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Brazil’s Development Bank – The Elephant in the Stadium

Guest - June 13, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

This is a guest blog post by Andrew Simms analyst and campaigner at our coalition partner Global Witness. If you believe public contracts should be open contracts, sign our petition and let world leaders know. This article first appeared on Global Witness’s website.


Symbolism doesn’t get much better than this – thousands of homeless Brazilians set up camp outside São Paolo’s stadium as it prepares for the opening game of the most expensive World Cup ever.

Brazil’s World Cup stadiums have become monuments to broken promises – largely publicly-funded (contrary to government assurances), colossally expensive (around four times over-budget on average, with allegations of overpricing abounding), and some fated to become post-Cup white elephants because their host cities can’t sustain them.

A who’s who of World Cup infrastructure sheds light on a paradox in Brazil’s development model. A major investor in its stadiums was the biggest bank most people haven’t heard of – the country’s national development bank (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES)), a majority public-funded bank whose mandate involves ‘promoting socio-environmental sustainability and reducing inequalities.’

These goals sit uncomfortably alongside the World Cup’s potential legacy.

Take the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre, for example, built by Brazil’s second largest construction company, Andrade Gutierrez (which Associated Press says increased its political donations 500-fold in Brazil’s most recent elections). The cost of building Beira Rio went more than 150% over budget, and 80% of total costs were carried by the BNDES.

Andrade Gutierrez also built Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium, along with engineering firm Via Engenharia. A seat in that stadium cost three times what an average stadium seat cost in South Africa and Germany for the last two World Cups.

The BNDES is a major player in Brazil and parts of Latin America and Africa, with a bigger investment portfolio even than the World Bank’s. In 2012 around a quarter of the bank’s funds came from Brazil’s Worker’s Assistance Fund and just over half from the National Treasury. As much as 70 percent of the bank’s expenditure meanwhile goes to ‘big companies’ whose gross annual revenue exceeds US$ 135 million.

Global Witness has three major concerns about the BNDES:

  1. Choice of investment partners

Senior officials from six World Cup contractors – Construcap, Galvão, Mendes Júnior, OAS, Odebrecht and Via Engenharia – are currently on trial for alleged illicit enrichment through the construction of key infrastructure at ten Brazilian airports between 2003 and 2006 – infrastructure that will bring millions of visitors to World Cup venues. Dozens of representatives stand accused of being part of a criminal association with officials at Infraero, a government-owned company that operates Brazil’s key airports.

Together they are charged with illicit enrichment that Brazil’s Public Attorney claims resulted in over US$ 440 million in public money being diverted. Investigators say that price inflation occurred on such a scale that at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas Airport alone the footbridges used by passengers to board planes were overpriced by 190%, amounting to US$ 2.6 million lost to Brazilian taxpayers.

This case first came to court in 2011. Three years later there have been no convictions. The accused deny the charges.

  1. Lack of transparency

While some ad hoc data is available on the volumes of money that BNDES invests in certain companies, the bank’s transparency tends to end there.

BNDES does not publish details of its loans to private entities inside or outside Brazil, claiming exemption to freedom of information requests on the basis of banking secrecy.

In the absence of publicly available information on BNDES’ rationale for financing certain companies over others, or the objectives or results of the projects it is funding, citizens are unable to scrutinise what their taxes are spent on.

BNDES investments in public institutions continue to be audited by public officials, but those in companies are not. This seems inconsistent considering that the BNDES is a federal public company under the supervision of the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade.

  1. Social and environmental footprint

The BNDES lacks effective environmental and social safeguards to guide its investment choices or monitor their impact. This is evidenced by the fact that the bank is the majority funder of an infrastructure boom in the Amazon basin region, home to the world’s largest rainforest. Globally we are losing forests at a rate of fifty football pitches a minute.

One particularly controversial BNDES-backed project is the Belo Monte Dam, being built on one of the Amazon’s major tributaries. It is anticipated that the dam will result in the destruction of an area of over 1,500 square kilometres of rainforest, the forced displacement of between 20,000 and 40,000 people, and untold impacts on local livelihoods and eco-systems.

The economic viability of the dam has also been called into question, with industry analysts claiming that due to the challenges of building a project of this size in the Amazon total costs could easily exceed government predictions by US$ 5 billion.

The camp for homeless families outside São Paolo’s stadium has been nicknamed ‘The People’s Cup’ and is a stark reminder to World Cup visitors that Brazil’s booming economy remains elusive in much of the country.

Brazil’s month-long football revelries will likely distract from the real winners and losers of the 2014 World Cup, but the tournament offers critical insights into Brazil’s development trajectory – embodied in a bank that facilitates the cosy relationship between business and politics, lacks accountability back to its tax-payer donors, and finances projects that may undermine rather than further sustainable development.


Community Sessions: Video Skillshare and Open Education

Heather Leson - June 9, 2014 in Events, Featured, OKFestival, Open Data, Open Education, Technical

Happy June! We have a few Community Sessions to announce. OKFestival is almost a month away. Videos are key for storytelling, so we are hosting a Video Skillshare to help us all learn. The Open Education Working Group will join us to talk about why open data matters in education. Join us for these two community sessions.

Take a Video: Preparing for OKFestival

cameras in baskets Storytelling is key to building Open. Join Sam Muirhead of Cameralibre and the Open Knowledge team to learn some tips and tricks about video. We are preparing for OkFest and hope this skillshare helps everyone.

  • Date:Thursday, June 12, 2014
  • Time: 9:30 EDT/13:30 UTC/14:30 BST/15:30 CST
  • Our guest is Sam Muirhead.
  • Duration: 1 hour (This will be recorded)
  • Register

We’ll cover some topics like: What you need to think about before and during shooting to make sure footage is high quality and relevant, Hard-to-fix but easy-to-avoid mistakes, Tips and tricks for editing a simple interview or event video and some VERY basic technical guidelines eg. what settings to use for recording, exporting, etc.

Sam was kind enough to share some resources:

Why Open Data matters to Education

Open Education is a very active global community. Join Marieke and Octavio to learn more about why open data matters to education. Also, learn about the many facets of open education and how to get involved.

This session builds on the Make it Matter Workshop all about using Open methods in Education. See all previous Making it Matter workshopvideos. We’ll share all about open data in education, learn about the Open Education Working group and hear about work in Brazil and the UK.

About Open Education

  • Date: Thursday, June 26, 2014
  • Time: 8:00 EDT / 12:00 UTC / 13:00 BST/14:00 CEST
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Register

If you have a ideas for upcoming sessions, please ping heather DOT leson AT okfn DOT org.

(Photo by Heather Leson, Venice Biennale. Art by Magdalena Campos-Pons)

All-star wrap-up of a month of Open Knowledge events all around the world – April 2014

Beatrice Martini - May 23, 2014 in Community Stories, Events, Featured, Meetups, OKF France, OKF Greece, OKF Italy, OKF Switzerland, OKFN France, Open Access, Open Data, Open Data Index, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Sprint / Hackday, Workshop

Last month we asked the Open knowledge community to start sharing more details about the events we all run, to discover how many people are rocking Open Knowledge events all around the world! The community has been great at responding the call and now we’re glad to feature some of the April events we got reports (and pictures and videos!) from.

The winners of the Apps4Greece award have been announced! Check out the winning apps, aiming to improve the functionality of cities, businesses, services and develop entrepreneurship and innovation.

Organised by Open Knowledge France after the Paris Open Government Conference (April 24-25) during which France announced it’s joining the Open Government Partnership – and gathering more the 50 people! Featuring Open Knowledge founder’s Rufus Pollock and discussions about the state of Open Data in France, Open Data Index, French version of School of Data Ecole des Données (congratulations!) and more.

  • Open Access Days in Egypt (Cairo, Egypt – April 27-28) Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 11.07.36 AM Open Knowledge Egypt, among many other organizations and researchers, participated in the 2-day event driven by the aim to promote open access to researchers in Egypt and the Middle East, and plant a seed for future initiatives.

We’re so looking forward to hearing everything about your upcoming events! Some juicy ones in the pipeline:

So, what you’re waiting for? It’s time to share your stories for next months’ global roundup! Please submit your blogposts about your May events to the Community Tumblr (details about how/where here) by June 4 in order to be featured in our all-star monthly wrap-up to be published in June on the main Open Knowledge blog and channels! Thank you! We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

The “right to be forgotten” – a threat to Transparency and Open Data?

Rufus Pollock - May 22, 2014 in Featured, Ideas and musings, Privacy

A recent European Court Justice (ECJ) ruling may affect how privacy, transparency, and open data interact and has a direct relation with growing discussion about the “right to be forgotten”. Roughly summarized the ruling finds that organisations which publish information may be obliged to “take down” and remove information when an individual requests that removal even when the information is true and is a matter of “public record”.

This is potentially a significant change, adding to the work and responsibilities not just of big corporations like Google, but also to the creators of open databases big and small. The so-called “right to be forgotten” undoubtedly encapsulates a justified fear that lots of us have about our loss of personal privacy. However, this decision also appears to have the potential for significant (unintended) negative consequences for the publication and availability of key public interest information – the kind of information that is central to government and corporate accountability.

More discussion on this and related topics in area of open data and privacy in the Personal Data, Privacy and Open Data working group


The Ruling and What it Means

The core of the case was the request by a citizen to have web pages about him dating from 1998 removed from online newspaper archives of La Vanguardia, and significantly, for the Google Search results linking to that article also to be removed.

Now the pages in question contained information that one would normally consider to be of reasonable “public record”, specifically as summarized by the ECJ they “contained an announcement for a real-estate auction organised following attachment proceedings for the recovery of social security debts owed [by the citizen]“.

The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) who handled this in the first instance made what seemed a somewhat surprising ruling in that:

  • They rejected the complaint against La Vanguardia, taking the view that the information in question had been lawfully published by it.
  • But they upheld the complaint against Google and “requested those two companies [Google Spain and Google Inc] to take the necessary measures to withdraw the data from their index and to render access to the data impossible in the future.”

The ECJ (which opines on law not facts) essentially upheld the legal logic of AEPD’s decision, stating:

Court holds that the operator [e.g. Google] is, in certain circumstances, obliged to remove links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person’s name. The Court makes it clear that such an obligation may also exist in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful.

At first glance, this decision has some rather substantial implications, for example:

  • It imposes potentially very substantial obligations on those who collect and curate “public” (open) data and information. For example, to respond to requests to remove information (and to continue to track this going forward to ensure continuing compliance).
  • It appears to entitle individuals to request the take-down of information with a strong “public-interest” component. For example, imagine an online database providing information on corporate entities which may list the (true) fact that someone was a director of a company convicted of fraud. Would this ruling allow the director to request their removal?

What is especially noteworthy is that the decision appears to imply that even if the data comes from an official source (and is correct) a downstream collector or aggregator of that information may be required to remove it (and even where the original source does not have to remove the information).

We should, of course, remember that any holder of information (whether an original source or an aggregator) has legal (and moral) obligations to remove content in a variety of circumstances. Most obviously, there is an obligation to remove if something is false or some private information has been mistakenly published. This already has implications for transparency and open data projects.

For example, in the OpenSpending project information is collected from official sources about government finances including (in the UK) details of individual spending transactions. It is possible that (by accident) the description of a published transaction could provide sensitive information about a person (for example, it could be a payment to social services regarding an abused child where the child’s name is listed). In such circumstances both the original source (the government data) and OpenSpending would have a responsibility to redact the personal information as quickly as possible.

However, the case discussed here concerned what one would normally consider “public-interest” information. Traditionally, society has accepted that transparency concerns trump privacy in a variety of public interest areas: for example, one should be able to find who are the directors of limited liability companies, or know the name of one’s elected representatives, or know who it is who was convicted of a crime (though we note that some countries have systems whereby an offender’s conviction is, after some period, expunged from the record).

This ruling appears seriously to undermine this either in theory or in fact.

In particular, whilst a company like Google may dislike this ruling they have the resources ultimately to comply (in fact it may be good for them as it will increase the barriers to entry!). But for open data projects this ruling creates substantial issues – for example, it now seems possible that open projects like Wikipedia, Poderopedia, OpenCorporates or even OpenSpending will now have to deal with requests to remove information on the basis of infringing on personal data protection even though the information collected only derives from material published elsewhere and has a clear public interest component.

The everlasting memory of the internet, and the control of our personal data by corporations like Facebook and Google, undoubtedly present huge challenges to our rights to privacy and our very conception of the public/private divide. But we mustn’t let our justified concerns about ancient Facebook photos prejudicing our job prospects lead to knee-jerk reactions that will harm transparency and undermine the potential of open data.

More discussion on this and related topics in area of open data and privacy in the Personal Data, Privacy and Open Data working group

Excerpted Summary from the ECJ Summary

Excerpted from the ECJ Summary:

In 2010 Mario Costeja González, a Spanish national, lodged with the Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (Spanish Data Protection Agency, the AEPD) a complaint against La Vanguardia Ediciones SL (the publisher of a daily newspaper with a large circulation in Spain, in particular in Catalonia) and against Google Spain and Google Inc. Mr Costeja González contended that, when an internet user entered his name in the search engine of the Google group (‘Google Search’), the list of results would display links to two pages of La Vanguardia’s newspaper, of January and March 1998. Those pages in particular contained an announcement for a real-estate auction organised following attachment proceedings for the recovery of social security debts owed by Mr Costeja González.

With that complaint, Mr Costeja González requested, first, that La Vanguardia be required either to remove or alter the pages in question (so that the personal data relating to him no longer appeared) or to use certain tools made available by search engines in order to protect the data. Second, he requested that Google Spain or Google Inc. be required to remove or conceal the personal data relating to him so that the data no longer appeared in the search results and in the links to La Vanguardia. In this context, Mr Costeja González stated that the attachment proceedings concerning him had been fully resolved for a number of years and that reference to them was now entirely irrelevant.

The AEPD rejected the complaint against La Vanguardia, taking the view that the information in question had been lawfully published by it. On the other hand, the complaint was upheld as regards Google Spain and Google Inc. The AEPD requested those two companies to take the necessary measures to withdraw the data from their index and to render access to the data impossible in the future. Google Spain and Google Inc. brought two actions before the Audiencia Nacional (National High Court, Spain), claiming that the AEPD’s decision should be annulled. It is in this context that the Spanish court referred a series of questions to the Court of Justice.

[The ECJ then summarizes its interpretation. Basically Google can be treated as a data controller and ...]

… the Court holds that the operator is, in certain circumstances, obliged to remove links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person’s name. The Court makes it clear that such an obligation may also exist in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful.

Finally, in response to the question whether the directive enables the data subject to request that links to web pages be removed from such a list of results on the grounds that he wishes the information appearing on those pages relating to him personally to be ‘forgotten’ after a certain time, the Court holds that, if it is found, following a request by the data subject, that the inclusion of those links in the list is, at this point in time, incompatible with the directive, the links and information in the list of results must be erased.

Image: Forgotten by Stephen Nicholas, CC-BY-NC-SA

Announcing our newest round of Local Groups

Christian Villum - May 21, 2014 in Featured, OKF El Salvador, OKF Hungary, OKF Iran, OKF Malta, OKF Paraguay, OKF Philippines, OKF Romania, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups

Open Knowledge community meetup

It is with great excitement that we can announce the establishment of a new round of Open Knowledge Local Groups, headed by new Ambassadors around the world. This time we welcome El Salvador, Hungary, Iran, Malta, Paraguay, Philippines and Romania to the family of Local Groups, which now stretch over 45 countries worldwide. In this blog post we would like to introduce the people heading these groups and invite everyone to join the community in these countries.


Zoltan Varju, our new Ambassador in Hungary, is a computational linguist at Precognox, a company specializing in semantic search and text mining. He is one of the initiators of, a community driven open data hub in Hungary. Zoltan is also the organizer of the Hungarian Natural Language Processing Meetup and the co-organizer of the inkLink data journalism conference. Lastly, he blogs at Kereső Világ, a blog dedicated to (enterprise) search, language technology and text mining.


Silviu Vert is currently pursuing his PhD studies at the Politehnica University in Timisoara, exploring the potential of linked and open data in augmented reality scenarios. In 2013, he and several friends founded the Smart City community, which engages with the local government authorities, tech communities, companies, universities and non-governmental organizations to open up the public data of the city and to build upon it useful services for the citizens. Silviu volunteers in charitable and community service activities as a member of the Lions Clubs network. He was the president of Romania’s National Association of Leo Clubs in 2012-2013 and is a founding member of a new Lions Club in his home city, Timisoara. Until recently, he was a co-organizer of the Google Developer Group Timisoara, a tech community, and an active member of the Timisoara Toastmasters Club, a public speaking organization.

El Salvador

Iris Palma is the new Ambassador of El Salvador and a Salvadorian Economist and Master in Public Policies for the Social Development as well as Alumni Fellow of the Legislative Fellowship Program of the US Department of State. Currently she is a partner in INSERT, an NGO in El Salvador that promotes the benefits of co-working, open data and the benefits of ICT for social and economic development. In addition, she is a teacher of Economics at a private university in San Salvador, has worked as consultant in e-government and open data for both the Organization of the American States and her own country’s government, and as a regional consultant in competitiveness and innovation in Central America. As a writer, she has written some papers about Open Data, e-Government, Open Government and ICT and Competitiveness, among others topics. She believes in open knowledge as foundation for a world where people can create and improve their social, economic and cultural opportunities through ICT and education. Lastly, she is co-leading the Open Data Portal in El Salvador as well as other tools for open knowledge, public services evaluation, apps repository and entrepreneurship.


Joseph De Guia is doing research on open government data for the Open LGU Research Project for the “Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC).” He was also the country lead researcher/contributor in Philippines for the Open Data Barometer, a global research project of the World Wide Web Foundation supported by IDRC. He has a Masters degree in Information Technology from the Carnegie Mellon University and Computer Science graduate of Mapua Institute of Technology. Joseph has extensive experience in application development, database administration, web development, content management, and project and process modeling. His research work on electronic health records, government enterprise architecture, and GIS applications has been presented in international and local conferences.


The new Local Group in Malta is lead by Charlie Abela, an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Intelligent Computer Systems within the Faculty of ICT at the University of Malta. Charlie is a member of the Intelligent Data Management (IDAM) research group and is involved in a number of open data initiatives, including Hack4Malta and is responsible of the portal. He hold a MSc in Computer Science from the University of Malta and is pursuing a PhD in the area of Personal Information Management.


Babak Vandad, the new Ambassador in Iran, is a software developer. He has graduated in Computer Science from Shahid Beheshti University and advocates for the open source movement. His main area of interest is data visualization and graphical representation. Babak has been active on delivering IT services for Iranian institutions with open content since 2008.


Maricarmen Sequera is a lawyer specialized in intellectual property, copyright and related rights, biotechnology, and copyleft. Founder of TEDIC Association (Technology,Education, Development, Research and Communications), is currently President of TEDIC. Leader of the Creative Commons Paraguay Initiative, Democracy 2.0, and TESA 2.0 Digital Citizen Programme, and Founder of Hacks Hackers Asunción. Maricarmen is a free Software consultant and has published several articles on issues about copyright and civil rights on the Internet. She is a member of the Internet Society (ISOC) – Paraguay’s chapter, and also is representative at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN) for TEDIC.

We encourage everyone to get in touch with these new Local Groups – to join, connect and collaborate! Contact information can be found via our global network page.

Secret oil contract loses Nigerian people $1.1 billion

Sam Leon - May 20, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 10.47.37

Royal Dutch Shell and the Italian oil company, Eni, have been implicated in a secret oil deal that enriched the former Nigerian oil minister to a staggering degree, and lost the Nigerian state $1.1 billion that could have been spent on vital and much needed services. As shareholders and investors gather today at Shell’s Annual General Meeting, they would be wise to consider whether Shell’s choices are those of a responsible company and whether such activity is good for business.

Global Witness, an anti-corruption NGO, first uncovered the story in 2012. It involves the sale of one of West Africa’s biggest oil blocks, OPL 245, to Shell and Eni via an anonymous shell company that is now known to have been controlled by the former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete. Etete had awarded himself the lucrative block while oil minister.

Authorities in the UK, Italy and Nigeria are now investigating the deal and the the Nigerian House of Representatives is threatening cancellation of the contract for the block, potentially costing Shell 447m barrels of oil. However, the original secrecy around the deal has severely limited the ability of law enforcement and civil society to hold those at fault to account.

In collaboration with Global Witness, we produced an infographic that tries to capture the vast sums involved by illustrating what the money *could * have been spent on. Nigeria has one of the worst records on maternal mortality in the world and their are over 5.5 million girls currently out of school. The money from the oil deal could have been used to train many thousands more midwives and help give 1.7 million out-of-school girls a primary education.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 10.48.40

Stories like this one are all too common. Individuals and corporations using a veil of secrecy to enrich themselves at the expense of the many. This must stop. If you too believe this is wrong, sign up to our #StopSecretContracts campaign and send a message to governments and corporations worldwide that contracts must be made in the open. For more information on the full story of oil block OPL 245 and to see the full infographic on where the money could have gone, go to

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 11.54.22

Bonding with Hong Kong and upcoming Open Spending

Heather Leson - May 16, 2014 in Events, Featured, OKF Hong Kong, Open Spending

Learning and sharing across the global Open Knowledge community are the two core purposes of our regular Community Sessions.

odhk - logo

This week Mart van de Ven and Bastien Douglas joined us to share all about the Open Data Hong Kong community.

Some of the key lessons they advised are: ask your community for help more, have regular events, translation is key and be ready for longer term engagement. Mart, Bastien and the ODHK folks: Have a great Longitudinal Hack!

See more about Open Data Hong Kong.

Next Community Session: All about OpenSpending

Around the world, citizens are getting involved in OpenSpending. So, far there are OpenSpending activities in 66 countries resulting in 735 datasets and 25207863 entries.

Join Anders Pedersen, Community Manager for OpenSpending to learn more about this project and how you can get involved.

  • Date: Wednesday, May 28. 2014
  • Time: 10:00 – 11:00 EDT/14:00-15:00 UTC (See for your timezone)
  • How to Register (G+)

Join the OpenSpending community See some Spending Stories.

We will record this.

NOTE: We are booking June 2014 Community Sessions. Contact heatherDOTleson AT OKFN DOT org if you have an idea, discussion or skillshare.

Talk soon!

Opening Up EU Procurement Data

Guest - May 16, 2014 in Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

The following post is by Friedrich Lindenberg (and on Twitter), originally posted here.

What is the next European dataset that investigative journalists should look at? Back in 2012 at the DataHarvest conference, Brigitte, investigative superstar from FarmSubsidy and co-host of the conference, had a clear answer: let’s open up TED (Tenders Electronic Daily). TED is the EU’s shared procurement mechanism, and is at the heart of the EU contracting process. Opening it up would shine a light on the key questions of who receives public money, and what they receive it for.

Her suggestion triggered a two-year project, OpenTED, which, as of last week, has finally matured into a useful resource for journalists and researchers. While gaps remain, we hope it will now start to be used by journalists, NGOs, analysts and citizens to get information on everything from large scale trends to local municipal developments.

The current OpenTED web site, providing easy access to European tenders and contract awards data.


TED collects tender notices for large public projects so that companies from all EU countries can bid on those contracts. For journalists, there are many exciting questions such a database would be able to answer: What major projects are being announced? Who is winning the contracts for these projects, and is that decision made prudently and impartially? Who are the biggest suppliers in a particular country or industry?

The OpenTED project, started by Anders Pedersen and Joost Cassee, was initially born as an attempt to scrape the official TED web site. Soon, however, this first version of OpenTED was faced with a number of practical problems: the data was impossible for journalists to use without an interface, and the stuff was so messy that even Sunlight Foundation’s finance data genius Kaitlin Devine couldn’t help us pull apart the errors. To make things worse, in June 2013 the EU Publications Office updated the TED web site to make bulk scraping impossible – leaving us without a way to update the data.

We were out of options. To answer our questions, we were going to need to look at the database directly – not just at the website provided by the EU Publications Office.

Scraping with words

We decided to take a radical step for a bunch of nerds: talk to the EU. Speaking to the Publication Office’s unit lead, we were surprised to learn that they were already in the process of changing their licensing regime: while access to machine-readable data had been sold to re-users in the past, the plan was to make the data freely available in January 2014. Thanks, Neelie!

So, in early January, I pinged @EUTenders on Twitter, asking what happened to the publication plan. Expecting some sort of rejection, I was surprised to promptly receive a direct message with credentials for their raw data file server. The site offered DVD images for download, with XML dumps of TED’s data since 2011 – this was exactly what we were looking for.

Building a community

As DataHarvest 2014 approached, we decided to make an updated version of OpenTED, offering slices of the newly opened data in an accessible format (CSV) and in small portions, divided by country and year, so that journalists without database skills would be able to grab the data and explore it in a spreadsheet application.

Hack day at DataHarvest 2014, coders and journalists from across Europe explore EU procurement data.

The resulting discussion focussed on the quality and completeness of the data. Many pieces of essential information are missing – including many contract values and supplier names. Additionally, the existing data is very messy, particularly when it comes to clearly identifying the public body and economic operator involved in a contract.

What now?

In many ways, the next step is up to the journalists who attended DataHarvest. We have, I think, created a rich resource for them to use in investigations and have set up a network of technologists that are ready to support analysis of the data. However, while we now have access to contract metadata – the recipient, amount and topic of EU contracts, it became clear during the workshop that in order to answer the in-depth questions journalists want to ask, access to the actual contract documents, detailing the terms and precise scope of the agreements our governments make on our behalf, is required. For this, we need to insist in greater contracting transparency and tell our governments to Stop Secret Contracts.

Oh, and I’d love to know more about that 700 trillion Euro building they’re constructing in Galway…


The data & tools:

Some code:

We need you! Become a School of Data Fellow

Milena Marin - May 9, 2014 in Featured, School of Data


Got data skills to share? Member of a community that wants to turn data into information? Know about a data journalism or civic activism project or organisation which need a push for using data more effectively? The School of Data needs you! We are currently broadening our efforts to spread data skills around the world, and people like you are crucial in this effort: new learners need guidance and people to help them along the way. Stand out and become a **School of Data Fellow**.

We are looking for people fitting the following profile:

  • Data savvy: has experience working with data and a passion for teaching data skills.

  • Understands the role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and media in bringing positive change through advocacy, campaigns, and storytelling. Fellows are passionate about enabling partners to use data effectively through training and ongoing support.

  • Interested or experienced in working with journalism and/or civil society.

  • Has some facilitation skills and enjoys community-building (both online and offline).

  • Eager to learn from and be connected with an international community of data enthusiasts

As a School of Data fellow, you will receive data and leadership training, as well as coaching to organise events and build your community. You will also be part of a growing global network of School of Data practitioners, benefiting from the network effects of sharing resources and knowledge and contributing to our understanding about how best to localise our training efforts.

You will be part of a six-month training programme where we expect you to work with us for an average of five days a month, including attending online and offline trainings, organising events, and being an active member of the School of Data community.

There are up to 10 fellowship positions open for the July to December 2014 School of Data training programme.

We have current collaborations and resourcing confirmed to support fellows from the following countries: Romania, Hungary, South Africa, Indonesia, and Tanzania. We are also able to consider applicants for the remaining 5 places in this round from countries meeting these criteria:

  • The country falls under lower income, lower-middle income or upper-middle income categories as classified here.

  • There is demand from civil society organisations and/or journalists who wish to benefit from such a scheme.

  • There are some interesting datasets available in the country which would be worth exploring further. These could either be data published by a government or organisation or data collected by an organisation for their own internal use. Digitised or non-digitised—anything goes! We’re keen for a variety of challenges and want the fellows’ help to adapt teaching techniques to a variety of situations.

Our goal is to have global fellows from a wide mix of these countries. Don’t see your country listed? Keep reading to learn how you can get involved!

Got questions? See more about the Fellowship Programme here and have a looks at this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. If this doesn’t answer your question, email us on

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Welcoming Open Knowledge Ireland as our newest Chapter

Christian Villum - May 7, 2014 in Featured, OKF Ireland

Open Knowledge Ireland

We are very pleased to announce that Open Knowledge Ireland has become the newest Chapter of Open Knowledge! Building on their relentless work as an Open Knowledge Local Group over the last 1.5 years, the rapidly growing Irish group is now taking the big next step by becoming an independent, self-sustainable Chapter.

The efforts of the Open Knowledge Ireland community started in 2010, when they first started to bridge the gap between citizens and their governments under the Active Citizen banner through open–source technology tools, communications and advocacy. Since then they formally launched Open Knowledge Ireland and have also very actively participated in the Open Government Partnership community when it was brought into existence in September 2011. The then small group of people immediately recognised that the Open Government Partnership value proposition was very closely aligned with that of Active Citizen, so they made it their goal to commit the Irish government to join the partnership.

It started with a handful of ideas

This began with the formulation of ideas that included creating a platform for citizens to take part in democratic processes between elections and to participate in policy making as well as putting both achievements and shortfalls of the Irish government under international spotlight. Moreover, they decided to promote appreciation of the civic, economic and environmental benefits of open data in Ireland and to accelerate the development and implementation of open government and open data best practices by applying a dual pressure on the Irish government: On one hand via top-down pressure from the Open Government Partnership process and on the other hand generating bottom-up demand by engaging with the open data community in Ireland and organising weekly, monthly and quarterly events.

Open Knowledge Ireland logo

Tapping into the global network

The reason why the group were initially keen to join the Open Knowledge global network was that it not only holds a internationally strong and recognised position in advocacy, but also because it develops actual tools to make open government and open data usable for all. Adding to that the strong focus of Open Knowledge on helping everyone from citizens to data scientists and government officials develop the necessary skills to make the most of the information around us, joining the Open Knowledge global network was a natural way to propel the group forward.

“One of the main ingredients to the success we have had was and still is, “ says Denis Parfenov, group co-founder and Open Knowledge’s Ambassador for Ireland, “that we have been able to build on the work of pioneers in the open data space and learning from leaders of civil society efforts in other countries and global networks such as Open Knowledge and the Open Government Partnership, who have made open government and open data their core missions.”

“We are very excited about Open Knowledge Ireland stepping up to form an official Chapter,” says Laura James, CEO of Open Knowledge. “Chapters have the potential to scale up and increase their impact significantly, making a difference not only locally, but also globally. Open Knowledge Ireland has already achieved a great deal in driving democratic accountability through open information, as well as other areas of open knowledge, and this step will give Ireland a real boost towards empowering all its citizens with access to key information. We look forward to continue to support this incredible group in their work in Ireland and around the world.”

The goals to empower citizens

The goal of Open Knowledge Ireland continues to be to develop the skills and the tools to liberate information in order to empower everyone to make better informed, evidence-based choices about how we live, stay healthy, raise our children and how we vote.

Open Knowledge Ireland is now a full-fledged organisation led by seven talented and passionate individuals of 5 different nationalities, eagerly interacting with the international society (and, in fact, speaking English, Russian, German and Spanish in addition to many programming languages). They will continue the work that drives open government and open data on the international stage in Ireland, for the benefit of our citizens.

To read more about Open Knowledge Ireland, visit their website.

Learn more about Open Knowledge Chapters by visiting the Open Knowledge website.

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