The Open Ordnance Survey: lessons learned

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Ian Holt

Ian Holt, senior developer programme manager at Ordnance Survey

Two years ago the OS was asked to release mapping data as open data for the first time.

They have data, tools and a network, GeoVation, which is underpinned by their data. They offer location data for Great Britain which supports web and mobile access models by developers. Comes under the “very permissive” open government license. You can grab the data from OS OpenData. When it was first launched, all you could do was get the data. In the years they’ve been running the API, they’ve realised you need more than that – like examples of how people have used it, and forums for discussing working methods and problems.

The data’s a mix of contextual products – which look like maps – and more analytical data, like boundary lines.

Examples of use:

icoast – created a product with activities along the Dorset coast.

Free iPhone app for Winchester Hat Fair. – game using the data

Most used data sets: OS Street View, OS VectorMap District Raster, and OS VectorMap District Vector.

The analytical stuff is accessed less. How can they encourage more use? Or is it a phased thing? When another data set is released, suddenly the others might become more relevant.

Biggest learning? Just releasing the dataset is not the same a getting people to use it. You need to communicate about it, and you need to provide tools. And data is not just for developers – you need to think about who else might want to use it, and how they will need to engage with it. For example, a wizard that allows you to build a map with markers on it…

You can incentivise people to use the data through global competitions. They’ve also run workshops called “Open Data Master Classes” – they encourage use of both OS and other government data sets.

GeoVation has a challenge process, which encourages people to pitch solutions to problems. The best ideas are invited to GeoVation camps, and the winners get money to produce their solutions. They’ve just closed a transforming neighbourhoods project. One around the Welsh Costal Path is running now.

Remember: publication is not the same as communication. And that goes both ways; they like to hear (and publicise) how people are using the data.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.