… Ordnance Survey’s Reply
I never said where I got to with Ordnance Survey.
There’s a good reason. I don’t really know.
In March I wrote a blog post about how Ordnance Survey’s licensing rules were inhibiting my plan for local councils to publish data on where their public toilets are. You can read it here.
*Most* councils (i.e. all but one of my acquaintance) said that they weren’t allowed to publish the locations of their public toilets by giving Latitude/Longitude co-ordinates, because this information came from their internal mapping systems (‘GIS’) which Ordnance Survey provided, and own.
Also, the toilet data itself is part of the ‘Points of Interest’ dataset, provided to Ordnance Survey by an external company called Point X.
Though Point X is jointly owned by Ordnance Survey.
and most of Point X’s data is provided by Ordnance Survey.
So. Any council that provides toilet data would have to do so by going the extra mile. This would mean replotting data on Google Maps or similar, or going out and finding the location data of public toilets themselves using a GPS. Basically, do something less convenient than they would like to. Which in the under-funded world of local government feels like a bit of a killer.
But like I said, one council did think that OS would allow it. So I concluded that “the only way that I can see to solve this is to get confirmation one way or the other from Ordnance Survey themselves.”
With help from the very helpful Paul Beauchamp on Twitter (who’s Twitter bio lists him as a member of the Award-Winning PR and Comms team at Ordnance Survey, and I can see why!), I got a couple of answers.
The first was about the Public Sector Mapping Agreement. This is Ordnance Survey’s new licensing agreement for the public sector (like local councils) which aims to make the licensing rules less mental. You can read that reply here (pdf).
But I wouldn’t sweat it, as it didn’t answer what I wanted to know.
So I wrote back and happily, after my runner-up position in TSO’s Open.Up competition and a blog entry on The Guardian’s Free Our Data site (which somehow came to their attention), I got another reply.
It sounds promising:
There is something about toilets that seems to appeal to the British sense of humour. But far from being trivial, the idea of helping people to know where their nearest public convenience is something so obvious it seems strange that no one has attempted it before.
So well done on striving to achieve just that and congratulations on being recently named the runner-up at the Open.Up competition.
Under the terms of the new Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), which comes into affect on 1 April, just about every public sector organisation in the country will have access to our data under identical terms and for free at the point of use. To get to this point has been the result of a lot of hard work and a lot of listening.
One of the things we heard over and over again was the desire among councils to share information with the general public, like the locations of libraries, recycling centres and yes, toilets. That’s why the PSMA allows them to do just that for their local area.
All that information can be freely published and displayed (including online) to help the public make the most of their local services. I hope that clarifies the position because it’s a change from how things have been before, so it’s no wonder that some councils remain nervous and unsure.
In terms of sharing data, the PSMA has been specifically designed to address exactly this sort of issue. However, without knowing exactly what data each local authority has and how it was created, it’s difficult for us to know which terms are most appropriate. It would also be up to each local council to decide if they wanted to be part of your project. As such, I can only suggest you get in touch with them.
As ever, if any of them have an issues or questions regarding their licence, the PSMA or data sharing they’re welcome to get in touch with us.
I don’t know why I said that sounds promising. It doesn’t. It sounds friendly and polite, which I like.
So I wrote back and asked how the PSMA could be used to address this issue, i.e. an example of what type of data-creation by the councils would be acceptable?
There are some clear examples of where it would be possible to publish, such as when the data has been captured from the OS OpenData products, but it is very difficult for me to come up with any other theoretical examples. As I said in my email it is really for the local authority to ascertain the licensing terms that apply to their data and where that data has Ordnance Survey content to check with us if they are unsure whether their licensed terms cover the proposed use.
So there you go Councils. It’s up to you to check if you’re unsure about the PSMA. Hop to it!
Problem is, I don’t know any councils that are unsure. Every council that I spoke to was pretty damn certain that the PSMA didn’t make any difference.
So my Plan-of-Action is now:
1) Give up
2) Write a slightly depressed and sulky blogpost (Tah-Dah!)
3) Get on with building the website for The Great British Public Toilet Map to show the data that does exist, using a limited pilot area (I’m thinking of the West Midlands for reasons that are entirely whimsical, unless anyone wishes me to do otherwise…)
4) Eventually, follow-up on all the useful suggestions that came from my original Ordnance Survey post for alternative, independent, more crowd-sourcy ways of getting location data rather than relying on the councils/OS to provide.
I haven’t forgotten your suggestions of methods or people to contact, and I really appreciate all the help. I can’t do everything (though I try), but it’s just nice to know that people think that this is relevant enough to offer help!
And if anything happens with OS…
(incidentally, what does ‘data captured from the OpenData products mean? Couldn’t public toilets be added to the OS OpenData maps?)
…I’ll let you know.