Public Geospatial Data and the OSGeo Foundation

I admit that I vacillated for a while over being nominated to the board of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation. The idea clicked for me when I realised that I would want to put at least as much time into the Public Geospatial Data Project there as into a board membership role; and the PGDP’s mission looks very like the Open Geodata one I’ve been on with OKFN.

  • Promote the use of open geospatial formats
  • Promote public access to state-collected geodata
  • Run a repository of open geodata
  • Present and explain licenses for public geodata

It looks a potentially huge remit, but much groundwork has been laid in all these directions, and I think there’s a lot of forward energy behind it already. There are a lot of really committed, really aware people in the open source geospatial community, particularly the denizens of the OpenSDI list, with a lot of experience in building public information systems between them. There is a deep awareness of the importance of open access to data and the rights to reuse and redistribute it. So many of the tools in the domain of Geographic Information Systems are oriented to sharing information and recombining it in interesting ways; and the contrast between the US and European approaches to redistributing state-collected geographic information, really brings the issue into sharp relief. In the US, free software developers can build so much more with public domain information, and the prospects for extracting economic value from open source and open data activity become much clearer. Outside the US, people are driven by the knowledge of how much knowledge they lack access to, to build participatory mapping projects like OpenStreetmap that can usefully inform how bodies of public information can be maintained collectively by the public.

I believe we can create a framework for the “top-down” and “ground-up” approaches to work in a complementary way, to promote open public maintenance of public information. Perhaps the PGDP can find a state agency that’s already hoping to move into an open-source, open-access stance to work with on building a prototype implementation which can be documented, analysed and held up as a leading example. (This would be perhaps most likely to happen in Canada, where providing more open access to public geodata is part of the policy direction already.) It’s my hope that being in a foundation can provide the weight to make something like this happen.