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OpenCorporates invites you to join the launch of #FlashHacks

Guest - July 10, 2014 in Featured Project

This is a guest blog post by OpenCorporates.

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OpenCorporates is now 3 years old. Looking back our first blog on the Open Knowledge (Foundation) blog about reaching 20 million companies, it is heartening to see that we have come a long way. We now have over 70 million companies in 80 jurisdictions worldwide making us the world’s largest open database of companies. The success story of OpenCorporates is not that of a tiny team but that of the whole open data community because it has always been a community effort thanks to the efforts of Open Knowledge and others. From writing scrapers to alerting us when new data is available, deciphering language issues or helping us grow our reach – the open data community has been the driver behind OpenCorporates.

Yet, while our core target of a URL for every single company in the world is making great progress, there’s a bigger goal here – of de-siloing all the government data that relates to companies and connecting it to those companies. In fact, one of the most frequent questions has been “How can I help get data into OpenCorporates?” Now, we have an answer to that. Not just an answer – a brand new platform, that makes it possible for the community to help us get company-related data into OpenCorporates.

To start this new era of crowdscraping – we launched a #FlashHacks campaign which aims to get 10 million datapoints in 10 days. With your help, we are confident we can smash the target.

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Why is this important?

Information about public and private sector is of monumental importance to understanding and changing the world we live in. Transnational corporations can wield unprecedented influence on politics and economy and we have a limited capacity to understand this when we don’t know what these legal entities look like. The influence of these companies can be good or bad and we don’t have a clear picture of this.

Company information is often not available and when it is, it is buried under hard-to-use websites and PDFs. Fortunately, the work of the open data and transparency community has brought a tide of change. With the introduction of Open Government Partnership and G8 Open Data Charter, governments are committing to make this information easily and publicly available. Yet, action on this front remains slow. And that’s why scraping is at the heart of the open data movement! Where would the open data community be if it had not been for bot-writers spending time deciphering formats and writing code to release data?

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We want to use #FlashHacks as a celebration of the commitment of bot-writers and invite others to join us in changing the world through open data.

#FlashHacks at OKFestival

The last day of the campaign coincides with the last day of OKFestival, probably, the biggest gathering of the open data community. So, we will be putting on three #FlashHacks in partnership with Open Knowledge Germany, Code for Africa and Sunlight Foundation.

The OKF Germany #FlashHack will be releasing German data. Sign up here.

The Sunlight Foundation #FlashHack will be releasing political lobbying data. Sign up here.

The Code for Africa #FlashHack will be releasing African data. Sign up here.

How you can join the crowdscraping movement if you can’t make it to OKFest?

  • If you can code in Ruby and/or Python, join http://missions.opencorporates.com and sign up!
  • Have a look at the datasets we have listed on the Campaign page! If there is a dataset you think we should include in this, please put that down here.
  • Sign up to a mission! Send a tweet pledge to say you have taken on a mission.
  • Write the bot and submit on the platform.
  • Tweet your success with the #FlashHacks tag! Don’t forget to upload the FlashHack design as your twitter cover photo and facebook cover photo to get more people involved.

Any problems – you can post on our Google Group.

GitLaw: How The Law Factory turns the French parliamentary process into 300 version-controlled Open Data visualizations

Guest - June 25, 2014 in Featured Project

This is a guest blog post by the French NGO Regards Citoyens, which actively promotes public Open Data principles in France since 2009 and lobbying transparency since 2010. They create web projects using public data to provide tools for a better dialogue between citizens and representatives. Their most known initiative is a parliamentary monitoring website: NosDeputes.fr.

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Law is Code!

Over the last few years, a number of people have explored the idea of inverting Lawrence Lessig’s metaphor “code is law”, looking at the evolution of laws through the lens of coding tools. The parliamentary process is indeed so similar to a collaborative software development workflow that it is only natural to try and use a version control tool such as git to track individual legislative changes.

The analogy between both processes is deep: in each case, there is a group of people collaborating on a textual artifact (bill or program source code), proposing changes (amendments or patches), adopting or rejecting them (through votes or pull requests), and iterating until a stable, public version is made available (by promulgation or release). This new paradigm to think about legislation paves the way for new, innovative approaches of law-tracking. Some exciting work has already been made, most notably in Germany: the BundesGit project invites citizens to propose their own legal modifications as “pull requests”, and Gregor Aisch produced an unprecedented visualization of modifications to one law over 40 years of amendments.

Initiated in 2011, the Law Factory project worked on the French legislative process to answer a simple question: does the Parliament actually write the law, or are MPs only validating the executive’s drafts, as most people commonly assume? A collaboration between Regards Citoyens, an NGO that has monitored the French Parliament’s work through its project NosDéputés.fr since 2009, and two research laboratories at Sciences Po Paris, the médialab and the Centre d’études européennes, the project also sought support from all over the world.

Two international conferences, in June 2012 and May 2014, gathered in Paris activists, NGOs, researchers, public servants and journalists, in order to share projects and ideas from a wide range of expertise. In June 2013, a two-day DesignCamp with the italian info-designers of Density Design and the portuguese hacktivists of Manufactura Independente led to a collaboration with Density Design to forge innovative ways to represent and explore bills throughout the legislative process.

The Law Factory: browsing through 290 adopted bills

After three years, TheLawFactory.fr was finally released on May 28, 2014 as a free software web application, combining all available information on 290 bills promulgated since 2010. All of the text of these bills and their amendments, as well as contextual documents such as debate transcripts, are redistributed as open data, published as version-controlled text into git repositories, and made accessible through four interactive tools that enable users – researchers, journalists, lobbyists, citizens, legislators and legislative staff – to browse the legislative process under various levels of zoom.

Similar to a Gantt chart, the first visualization proposes to navigate through time and discover within the legislative agenda which bills were discussed, when, within which chamber and for how long. The display can be switched from the top menu to other views: a comparative one to compare the global time taken to study each bill, and a quantitative one to consider only the times when the text was actually being discussed and not just sitting in between the two chambers. The menu also contains filters to display only the most amended bills or those that took the most time to consider. Another feature allows the user to select a theme or legislative year.

Clicking on a bill provides (on the right) a small set of metrics offering a first estimate of a bill’s controversiality, including measures of how much the actual text grew and changed during the whole process, how many amendments were proposed and adopted and how many words were spoken during the debates. Contrary to popular belief, first analyses reveal that the French Parliament impacts the law writing process significantly: 74 % of the amended texts studied were modified by at least 50 %, and 61 % increased in length by at least 50 %. Only a handful of texts – highly controversial ones – reveal a decrease in volume by the end of the parliamentary process. Clicking on the button “Explorer les articles” allows the user to study the legislative process of each bill individually.

Studying each bill’s changes individually

All of the changes measured can be further explored in a second module for each bill. Each step of a bill’s legislative process is displayed as a column: the first draft proposal from the government or an MP on the left, followed by each version successively adopted in committee and plenary (by the Senate and the National Assembly) during a first reading, sometimes a conciliation committee, and quite often a few more readings. In each column, the text is split into articles or sections grouping multiple articles. Each article at each step is represented as a box with a proportional height to the actual length in characters of its text.

Switching the display view into a “compact mode” reveals how much the whole text actually grew at each step. New articles are marked in green, while those that have been removed are marked in red. All other aticles are shaded in grey depending on how much the text of their alineas was modified during that step so that any highly rewritten article can be quickly identified. Clicking on an article gives access on the right to the full text of the article at the step, and optionnally display the differences with the previous version as within developers usual code-diff tools.

Exploring the debates and amendments of the parliamentary process

When the text of a bill was modified at a step, a third tool is made accessible to explore all the related amendments via a folder icon in the column header. Each amendment is represented as a small square with the color of its originating political party and an ideogram revealing its resulting status: adopted, rejected or left out. Here again, clicking on an amendment reveals (on the right) the complete amendment text, its author(s) and an explanation of the amendment.

Switching the view into a “grouped mode” and ordering the amendments per political party gives a visual estimate of the origin of all adopted modifications. This can also help visualize parliamentary obstruction, for example, when a political group purposely floods the debate to slow it down with hundreds of amendments destined to fail.

A last visualization, accessible via a discussion icon in the column header, proposes to get to the root of the bill changes: the actual discussions between the members of the parliament at a selected step. Presidents, rapporteurs, government members and the different parliamentary party groups share the speaking time differently during the successive parts of the debate, beginning with a general discussion, followed with a focus on each article and related amendments individually. Throughout these steps, each group of speakers is represented as a stream graph, each step being a box with a size proportional to the number of words spoken per subject.

This visualization aids the user to identify highly debated articles and evaluate the evolving position of each political party on a text. Once again, clicking on a box displays on the right the detailed list of the speakers, with links to the actual minutes of the debate as republished oat NosDéputés.fr and NosSénateurs.fr, offering an unprecedented way to trace the discussions related to specific modifications of the law in just a few clicks.

How does it work?

Like with most projects handling parliamentary data, at least two thirds of the development time had to be spent not on building the visual exploration tools, but on collecting, assembling, cleaning and processing the data. The French Senate has made great efforts towards open data over the past couple years and recently started distributing complete dumps of some of their databases on a daily basis. On the other hand, the National Assembly remains hermetic to any sign of openness, most probably due to its members’ irrational fears of already existing activity rankings by the press…

Ultimately, the Senate’s efforts were only marginally useful for this initiative. Data related to amendments and debates was already preprocessed and waiting to be reused within NosDéputés.fr and NosSénateurs.fr’s databases, only requiring some adjustments and enrichments to their APIs in order to provide direct access to a specific bill’s debates, which can now also benefit other interested users.

But the missing data required here was the version-controlled legislative one: the actual text of the bills at each step of the parliamentary process. Both chambers only publish these as HTML and PDF documents, requiring the extraction of the desired information with automated . Transforming this into data requires parsing the various layouts and scraping the legislative structure and text out of each document. At this stage only half of the work is achieved; the biggest challenge is to autocomplete the many missing pieces within the text . For what are likely practical syntaxic reasons, the texts published by the two chambers often do not include unmodified articles or pieces of articles, letting the reader, hence our robots, crawl though a maze of previous versions to look for the actual missing pieces of text.

Once the data was finally assembled and the code published as a free software, it could be redistributed for anyone to reuse as an open data API tree giving access to each data file used to display the visualizations, as well as all source data that was assembled to generate it.

Following the GitLaw ideas, it only seemed natural to also host version-controlled git repositories for each one of the bills: as within a computer programme project, a bill’s articles become text files, and at the date of each step of the parliamentary process, an institution commits a new version for each article it modified. Using the free software GitLab, anyone can browse the repositories on a web platform, and, like on GitHub, propose their own amendments by “forking” a project and submitting their “pull request”.

What’s next?

Still, the automated handling of the sources’ discrepancies remains imperfect. Our robots fail today over 125 of the texts promulgated since 2010, which means our corpus represents only 70% of the considered texts. We remain confident that we will soon be able to process the majority of the missing bills on one hand, and further on to integrate texts during their on-going adoption process, allowing anyone to access the detailed version of a text with the proposed amendments during the debates. If some of the parsing errors are clearly identified as procedure issues for financial laws for instance, some exceptional cases will certainly reach the limits of automation, as for this erratum we encountered which further “amends” the adopted text that was published.

This whole work will always retain a variety of complex challenges unless the institutions step forward. This is only one example of the many reasons why Parliaments all over the world should progressively migrate their legislative processes towards fully integrated routines into their information systems. Let’s just imagine how both the institutions themselves and the societies they serve would benefit from the positive externalities which can only emerge from parliamentary openness and transparency.

Anyone curious to see more on the subject should feel free to browse through the hours of video captation of the latest Open Legislative Data Conference :)

Open Steps: Documenting open knowledge in South America

Guest - June 19, 2014 in Featured Project

This is the fourth and (so far) final travel-guest blog post from Open Steps, an initiative by two young Berliners Alex (a software developer from Spain) and Margo (a graduate in European politics from France) who decided to leave their daily lives and travel around the world for one year to meet people and organizations working actively in open knowledge related projects, documenting them on their website. Read also the first blog post, the second one and the third one.

Documenting Open Knowledge in South America, the last continent of an enriching one-year research journey.

It is very impressive for us to think that already a year has passed since we left Berlin in July 2013 and began this project that has taken us to so many places in the world. Looking back at the last twelve months and thinking about all what we have experienced, we can only feel honoured and thankful! We enjoyed so much meeting all these amazing persons and collectives, documenting their inspiring initiatives. Definitely, the most important thing we have learnt is the belief that, wherever in the world, applying an “open” approach to our lives (and thinking about common benefit while doing it) can achieve a positive, sustainable and meaningful development of our society.

South America: a fertile environment for Openness

We did not know this when we started our journey but we have had the opportunity to meet and document so many interesting Open Knowledge related projects in this continent that we could not imagine a better context to conclude our project than here in South America. After these last three months in a part of the South-American continent, our conclusion is that the quantity, diversity and scale of open knowledge initiatives here is without doubt big. So big as the distances we have travelled to get from one location to the other …

Chile’s community flourishing

Among the list of countries we have visited worldwide, Chile seems for us one of the countries showing the most diverse panel of open knowledge actors. There, not only the national administration promotes the use of Open Data through different platforms (Open Government initiatives, Open Data portal) but further agencies (INRIA Chile, independent agency for transparency) and groups from the civil society (Poderopedia, Ciudadano Inteligente) are advocating to empower the citizen. Opening and sharing knowledge is already an established practice there, not so strange that one of the most active hackerspaces in South America, STGO Makerspace, found its rooms in the city of Santiago.

Furthermore, we could find on the continent numerous examples of administrations at city level which can be considered as models, being much more advanced than their respective national governments. The first south-american municipality building its Open Data platform was the city of Buenos Aires which has led to successful experiments in Argentina (Bahía Blanca) and other countries (Rio de Janeiro, the both sites Numeros and Data Viva in Belo Horizonte, Municipality of Lima, Peñalolén), not counting further local initiatives still at their initial phase by the time we write these lines.

Argentina coming on the right track

All of them seem pioneers since the national contexts are not everywhere so bright as in Chile. In Argentina, a FOI law is still missing and the government appears to be slow to catch on the great job of both its capital city (above mentioned) and La Nación Data. This team of passionate journalists within La Nación’s newsroom is dedicated to Data journalism: it has its own Open Data platform, has set up many interesting data projects (Gastos del Senato, VozData) and works promoting the use of Open Data for journalistic purposes by organising intern trainings and public events. It is definitely there where we found the most active data journalists! Also to mention the local chapter of HacksHackers in Buenos Aires, one of the biggest in the world and the first one in South America.

Interesting initiatives brewing in Brazil, Peru and Uruguay despite difficult environment

In Brazil, even if we could find an Open Data platform at national level and a site committed to transparency, a lot of improvements have still to be done. But two main facts let us think that the global situation is changing today: first, a “Bill of Rights for the Internet” has finally been approved end of March by the Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies after being rejected nine times since 2012. Secondly, a Brazilian chapter of the OKFN has been created these last months and that gives the best auspices towards more initiatives from the civil society.

In Peru, the national status of Open Knowledge and Open Data is almost non-existent, although there is a FOI law since 2012 and a site devoted to transparency, plus the already mentioned platform of the municipality of Lima. Undoubtedly, the energy of few individuals, journalists included, (gathered in the university hackerspace FabLab Uni to quote only one) as well as the recent creation of local groups who are right now growing (Open Data Perú, HacksHackers Lima) ensure that ideas and projects will soon arise.

The perspectives appears good in Uruguay too, where there is already a momentum towards Openness. Indeed, a FOI law guarantees since 2008 the free access to public data. A governmental Open Data platform was initiated in 2010 by AGESIC, the Uruguayan Agency for E-government, and the site should contain 120 datasets by the end of this year, prioritising quality over quantity. The engagement of the civil society is also remarkable seeing as the citizens group named DATA which works since 2009 on making Open Data more known and efficiently used. They host regular meet-ups in Montevideo for collaborative projects and co-organised last year, together with their fellows from Chile (Ciudadano Inteligente) and Mexico (Socialtic and Fundar), the ABRE LATAM gathering, the first pan-Latinamerican unconference on Open Data and Transparency.

Lots of large events taking place across the region

Because the OK community in South America is so rich, a lot has been done to facilitate their talks and interactions with the aim to learn from the others. In addition to ABRE LATAM, other regional events are regularly organised (as the Uruguayan DataBootcamp we took part in or the annual Mediaparty from the HacksHackers Buenos Aires) and even a pan-Latinamerican Open Data platform has been set up, Open Data Latin America, which was built by Junar, a company which helps administrations and others building their own platform.

FLOK Society: a remarkable initiative made in Ecuador

There is one thing in particular we want to emphasize. Soon after arriving in South America and thanks to Louis Leclerc, we discovered FLOK Society and the “plan of good living” of the Ecuadorian government: Starting in November 2013, a team of ecuadorian and international researchers has been studying how the actual system based on finite resources can be switched towards a future sustained by free knowledge and Open Source paradigms that encourages the commons. The amazing point for us is the support of the Ecuadorian government and the coherence and respect with the local cultural context the project has. Willing to learn more about it and sadly not being able to travel to Ecuador, we managed to speak with Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2PFoundation who is leading the research team at FLOK. He could give us some insights that we shared on the article we published on our website shortly after, which we kindly invite you to read for more details.

Last but not least there are Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador among the list of countries we did not make it to visit but are definitely worth to explore regarding Open Knowledge.

The journey comes to an end but Open Steps has some plans for the future

Since the beginning, our project has been closely related to this amazing journey that was meant to last one year. The twelve months have already passed and now it is time to come back to Berlin. However, Open Steps will keep documenting open knowledge initiatives worldwide, exposing the state of the art in all things open and divulging the principles we believe are making our society better.

Also, if you have been following us, you might know about our Directory, a list of the individuals and organisations actively working in the field. Our intention is to bring this directory to the next level. With it, we aim to raise the visibility of remarkable projects and facilitate the collaboration between activists, hackers, designers, journalists and developers all over the world. Because, as we have experienced during this journey, the OK movement is absolutely global.

Such a project could not end without a big event and we are going to enjoy the opportunity of attending this year’s OKFestival (Berlin, 15th-17th July) to share our experiences. Also, fellows visiting our stand at the OKFair on the 15th will be able to contribute to our directory on the spot, sharing with us relevant projects worth to be documented. Are you going to be there? Come over and say hello!

The 2013 Open Reader – Stories and articles inspired by OKCon2013

Guest - March 4, 2014 in Featured Project, OKCon

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This is a guest post from Andreas Von Gunten, founder of the Creative Commons-based publishing house Buch & Netz and editor of the brand new “The 2013 Open Read – Stories and articles inspired by OKCon2013″.

We all remember very well the fantastic OKCon / Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva last year. There were so many interesting and inspiring workshops from open data enthusiasts from all over the world, and it was a great honor for me to be able to publish an eBook and an online book about the themes and issues from the OKCon 2013.

Now «The 2013 Open Reader – Stories and articles inspired by OKCon2013: Open Data – Broad,Deep, Connected» is available for free until 16th March 2014. It includes blogposts, white papers, slides, journal articles and other types of texts from 45 speakers, workshop coordinators of this event and other contributors. Grab your copy now or read the content online at: http://books.buchundnetz.com/the2013openreader/

The eBook and its content is licensed under a CC-BY 3.0 license, so feel free to distribute the files and the links as you like.

Two and a half months researching Open Data in (a part of) Asia

Guest - February 28, 2014 in Community Stories, Featured Project, OKF Cambodia, OKF Hong Kong, Open Data

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This is the third guest blog post from Open Steps, an initiative by two young Berliners Alex (a software developer from Spain) and Margo (a graduate in European politics from France) who decided to leave their daily lives and travel around the world for one year to meet people and organizations working actively in open knowledge related projects, documenting them on their website. Read also the first blog post and the second one.

After the first 6 months in East Europe and India, we landed in the Asian continent and had two and a half months to explore South-East Asia, Hong Kong and Japan. Starting first planning meetings and workshops in the Mekong Region, we rapidly understood there are not numerous organisations working on Open Knowledge there, compared to the previous visited countries.

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The Mekong Basin Region and its lack of Open Data momentum

In none of the countries we passed by in South-East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia & Laos) we could find a strong will from the public administration to promote Open Data (OD) or Open Government (OG) initiatives. However, each government has its own different experience. Let’s take a look at this in detail:

In Thailand, we got in contact with Opendream, a company focused on developing web and mobile apps around social issues, mostly using and released as Open Source. Organising our workshop in their offices brought us closer to the singular Thai Open Data history. A plan for releasing data to the public domain through an Open Data platform (which was built by Opendream members) had already been initiated under the mandate of the previous Prime Minister, but surprisingly dismissed few months afterwards when the power changed hands. At the time of our visit, this first attempt was not available anymore on the web and there was no plan to do a second one. Considering other kind of organisations than the public sector, we discovered Thai Netizen Network, a small group of advocates working on intellectual property. We met Arthit Suriyawongkul, its founder, who is also one of the activists working on the Thai adaptation of the Creative Commons license. According to him, the Open movement in Thailand can be summarized in a few individuals who might be connected via social networks but don’t represent in any case an active and regular meeting group.

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In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia which was our next stop, Open Data is neither the priority of the government. But there, we could meet several organisations, mostly NGOs, and also gathered numerous students, journalists and human rights advocates as attendees at our events. This reflects a big interest in both data visualisation and data journalism. Our 3 workshops were respectively organised at the national high school for media practitioners (the DMC of the Royal University), with the German GIZ (the Public Agency for International Cooperation) and with Transparency International Cambodia. One of the organisations we particularly consider relevant to mention is Open Development Cambodia (ODC), which manages the only online platform in Cambodia where local data is being aggregated and shared. The elaborate map visualisations of this NGO are the proof that the civil society is active and that making use of data is already a know tool to bring awareness and to address specific issues Cambodia has to face. ODC’s team is working hard on it and together with the newly created OKFN local group, they are the ones leading the efforts. Not to forget is the great event they organised for the international Open Data Day this year.

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What about Laos? The neighbouring country has an even more difficult situation than Thailand and we could not discover any initiative there which can be categorized as open, neither from the public administration nor from the civil society. In Vientiane, we met the IT-team behind the data portal of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental agency between Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, created to preserve the Mekong basin region and improve its water management. The data portal is a platform gathering and analysing data on (among others) water quality through various maps and reports. Sadly, due to national policies and the strict rules defined by the collaboration between these four countries, the data is not available as open but some fees and copyright apply for download and re-use.

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A different story : Hong Kong and Japan

South-East Asia can definitely not reflect all Asia and what we discovered during the rest of our journey was the antipode of the first three countries mentioned. We headed further East and arrived in Hong Kong, where we were already in contact since we left Berlin with two active organisations: DimSumLabs (hackerspace) and Open Data Hong Kong (ODHK). DimSumLabs offered us its space and ODHK its warm support to run our session in the big metropole. As they both have built a great community of activists and enthusiasts, the topic of Open Data and Open Cultures in general is large known and there was no need to present our usual beginners-targeted workshop. Instead of that, we prepared new contents and did a recap of the most exciting projects we had discovered so far. It resulted in a very interesting discussion about the status of Hong Kong as “Special Administration Region” of China. The city still remains under China´s rules (has no Freedom of Information Act) but its autonomy allows a “healthy” environment for OD/OG initiatives. The existence of the Open Data platform and Open Data challenges are a proof of it.

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On the same line, Japan was a productive stop for our research. First, we visited the Mozilla factory, created last year in the centre of Tokyo. A fantastic open space for everyone to learn and work on the web, equipped with tools such as 3D printers and greatly designed with Open Source furnitures available for download and re-use. On our meeting, we discovered also about their new project called MozBus, a refurbished camping van turned into a nomadic web factory that can provide internet infrastructure at remote areas after natural disasters. The International Open Data Day (22nd February 2014) happened during our stay in this last stop in Asia and we participated in the event organised in Kyoto. There, volunteers from public and private sector and members of the OpenStreetMap Foundation scheduled an one-day workshop to teach citizens with different backgrounds and ages how to use OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia, with the main purpose to document and report historical buildings of the city. In addition, this event was also a good place to research about the status of OD/OG initiatives in Japan. If the government has worked on a strategy for many years (with focus on how can OD/OG make disaster management more efficient) and seems to be in the list of the much advanced countries; the national Open Data platform, launched in beta, dates from last December and there are, generally speaking, still improvements needed, particularly regarding the licenses applied for spending and budgeting data.

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But that is not all what is happening in Asia

Although we would really have loved to, it was not possible for us to be all over the continent and discover all the projects and initiatives currently going on. Countries as Indonesia, Philippines or Taiwan present an advanced status regarding Open Data and we would definitely have had a lot to document if our route would have passed there. We invite you to read this sum-up about the Open Data situation in Asia (put together by a folk on the OKFN-Discuss mailing list after last year’s OKCon) to get a more detailed idea on the different contexts the Asian continent shows. It’s a very good read!

After Asia, keeping heading East, we are now reaching South-America and this is here where the last part of our one-year research begins. We have now four months to go through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru and the first contacts we could establish are really promising …. follow us to get updated!

Open Steps: 3 months documenting Open Knowledge in India

Guest - December 12, 2013 in Featured Project, Meetups, OKF India

This is a guest blog post from Open Steps, an initiative by two young Berliners Alex (a software developer from Spain) and Margo (a graduate in European politics from France) who decided to leave their daily lives and travel around the world for one year to meet people and organizations working actively in open knowledge related projects, documenting them on their website.

Three months have already gone since we wrote the first report about our journey here on the Open Knowledge Foundation blog, sharing our experiences discovering and documenting Open Knowledge projects. After Europe, we travelled along the indian sub-continent, gathering impressions that we would now like to share with you through this article.

A big country full of active individuals and initiatives

India is a huge and heterogeneous country, strongly marked by the cultural, economical and social differences between its 28 states. This was the main challenge we had to face while exploring the existence of Open Government initiatives, the use of Open Data in different fields and the level of awareness about Open Cultures in general. After these three months, in which we have visited both northern and southern regions, we are impressed by the amount and quality of projects and individuals we have met.

The first proof of the momentum the Open Data movement is currently experiencing, is the presence of the national Open Data platform. Created in 2012, it hosts an increasing number of relevant datasets and is being currently improved with new features as API access, support for regional data and new on-site visualisations. As we could experience during our event in Delhi, where we had the opportunity to discuss with one of the developers behind the platform, the use of this data is being encouraged through App Challenges and regularly organised Hackathons. The existence of such a platform is a consequence of India’s participation within the Open Government initiative. Along this topic, we can also remark that although not yet taking part in the Open Government Partnership, a similar initiative we cover, India has already shown its commitment and has been listed as one of the eligible countries 2013 and could apply for it.

Our first workshop took place in Mumbai, where we were introduced to some members of the Datameet group. This small community of like-minded individuals, open-source supporters and data-activists is the second point we would like to underline here. This public online forum is the place you want to address if you are willing to stay up-to-date in all things open happening in India. Its members collaborate together in different projects, organise monthly events and stay connected across the huge country. And fact is, that we have met Datameet members on every event we have organised!

Data-activism and problem solving made in India

By running this project, we are learning new things everyday. One of the topics we have had the opportunity to explore more in detail is data-activism. Many groups we have met in India are using data as a tool for intelligent, resource-conscious and effective problem-solving at local level. Organisations such as Transparent Chennai and Karnataka Learning Partnership, who both helped us running our event, are remarkable examples of non-profit initiatives addressing social issues in their cities, Chennai and Bangalore respectively. Also, we discovered the Tactical Technologies Collective, a Berlin-based company with office in the Karnataka’s metropole which advises NGOs, journalists and activists on the smart use of data and technologies for advocacy.

In addition, we experienced on first hand that the public administration is beginning to be aware of the benefits of Open Data. We took part in one of the meetings of the Open Government Committee at Karnataka Highway Improvement Project (KSHIP). There, we could give our input on which tools and strategies they could profit from to achieve their goal: realising their data to the public domain, encouraging citizen-participation and improving the decision-making process regarding the state’s road infrastructures.

Open Access, sharing knowledge in academics

Along our journey, we have met various kinds of organisations. But it was in Vadodara, Gujarat, where we had the chance to witness the use of open principles in the context of a university. We visited the Smt. Hansa Metha Library and spoke with its director about the Open Knowledge Gateway, an online hub they initiated where researchers and students can access publications, documentation and further information for free.

We could also discuss about Open Access in our meeting in Delhi, where the Open Access Week took place last October, organised in cooperation with UNESCO and the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). This shows that the interest towards making academic information available for everyone is growing in India and universities are already committed to accelerate innovation this way.

North vs South: Is there any difference?

As a matter of fact, southern indian regions are, in general, economically more developed than their northern neighbours. We experienced that in the South, Kerala’s administration promotes the development of Open Source software. Also, IT-metropoles such as Bangalore and Hyderabad, are the perfect setting for initiatives which use technology and data with the aim to improve society, always supporting the idea that knowledge should be available for everyone.

Nevertheless, as the Datameet group reveals, there are activists all over India. At the end, the motivation of these individuals and organisations is what makes the difference, and we could find them both in North and South.

We leave India with the feeling that we could keep researching further interesting projects for months. Actually, due to our tight schedule, we could not cover every project we happened to discover. There was a great interest in Open Steps and we were warm welcomed by all of our collaborators, even we have been contacted by many people we could not meet at the end. Hereby, we would like to thank all these remarkable persons who made our stay in India such an enriching experience.

But the journey continues. Open Steps is touring Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong and Japan) for the next two months. We will announce our schedule soon and would like to make a call for interesting Open Knowledge related projects we should get to know and document there, if you happen to run or know one, please drop us a line! Thanks!

Open Assets in Argentina

Guest - September 30, 2013 in Data Journalism, Featured Project, Open Government Data

The following guest post is by Florencia Coelho, from Argentinian daily La Nacion.

In Argentina, where a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has yet to be signed, LA NACION and three transparency NGOs – Poder Ciudadano, ACIJ (Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia) and Fundación Directorio Legislativo joined efforts to produce the first site to open information on the assets of public servants, making their asset declarations available online.

The first stage of the web site contains more than 600 asset declarations from public servants from each of the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. Priority was given to data on key positions within each branch as well as data on candidates in the upcoming October 2013 legislative elections.

Each NGO specialized in monitoring transparency and accountability of certain branches, presenting the necessary public information requests and processing the data received.

The information requested was received in print copies; therefore, in addition to entering the data, the teams also scanned the original requests, erasing any sensitive personal information before uploading them to DocumentCloud where they are linked to each asset declaration on the web site.

Teams collaborated with more than 30 volunteers who manually entered the data and cross checked every unit of content in a marathon six-day “check-a-thon”. Throughout the project cycle, the teams worked online using collaborative tools like Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets and Trello.

The database and the web site were designed and developed by LA NACION data and multimedia teams from Lanacion.com. Our Knight Mozilla Opennews fellow collaborated in optimizing the application and search tools. This news application, now in beta, will open data in machine readable formats for everyone to reuse.

The Open Asset Declarations website is being launched in a particular political context. A new law was recently passed which omits asset information on public officials´ spouses and children, thereby reducing the content previously available. Family asset information is vital to depict an accurate picture of the public officials´ wealth and key to any investigation on illicit enrichment.

IMG_0150

A “Check-a-thon” last week, comparing paper originals of statements with spreadsheet versions*

Even after earthquakes, we need Open

Guest - August 29, 2013 in Featured Project, OKF Italy, Open Development, Open Government Data

The following guest post is by Chistian Quintili from Open Ricostruzione. Open Ricostruzione is an Italian civic project focused on people engagement after the earthquake which damaged cities of Emilia-Romagna in 2012

Open Ricostruzione is pleased to have a little corner in the OKF network. Our project, in short, is a website to monitor public funding and private donations raised to reconstruct public buildings damaged by the earthquake which hit Emilia Romagna in May 2012.

Emilia Romagna is a region in Northern Italy, which in 2012 experienced a series of devastating earthquakes, measuring up to 6.0 on the richter scale. Up to 45,000 people were made homeless, and 27 lost their lives. The cost of reconstruction so far is estimated at around €350 million, with projects including schools, hospitals, and the restoration of historical cultural sites. We want to make sure that this process is open, transparent and accountable.

The Emilia-Romagna region and the ANCI (the association of all Italian municipalities) gathered the relevant administrative data; and an association working on IT and civic participation, called Open Polis, developed special software for accessing the data in a user-friendly and easy way. You can find raw data, project by project, on a featured website named Sisma2012.

open ricostrizione

But Open Ricostruzione is more than this. Technology isn’t enough to “rebuild” democracy: our focus is on re-building citizens’ skills. Beyond smart cities, we need smart citizens. For this reason, ActionAid is organizing a series of workshops to train civil society activists to monitor reconstruction, providing juridical and data journalism skills with Dataninja (an Italian data journalism network).

Bondeno 29 giugno 2013

Today each of us can contribute to make reconstruction in Emilia and our institutions more accountable, and this is possible just using a mobile phone, a camera and an internet connection. This means we can, and should be, more responsible for and concerned by the rebuilding of a better society, better institutions and better nation.

We have the tools and we want to make it happen.

We’d love to hear from you, and you can follow us @Open_Ric for updates.

Open Ricostruzione is a project designed by Wikitalia and realized by Anci, Ancitel, ActionAid and Openpolis with the technical support of Emilia Romagna Region and the financial support of Cisco Italy

On the trail of “Open Steps” – visiting open knowledge communities around the world

Christian Villum - August 19, 2013 in Featured Project

Margo & Alex from Open Steps

This is a guest blog post from Open Steps, an initiative by two young Berliners Alex (a software developer from Spain) and Margo (a graduate in European politics from France) who decided to leave their daily lives and travel around the world for one year to meet people and organizations working actively in open knowledge related projects, documenting them on their website.

Starting in July 2013 and for one year, we will travel through South-East Europe, Turkey, India, South-East Asia, Japan and South-America. During our travels we are generating a geo-located index of individuals and groups supporting open knowledge around the world. We have a natural interest in open data as it is the area in which both our backgrounds converge. We will therefore also run a workshop entitled “Visualising Open Data to bring out global issues” on the way and furthermore research the current situation of open data in the countries we are visiting.

After leaving Berlin at the end of June, we have travelled along Europe crossing beautiful countries, meeting hard-working geeks & other activists and hearing about promising projects around the topic of open knowledge. Now it’s time for us to sit down, sum up all the impressions we have gathered so far and share them through this article.

Visiting hackerspaces across Europe

You might have seen on our website that the organisations we met were mostly hackerspaces. Why is that? When it comes to sharing knowledge and supporting open cultures, these kind of organisations are on the top of the list. After sending more than a thousand emails and contact requests, we were happy to start receiving positive answers, and in Europe these were mostly from hackerspaces (Prague, Vienna, Tirana, Pristina, Skopje).

Visiting them was like doing a pilgrimage, travelling from one to the other. Each one is great and unique in terms of location, profile of members and running projects. But it was most interesting for us to discover that the interest and engagement of members of hackerspaces, especially in less developed countries, was extraordinary! We would like to highlight the efforts being done by the guys from Open Labs in Albania and FLOSSK in Kosovo, both of whom are pioneers in sharing knowledge through workshops and supporting open source software in these two countries. There, the public administration does not recognise the importance of these values and the word ‘open‘ is not so well known yet. Thanks to activists such as these, this is already changing.

In addition to hackerspaces, we also had the chance to visit inspiring places like the Solar Festival in Hranize, a small rural village in Czech Republic where a passionate group of people are sharing the benefits and beauty of clean energy. And the creative shop Zelazo in the Moda neighborhood of Istanbul, where people learn to design stuff by themselves.

For the love of Open Data

We love open data and we strongly believe it is a mechanism to improve our society in terms of transparency, democracy and citizen participation. That is what the second part of our project is about. With the support of the organizations we have visited, we have been able to run our workshop five times in total so far. Through it, we are not only spreading the word about the topic but also creating an opportunity to discuss about the situation of open data in the context of each country.

Varying government engagement across Europe

In our opinion, Europe shows a very heterogeneous implementation level regarding the steps towards being open: engagement of public administration, availability of open data platforms, legal framework and civil society awareness. We have experienced countries like Germany or Austria where both governmental and independent organisations (also at regional and local level) are already working on gathering and releasing data into the public domain, organising events and meeting challenges so developers create useful civic tools.

On the other hand, there are other countries like Albania where the first steps have not been taken by the government but by independent groups. Or like Turkey, which has been participating in the Open Government Partnership initiative since 2011 but has still not carried out any of the points specified in its action plan. As Mr Elshani, Head of e-Governance in Kosovo, pointed out during the debate at our event in Pristina, countries must first face issues like the need of infrastructure or gathering and categorising the data, before starting to release it. Of course, in our opinion the social-economic situation and the will of the administration to support transparency plays a big role when it comes to taking part in open data and open government initiatives.

The active participation of the attendees during our workshops has proven that open data is a very current and promising topic with big perspectives. However, there is a certain scepticism and a feeling that there is still a lot of work to do. The two questions we were mostly asked were focused on the integrity and authenticity of the data and on the use of standards for its publication.

Moving on from Europe…

After these first months in Europe, Open Steps will arrive in India in mid-September. We are hoping to meet more of the kinds of creative and passionate people that we have met up until now, so we are already establishing contacts with individuals and collectives working in open knowledge in the areas of education, government and social problem solving. Stay tuned for new updates, feel free to point us towards interesting projects and share your thoughts with us! You can follow our project under the addresses below:

Website: open-steps.org

Facebook: facebook.com/openstepsorg

Twitter: twitter.com/OpenSteps

-Margo & Alex

Publish from ScraperWiki to CKAN

Guest - July 5, 2013 in CKAN, Featured Project

The following post is by Aidan McGuire, co-founder of ScraperWiki. It is cross-posted on the ScraperWiki blog.

ScraperWiki are looking for open data activists to try out our new “Open your data” tool.

Since its first launch ScraperWiki has worked closely with the Open Data community. Today we’re building on this commitment by pre-announcing the release of the first in a series of tools that will enable open data activists to publish data directly to open data catalogues.

To make this even easier, ScraperWiki will also be providing free datahub accounts for open data projects.

This first tool will allow users of CKAN catalogues (there are 50, from Africa to Washington) to publish a dataset that has been ingested and cleaned on the new ScraperWiki platform. It’ll be released on the 11th July.

screenshot showing new tool (alpha)

If you run an open data project which scrapes, curates and republishes open data, we’d love your help testing it. To register, please email hello@scraperwiki.com with “open data” in the subject, telling us about your project.

Why are we doing this? Since its launch ScraperWiki has provided a place where an open data activist could get, clean, analyse and publish data. With the retirement of “ScraperWiki Classic” we decided to focus on the getting, cleaning and analysing, and leave the publishing to the specialists – places like CKAN.

This new “Open your data” tool is just the start. Over the next few months we also hope that open data activists will help us work on the release of tools that:

  • Generate RDF (linked data)
  • Update data real time
  • Publish to other data catalogues

Here’s to liberating the world’s messy open data!


Aidan McGuire is the co-founder of ScraperWiki, the site which enables you to “Get, clean, analyse, visualise and manage your data,
with simple tools or custom-written code.” Among other things, they write and catalogue screen-scrapers to extract and analyse public data from websites.

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