In April 2010, Wellington City Council started to release spatial data on Koordinates, a platform for hosting and viewing geospatial datasets.
The council’s spatial data – which includes aerial photography, contours, parks, pipes, windzones and walkways – had always been available for Wellington residents. Before 2010, however, users had to send a request to the council; they also had to pay a processing fee.
The purpose of the fee, as Senior Spatial Functional Analyst Andrew Shakes puts it, was to recover some of the money spent gathering the data. “In reality,” Andrew says, “council staff had to manually extract data for each request and the user fees often did not cover the council’s processing costs.”
More importantly, the fees and processing time appear to have dissuaded many ratepayers from making use of council data. Andrew estimates that “when we were responding to ad hoc requests, we’d probably process several a week.”
Since the release of the council’s spatial data, use has risen dramatically: In the last two years, the council’s 1m Contours layer has been downloaded 3000 times; the Building Footprints layer, which represents rooftop outlines in Wellington city, has been downloaded 3500 times.
Part of the reason for the popularity of the spatial data is the ease with which it can be viewed and downloaded. Anyone can visit the Koordinates platform and see the data displayed on a map of Wellington city. As CEO and co-founder of Koordinates Ed Corkery explains, “When you add a map layer, the actual data is converted into a simple Google Maps view and displayed in your web browser.”
A user could, for example, choose to overlay contour lines and potential flooding areas onto a Google map of Wellington City—and then download it, for free, to use in their own CAD or GIS software.
This is saving the council a great deal of time. As Andrew puts it, “Rather than people asking us for monthly data updates that we have to extract manually, and charge them for, we can set something up that does it automatically.”
Koordinates also hosts datasets from public agencies like LINZ, Statistics New Zealand and Porirua City Council. One of the sites most popular layers, aerial photos of Christchurch after the 2010 earthquake, has been viewed over 77 000 times.
The council has chosen to give the data a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand licence, the most open Creative Commons licence. “We’ve got to focus on what’s best for our ratepayers,” Andrew explains. “If a ratepayer wants an aerial photo, why not make it freely available to them? They’re paying for it through their rates anyway. Also, we want the economy to grow, we want businesses to be able to use the data. This process allows 24/7 access and saves money as there is less need for manual processing by Council staff.”
A 2009 report commissioned by Land Information New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment concluded that the New Zealand economy would receive a boost of at least $481 million from the release of spatial data. Since then, Cabinet has approved New Zealand Government Open Access Licensing framework, known as NZGOAL, in August 2010. The framework encourages government agencies to release their data under a Creative Commons licence.
Although the release of the council’s spatial data has been extremely popular, not all council data can be released under Creative Commons. As Andrew explains, sometimes the copyright to council data is held by other organisations. The council also has to think about privacy and liability. Andrew’s team ensures that its data is kept up to date. “We don’t just put the data out there… you’ve got to think about how the data is going to be maintained.”
In releasing its data under a Creative Commons licence, Wellington City Council joins many other public agencies, including Statistics New Zealand, LINZ, the Ministry for the Environment, Wellington Regional Council and, most recently, the New Zealand Transport Agency.
As Mayor Celia Wade-Brown put it in 2011, the council’s spatial data is “a goldmine of information.”
“Whether it’s a Government organisation, community group, businesses or individuals using it – this information aids decision-making and it will allow many projects or initiatives to be completed more quickly, cheaply and effectively.”