The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is one of New Zealand’s largest producers of spatial data. Since August 2012, the organisation has been uploading its aerial imagery to Koordinates, a platform for geospatial datasets, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand licence.
The spatial team has been considering how to open its data since the release of the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework, approved by Cabinet in July 2010. According to Geospatial Specialist Chris Worts, “We realised that this is something we should be doing more. There was nothing stopping us.”
NZTA produces a range of datasets, many of which were available on request. For members of the public, though, this wasn’t necessarily obvious; nor was the process of disseminating the data straight-forward.
When NZTA received a request, someone in the spatial team—often Chris himself—would have to manually extract the data. “It would be a case of emailing data or copying the data onto hard drives and sending it out, which can be labour intensive.”
With hosting platforms like Koordinates—coupled with free open licenses like Creative Commons—it’s become much easier for the public to find and reuse publicly funded datasets. Koordinates provides an ideal platform for NZTA to start releasing their own spatial data, as it is both popular and easy to use.
Before uploading the datasets to Koordinates, Chris had received only handful of enquiries. In the three months since then, the datasets have received thousands of views and over 700 downloads—an exponential rise in the reuse of NZTA’s datasets.
Their experience supports a 2009 report from Land Information New Zealand. As the report concludes, the financial benefit of opening publicly funded spatial data is enormous:
“Had key barriers [to the reuse of publicly funded spatial data] been removed it is estimated that New Zealand could have benefited from an additional $481 million in productivity-related benefits in 2008, generating at least $100 million in government revenue” (ix).
While it’s hard to argue with such a conclusion, the process of actually releasing the datasets can be quite complex. Not all datasets produced by NZTA are suitable for public reuse.
Some datasets, for example, might not be accurate in two or three years–or even two or three days–time; also, many are designed for a specific use, and are therefore not suitable for wide release. For this reason, Chris highlights the importance of “providing accurate metadata, so that users know the limitations of a dataset and how, when and why the data was created”.
While the spatial team has no concrete plans to release more datasets, Chris says that the team will continue to release datasets as appropriate in the future.
Other areas of NZTA have also started to embrace Creative Commons licensing. Like many public agencies, NZTA produces an enormous range of content, including advertisements, reports, videos and images. NZTA’s Education Team recently ran a successful remix competition. The winners included Tawa College’s Drink Driving Website and Darfield High Schools Shakepearean Warrant of Fitness Advertisement.
Like other government agencies, it looks like NZTA is starting to join the commons. Chris points to a shift in mindset within the organisation.
“It is something different that’s running through your mind now, it’s not just, what can I use it for? Instead we ask, what are the potential wider benefits?”