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Winter 2003/2004
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Open Data Consortium Announces a Model Data Distribution Policy

The Open Data Consortium (ODC), a public-private partnership project funded by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and private companies, has developed a historic model data distribution policy to guide local government dissemination of public record geodata.

"The data distribution policy developed by the Open Data Consortium will enable local governments to act responsively in handling public requests for spatial data," says Kathy Covert, associate strategist for the Federal Geographic Data Committee Secretariat, "and will reduce barriers to interagency data sharing, thereby advancing the National Spatial Data Infrastructure vision for The National Map and a Geospatial One-Stop map data portal."

This model policy was developed through a series of collaborative dialogs with stakeholders representing diverse interests from city and county governments and state and federal agencies, as well as private sector data service providers, universities, and professional associations. A wide variety of alternatives were analyzed and considered before the stakeholders arrived at the model policy recommendations.

The model is intended to serve as a guideline for local governments that need to formulate a data distribution policy or make their current policy more effective. University of Illinois Professor Zorica Nedovic-Budic characterized the model policy as "comprehensive and balanced." It is a plea for more openness while facing the fact that many government data producers want to retain proprietary and financial control over their product (the public's data).

Sixty-seven people worked together through the Open Data Consortium project over a six-month period, contributing ideas and opinions in 24 telephone conferences to forge a consensus on the model policy. An additional 50 people were involved in reviewing and commenting on interim products and the final document.

The model policy addresses major legal and commercial issues concerning public data distribution, such as copyright, licensing, liability, security restrictions, privacy considerations, metadata maintenance, data recipients, and distribution methods, as well as the controversial issue of data sales.

"This consensus building success was sustained by dedicated participants actively listening to each other," says Bruce Joffe, principal of GIS Consultants and organizer of the ODC project.

The model policy is available at the ODC Web site ( along with additional data studies, existing data policy documents, and links to useful geodata information.

"The key to resolving the long-standing controversy of data sales by local government was our discovery of many superior ways to support GIS operations," Joffe says.

These methods came from the ODC participants' own experience and are presented in a report entitled "10 Ways to Support GIS Without Selling Data," which is also available on the ODC Web site. While the model policy acknowledges that selling data is counterproductive to public agency interests for distributing their geographic data, it does not prohibit such sales. Instead, it offers a method of selling data (to those agencies that still believe they need to sell their geodata) that is less of an impediment to public access.

Concluding a USGS contract with the GeoData Alliance ( for the initial policy formulation phase, Joffe expressed his pleasure at working with, and learning from, the ODC project participants.

Phase II of the project will formulate recommendations for changing government accounting practices in order to allocate some of the benefits from using geodata back to GIS departments. The project will also engage in educating the wider GIS community about the current findings and the model policy. Phase II will commence as soon as the ODC project receives adequate funding from grants, sponsorship, or contracts.

"We expect support from both government and private companies because this is a win–win–win policy recommendation," Joffe adds. "It serves local government, private data service providers, and the general public."

For further information or to offer suggestions, contact Bruce Joffe, GIS Consultants, 1615 Broadway, Suite 415, Oakland, California 94612 (tel.: 510-238-9771, e-mail:

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