Things have been ramping up with the Improvement Service’s Spatial Information Service over the last month or so as we prepare for the launch of our “Spatial Hub” in June. This will provide a place where Scottish local authorities can upload their spatial data on a dataset by dataset basis and other interested parties can discover, view and download (sounds like Inspire and not by coincidence!) the data. Previous blogs provide more details of what we are doing with Scottish local government, but if you wish to find out more in the run in to launch, please follow us on Twitter @ISspatialhub.
The plan at the moment is to have a phased launch of the Spatial Hub along the following stages:-
Initially we will go live with whatever data councils sent to us previously and which they continue to supply. This already covers a substantial number of datasets, not all of which have complete Scotland wide coverage at this time. What data we have has been collated and harmonised using FME and has undergone a significant amount of QA. Each dataset will be searchable through the Spatial Hub, which in turn should be capable of being harvested by the new Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure Metadata Service and in turn gov.data. We will have both WMS and WFS available to access the data, as well as some other ideas such as APIs.
This first phase will only be available to OSMA members. There are a few reasons for this and probably there aren’t any surprises if I said that IPR, licensing and open data / charging were involved! We are working on these as a matter of some urgency but at the same time a launch to OSMA members gives time for robust testing, including an idea of likely future demands. We also hope that those councils who, for a variety of quite valid reasons, have been a bit slower than others to provide access to their datasets, will be in a position to upload their data to give a greater number of Scotland wide dataset.
The intention will thereafter to provide access to a range of users including communities, individuals and potentially commercial organisations through other initiatives such as ScotLIS.
The challenge that we face is to build a service which is sustainable in the long term. There is little point in providing a way for Scottish local government data to be made available in a Scotland-wide, quality assured and Inspire compliant way if this is not going to be sustainable. No one is likely to use the services that we are developing if there is no guarantee the they will still be there next year.
Everyone understand the arguments for open data, if not always the consequences. If a small Scottish council is compelled to make, say its gazetteer data available as open data (more thoughts on the Open Data Register ideas once I wriggle out of this gaffer tape!) does anyone sensible believe that the much vaunted increased taxes and revenues will actually support the post of the person creating and maintaining this invaluable data. Taxes go the HMRC and Treasury. There is an annual squabble between Treasury and Scottish Government about Scotland’s funding. Scottish Government and local government have similar "discussions" every year about funding. All of these are emotive and well publicised. Even if a tiny amount did find it back to the council concerned, what chance would it have to support the gazetteer custodian when frontline services are under threat. This isn’t just gazetteer data – it refers to all local government resources. Without giving away my age, I do recall a Computer Weekly front page photograph in the 1990s showing bars of gold with the caption “if this was your data, wouldn’t you manage it more carefully”
This isn’t saying that open data is wrong (I certainly don’t believe that it is) but rather that good quality data costs money to collect and more importantly to maintain. Open data shouldn’t be some kind of second division data just because it has to be free at the point of use. Instead it should be the premier league of data, but in order to do this those charged with its stewardship must be able to do so sustainably – corners of the gaffer tape beginning to loosen, so better stop! If data does have some commercial value a hybrid model should be considered acceptable.
We won’t have this sorted out by the start of June but our ambition is to make Scottish local government data as open and available as possible, with those gaining commercial benefit being asked to contribute to the cost of the value add (collation, QA and Inspire compliance where appropriate) which our service will provide.