how OS data 'underpins 100 billion worth of business' (for
>> which read, OS sell some data to companies which have throughput of
>> 75-125 billion between them)
>> http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/aboutus/reports/oxera/
> I have yet to find any government official in the UK or elsewhere  
> who is impressed with this figure (when you talk to them privately,  
> that is!). Especially among the departments or ministries who must  
> provide funding for geospatial data collection at national or even  
> local level. Sure, OS data *may* 'underpin' vast sums of 'business'  
> - but then, so does the transport network, financial  
> infrastructure, legal infrastructure, etc. One might as well say  
> that the educational infrastructure underpins the same amount - or  
> even more. A very impressive figure that doesn't mean much, in  
> practice.
>> i was fascinated to see the Jamie Love connection in the citing of
>> government-collected spatial information as a "quasi-public good",
>> which appears in other papers that reference this one, e.g.
>> http://geoinfo.uneca.org/sdiafrica/Chap_HTML/07Financing.htm
>> thoughts:
>> - the ideas of non-excludability on which the definition of public
>>   good is built don't seem to apply to digital goods. All digital
>>   goods tend towards being quasi-private in the current IP climate
>> - if NIMSA funded data collection is clearly separable from other  
>> geodata
>>   collection, and *is* classified as a public good, then surely  
>> public
>>   access to that information should also be considered a public good?
> Unfortunately, I don't believe that the NIMSA funded data is or can  
> be separated out, specifically, from all the data collected by OS  
> GB. (But I could be wrong on that, since one use for NIMSA funding  
> is supposed to be to pay for data collection in those geographic  
> areas where there *is* no commercial market (hence precluding cost  
> recovery), which implies very low demand from either government  
> (including local) or business users (i.e. no sales value). Whether  
> or not that would apply to 'citizens', I've never seen discussed  
> elsewhere. NIMSA is also used for things that are supposed to help  
> on a wider scale, e.g. the whole GIgateway, UK national portal for  
> GI metadata, is funded from the NIMSA budget line.
>> i am not an economist, and the lingo is intermittently penetrable.
>> i thought the papers might catch someone's interest though.
> So many different meanings are often attached to "open data", "open  
> source", "free software", "public good", "public domain" (which is  
> actually a legal definition that is often misused) - that when we  
> get into the realm of "quasi-public good" etc. - I give up! ;>)
> Roger
> ral at alum.mit.edu
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