Koordinates: NZ open data platform

Screenshot of Lower North Island displaying Territorial Local Authority Boundaries layer (CC-BY)

Koordinates is the New Zealand technology company behind a range of government data services, including those from Land Information New Zealand Toitū Te Whenua (LINZ), Statistics New Zealand Tatauranga Aotearoa and Landcare Research Manaaki Whenua.

At the time of writing, users can discover over 20,000 datasets across the platform, including over 4,000 datasets from New Zealand government agencies — most of which are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution copyright licence.

Koordinates specialises in spatial datasets that can be viewed, layered, and queried over a map directly in the browsers. Most datasets are also available by query API and web services that enable professionals to access spatial data directly in their specialist software.

Ed Corkery, CEO of Koordinates, has been involved in the open data movement since the mid-2000s, and was an early advocate for open data. Ed agrees that, since those early days, the open data movement has progressed hugely, and the amount of open data published on the internet has increased exponentially.

“Many agencies — not just in New Zealand but around the world — have released data under Creative Commons licences, which has been a great start. The CC licences are a fundamental part of the open data movement, and have solved some major issues for users. To be honest, on the technical side, I think we’re still playing catch-up with the potential data sharing and reuse CC licensing unleashes.”

Ed says that the as-yet-unrealised promise of open data depends on CC licensing. “The enormous potential of open data — specifically the transformative benefits to our society, economy, and environment — depends hugely on data being used by professionals within industry, government, and civil society. Without robust open licensing, professionals simply won’t take the risk, and the dream of open data remains just that — an unrealised dream.”

Ed points to the surety the licensing provides, with clearly defined rights and liability protections. He also says that the Creative Commons organisation itself — as an international movement with a strong track record — is key to developing trust in licences from inherently risk-averse organisations.

But there is still more work to be done. As he explains, “There’s a tonne of open data on the internet — but much of this data is (tragically, I think) underused. We’ve been calling this ‘dormant’ data, that is, data that is technically open, but is still difficult for users to find, appraise, and use.

“What we’ve found is that levels of reuse — and subsequent impact for our society, economy, and environment — are heavily correlated to the level of friction experienced by the user. Part of this friction is licensing, and the Creative Commons licences absolutely solve that problem.

“But there’s still plenty of friction on the technical side. It’s still simply much too hard to work with open data. This is changing, but we’re not there yet.”

Derived from ‘Meshblock 2017 Generalised Version’ from Stats NZ, which is made available under a Creative Commons 3.0 NZ copyright licence

This matters, Ed says, because of the enormous potential of open data. “It’s crucial that the open community doesn’t rest on its laurels. Just ‘getting data out there’ isn’t enough. There are just so many more potential users than most advocates usually consider — we see them on our platform all the time.

“Engineers, architects, researchers, field workers, designers, surveyors, draughtsmen, and more — these people collectively make a massive economic and environmental impact, but are usually left out of the open data conversation.”

Ed acknowledges the great work done by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand and Open Data NZ to increase the awareness of CC licensing and NZ Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL).

“The cultural change we’re seeing in agencies is immense. The old resistance to sharing data is disappearing. This is due to the hard work of people in government, but also because we’ve starting to see ‘runs on the board’. The NZ Property Titles dataset on the LINZ Data Service is nearing 250,000 views and 30,000 downloads. We’re seeing ten-figure tile requests across the platform. This is truly massive usage of open data for such a small country, and something we should be extremely proud of.

“But again, we can and should do a whole lot better.”

Ed references the ‘Open Letter to the open data community‘ from the consortium of Chief Data Officers based at Harvard University, which seeks “to set higher goals for open data to make it more accessible and usable”.

As Ed puts it, technology has progressed considerably over the last five years, and data users — and advocates from the open community — ought to raise their expectations.

This argument is part of a broader point Ed makes around the difficulty the open movement has had around ‘impact’. “Agencies are always interested in impact, always interested in return on investment. Creative Commons licensing is great. Open standards are great. But it’s not enough to just dump your technically ‘open’ data on a server or catalogue and expect it to get used. We’ve moved on from that. That just simply hasn’t worked.”

So, how to increase reuse of open data? “First, we need user-centric design. Second, and related, we need to design and build for all data users, not just technical users, but not some amorphous conception of ‘the public’, either. The third thing is the holy grail, though only really matters if you’ve nailed the first two. And that’s to get all the data that users need into one place.”

As the open data movement matures, Creative Commons licensing continue to be key. “The licences are fundamental to much of what we do. Without Creative Commons, we wouldn’t have the sort of social, economic, and environmental outcomes we’re seeing from open data at the moment. And the exciting thing is, we’re only at the beginning.

“Most government data is still not open by design. And most open data is still underused. But this is changing. And the success of Creative Commons will continue to be key.”

Share Button
Comments are closed.