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Second Open Economics International Workshop

Velichka Dimitrova - June 5, 2013 in Events, Featured, Open Data, Open Economics, WG Economics, Workshop

Next week, on June 11-12, at the MIT Sloan School of Management, the Open Economics Working Group of the Open Knowledge Foundation will gather about 40 economics professors, social scientists, research data professionals, funders, publishers and journal editors for the second Open Economics International Workshop.

The event will follow up on the first workshop held in Cambridge UK and will conclude with agreeing a statement on the Open Economics principles. Some of the speakers include Eric von Hippel, T Wilson Professor of Innovation Management and also Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT, Shaida Badiee, Director of the Development Data Group at the World Bank and champion for the Open Data Initiative, Micah Altman, Director of Research and Head of the Program on Information Science for the MIT Libraries as well as Philip E. Bourne, Professor at the University of California San Diego and Associate Director of the RCSB Protein Data Bank.

The workshop will address topics including:

  • Research data sharing: how and where to share economics social science research data, enforce data management plans, promote better data management and data use
  • Open and collaborative research: how to create incentives for economists and social scientists to share their research data and methods openly with the academic community
  • Transparent economics: how to achieve greater involvement of the public in the research agenda of economics and social science

The knowledge sharing in economics session will invite a discussion between Joshua Gans, Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Co-Director of the Research Program on the Economics of Knowledge Contribution and Distribution, John Rust, Professor of Economics at Georgetown University and co-founder of, Gert Wagner, Professor of Economics at the Berlin University of Technology (TUB) and Chairman of the German Census Commission and German Council for Social and Economic Data as well as Daniel Feenberg, Research Associate in the Public Economics program and Director of Information Technology at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The session on research data sharing will be chaired by Thomas Bourke, Economics Librarian at the European University Institute, and will discuss the efficient sharing of data and how to create and enforce reward structures for researchers who produce and share high quality data, gathering experts from the field including Mercè Crosas, Director of Data Science at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) at Harvard University, Amy Pienta, Acquisitions Director at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), Joan Starr, Chair of the Metadata Working Group of DataCite as well as Brian Hole, the founder of the open access academic publisher Ubiquity Press.

Benjamin Mako Hill, researcher and PhD Candidate at the MIT and Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Univeresity, will chair the session on the evolving evidence base of social science, which will highlight examples of how economists can broaden their perspective on collecting and using data through different means: through mobile data collection, through the web or through crowd-sourcing and also consider how to engage the broader community and do more transparent economic research and decision-making. Speakers include Amparo Ballivian, Lead Economist working with the Development Data Group of the World Bank, Michael P. McDonald, Associate Professor at George Mason University and co-principle investigator on the Public Mapping Project and Pablo de Pedraza, Professor at the University of Salamanca and Chair of Webdatanet.

The morning session on June 12 will gather different stakeholders to discuss how to share responsibility and how to pursue joint action. It will be chaired by Mireille van Eechoud, Professor of Information Law at IViR and will include short statements by Daniel Goroff, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Nikos Askitas, Head of Data and Technology at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Carson Christiano, Head of CEGA’s partnership development efforts and coordinating the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) and Jean Roth, the Data Specialist at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

At the end of the workshop the Working Group will discuss the future plans of the project and gather feedback on possible initiatives for translating discussions in concrete action plans. Slides and audio will be available on the website after the workshop. If you have any questions please contact economics [at]

Announcing the School of Data Journalism 2013 in Perugia

Liliana Bounegru - March 20, 2013 in Events, School of Data, Workshop

Update 21 March: To register for the School of Data Journalism workshops please fill in your name and email address in this form.

Cross-posted on and the OKFN blog.

The European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation are pleased to invite you to Europe’s biggest data journalism event, the School of Data Journalism.

The 2nd edition of the School of Data Journalism is kindly hosted at the International Journalism Festival. Last year’s edition attracted hundreds of journalists and featured a stellar team of panelists and instructors from the New York Times, the Guardian, Deutsche Welle, Duke University, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and ProPublica. This year we return with a leading team of about 20 new and returning panelists and instructors from Reuters, New York Times, Spiegel, Guardian, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews and others, and a mix of discussions and hands-on sessions focusing on everything from cross-border data-driven investigative journalism, to emergency reporting and using Excel, the Twitter API, data visualisation and maps for journalism.

The 2013 edition takes place in the beautiful city of Perugia between 24-28 April. Entry to the School of Data Journalism panels and workshops is free.




1. The State of Data Journalism in 2013 (24 April)

2. Data and Investigations: Collaborating Across Borders (25 April)

3. Data Journalism in Southern European Countries (26 April, co-organised with Ahref and

4. Covering Emergencies in the Age of Big Data (27 April)


  • Anthony de Rosa, Social Media Editor, Reuters
  • Aron Pilhofer, Editor of Interactive News, New York Times
  • Dan Sinker, Director, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews
  • Elisabetta Tola, co-founder Formicablu, data journalism trainer
  • Friedrich Lindenberg, OpenNews Fellow, Spiegel Online
  • Guido Romeo, Science Editor, Wired Italy, Ahref
  • Jack Thurston, writer, broadcaster and co-founder of and
  • James Ball, data journalist, Guardian
  • Mar Cabra, multimedia investigative journalist
  • Marko Rakar, president of Windmill, blogger and data journalist
  • Paul Radu, Executive Director of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting  Project, Co-founder of the Investigative Dashboard concept


  • Guido Romeo, Science Editor, Wired Italy, Ahref
  • Liliana Bounegru, Project lead Data Driven Journalism, European Journalism Centre
  • Lucy Chambers, Head of Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Rina Tsubaki, Project lead Emergency Journalism, European Journalism Centre



1. Excel for Journalism with Steve Doig  (24 April)

2. Using the Twitter API for Journalism (25 April)

3. Making Data Visualisations: A Survival Guide (26 April)

4. Data Visualisation, Maps and Timelines on a Shoestring (27 April)


  • Steve Doig, Knight Chair in Journalism, Professor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism
  • Michael Bauer, School of Data, Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Gregor Aisch, award-winning freelance data visualisation expert

The full description of the sessions can be found on the International Journalism Festival website.

How to register

There is no fee to attend the workshops but there is a limited number of available seats and they will be given out on a first-come first-served basis.More information about the registration process for the four workshops will be available in the coming days. Registration is not necessary for attending the panel discussions.

What do you need to bring?

Enthusiasm and a laptop are required for the workshop sessions. Please note for hands-on workshops tablet devices will not be appropriate.


If you have questions about the School of Data Journalism get in touch with the coordinators: Liliana Bounegru or Lucy Chambers.


Wrapping up Open Data Day 2013

Beatrice Martini - February 28, 2013 in Events, Featured, Meetups, Sprint / Hackday, Workshop

Open Data Day 2013 took place on the 23rd of February – and it was great!

From curious citizens to journalists, tech-geeks to scientists, designers to data wranglers, hundreds of people got together to show support for and encourage the adoption of open data policies by the world’s local, regional and national governments.

Some met at one of the more than one hundred offline events organised all around the world from Norway to Uganda, other ones joined collective projects online, all working to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data.


Open Knowledge Foundation events on Open Data Day

Lots of members of the Open Knowledge Foundation network organised (crowded!) offline events on Open Data Day. We invited them to share with us some of their outcomes, and we’re proud to list a selection of them here on our blog.



The London event hosted at the Centre for Creative Collaboration C4CC brought together people from diverse backgrounds of skills & interests – data journalists, opengov enthusiasts, coders and non-coders alike. The projects developed during the day included health data hacks looking into homoeopathy datasets with representatives from both NHS Hack Day & MJ Analytics, and map-data hacks using OpenStreetMap data. And the best find of the day? Jamaica’s excellent Sports data API, discovered via the Open Data Census!



The Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland organised an event at the Zeit ONLINE HQ (with the newsroom at work just behind the wall). Many projects kept the attendees busy during the day, including the Open Data Census, Frag den Staat,, School of Data, and BundesGit. The day ended with a presentation of all the projects developed during the day, and a lovely global note.



In Amsterdam, the Open Knowledge Foundation cooperated with the Waag Society to provide a full day of activities with and around open data.
As part of the OKF project School of Data, a team investigated so called ‘Letterbox companies’, companies registering themselves in the Netherlands without actually being based there only because of tax benefits (for example, Facebook). The Smart CitySDK project aimed to define services that can help open up data in the fields of Participation, Mobility and Tourism in various cities in Europe. Pictures and further details from the day are on the Dutch OKF Local Group’s blog.



The OKF Austrian Local Group organised a two-day event in Vienna, focusing on big data and poverty and transparency in public finance data. Representatives of the World Bank and the Development Department of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) joined the discussion on the use of big data analysis to inform the work of development organisations and policy makers trying to tackle poverty issues. Hacking time was dedicated to work on a variety of ideas, including the visualization of data from Austrian municipalities as part of the OpenSpending project. More about it on the group’s blog.


OKF France had a great Open Data Day in Paris. They learned about how to contribute to the global open database of food products Open Food Facts (slide deck, in French) and how to use open source mapping software QGis to map election results and movie shootings in Paris. They also identified data on energy consumption, released more data to their CKAN platform NosDonné and started the translation of OKF’s Data Journalism Handbook. Congratulations!



OKF Japan was involved as organiser or supporter of Open Data Day events in eight (!) cities: Tokyo, Yokohama, Chiba, Nagoya, Sabae, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukuoka and Aomori (prefecture). The day produced tonnes of outcomes, from the development of applications using open data, to the visualization of data focusing on Japanese cities and analysis of the published results. Simply awesome. More about it on their dedicated website.

And what about the Open Data Census Challenge?

Do you remember the Open Data Census Challenge that we promoted to celebrate this year’s Open Data Day? A blog post about it and the most recent Census’ development happened on Open Data Day is coming soon!

And there’s more!

More than one hundred events took place on Open Data Day 2013, many of them organised by good friends of ours.
We were especially excited by the Washington event which brought together GovTrack, Sunlight Foundation, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation and The World Bank for a thrilling line up; the Dublin event, organised by the Open Data Ireland community, where ten projects were pitched ranging from Swing States (mapping historical projection of voting patterns) to Hospital Dashboard (comparing hospital waiting times for private and public patients by hospital); and the initiative coordinated by our friends at Fond Otakara Motejla, where they launched a campaign to get the Czech government to keep it’s open promises.

Want to read about all the rest of the global buzz?
Find more of them on the Open Data Day 2013 Wiki and Map, and join the conversation on the mailing list to discuss about your ideas and projects with the Open Data Day community and get ready for a great Open Data Day 2014! See you next year!

Citizen Science Open Technical Workshop – tomorrow

Daniel Lombraña González - January 29, 2013 in Events, Open Science, PyBossa, Workshop

It’s our pleasure to invite you to join the Citizen Science Open Technical Workshop to be held Wednesday 30th January 16:00 CET virtually using Google Hangout.

You can attend the meeting and send all your comments in this Youtube channel or this twitter account.

Over 2 hours, we’ll have expert talks and open discussions about technologies for volunteer computing and thinking projects like:

  • BOINC, the popular volunteer computing desktop middleware used in scientific projects like Seti@Home where volunteers donate their computing resources for analyzing radio telescope data, Einstein@Home where you could help analyzing weak astrophysical signals from spinning neutron stars, or CERN’s LHC@Home where the users help the physicists to develop and exploit particle accelerators like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
  • BOSSA, a distributed thinking framework for creating scientific projects where the volunteers perform tasks that require human intelligence, knowledge, or cognitive skills. An example of this technology is the project Transcribe Bleek & Lloyd where the volunteers help to transcribe Bushman hand written documents.
  • PyBossa, the OKFN’s framework for volunteer thinking projects where volunteers could participate in scientific applications like Feynman’s Flowers where the volunteers help to study how molecules interact with the surfaces they are stuck to, where the users can help to detect deforested areas from satellite images in forests, or for example helping in damage assessment cases like with the Pablo Typhoon or oil spills by Shell experienced by the company in the Niger Delta (Nigeria).
  • and other fantastic technologies!

You can get more details on the Open Science blog and on Google Plus.

First Open Economics International Workshop Recap

Velichka Dimitrova - January 28, 2013 in Access to Information, Events, Featured, Open Access, Open Data, Open Economics, Open Standards, Our Work, WG Economics, Workshop

The first Open Economics International Workshop gathered 40 academic economists, data publishers and funders of economics research, researchers and practitioners to a two-day event at Emmanuel College in Cambridge, UK. The aim of the workshop was to build an understanding around the value of open data and open tools for the Economics profession and the obstacles to opening up information, as well as the role of greater openness of the academy. This event was organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law and was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Audio and slides are available at the event’s webpage.

Open Economics Workshop

Setting the Scene

The Setting the Scene session was about giving a bit of context to “Open Economics” in the knowledge society, seeing also examples from outside of the discipline and discussing reproducible research. Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge Foundation) emphasised that there is necessary change and substantial potential for economics: 1) open “core” economic data outside the academy, 2) open as default for data in the academy, 3) a real growth in citizen economics and outside participation. Daniel Goroff (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) drew attention to the work of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in emphasising the importance of knowledge and its use for making decisions and data and knowledge as a non-rival, non-excludable public good. Tim Hubbard (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) spoke about the potential of large-scale data collection around individuals for improving healthcare and how centralised global repositories work in the field of bioinformatics. Victoria Stodden (Columbia University / RunMyCode) stressed the importance of reproducibility for economic research and as an essential part of scientific methodology and presented the RunMyCode project.

Open Data in Economics

The Open Data in Economics session was chaired by Christian Zimmermann (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / RePEc) and was about several projects and ideas from various institutions. The session examined examples of open data in Economics and sought to discover whether these examples are sustainable and can be implemented in other contexts: whether the right incentives exist. Paul David (Stanford University / SIEPR) characterised the open science system as a system which is better than any other in the rapid accumulation of reliable knowledge, whereas the proprietary systems are very good in extracting the rent from the existing knowledge. A balance between these two systems should be established so that they can work within the same organisational system since separately they are distinctly suboptimal. Johannes Kiess (World Bank) underlined that having the data available is often not enough: “It is really important to teach people how to understand these datasets: data journalists, NGOs, citizens, coders, etc.”. The World Bank has implemented projects to incentivise the use of the data and is helping countries to open up their data. For economists, he mentioned, having a valuable dataset to publish on is an important asset, there are therefore not sufficient incentives for sharing.

Eustáquio J. Reis (Institute of Applied Economic Research – Ipea) related his experience on establishing the Ipea statistical database and other projects for historical data series and data digitalisation in Brazil. He shared that the culture of the economics community is not a culture of collaboration where people willingly share or support and encourage data curation. Sven Vlaeminck (ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics) spoke about the EDaWaX project which conducted a study of the data-availability of economics journals and will establish publication-related data archive for an economics journal in Germany.

Legal, Cultural and other Barriers to Information Sharing in Economics

The session presented different impediments to the disclosure of data in economics from the perspective of two lawyers and two economists. Lionel Bently (University of Cambridge / CIPIL) drew attention to the fact that there is a whole range of different legal mechanism which operate to restrict the dissemination of information, yet on the other hand there is also a range of mechanism which help to make information available. Lionel questioned whether the open data standard would be always the optimal way to produce high quality economic research or whether there is also a place for modulated/intermediate positions where data is available only on conditions, or only in certain part or for certain forms of use. Mireille van Eechoud (Institute for Information Law) described the EU Public Sector Information Directive – the most generic document related to open government data and progress made for opening up information published by the government. Mireille also pointed out that legal norms have only limited value if you don’t have the internalised, cultural attitudes and structures in place that really make more access to information work.

David Newbery (University of Cambridge) presented an example from the electricity markets and insisted that for a good supply of data, informed demand is needed, coming from regulators who are charged to monitor markets, detect abuse, uphold fair competition and defend consumers. John Rust (Georgetown University) said that the government is an important provider of data which is otherwise too costly to collect, yet a number of issues exist including confidentiality, excessive bureaucratic caution and the public finance crisis. There are a lot of opportunities for research also in the private sector where some part of the data can be made available (redacting confidential information) and the public non-profit sector also can have a tremendous role as force to organise markets for the better, set standards and focus of targeted domains.

Current Data Deposits and Releases – Mandating Open Data?

The session was chaired by Daniel Goroff (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) and brought together funders and publishers to discuss their role in requiring data from economic research to be publicly available and the importance of dissemination for publishing.

Albert Bravo-Biosca (NESTA) emphasised that mandating open data begins much earlier in the process where funders can encourage the collection of particular data by the government which is the basis for research and can also act as an intermediary for the release of open data by the private sector. Open data is interesting but it is even more interesting when it is appropriately linked and combined with other data and the there is a value in examples and case studies for demonstrating benefits. There should be however caution as opening up some data might result in less data being collected.

Toby Green (OECD Publishing) made a point of the different between posting and publishing, where making content available does not always mean that it would be accessible, discoverable, usable and understandable. In his view, the challenge is to build up an audience by putting content where people would find it, which is very costly as proper dissemination is expensive. Nancy Lutz (National Science Foundation) explained the scope and workings of the NSF and the data management plans required from all economists who are applying for funding. Creating and maintaining data infrastructure and compliance with the data management policy might eventually mean that there would be less funding for other economic research.

Trends of Greater Participation and Growing Horizons in Economics

Chris Taggart (OpenCorporates) chaired the session which introduced different ways of participating and using data, different audiences and contributors. He stressed that data is being collected in new ways and by different communities, that access to data can be an enormous privilege and can generate data gravities with very unequal access and power to make use of and to generate more data and sometimes analysis is being done in new and unexpected ways and by unexpected contributors. Michael McDonald (George Mason University) related how the highly politicised process of drawing up district lines in the U.S. (also called Gerrymandering) could be done in a much more transparent way through an open-source re-districting process with meaningful participation allowing for an open conversation about public policy. Michael also underlined the importance of common data formats and told a cautionary tale about a group of academics misusing open data with a political agenda to encourage a storyline that a candidate would win a particular state.

Hans-Peter Brunner (Asian Development Bank) shared a vision about how open data and open analysis can aid in decision-making about investments in infrastructure, connectivity and policy. Simulated models about investments can demonstrate different scenarios according to investment priorities and crowd-sourced ideas. Hans-Peter asked for feedback and input on how to make data and code available. Perry Walker (new economics foundation) spoke about the conversation and that a good conversation has to be designed as it usually doesn’t happen by accident. Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge Foundation) concluded with examples about citizen economics and the growth of contributions from the wider public, particularly through volunteering computing and volunteer thinking as a way of getting engaged in research.

During two sessions, the workshop participants also worked on Statement on the Open Economics principles will be revised with further input from the community and will be made public on the second Open Economics workshop taking place on 11-12 June in Cambridge, MA.

First Open Economics International Workshop

Velichka Dimitrova - December 17, 2012 in Access to Information, Events, Featured, Open Access, Open Data, Our Work, WG Economics, Workshop

You can follow all the goings-on today and tomorrow through the live stream.

On 17-18 December, economics and law professors, data publishers, practitioners and representatives from international institutions will gather at Emmanuel College, Cambridge for the First Open Economics International Workshop. From showcasing the examples of successes in collaborative economic research and open data to reviewing the legal cultural and other barriers to information sharing, this event aims to build an understanding of the value of open data and open tools for the economics profession and the obstacles to opening up information in economics. The workshop will also explore the role of greater openness in broadening understanding of and engagement with economics among the wider community including policy-makers and society.

This event is part of the Open Economics project, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and is a key step in identifying best practice as well as legal, regulatory and technical barriers and opportunities for open economic data. A statement on the Open Economics Principles will be produced as a result of the workshop.

Session: “Open Data in Economics – Reasons, Examples, Potential”:
Examples of open data in economics so far and its potential benefits
Session host: Christian Zimmermann, (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, RePEc), Panelists: Paul David (Stanford University, SIEPR), Eustáquio J. Reis (Institute of Applied Economic Research – Ipea), Johannes Kiess (World Bank), Sven Vlaeminck (ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics).
Session: “Legal, Cultural and other Barriers to Information Sharing in Economics” : Introduction and overview of challenges faced in information sharing in Economics
Session host: Lionel Bently, (University of Cambridge / CIPIL), Panelists: Mireille van Eechoud, (Institute for Information Law), David Newbery, (University of Cambridge), John Rust, (Georgetown University).
Session: “Current Data Deposit and Releases – Mandating Open Data?”: Round table discussion with stakeholders: Representatives of funders, academic publishing and academics.
Session host: Daniel L. Goroff, (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation), Panelists: Albert Bravo-Biosca, (NESTA), Toby Green, (OECD Publishing), Nancy Lutz, (National Science Foundation).
Session: Trends of Greater Participation and Growing Horizons in Economics: Opening up research and the academy to wider engagement and understanding with the general public, policy-makers and others.
Session host: Chris Taggart, (OpenCorporates), Panelists: Michael P. McDonald, (George Mason University), Hans-Peter Brunner, (Asian Development Bank), Perry Walker, (New Economics Foundation)

The workshop is a designed to be a small invite-only event with a round-table format allowing participants to to share and develop ideas together. For a complete description and a detailed programme visit the event website. Podcasts and slides will be available on the webpage after the event.

The event is being organized by the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law (CIPIL) at the University of Cambridge and Open Economics Working Group of the Open Knowledge Foundation and is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. More information about the Working Group can be found online.

Interested in getting updates about this project and getting involved? Join the Open Economics mailing list:

OpenSpending CSO Workshop – Sarajevo

Lucy Chambers - November 29, 2012 in Open Spending, Workshop

The full story from Sarajevo can be found on the Open Spending blog

A while back, we wrote about the kickoff of our project to deliver the budget of Bosnia and Herzegovina to its citizens in a form they can understand. Last week in Sarajevo we had the kickoff workshop, bringing together a group of techies and policy experts from the Balkans and Eastern Europe, the OpenSpending team and MySociety’s Tony Bowden to see how, through and beyond visualisation, we could work together to make budgets in the Balkans and Eastern Europe more transparent and accountable.

Day 1 – Inspiration and Open Data

The OpenSpending team has spent a lot of time training journalists on how to use the both the OpenSpending platform and financial data in general, however this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to train people whose aim was not necessarily to highlight scandal and sensation, but to systematically analyse and inform policy based on the available data. All of our participants had an additional aim besides improving policy: to answer the question “how do we display budget and spending information to citizens in a way that is engaging, meaningful and may even produce some action?”

We started the day with an introduction to Open Data, to make sure everyone was on the same page. The aim of the day was inspiration to make data projects as powerful as possible, so we opened with examples of data-driven financial projects which had really made an impact in society: The Farm Subsidies Project, The UK’s The MP’s expenses scandal, and Free the files Campaign by ProPublica.

After lunch, the participants were on stage to present their existing and proposed projects by way of further inspiration for the other groups in the room. We heard from Expert Grup in Moldova on their proposed project to convert the Moldovan BOOST data into a format which could be understood by citizens, CRTA from Serbia on PratiPare – a project to track the location and actual cost of a variety of projects in Serbia, ranging from schools to highways, Open Data Albania’s use of Linked Data to connect spending to a variety of different other sources of Data. Lastly, OneWorldSee and Centre for Public Interest Advocacy, Bosnia took to the stage, describing some of their past and up and coming projects, including CPI’s ‘Balkan Mythbusters’. We wait with anticipation.

After a great talk from My Society’s Tony Bowden on how to build a useful and world-/game-changing project, we gave a brief introduction to the OpenSpending project for those not familiar with it. We show that using OpenSpending doesn’t mean you have to produce a cookie-cutter version of Where Does My Money Go?, and in fact, we’ll get grumpy if you’re not more ambitious than that. There’s no licence (I’m aware of) to enforce this – but we want anyone who uses the Assembly Kit to build their own site to add something, however small, to make it better.

Day 2 – Converting Data into Action & Finding Narratives in Data

The theme of day 2 was how to convert data into action: how to find the times at which people will be receptive to your message, and how to create a narrative they will remember.

For the rest of the day we split into two streams – technical and policy. The policy stream thought about the areas they are interested in capturing in their projects, from international comparisons, to naming and shaming and then ask the key question: “Who cares?” – to work out who we should be targeting and via which medium. In particular we thought about how to make finance interesting to the public, and how to make data useful to those who already care about finance. Secondly, we did a deeper dive into some of the problems experienced by the various projects, including how to get the data you require when the people giving it to you know you are competent enough to find scandal in it.

Meanwhile, the technical stream split off for an action-packed day, including an introduction to DataWrapper for making simple charts and web visualisations, Kartograph for making elegant maps, and cleaning data using Google Refine. All before 5:30

The wrapup activity for Day 2 was a Dream Project proposal. If money and data were no object, what would the participants build? While the suggestion from the group from CRTA and Tony Bowden to build on their project tracking site by equipping kids with cameras to take pictures of broken parts of playparks was, I believe, intended largely jokingly, I can’t help wondering whether encouraging kids as part of their school projects to take part in these projects might not be a bad idea. Other large management consultancy companies use this technique and besides just collecting data, you are teaching the kids to be active citizens. I shall continue to ponder…

Day 3 – Getting your message out

As a CSO, once you have done all of this work, how can you make sure it is used? The focus of Day 3 was getting your message out there.

The Policy Stream actually subdivided even further into Data Analysis and Public Relations for the day. The analysis group had a go at generating leads using in-depth analysis on some sample data, while the PR group tackled the tricky subject of getting your outputs used. Here’s a mindmap of some of our outputs:

You can see the full-sized file on our Flickr Stream

Stay in Touch

We’d love to stay in touch and for other organisations to join the discussion on how we can take these projects all to the next level and hopefully collaborate even more internationally.

The two mailing lists we regularly use for this type of communication are:

Our Slides

Introduction to the workshop:

We’ll add more as we get them, still waiting for them to come trickling in!.

We hope to see you there soon!

Data Expeditions at MozFest

Lucy Chambers - November 14, 2012 in Featured, School of Data, Spending Stories, Workshop

Expeditions into the Data Landscape: the School of Data goes to #MozFest. Find out what happened at MozFest – and see the tools and data sets to recreate it yourself!

Saturday morning at MozFest. A sold out building, full of a thousand hackers, builders, makers, geeks, journalists, thinkers and more. And right at the top on the 9th floor? Three ‘data sherpers’ in sparkly cloaks…

Data Expeditions

The concept behind the ‘Data Expeditions’ run by the School of Data at this year’s MozFest was simple. Based on the ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ role-playing game, data explorers would tackle real world problems together, developing their data wrangling skills in the process.

As a first step, explorers were asked to rate their abilities. Can you tell a story? analyse data? code? tweet? draw? The emphasis was on ‘doing’, but not in any narrow sense – often, it’s the data newbie asking a ‘stupid question’ that sets the team on a fresh track, and becomes the biggest contribution of the day.

Next came the quests. Three Data Sherpas (still sparkling) set out three missions: delving into the data surrounding extractive industries and oil mines; exploring possible causes for a dramatic plummet in life expectancy in central Africa; and burrowing into the grimy world of tax havens.

The explorers divided, the sherpers guided – and the quests began!

Quest 1: Mining the Mines

The discovery of oil or natural resources in a country and subsequent mining and extraction activities have enormous economic and political significance. While some countries benefit off their natural wealth, others fall prey to corruption and exploitation. Approaching this topic we did not have a clear story we intended to investigate – instead the discussion in the first part of our session focussed on how to approach such a complex domain. After some discussion (luckily, the large team included two experts from the area and an investigative reporter), three themes areas emerged that we then decided to further dig into in smaller team:

  • One team worked on possible ways to combine company ownership information, conference documentation and social network data to generate a picture of the network of actors, companies and interests behind the extractive industry.

  • A second team decided to use a commercial database to explore the ownership of a single mine in the DRC. Where did money come from and who are the owners? A quick set of post-its on our data expeditions map served as a visualization of the setup.

  • Mapping was also the topic of the third group, which aimed to contrast overall revenue from extractives to economic, political and social indicators, such as the Corruption Perceptions Index. Using CartoDB, the group was able to easily generate a map that displayed country-by-country comparisons of the resulting ratios.

Quest 2: A Call to Investigate an African Crisis

In true Dungeons & Dragons style, Data Sherper Michael got a call from some dwarves in Middle Earth, who had heard about a sudden drop in life expectancy in central Africa. They didn’t know the details, but believed that the World Bank gnomes might have some facts which could shed some light on the mystery.

Cue the explorers in quest group two, who worked together throughout (kudos to such a large number!) to solve the mystery. After initial musings about a civil war, the team discovered a striking correlation between the increasing prevalence of HIV and plummeting life expectancies. By cross-referencing with other data sets, the team also noticed some interesting connections around health expenditure, public statements issued by politicians, and quirkier topics such as the target audience of condom marketing. More work would need to be done to really make a claim about causality, but there was certainly plenty to mull over.

Quest 3: Tax Islands

This was an experiment in providing a group with a chain of possible investigations (a map for the landscape) and then allowing a storyteller to choose their own expedition path throuh the data. The group divided into two teams to explore the possible stories (routes) you might want to take through tax avoidance and evasion.

The first group chose to show how an online book retailer might avoid tax, starting at the point of sale and tracing the money all the way through to the final countries in which tax was paid (and at what rate!). The second group wanted to show the effects of changes in tax laws, and looked at where large companies paid their tax and how they ‘moved’ as tax breaks changed.

The session was a big success. People really engaged with the issue, and the tax team benefitted from some particularly valuable insights from a few accountants who had direct experience of working on corporation tax for large companies. The format really worked (unless it was the spangly cloaks!) and our data expedition troops stayed at their desks until the very end.

Next steps: Online Mountaineering

The Data Expeditions format was somewhat experimental. We had no idea if the concept would work, but our inkling was that the only way to really teach data skills was to confront people with a mountain. By forging your own path (with the occassional leg-up or guidance from a sherper!), data explorers can pinpoint the extra skills they need to develop in order to scale new obstacles, map their own journey and ultimately to tell their own story. The answer may be at the top, but there are multiple routes to the summit – and each will offer a fresh view over the landscape.

Because the session was so successful, we are keen to repeat the Data Expeditions formula. Our next challenges will be:

  • To work out how to recreate this social dynamic online
  • To continue to follow up on these threads, questions and leads

To do this, we need your help!

  • Were you at the Data Expeditions session at MozFest? Write a short summary of what your team did and what you learned and send it to schoolofdata[@] – we’d love to feature it on our blog!
  • Keen to run your own Data Expeditions session? Please do! You can find some of the resources we used below. Additionally, see the ‘Data Expeditions Toolkit’ below – sign-up to the mailing list and drop us a line at schoolofdata [@] to find out more.
  • Know of more resources? Drop a line to via the mailing list or schoolofdata [@] to let us know!

Recreate it yourself!

Use the Expeditions Toolkit

  1. Print out a copy of the character sheet (front, back) for all of the people participating
  2. Think of your topic areas and devise a suitably ridiculous name for your expedition. (Bonus points for ridiculous puns revolving around online gaming).
  3. Make some role descriptions cards. For each of the possible roles outlined in the character sheets outline tasks which people with that skillset could perform. We recommend at least 3 possible levels.
  4. Buy yourself a cape (optional)
  5. Get rolling – hand out your role desciption sheets, get people to fill in the radar plot and assign roles. Allow people to also specify a role that they are not so strong in, but which they would like to know more about, you can buddy them up with someone who is more advanced in those skills and encourage them to watch closely and ask lots of questions.
  6. Talk everyone through the notion of the expedition and explain their roles to them. Make it clear the aim is to produce something at the end of the session, that could be a blog post, a visualisation or a load of post-it leads – don’t specify, let them be as creative as possible!
  7. Start the storytellers off thinking of a question and get them talking to the scouts and analysts about where they might find that data. You’ll need lots of post it notes.
  8. Get the designers and engineers listening in to the conversations happening and working out how it might be possible to present the information, and feed back into the discussion
  9. One you’ve got a question, set the scouts and the analysts loose on finding and analysing the data.
  10. Get everyone to document their expedition, the avenues they tried which failed for some reason (the path was blocked), what worked, what data-sources the found and what tools they used. These are all useful for generating leads which people could follow up on afterwards and teaching people how a real data-campaign may be run.

We did ours in 3 hours – you may like to try doing it for longer, however make sure your session is short enough to have people’s full attention for the duration of the session and keep energy high.

That’s it. Good luck noble sherpas.

Resources that we used:

Data Sources

Tools & Resources

Hack4Health: London 2-4 November

Velichka Dimitrova - October 22, 2012 in Events, External, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, Sprint / Hackday, Workshop

In the first November weekend – 2-4 November – the UK Open Data Institute in London will host Hack4Health, organised by Coadec, Healthbox Accelerator, the Cabinet Office, NHS Hackday and the Open Knowledge Foundation. The event brings together entrepreneurs, developers and technical startups working on health and fitness data to create innovative solutions and products.

After a weekend-long hacking all participating teams will present their ideas to a panel of experts with the chance to get one-on-one mentorship and other prizes. Some of the judges include Dr Ben Goldacre – author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma and Dr Carl Reynolds  - Co-Founder of Open Health Care UK. The winning team would also present their project at the launch of the Open Data Institute to Tim Berners-Lee.


Participants will be inspired by existing digital health startups, leading industry representatives and mentors throughout the weekend.

Are you a developer, designer, health professional, a mentor or a member of a start-up. Register to attend here:

This event will take place at the The Open Data Institute: 65 Clifton St, The City, London Borough of Hackney, EC2A UK:

For any further questions please contact : info [at]

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