ODC - The Open Data Consortium: A project to standardize data distribution

By Bruce Joffe

When you begin a project that includes analysis of geographic-based data, what are your initial concerns? Where can I get the data I need? Is data quality adequate for my purposes? Who do I contact? How much will it cost? How soon can I get it?

An increasing number of private enterprises are expending resources to develop information portals - including location-based services - that provide ever more complete datasets covering ever more locations. There concerns are similar to yours, plus:

They need an efficient way to contact the hundreds of counties and thousands of cities that create and maintain digital geographic data - the "raw material" for their portals. and

They need a standard for data costs and acquisition terms rather than trying to negotiate with each source agency separately.

Meanwhile, more and more government agencies are completing their digital geographic databases and are concerned that their data be distributed and used as widely as possible. Most can not afford to market, advertise, or sell their data effectively, yet many expect (hope) to pay for their GIS operations through the sale of their data.

In addition, the Federal government is developing more interest in building nationwide geographic data coverages through the use of the most accurate and current data sources - local city and county databases.

Clearly, this situation is ripe for collaboration and cooperation. There are needs to be filled and sources that want to fill them. An organization is forming to facilitate the connection ...and your participation is invited!

Trends and Implications

As we analyze the current situation in detail, the following trends emerge:

  • Throughout both the public sector, as well as in the private sector, databanks of geographic information are being recognized as Strategic Assets. This not just due to the cost of developing these data, but because of their value to users of the information. The value of improved decision-making to users of digital geographic information (dGI) far exceeds the value of costs saved using analog map sheets.
  • The private sector - data companies, service providers and software developers - are realizing the market potential of selling dGI and associated added-value services, such as: data catalog and identification services, data re-format, data update, data integration, and packaged location-based services that use dGI without downloading data to the user.
  • The Federal government's National Spatial Data Infrastructure policy (NSDI) seeks to further increase the usage of dGI by creating an environment for exchanging data, both among Federal agencies and between all levels of government. Two recent NSDI implementations include:
* The USGS' "National Map" initiative seeks to update their 1:24,000 Quad maps with more accurate and current dGI, collected and maintained by local and state governments. The concept is to integrate local map data into Quad-map format, and publish regularly (perhaps on-line) to reduce the current, 23-year average, obsolescence of the map series.

* The Office of Management & Budget's "I-Team" initiative seeks to encourage regional dGI-sharing consortia. The concept is to coordinate selected Federal, State, and local agency data collection projects, in order to leverage each independent effort for the good of all the participants.

  • The primary public-sector mechanism for distributing awareness of dGI availability is via NSDI-compliant, web-based, spatial data catalogs. To date, however, registration and update of local government's metadata in these catalogs has been limited and sporadic. Private sector firms are developing their own on-line metadata catalogs, as well as using their own proprietary marketing and sales channels, to distribute dGI. Nevertheless, this data distribution potential is woefully underutilized and non-standardized.
  • The demand, from both Federal and private sectors, for high-quality dGI is increasing, while the costs of creating and updating the most accurate and most up-to-date dGI remains mostly with local government (state government for some datasets).
  • "Tax reform" legislation in many states has caused more and more local government services to seek financing on a fee-for-service basis. In order to finance the creation or maintenance of dGI, an increasing number of local governments are claiming copyright ownership of their data, and are selling it.
  • Many local governments have not yet developed a data distribution policy, and are withholding their data pending definition of such policy, so as not to preclude their options through precedent actions. As each city or county government develops its own data sales/distribution policy, the "market" becomes more complex and idiosyncratic.
  • Local governments' data sales policies are actually impeding the distribution of dGI for three principle reasons:
    1. Local governments are not experienced in marketing, hence public awareness of the availability of the data does not reach potential users or buyers.
    2. Local governments are not experienced in fulfilling data request orders, hence many users' needs for special-purpose data products - in a timely manner - go unfulfilled.
    3. In some cases, the cost of local dGI is prohibitive to potential users.

While more dGI is becoming available, the demand is growing even moreso, and data users are experiencing greater difficulty and expense in locating and acquiring dGI consistently. The NSDI vision of integrated data exchange is fragmenting.

Synthesis Toward Solution

If city and county governments that create dGI collectively agree to adopt a standardized set of terms and conditions for data distribution, the environment (i.e., the "market") for dGI could become more integrated and fluid. A standardized, model data distribution policy, coupled with an up-to-date catalog of local government dGI providers (contact personnel) would enable data users, resellers and service providers to gain access to dGI more efficiently and more inexpensively.

A model data distribution agreement among public data providers and private sector data distributors could improve the market mechanism for disseminating dGI.

  • Private data distributors and value-added service providers would experience lower costs for the "raw material" (e.g., government dGI), more efficient accumulation of the data and more reliable data update maintenance. These factors would translate into lower prices for their services, along with greater volume and higher profits.
  • Advocates for greater accessibility of government data to the public would observe more providers of government dGI, offering greater fulfillment of special-request services at competitive costs.
  • Local governments would benefit from a wider distribution and easier availability of their data. They could also experience greater data sales revenue (if they choose to sell their data) through the wider marketing and sales reach of private distributors. Adhering to a consensus-based standard would provide "political cover" for some public agencies that experience data distribution policy as a call to controversy.

Therefore, a collaborative project is proposed in which public sector data providers and private sector data distributors cooperatively develop a set of standards and agreements, a model Data Distribution Agreement, for creating a more efficient market mechanism to distribute dGI. This project is being called the Open Data Consortium - ODC.

Under the auspices of a "sector-neutral", inclusive organization, members of both private and public sectors will convene to identify their common mutual benefits in improving the distribution and maintenance of dGI. The result of these discussions will be a model agreement to guide public agency data distribution policy, focusing on the terms and conditions for distribution or sales through third-party private sector enterprises.

  • Local governments will benefit from a Model Agreement by having a standard that has been developed and accepted by representative peers, upon which to base their own public policy.
  • Private sector data distributors will benefit from a Model Agreement that creates a regularized market environment from which to acquire dGI at its sources. Predictable costs and guaranteed data update cycles will enable businesses to invest in and execute long-term distribution plans.
  • Data users will benefit from an active data market that encourages a greater number of resellers to repackage government data with value-added services. Consumers would find more channels of data and services available to meet their needs. A competitive environment would keep the cost low and service potential high.

Organization and Financing

The Open Data Consortium (ODC) project exists to identify and promote the mutual interests shared by various levels of government, private sector, university, and non-profit data service providers. This private-public partnership effort is being organized by Bruce Joffe, GIS Consultant of 25 years from Oakland, CA, with the collaboration of the GeoData Alliance, a non-profit coalition of geographic-interest alliances, and URISA, the international association of GIS professionals. The ODC project has been designated an "emergent initiative" of the GeoData Alliance (GDA), and as the "data access and distribution initiative" by URISA.

Initially, self-selecting participants will meet via teleconference to develop an agenda of dGI distribution issues. In addition, participants participate in an ODC organizing workshop.

Initial organizing activities include outreach to likely participants, identifying dGI distribution issues, setting an agenda for the ODC organizing workshop, soliciting funds for startup seed money, and organizing the ongoing teleconference workgroups. The workshop will establish methods for participants to collaborate on developing a Model Agreement that supports dGI distribution. Subsequent activities to be determined by workshop participants.

Data distribution issues encompassed by the Model Agreement may include, but are not limited to: data costs, payment methods, delivery schedule, update schedule, metadata maintenance, liability, security, privacy, adherence mechanisms, data contents and format.

Initial funding of the ODC organizing activities will come from seed-money grants. The GDA has applied to the USGS and FGDC for initial start-up funds. Private sector data distributors and local governments are being solicited for subscription contributions, and financial commitments are starting to come in! Current sponsors include Digital Map Products, Directions Magazine, MetropolisNewMedia and GISbid.com.

Ongoing operations on an ODC organization will come from subscription membership of public agencies and private enterprises. Suggested subscription rates:

  • Private sector Subscribing Memberships: $ 5,000
  • Public agency Subscribing Memberships: $ 2,000
Payments may be made to the GeoData Alliance ODC project fund, a 501c (3) non-profit, tax-deductible professional organization.

You Can Help

ODC project organizers invite readers of this project idea to contribute their ideas, energy and resources toward its fulfillment.

  • Please critique this proposal document and suggest additions to the ideas presented.
  • Identify people who are interested in the distribution or sales of dGI and who may want to be participants in the formation of the Open Data Consortium project.
  • Please suggest possible sources of seed money funding.
  • Become a Sponsoring Member to help make this project financially self-sufficient.
  • What skills, experience and interests do you offer to help organize this Open Data Consortium project?

Contact Bruce Joffe, project organizer, to share your ideas: 510-238-9771, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Addition Contact Information:
Bruce Joffe, Principal
GIS Consultants
1615 Broadway, Suite 415
Oakland, CA 94612
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Published Thursday, August 15th, 2002

Written by Bruce Joffe

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