What the PSMA really means

As you might know, a couple of weeks ago we signed an agreement with the Government to provide geographic information to around 800 public sector organisations.

This agreement is the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) and it comes into effect in April next year.

The deal is being heralded as a breakthrough for the provision of GI in England and Wales (the Scots having blazed a trail with their own agreement a couple of years ago). It brings together local and central government, many NHS organisations, parish councils and organisations like the RNLI and Mountain Rescue under one, single, unified agreement for the first time.

This means they all have access to the same data, under the same conditions. And since the agreement is between Ordnance Survey and Communities and Local Government, it makes the data free at the point of use, bringing OS MasterMap  into reach for the organisations that felt it too expensive under the previous ‘user pays’ model in Central Government.

This has two massive implications.

Does the PSMA finally put a pin in the Derived Data saga?

Does the PSMA finally put a pin in the Derived Data saga? Photo by Mukumbura via Flikr

Firstly, all organisations will have access to the same data meaning there will be no disparity between the datasets available to those in Central and Local Government and Health, something that has been a real problem under the current Mapping Services (Local Government), Pan Government (Central Government) and Health agreements.

This should make joint working much easier and should result in even greater use of GI to help improve public services.

Secondly, the sharing of data, and derived data, will be greatly simplified. I would be the first to say that this has been a very complex and difficult issue for everyone, and as such there has been a lot of hearsay and rumour spread around as fact.

So, let’s be clear. Under the terms of the PSMA, all 800 members will be able to share Ordnance Survey data, and data derived from it, with any other organisation as part of their ‘core activity’.

This is basically the framework that exists under the current Pan Government Agreement (PGA) today.

For example, the Rural Payments Agency uses OS MasterMap to help it calculate the grants owed to farmers. As part of that job (or ‘core activity’) they can freely share that data with the farmers they are working with, even though the farmer is not a PGA member themselves.

This principle will also extend to organisations that want to publish key information online, like the location of public amenities, using a web mapping API.

This is great news. However, if you can feel a “but” coming, you’d be right.

Photo by satguru via Flikr

Photo by satguru via Flikr

Google’s Ed Parsons has written a blog post which asks whether the PSMA will allow members to publish data on Google Maps. Ed describes the ongoing obstacle to this as “restrictions imposed by the OS”.

I’m afraid this simply isn’t the case.

The reality is that the problem has never been with Ordnance Survey, but with the terms and conditions of Google Maps. It has absolutely nothing to do with derived data or our licensing terms but everything to do with Google claiming the right to use any data you display in Google Maps in any way it sees fit, even if it doesn’t belong to them.

Frustratingly, this is only a problem that exists with Google Maps. No such clause appears in the terms of any other mapping API, including Bing Maps and our own OS OpenSpace.

This issue is raised in a comment left on Ed’s post. At the time of writing, he hadn’t responded to it.

So I’m very sorry to say that while the PSMA is great deal for the public sector in England and Wales, it doesn’t solve this particular problem.

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