Point of Beginning

Open Data Consortium Project Announces a Model Data Distribution Policy 12.6.03

December 7, 2003
The model will help to advance the NSDI vision for a National Map, and a Geospatial One-Stop portal to map data.

The Open Data Consortium, a public-private partnership project funded by the USGS and private companies, has developed an historic model data distribution policy for guiding local government dissemination of public-record geodata.

"The data distribution policy developed by the Open Data Consortium will enable local governments to move responsively in handling public requests for spatial data, and will reduce barriers to inter-agency data sharing, thereby advancing the NSDI vision for a National Map, and a Geospatial One-Stop portal to map data," said Kathy Covert, Associate Strategist for the Federal Geographic Data Committee Secretariat.

This policy model was developed through a series of collaborative dialogues with stakeholders representing diverse interests from city and county governments, state and Federal agencies, as well as private sector data service providers, universities and professional associations. A wide variety of alternatives were analyzed and considered before arriving at the recommendations in the model policy.

The policy is intended to serve as a guideline for local governments that need to formulate a data distribution policy, or make their current policy more effective. University of Illinois Professor Zorica Nedovic-Budic characterized the model policy as "comprehensive and balanced." It is a plea for more openness, while dealing with the fact that many governmental data producers want to retain proprietary and financial control over their product (the public's data).

Sixty seven (67) people worked together, through the Open Data Consortium project, over a six month period, contributing their ideas and opinions in 24 telephone conferences, to forge a consensus on the model policy. An additional 50 people were involved in reviewing and commenting on interim products and final document.

The model policy addresses the major legal and commercial issues concerning public data distribution, such as, copyright, licensing, liability, security restrictions, privacy considerations, metadata maintenance, data recipients and distribution methods, as well as the controversial issue of data sales. "This has been a consensus-building success sustained by dedicated participants actively listening to each other," said Bruce Joffe, Principal of GIS Consultants and organizer of the ODC project.

The model policy is available at the ODC website, www.OpenDataConsortium.org, along with documentation of the collaborative work process, additional data studies, data policy documents used by other agencies, and links to useful geodata information.

"The key to resolving the long-standing controversy of data sales by local government was our discovery of many superior ways to support GIS operations," Joffe offered. These methods came from the ODC participants' own experience and are presented in a report entitled, "10 Ways to Support GIS Without Selling Data," also available on the ODC website. While the model policy acknowledges that selling data is counter-productive to public agency interests in distributing their geographic data, it does not prohibit such sales. Instead, it offers a method for selling data that is less of an impediment to public access than many current policies, to those agencies that still believe they need to sell their geodata.

Concluding the USGS contract with the GeoData Alliance (www.GeoAll.net) for the initial, policy-formulation phase, Joffe expressed his pleasure at working with, and learning from, the ODC participants. "Through cooperative communication, we were able to learn not only how current data policies came into being, but what were the underlying reasons." As those root causes are addressed, there will be fewer impediments to accessing local geodata.

Phase II of the project will formulate recommendations for changing government accounting practices in order to allocate some of the benefits from using geodata back to GIS operations departments. The project will also be deeply engaged in educating the wider GIS Community about the current findings and model policy recommendations. Phase II will commence as soon as the ODC project receives adequate funding from grants, sponsorship or contracts.

"We expect support from both government and private companies because this is a win-win-win policy recommendation," Joffe added optimistically, "it serves local government, private data service providers, and most importantly, the general public."

Helpful suggestions can be sent to GIS.Consultants@joffes.com or Bruce@OpenDataConsortium.org.

Source: GIS Consultants