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The Office of the Ombudsmen has requested the Fire Service produce a report on their refusal of the OIA request for NZ suburb dataset.

The Ombudsman directed their request to the NZFS CEO, which is presumedly standard practice (anyone want to comment?).

The letter I received from the Office is embedded below, for those curious about procedures surrounding the OIA.

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An interesting press release from the Office of the Ombudsmen, Dec 2008:

“While in some cases this was clearly a misunderstanding of their obligations, there is also a regrettable tendency to game the system and delay responses until the complainants’ interest in the matter had passed,” she says.

Must be a fairly common practice for the Office of the Ombudsmen to bother seek media coverage over it.

DoC has come through with a DVD containing a shapefile of their track network for New Zealand: DoC Tracks (May 2009).

Via the grapevine, it seems DoC went above and beyond the call of duty to create a new shapefile to fulfil the OIA request. Strictly speaking, the OIA only covers information and data already in existence. Collating data into one file is more effort than expected, though they did give prior warning that fulfilment of the OIA request would be delayed a few weeks.

So thanks go to the Department of Conservation for their excellent service.

Of the four original OIA requests for geospatial data, only the NZ Fire Service refused. That matter is now in the hands of the Office of the Ombudsmen.

Although this blog is focused on Official Information Act requests this post is an example of working with a private sector organisation to share their data. The OIA obviously does not apply but it is interesting how easy it can be.

I contacted the Mainstreet Wanganui Marketing Manager Louise Martin about putting their database of local businesses, as currently listed on their website, onto Zenbu as a way to grow the number of channels where those businesses can be found. The emailed reply was instant and so very refreshing:

Of course we would like our members to have a broader search-base. How would we proceed from here?

Ah the joy of working with smart people.

Louise did have some follow-up questions,

Will our members be contacted or chased up for advertising contracts?

No. Zenbu does not have any “premium listings” or other such advertising to offer.  Zenbu does not list emails, faxes or postal addresses as these are primarily Business-To-Business (bulk advertising) mediums. We simply list the address, phone, website & hours – the Consumer-To-Business contact channels.

There was also a momentary concern that the copyright to the members contact details belongs to the members themselves and maybe individual permission would be requested. Actually the publisher, Mainstreet Wanganui, owns the information which is completely factual and available to anybody walking down the street. It was quickly agreed that adding the information to Zenbu would be positive for all involved and 295 entries submitted (of which only 123 were already in Zenbu).

We’ve worked with a number of business associations to ensure all their members are added to Zenbu, Remuera Business AssociationParnell MainstreetNewmarket Business AssociationMangere Bridge Village to name a few. There have also been a few organisations who just wouldn’t talk to us at all and thought that the information should only be available on their website, which is unfortunate and rather sad. We’re always interested to hear from progressive organisations with geographical or industry vertical members who see the value in making it as easy as possible for consumers to find them or their (paying) members.

If you’re contacting private organisations about sharing their data try to cover off the obvious possible objections and make sure it really is win-win for everybody.

Time for an update, now that the Ministry of Education and DoC* have accepted their respective OIA requests.

So of the four original OIA requests:

  • Ministry of Health – for District Health Boards. OIA request fulfilled. View District Health Boards boundaries.
  • Ministry of Education – for School Zones. OIA request fulfilled. View NZ School Zones.
  • Department of Conservation – for New Zealand walking tracks. OIA request accepted, but with a time extension; data to be delivered in May.
  • NZ Fire Service – for NZ Suburbs. OIA request denied. A complaint has been sent to the Office of the Ombudsmen. Read the official NZFS response.

* The Department of Conservation recently responded that it will take them longer than 20 working days to deliver their New Zealand walking tracks dataset, but they’re aiming for fulfilment by end May.

The Ministry of Education responded to my OIA request with a MapInfo TAB of New Zealand School Zones, delivered via email on Wednesday 22 April*.

The strange thing about this OIA request was that MinEdu didn’t respond with a “we’re working on it” email, and I only heard via the grapevine that they were processing the request. Nevermind, the data was delivered in the end.

* The data will be uploaded as a free layer to Koordinates, once we figure out how to handle some MapInfo TAB-related issues.

Update: NZ School Zones now available for free download from Koordinates.

I filed a request on 22 March 2009 under LGOIMA for three Auckland City geospatial datasets:

  1. community board polygons for Auckland City
  2. rating zone polygons for Auckland City
  3. building outlines for Auckland City

(1) was requested as it’s an essential dataset for Auckland City governance, and of obvious public interest. (2) was very poorly worded on my part, but was intended to be ‘zoning’ information (so this part of the request is void due to my wording). (3) is an odd dataset with little apparent value except to researchers, planners and the council itself. If there’s any value to this 3rd dataset, it’s that it can be used in road maps to indicate the presence of larger buildings, and that providers of such maps are generally private companies.

All of the above datasets have been requested by third parties, and are fairly innocuous.

Auckland City responded on 1 April 2009 that:

  1. Community board polygons would be provided under a $60/hour provision charge
  2. Rating zones – (they didn’t know what I was seeking and require further clarification)
  3. Building outlines would be provided for $6,600, minus a 10% discount of $660.

Some interesting notes were supplied with Auckland City’s response.

On why they’re charging for these datasets:

Auckland City Council geospatial data is generally available to anyone who requests it through our normal ‘Digital GIS Data’ ordering process.  Ordering data for own use of a person or Company  involves a fee for the data and the time spent extracting and sending it, though the data fee may be waived for very small datasets. 

and

As we have a process for purchasing a licence to use our geospatial datasets, they are not provided free of charge under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act process.

The ultimate extension of this logic is that Auckland City believes creating any bureaucratic sales process for getting information and data out of the council somehow over-rides the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act ($1 million for emails between the Mayor and CEO, anyone?). Further clarification of this stance was requested on 1 April, but Auckland City has yet to reply.

On the quality of a dataset they want to charge $6,600 (minus 10% discount) for:

The building outline dataset was digitised from orthoimagery dating from 2002.  It is rough outlines only not cartographically standardised.

My ‘grapevine’ understanding is that this dataset has been updated since 2002. But not a very good sales pitch from Auckland City here, aside from the substantial amount they’re seeking.

On licensing:

Please note that all the datasets are licensed for your own use, and not for on-sale or provision to any third party.  You will be required to agree to these conditions before the data can be provided. 

Fulfilling a request made under LGOIMA isn’t optionally dependent on such license agreements: the council must supply the requested information unless they refuse it under a stated section of LGOIMA. Auckland City appears to share the view of the New Zealand Fire Service on this matter.

Some ‘people in the industry’ have made it known that historical decisions of the Office of the Ombudsmen might be impacting Auckland City’s stance on charging for the building outlines. Please contact us if you know more about such decisions.

Further updates and commentary will be posted when Auckland City responds to a ‘please clarify’ email of 1 April 2009.