Response to the Public Data Policy for PDC Consultation

26 Oct

It is very confusing that these two separate consultations are being run in different ways by different departments at the same time. I’d also note that others have commented that key elements are left out of the two consultations. I didn’t feel quite as uneasy about this one , except for seeing the dead hand of Treasury all over it. There’s a feeling of mandarins standing behind saying “open data and simpler data are ok provided and only if you can reduce the burden on taxation”. And I do have a little sympathy for that kind of view; in particular the Trading Funds are largely NOT paid from taxation, and therefore largely NOT already our data. However, I completely lose that sympathy when I realise the extent to which those bodies are trading in our core reference data, and doing so by excluding our access to it. Anyway, here is the text of my response (again the questions are numbered according to chapter then question, and missing questions had “no comment”)…

4Q1 “How do you think Government should best balance its objectives around increasing access to data and providing more freely available data for re-use year on year within the constraints of affordability? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.”

This question needs to distinguish market segments more clearly. Big corporations similar to many existing customers are accustomed to taking data based on cost and licences and re-using it, as a commercial decision. However, the new capabilities opening up are of an entirely different nature. The ability to combine data sources to create new services of value to the citizen is often completely stymied by any significant kind of charge, particularly where this comes with limited access in order to provide artificial scarcity. Licence conditions can also render data sources useless, as incompatible terms gradually reduce the allowable capability. But these new innovative uses are precisely those that will provide new economic opportunities. Current customers are clearly less interested in this approach, so you must be careful how you listen to them. This is our government, these are our data, and our innovators will create new economic opportunities as a result, paying more taxes and receiving less benefits in the process. The model MUST be one that provides stimulus for innovation, and of the 3 options the Freemium model seems most appropriate, and the one most capable of being engineered into innovative services.

4Q2. Are there particular datasets or information that you believe would create particular economic or social benefits if they were available free for use and re-use? Who would these benefit and how? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.

Anything that bears the label “core reference data” is a strong candidate for being essential information with the potential to create economic and social benefits. The examples of individuals being sued for using Post Code data, the way in which individuals have found it necessary to build their own mapping data through OpenStreetMap, the way that OS has lost its mapping advantage for the citizen to Google Maps, the way that OS licences made it not possible to publish scholarly articles based on use of data properly licensed from OS; these are all examples of core reference data being withheld from society to our overall disadvantage.

4Q3. What do you think the impacts of the three options would be for you and/or other groups outlined above? Please provide evidence to support your answer where possible.

Option 1 (status quo plus commitment to more free data) is not acceptable because the status quo is too perverse, in terms of baroque licence conditions and bizarre charging. Option 2 (seductively called Harmonisation and Simplification) is not acceptable as it creates single charges without recognising the real diversity of markets, and also because it would stifle innovation as discussed above. Option 3 (the Freemium model) does have real potential to provide freely accessible and re-usable data coupled with an income. However, it would need to be operated imaginatively and without too much of an eye on the short-term bottom line. Charge only for real added value. This is a long term, economy-reinventing strategy.

4Q4. A further variation of any of the options could be to encourage PDC and its constituent parts to make better use of the flexibility to develop commercial data products and services outside of their public task. What do you think the impacts of this might be?

The impact is likely to be disastrous. Leave commercial products to commercial competitors who can fail as well as succeed. This approach would divert the PDC’s attention from its real task of making our data available to and for us, stimulating a new economy, and not costing us too much while doing it.

4Q5. Are there any alternative options that might balance Government’s objectives which are not covered here? Please provide details and evidence to support your response where possible.

Well, while government’s objectives include charging us for our data, they cannot be balanced against the rights of citizens to our own data.

5Q1. To what extent do you agree that there should be greater consistency, clarity and simplicity in the licensing regime adopted by a PDC?

Greater consistency, clarity and simplicity in the licence regime are all very highly desirable. When it comes to some data types however, there do need to be added conditions, and the Queensland model of base licence plus schedule seems appropriate.

5Q2. To what extent do you think each of the options set out would address those issues (or any others)? Please provide evidence to support your comments where possible.

My main comment is that the closer we get to a single licence the better, provided we are all adequately protected in the process. This is particularly relevant to pseudonimised but potentially disclosive data.

My other comment is that attribution requirements seem like a good idea, but there is good analaysis in the Creative and Science Commons communities of the difficulties of so-called “attribution-stacking”, hence their strong support for CC0 and PDDL.

5Q4. Will the benefits of changing the models from those in use across Government outweigh the impacts of taking out new or replacement licences?

Yes, simplification of licences is essential.

6Q1. To what extent is the current regulatory environment appropriate to deliver the vision for a PDC?

The current environment is not appropriate; this is a new situation and needs a full re-think.

6Q2. Are there any additional oversight activities needed to deliver the vision for a PDC and if so what are they?

There is potential for the PDC to not serve our needs as citizens in its pursuit of Treasury penny-pinching. There should perhaps be an oversight role for the Information Commissioner’s Office.


One Response to “Response to the Public Data Policy for PDC Consultation”

  1. billroberts 27 October, 2011 at 11:05 #

    Hi Chris

    I’m in pretty close agreement with your comments (and have submitted my own response to the consultation). The greatest benefit to the country definitely seems to be in opening up the raw data and core reference data (under OGL or similar) – i.e. not charging for it. Then allowing the private sector to innovate around building value-added products and services.

    If the PDC offers value-added services and charges for them, that doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, as long as the underlying raw data is available to all.

    So I agree – the freemium option for a business model is the best one, and the free part of it should incorporate unfettered access to the raw data and core reference data.

    The emphasis in the consultation on the need for private investment made me deeply uneasy and seemed to suggest an inclination to sell the nation’s assets to private interests, for them to exploit for their own benefit, not the country’s benefit.

    Well done on stirring up some action on getting others to respond!



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