Drip, drip, drip – OS OpenWashing

Dripping tap

Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of the Ordnance Survey and that I have many friends who work there or have worked there. Ordnance Survey’s detail, precision, currency and quality of mapping are the envy of many other countries and most of their staff seem to be dedicated to producing ever improving digital map products as their public task.

So you are waiting for the ‘but’ and it is a big ‘but’. There seems to be an increasing flow of marketing which can be best described as ‘openwashing’ seeking to conflate the OS commercial license model and Open Data and in my opinion deliberately endeavouring to confuse or misinform.


Strong stuff you may say, but have a look at this article on PublicTechnology.net quoting John Kimmance, Director of Public Sector at OS, at the Public Sector ICT Summit.

“the kind of “authoritative, trusted and up to date” mapping data OS produced required investment that meant not all of it could be free. But he said that premium services drove the delivery of better open data.”

Read this quickly and you might miss the not insignificant detail that the government pays almost £20m per annum (allegedly diminishing) to fund the release of OS OpenData. You might also miss the detail that government pays OS over £60m to fund the PSMA and One Scotland agreements (more info in a previous post).

“Where we’re developing premium data, we’re trying to release some elements of open data at the same time.”

I thought that was the purpose of the £20m government payment to OS?

“He added that OS’s Geovation Hub in east London made all of its data available to developers free of charge, and that payment was only required when products were taken to market.”

This is one of my favourites, I heard it previously at an OpenData panel at AGI GeoCommunity in November ’15. OpenData is neatly redefined as free access to premium products for developers until they wish to release their application to the market. Open washing is an understatement, this is ‘doublespeak‘ of almost North Korean proportions! (Memo to self: find out if GeoVation Hub is funded from the commercial sales and marketing budget or from the government OpenData contribution).

I am not sure whether people at OS really believe this openwashing or whether we are being softened up for the next stage of privatisation or the introduction “of private capital into the Ordnance Survey before 2020” (Chancellors Autumn Statement).