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Code for Germany launched!

Guest - August 6, 2014 in OKF Germany, Open Data

This is a guest blog post by Fiona Krakenbürger, research associate at Open Knowledge Foundation DE and Community Manager at Code for Germany

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In July 2014, the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany launched its program “Code for Germany! Prior to the OK Festival in Berlin, we presented the project to the media, international partners, city representatives, members of our Advisory Board and friends from far and wide. It was a honour for us to welcome partners, supporters and members of the program to the stage. Among them were Lynn Fine from Code for America, Gabriella Goméz-Mont from the Laboratorio para la Ciudad, Prof. Dr. Gesche Joost (Digital Champion Germany) and Nicolas Zimmer (Technologiestiftung Berlin).

An essential focus of the launch and of the project was directed towards the community of Civic Tech pioneers and Open Data enthusiasts. We wanted developers and designers who are interested and active in the field of Open Data to get involved and inspired to start Open Knowledge Labs in their city. We started Code for Germany.

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The feedback so far has been amazing. In the past few months, fourteen Labs have sprouted up all across the country, bringing together more than 150 people on a regular basis to work on civic tech, use open data, and make the most of their skills to better their cities. This has all added up to more than 4000 hours of civic hacking and has resulted in multiple apps and projects.

The different OK Labs have been the source of a great variety of projects, tackling different topics and social challenges. For example, the OK Lab in Hamburg has a strong focus on urban development, and have created a map which shows the distribution of playgrounds in the city. An app from the OK Lab Heilbronn depicts the quality of tap water according to the region, and another from the OK Lab Cologne helps users find the closest defibrillator in their area. One more of our favourite developments is called “Kleiner Spatz”, which translates to “Little Sparrow” and helps parents find available child care spaces in their city.

We could go on and on listing our favourite projects, prototypes and ideas emerging from the OK Labs but why not check out the list for yourself to see what amazing things can be built with technology?

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Still, this is just the beginning. We are now going into the next phase: In the coming months we want to strengthen the various communities and establish ties with officials, governments and administrations. We believe that the government of the 21st Century should be open, transparent and accountable. Therefore we want to foster innovation in the field of Open Data, Civic Innovation and Public Services and create fertile collaborations between citizens and governments. Numerous useful visualizations and apps created by the OK Labs have now laid the foundation for these developments.

We are so excited about the upcoming events, projects, partners and inspiring people we have yet to meet. So far, Code for Germany has been a blast! And last (but certainly not least) we would like to express our most heartfelt gratitude towards the community of developers and designers who have contributed so much already. You rock & stay awesome!

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25 Countries in the Same Room: The OKFestival Community Summit

Christian Villum - August 1, 2014 in Community, Featured, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups

OKFestival Community Summit

Photo by Heather Leson, CC-BY-SA

Two weeks back, over 1,000 people gathered in Berlin to co-create the future of the open knowledge movement. Even before OKFestival had officially kicked off, over 50 people from over 25 countries piled into a crowded, hot room on a glorious Berlin afternoon, to work through the pressing issues, opportunities and challenges facing the Open Knowledge community.

Over the course of three hours we talked about how to develop better peer to peer mentorship across our global network, how to ensure the sustainability of emerging local groups and Chapters & took a close look at what exactly we are – are we a movement, are we an organisation, are we a community?

These questions could never be completely answered in one three hour session but we did make some exceptional progress and observed quite a few common themes emerging – themes also to be witnessed over the course of the following festival as well!

Sharing Knowledge

As a concept, open knowledge is all about sharing knowledge but it seems that, as a community, we still have some way to go in exemplifying that ideal. During the community summit, we discussed how we could share knowledge about fundraising between Open Knowledge and Local Groups, how our Local Groups could better share their experiences and teach each other. We also were introduced to Open Steps, a fantastic initiative by two community members who spent the past year traveling the world and documenting the open knowledge movement along the way. They are now developing a directory that would allow us to map where people are working on open knowledge activities to facilitate partnerships and knowledge sharing beyond already established networks or country lines.

OKFestival Community Summit

Photo by Christian Villum, CC-BY-SA

Peer mentoring and skillshares

Another significant topic on the agenda was the discussion of how we could better transfer skills and know-how between newcomers and more experienced members of the community. There are already a series of initiatives pursuing these goals, for instance the series of Community Sessions hosted by Open Knowledge Central – as well as the regional calls organized around the world by members of the community. It was clear though that one of the main missing pieces in the puzzle is the facilitation of more day-to-day based mentoring, peer to peer, perhaps only involving 2 people – the mentor and the mentee – and also something that stretches over a longer period rather than being limited to a single session on Skype or a Hangout. Additionally one barrier that was very clear was the fact that people are living far apart, often having many time zones in between them, therefore prompting a need to rely on online tools – not only for communicating, but also to find each other and identify who to talk to. These are challenges that we, as a community of which Open Knowledge Central is also a part, will look much more into over the coming weeks and months. Lots of ideas are already brewing and a handful of community members have dedicated themselves to sketch out a plan for a mentoring program.

Open knowledge in the Global South

A growing portion of the global community are based in what can be referred to as the Global South and therefore have some additional needs and challenges as compared to countries in more structured environments. As it was noted, some members of the community even operate in areas that can be considered downright hostile. Oppressive governments, corrupt civil servants, failing IT-infrastructure, cultures of domestic oppression, language barriers (highlighted by the high level of anglo-fication characterizing the open knowledge field) and even illiteracy are just some of the factors that make up for a very different playing field for some open knowledge advocates, and in such cases peer support, resource/skill sharing and even funding becomes of increasing value and significance. We need to collaborate to localize key documents across languages, provide toolkits in downloadable and remixable online formats, challenge gender roles, move beyond Internet-driven activism and put international pressure on governments that work actively to hinder the free gathering of people in these regions.

OKFestival Community Summit

Photo by Christian Villum, CC-BY-SA

Community Identity & Re-branding

During the discussions we also revisited some of the discussions had earlier in the year around some of the branding/visions/values/strategy-related updates brought about by the central Open Knowledge organisation. It’s clear that more community consultation is needed around changes in such basic foundations, but what appeared during these face to face chats was also an understanding that some of the discontent and frustration put forward by parts of the community was rooted not only in these concrete issues, but also in some of the more deeper challenges of the community and organisation: For instance, how do we perceive ourselves as the community grows and grows at an almost explosive rate? What is our identity? The small family is growing into the thousands and the dynamics that used to be are clearly being replaced by others. Does it need to be that way? Can we avoid it? And if not, how do we cope with it and ensure the same level of transparency across the community and the organisation? We also need to define more clearly what the role of the Local Groups, the Working Groups and the Chapters – the most formal part of the community – is in this new reality of an increasingly larger body of people all associating themselves with our shared cause. This is clearly a conversation that will continue way beyond this community summit, and rightfully so!

We are currently writing up all the notes and will put them on the wiki as soon as we have collated them all. Jump on board and comment if you have thoughts or ideas!

The state of Swedish digital policy: Open Knowledge Sweden at the annual Almedalen Political Summit

Guest - August 1, 2014 in Featured Project, OKF Sweden

This is a guest blog post by Kristina Olausson, Blog writer and editor for Open Knowledge Sweden. You can see the Swedish version it is based on here.

Almedalen 2014

Photo by Socialdemokrater, CC-BY-ND

Part of the team of Open Knowledge Sweden, Kristina Olausson and Mattias Axell, visited the annual politicians week – the Almedalen week at Gotland, Sweden. It is an event in which the political parties, interest groups and the public sector participates. The Almedalen week was initiated by Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1968 and has evolved to become the main political gathering of the year. Even though the outline has changed over time it now follows a rather fixed pattern. Each party has one day of the week dedicated to their events, and the party leader gives a speech in the evening. In parallel to what the parties arrange, there is a huge number of seminars organized by different interest groups, companies and public sector bodies. This year more than 3500 seminars could be found in the program. By participating, Open Knowledge Sweden aimed to follow the current debates on Swedish digital policy and what importance these have in the upcoming Swedish national elections this autumn. During the week we took part in seminars on digitalization, integrity and open data. 

Almedalen 2014

Photo by djurensratt, CC-BY-NC

Since last year a change can be noticed in the attitude towards open data among Swedish public sector bodies and municipalities. It is now more open an positive, less skeptical. The question is no longer if, but how the public sector can make its information easier to use. More public sector bodies (PSBs) than before have started working with open data. However, with regards to the OKFN definition of open data, it should be noted that in these cases it is rather the re-use of public sector information than open data that is discussed. The municipality Skellefteå and the region Västerbotten arranged a seminar on open data and how the possibilities of innovation can be used. They also raised the question about how the responsibility for this process should be devided between the public and private sector as well as other interested parties. Henrik Ishihara, an expert working for Anna-Karin Hatt, the Minister for Information Technology and Energy, said that about 40 percent of all PSBs now work with re-use of public information. Janne Elvelid, former employee of the Committee of Digitization, was more sceptical to the current development and showed that Sweden has actually lost its place among the leading countries on IT. 

Almedalen 2014

Photo by Kristina Olausson, CC-BY-SA

At another seminar organized by Lantmäteriet, who offer map-data, discussed if charges should be put on data and if so, how much. The public sector body itself has now started to work more actively to make their data open. Why then are Swedish PSBs and municipalities lacking behind their European colleagues in this development?  According to many actors the main obstacle in making more data open is the demand on the PSBs to charge for re-use of data. The principle of publicity is an old tradition in Sweden which implies that all public information is available to the public. However, this does not mean that it is for free. What separates Sweden from many other European countries is the fact that many public sector bodies are obliged to charge for re-use of data. It was argued by some actors we met that it will be impossible to create more re-use without removing the rules of charging. In the case of Lantmäteriet, they estimate that the removal of charges on their map-data will cost about 100 million Swedish kronor (about 12 million euro). 

The possibilies of digitazation was another theme of many seminars. Dagens Industri and SAS Institute organized one to discuss how the public sector can use big data (as already done by the private sector) to predict certain patterns in society. This could for example be finding the next flue crisis by analysing Facebook status updates. One challenge put forward in this discussion is the fact that many public services are offered by the 290 Swedish municipalities (kommuner). As there is a strong self-governing principle in Sweden, the municipalities are not collaborating on many of these services which makes it hard for small municipalities to invest in digitalization. Thus, more collaboration is needed not only for municipalities but also for public sector bodies.

Cloud services is a positive possibility of developing the public services as the goal is to have more service online and thus also more information stored in this format. In the mean time, during this development, there is a need to take privacy issues into account. Microsoft arranged a number on seminars on this theme during the week. One that we attended was regarding privacy in schools in combination with cloud services. In Sweden the Salem-case is especially well known. The municipality Salem was criticized by the Data Inspection Authorities because they let their students use Google’s cloud services which was regarded not to have sufficient protection for the pupils’ privacy. How this should be done in practice is still under political discussion, if so very limited. At a seminar by Ernst and Young company representatives of some of our big telephone- and network operators said this has led to they themselves having to make their own priorities on privacy. This might however not be positive as it could lead to companies starting to censor their net services, according to their own liking. This might lead to less transparent processes of handling these issues. Additionally, not all companies are happy to take on this responsibility themselves. The debated judgement from the European Court of Justice in the case Google Spain vs. Mario Costeja González was used as an example by David Mothander, Nordic Policy Advisor at Google

Almedalen 2014

Photo by FORES, CC-BY

He was critical to the judgement, also called the right to be forgotten, states that internet search engine operators are responsible for “the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties“. Naturally, it is not surprising that a company like Google does not want to be responsible for such procedures. However it also leads to interesting questions on who should be responsible for protecting the privacy and personal data of individuals. The opportunities of digitization was also discussed at a seminar with representatives of youth party organisations. While the left (and the youth organisation of the Swedish democrats) were most concerned about the surveillance society, the right wing parties wanted better conditions for companies. They instead want the state to take care of the infrastructure (broad band etc.) and the companies should run the development. The interesting aspect of this seminar was foremost that it had such a high density of politicians. Generally the events on the themes we covered did not have that many political representatives in the panels. Thus it has been hard to evaluate the digital politics of the parties with regards to the upcoming elections this autumn.

Almedalen 2014

Photo by Lärarnas Nyheter, CC-BY-NC-ND

Digital policy has not been a central theme to this years election campaigns. However, even though the Swedish politicians were not discussing these issues intensively many interesting ideas were put forward by interest groups and companies. Open Data is still not common among Swedish public sector bodies. Even though some mix up the terms, it is rather re-use of public sector information that is discussed. The positive change that can be noticed is that the representatives of the public sector who participated in this year’s Almedalen week had a more open attitude towards the possibility of re-using their data. Open Knowledge Sweden works to advocate more re-use of information from the public sector and we are positive towards the ongoing shift in Sweden regarding these issues. We believe that more re-use will create huge value for society, both within the public and private sector. The main obstacle is not the technological shift, that some want to point at, but rather the rule of charges that applies to many public sector bodies who collects and offer public information. Unfortunately it seems that politicians are not prioritizing to change the current system. The more probable next step will be that public sector bodies themselves try to find ways of limiting the charges. However, the decision to charge remains with the government.

Except for following the current debates on Swedish digital policy, the Almedalen week was an opportunity to make contact with other actors and advocates of digitalization. There seems to be a general support and interest in making data open for re-use. However, we will probably have to wait until after our national elections this autumn to see real change regarding such issues in Sweden.

New Local Groups in Cameroon, Guernsey, Kenya, Bermuda and New Zealand!

Christian Villum - July 11, 2014 in Featured, OKF Cameroon, OKF Guernsey, OKF Kenya, OKF New Zealand, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups

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Once again we can proudly announce the establishment of a new round of Open Knowledge Local Groups, headed by community leaders around the world. This time we welcome Cameroon, Guernsey, Kenya, Bermuda and New Zealand to the family of Local Groups, which brings the global Open Knowledge community tally beyond the 50+ countries mark. In this blog post we would like to introduce the people heading these groups and invite everyone to join the community in these countries.

Cameroon

In Cameroon, the incubating Local Group is headed in unison by Agnes Ebo’o and Jean Brice Tetka. Agnes Ebo’o is the founder of the Citizens Governance Initiatives in Cameroon, a nonprofit association that promotes accountability and citizens’ participation in governance. A pioneer in the promotion of freedom of information and open government in Cameroon, Agnes has been involved in the creation of several regional initiatives that promote open government and the rule of law in Africa. These include the Academy for Constitutional Law and Justice in Africa and the Africa Freedom of Information Centre; a Pan-African NGO and resource centre that promotes the right of access to information across Africa. Agnes is also the Co-founder of the Gulf of Guinea Citizens Network, a network of advocates for participatory, transparent and accountable management of the natural resources in the Gulf of Guinea region of Africa. A lawyer by training, Agnes holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Poitiers, France, and an LLM from the University of Wales Cardiff, UK.

Jean joined Transparency International in February 2014 as Data and Technology Coordinator for the People Engagement Programme working on technological solutions to anti-corruption, data analysis and visualisation. He has a Bachelors degree in Management ICT Studies from the African Institute of Programming and his previous experiences includes three years as a project manager with an anti-corruption organisation, two years as IT manager for a private company and volunteering for several NGOs.

Kenya

Ahmed Maawy is a Shaper with the Global Shapers Community (which is an Initiative of the World Economic Forum) and an Executive Direcotor at The Mombasa Tech Community (CBO). He is a technology expert working with D8A and Appfrica labs, and a Technology Lead at Abayima. Ahmed is also one of the pioneers in the groundbreaking institution that aims to create a world without boundaries, The Amani Institute‘s Post Graduate certificate in Social Innovation Management. Ahmed has spent more than 10 years developing web, mobile, and enterprise software as well as functioning as a project manager for a number of software products and projects. He has worked with corporations and non profits alike, as well as media agencies such as Al Jazeera New Media (on 3 important curation projects covering Somalia, Libya and Gaza) as well as Internews Europe. He has also worked for Ushahidi as a Software Engineer for SwiftRiver, Datadyne as Product Manager for EpiSurveyor (now MagPi), and with Kenya Airways for their Online Marketing strategy, Bookings and Reservations engines, and overall web strategy, to name a few.

Bermuda

Heading up the Open Knowledge efforts in Bermuda by setting up a new Local Group are Andrew Simons and Louis Galipeau. Andrew is Bermudian, born and raised. He attended Stanford University as a Bermuda Government Scholar, and graduated with a BSc in computer science and an MSc in chemical engineering. Before moving home to Bermuda, he worked in the Boston area at EMC, a global technology company. He now works as a catastrophe modeler in the insurance industry. In 2013, Andrew co-founded Bermuda.io, a free online repository of Bermuda public data running on CKAN.

Louis is Canadian and has made Bermuda his home. A self-taught technophile with a diverse background, he has a drive towards the use of new media and technology in art, business, and community efforts. He is involved locally as a core member of TEDxBermuda and works at a law firm as the senior lead applications architect. In 2013, Louis also co-founded Bermuda.io with Andrew.

New Zealand

The Local Group in New Zealand is being booted by Rowan Crawford, a software developer who originally trained as a pharmacist. He maintains New Zealand’s Freedom of Information requests site, fyi.org.nz, and currently focuses on connecting the public to representatives via askaway.org.nz and bringing Code for America-style fellowships to New Zealand.

Guernsey

In Guernsey, Philip Smith is the initiator of the new Local Group. He is a project and programme manager heading CBO Projects, has a background with charity This Is Epic and is one of the founders of The Dandelion Project, a community-driven initiative aiming to create a better place for people by bringing together citizens to share their knowledge and skills. Dandelion has, among other, started a small number of community led projects that involve Guernsey moving forward with open data, for example a bus app for local bus services and an open data portal that will hopefully drive open access to valuable data in Guernsey.

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.

Photo by Volker Agüeras Gäng, CC-BY.

Make Some Story Noise

Heather Leson - July 4, 2014 in Community Stories, Events, Network, OKFestival, Open Knowledge Foundation

Stories wanted! We’re building a community storytelling team starting with OKFestival. Whether you are in Berlin for the big event or across the globe, our goal is to co-create and compile all the best OKFestival Stories. Many of you tell stories with video, photo, images and text. Some of you are master wordsmiths and aggregators. One could even opine that hardware, art and code are very much stories. Well, at OKFestival we will run the gamut of all things open from science to education to balloon maps to budgets and graffiti.

The community will be sharing content across many tools using many methods. We are building an in person and remote Storytelling team to capture all the gems, visions and tidbits. Even if you are not at the event, you can be our eyes and curators.

(All the links are on our OKFest Storytelling wiki page)

We have a few ways you can participate: Suggest some stories, Join a Storytelling team (digital or in person) or Go rogue! Be sure use some of the recommended ways to share. We will be remixing this as we co-create our Community Playbook.

Make some noise – join our OKFestival Storytelling Team Learn more in our Community Session

  • Date: Wednesday, July 9 , 2014
  • Time: Date:July 9, 2014 Time: 08:00-9:00 EDT /12:00-13:00 UTC / 13:00- 14:00 BST /14:00 – 15:00 CEST (worldtimebuddy.com)
  • Register here

If you can’t join the hangout, please be sure to reach out to heather.leson AT okfn DOT org or neal.bastek AT OKFN DOT org. We’ll be sure to brief you and collaborate on the next steps.

We are the Community: Join our OKFest community summit

Guest - July 4, 2014 in OKFestival, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups

This is a guest blog post by Kersti from Open Knowledge Netherlands and Rayna from Open Knowledge France/OpenMENA. Both are leading the organisation of the Open Knowledge Community Summit with the support of the Open Knowledge Central team.

Less than two weeks to go until the global open community will meet in Berlin and at digital and physical fringe events all over the world. OKFestival is driven by the shared values and the enthusiasm for openness of hundreds of people from all cardinal directions.

We are all engaged with the Open Knowledge network for a reason, for a cause. But what is it that brings us together and how do we want to shape this community for the future? These are crucial questions and we wish to dedicate a full afternoon to discuss, define and shape it together!

WE ARE THE COMMUNITY and as such, we would like YOU to join a very special fringe event, the OKFestival Community Summit

Everyone is welcome to participate, whether you consider yourself an active member of the community or are simply interested in meeting people over an in-depth discussion about strengthening digital communities.

When and Where?

The OKFestival Community Summit will take place on Tuesday July 15th, 2014 from 13:00 to 16:00. We have booked a space at the OKFestival Venue, the Kulturbrauerei, and so you can find us in the Franz Club.

Why is this event important?

The OKFestival Community event offers the unique occasion for everyone to meet, discuss and craft our identity as the Open Knowledge community, the way we envision it and the way we can all continue to identify with it.

We are a fast-growing group of like-minded individuals who have had the pleasure of contributing to the rapid expansion of open knowledge community over the past few years. Such organic growth also poses new challenges and motivates us to rethink the way we interact with staff members and the different paths through which we can channel expertise and knowledge within the community. It is thus in our hands to shape a community that enables everyone to identify and engage with the path forward we choose to take!

Therefore, it will be imperative to shape this way forward together.

What will we discuss?

Through consultation with the community leading up to the festival, we have identified a handful of topics that we will discuss during the session:

  • How do we provide better support and follow-up to local groups, ambassadors, working groups and individual community members?
  • How do we develop mentorship opportunities and peer-to-peer support within the community?
  • How do we root more of some shape of organized effort in the Global South? What are the different challenges, depending on local contexts and more globally?
  • Community or organisation: how do we decide? Are we a network, a movement, a community — and what implications does that have for our structure and actions?
  • Community programming: what next? Co-building and interaction online.

There is still room for more ideas, so bring yours along!

We really hope you can join the summit. There are still tickets available — hurry up! If you would like to participate, sign up here!

Looking forward to seeing you all at the summit!

Open Knowledge Ireland celebrate FOI victory

Flora Fleischer - July 3, 2014 in OKF Ireland, Open Government Data

Open Knowledge Ireland are this week celebrating partial victory in their campaign against application fees for FOI requests. Here is their press release.

Ireland

Open Knowledge Ireland welcomes Minister Howlin’s announcement that Government has approved the removal of an application fee for Freedom of Information Requests

Open Knowledge Ireland welcomes the announcement by the Minister that the suggested reforms to the FOI fees regime includes the removal of the €15 application fee for non-personal requests.

On April 10th 2014 Open Knowledge Ireland together with a squad of Freedom of Information advocates for Ireland wrote an Open Letter to Minister Brendan Howlin asking to leverage the Government’s commitment to the Open Government Partnership as an opportunity to remove fees at all stages of FOI and AIE requests and appeals. The letter was signed by 74 signatories urging the Minister to consider the points outlined for his upcoming FOI bill.

On May 7th, at the Civil Society Day, which was held on the eve of the OGP Europe regional meeting, the upfront fees charged in Ireland for submission of FOI requests were brought to the attention of 120 civil society and government representatives from 30 countries.

And today we are pleased to see the Minister is taking a step in the right direction!

Denis Parfenov, Open Knowledge Ambassador for Ireland and one of the Founders of the Open Knowledge Chapter in Ireland, in his reaction today said that he “warmly welcomes this announcement”.

This is a great success story for all citizens and FOI advocates who were involved in pushing to drop FOI fees as part of Ireland’s first OGP Action Plan. Open Knowledge Ireland together with Irish citizens and other Irish civil society organisations had been pushing to include a commitment on free FOI requests into the 2 year Action Plan and we are very pleased that the Minister has considered the recommendations of the Irish Civil Society OGP Network.

Flora, Co-Founder at Open Knowledge Ireland gives an early reaction to the announcement and has collated early voices from passionate FOI advocates in Ireland:

Open Knowledge Ireland is adopting a cautious position to the FOI reforms announced today. While we’re welcoming the announcements and Minister Howlin’s consideration of the Open Government Partnership principles, we still need to wait until we see the full set of proposed amendments in order to make an accurate assessment of the impact of all the changes.

Capture your events

Heather Leson - June 24, 2014 in Community Stories, Events, Featured, OKFest, OKFestival

We’re on a skillshare craze leading up to OKFestival. A few weeks ago we hosted a session all about how to create great videos with our guest Sam Muirhead. This week we are inviting you to join a Photography Skillshare. Events is one of the top ways that you are involved in Open Knowledge. So, while we might be focused on OKFest, the skills transcend storytelling any event.

Photography Skillshare

Join us on Thursday, June 26, 2014 for a Photography Skillshare. The team and community will share best practices in photos as well as

  • Times: Thursday, June 26, 2014 @ 9:30 EDT/ 13:30 UTC/ 14:30 BST/15:30 CEST
  • To join

We will record it to share back in case your timezone or work schedule is different.

Video Skillshare

Does your video or photos look like this? While it is super artistic, it might not show your story in the best context. While the camera for this session was not playing nice, the content is full of all kinds of tips and resources to make your video shine. Thanks to Sam Muirhead of Camera Libre for donating his time. See the G+ hangout notes for a stack of resources to help your video learning.

Note: Community Sessions are taking a break for the summer. Stay tuned for more sessions in the future.

Why are patents and locked-up science seen as the way forward for growth and innovation?

Christian Villum - June 18, 2014 in OKF Denmark, Open Science

This is a translated and edited version of a blog post originally appearing on the Danish denfri.dk blog. See the original post here.

These past few weeks have highlighted the crossroads that we as a society are facing: Whether non-open data, siloed knowledge and patented ideas make up the best way for growth and innovation? Or whether the logic of the Internet with it’s open data, open knowledge sharing, open sourcing and remix-culture is the right path for the modern society?

A couple of weeks ago we saw the premiere of “The Internet’s Own Boy”, the documentary of Aaron Swartz, the now world-famous young Internet prodigy that despite enormous success with his start up business chose to throw himself actively into the battle to secure everyone free access to the large academic database JSTOR: An access that is normally only granted to the few that can afford a university degree. Appalled by the unproportionally high fees charged by JSTOR for access to (often tax funded) scientific journals Swartz set up a computer in the basement of the American MIT university, and started to download all the journals in the database. His scheme was unravelled when caught by a security camera, and contrary to all legal precedence, in order to make an example of Swartz, the federal government chose to charge him with a felony: Something that would likely send Swarz behind bars for up to 35 years. The pressure from the government and the FBI hurled Swartz into a depression and he ends up taking his own life. A horrible and tragic story.

A society currently building on intellectual ownership

As an entrepreneur and Danish translator of some of Swarz’ texts I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in a panel at the Danish premiere event for the film in Copenhagen earlier this month. In this panel was also Director for the Danish National Library, Pernille Drost, who explained to the audience that even Denmark, with our free educational system, have similar draconian rules for access to our scientific journals (and cultural heritage as well). Science and culture is held systematically locked up behind technical and legal iron gates and is thereby closed off for the general public – both domestically and abroad – unless you are wealthy enough to pay huge sums of money. This goes even for journals that are a 100 years old!

Additionally, we recently had a referendum in Denmark to determine if we were to join the unified European patent court. The result was a resounding ‘yes’ (roughly 70% of the votes in favor of joining), which sent a clear signal – mainly inspired by the majority of the Danish political parties, both left and right – that we as a society believe ideas are developed best by being locked up and protected. Apparently, the idea is that only those companies rich enough to be able to afford expensive patent lawyers and navigate the complicated intellectual property rights universe should be the ones to ensure our continued growth, improve our welfare and create a balanced and fair global society. In other words, we choose to keep our knowledge hermetically locked in and accessible only to a very few hands, both in the United States and in Denmark. The same applies to the rest of the world, especially the developed world. But is this the best way forward? For ourselves and for the world?

What “open” enables…

In “The Internet’s Own Boy”, for instance, we saw examples of how free access to knowledge can create some very defining breakthroughs in science. Among other the film tells the story of a 14-year old boy in the US, who independently from the school system uses his wit and access to a series of otherwise unavailable science journals to develop a groundbreaking quantum leap in cancer science – to the great surprise of all doctors and scientists within that area.

This example made me think of the story about the English economy student Thomas Herndon, who in 2010 via access to a financial study made by Carmen Reinhart & Kenneth Rogoff discovered a critical error in one of the most prolific analyses therein: An analysis with calculations used by governments around the world to guide economic austerity policy during the global financial crisis. The critical error had created an erroneous foundation for political work on the highest level – and it wasn’t discovered until Herndon, a graduate student at the time, obtained access and started looking into the numbers.

It also reminded me of the story of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”; a tale which in book form by author Bryan Mealer became an international bestseller. Mealer describes how another 14-year old, William Kamkvamba in Malawi, gets access to a handful of old science books and builds a fully functional wind turbine from scrap metal and all of a sudden produces power for his village in the chronically poor (and 98% powerless) African country.

Let’s zoom back to Denmark again. Two weeks ago an interesting story occurred in the news: A group of amateur data analysis enthusiasts (most of them actually from the Open Knowledge Denmark group) had looked into the data from Unified Patent Court referendum, which had been released in a somewhat open format. This made the group discover an anomaly in the reporting of votes from the small city of Taarsbaek north of Copenhagen: Something didn’t look right. The group contacted the authorities and further investigation showed that the officials in Taarsbaek had accidentally switched the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes! A human error, yes, and not something that had any influence on the final result. But at the same time an error that had never been discovered if the data hadn’t been released for the public to scrutinize.

What does these examples say about the gigantic potential of free access to knowledge?

Unleashing the gigantic supercomputer

Imagine if citizens in general had the opportunity to access scientific journals? Build on existing technology? Look into all our non-sensitive public data? How many errors could be corrected? How many breakthroughs would we see in medicine research? How many inventions and infrastructural improvements would proliferate in the developing world? Sadly, it’s a utopia, because we keep our knowledge locked up and kept away from the public eye. Isn’t it time we get rid of that kind of old-fashion pre-Internet thinking?

All the peoples around the world make up a huge brain trust, a giant computer, which holds a potential for growth and welfare that we can hardly imagine. The Internettet is the nerve system in this latent supercomputer. But to activate it we need to stop seeing science and knowledge as only a tradable product, which only the richest 5% of the world’s population has access to. By opening up knowledge for everyone, we create a foundation for citizen science that will enrich us all with a growth potential that exceeds our own capability by many unimaginable lengths.

Learning from the Internet

“Sure,” you think, “but what about the cost? It’s not cheap to research and develop ideas!”. Of course not, but look at the economies already developing on the Internet: For example open source software, where developers around the world share computer code and stand on each other’s shoulders, even if they are competitors. An billion dollar economy, where all parties become richer, and where companies flourish and where millions of jobs are made, while the core of it all, the code – that is, the product – is freely available for anyone to continue building on.

In the software world a large part of the major actors have already abandoned patents and tossed away the iron gates in favor of a much more powerful growth paradigm: Sharing of knowledge, crowdsourcing and open data. This open source mindset can easily be transferred to the rest of society, including the science world and business in general. The economic potential is gigantic – for all of the world’s population. Let’s all lead the way for this kind of thinking. That is real innovation.

Energy Buildings Performance Scenarios as Linked Open Data

Guest - June 6, 2014 in Linked Open Data, OKF Austria, Technical

This is a blog post by Martin Kaltenböck & Anne-Claire Bellec, cross-posted from the Semantic Puzzle Blog. Anne-Claire Bellec is Communications Manager at the Global Buildings Performance Network (http://www.gbpn.org), located at GBPNs headquarters in Paris, France, and Martin Kaltenböck is the responsible for web-based data tools at Semantic Web Company, a Linked Open Data specialised IT company located in Vienna, Austria as well as Member of the Board of the Austrian Chapter of Open Knowledge.

The reduction of green house gas emissions is one of the big global challenges for the next decades. (Linked) Open Data on this multi-domain challenge is key for addressing the issues in policy, construction, energy efficiency, production a like. Today – on the World Environment Day 2014 – a new (linked open) data initiative contributes to this effort: GBPN’s Data Endpoint for Building Energy Performance Scenarios.

Visualization

GBPN (The Global Buildings Performance Network) provides the full data set on a recently made global scenario analysis for saving energy in the building sector worldwide, projected from 2005 to 2050. The multidimensional dataset includes parameters like housing types, building vintages and energy uses – for various climate zones and regions and is freely available for full use and re-use as open data under CC-BY 3.0 France license.

To explore this easily, the Semantic Web Company has developed an interactive query / filtering tool which allows to create graphs and tables in slicing this multidimensional data cube. Chosen results can be exported as open data in the open formats: RDF and CSV and also queried via a provided SPARQL endpoint (a semantic web based data API). A built-in query-builder makes the use as well as the learning and understanding of SPARQL easy – for advanced users as well as also for non-experts or beginners.

Visualization

The LOD based information- & data system is part of Semantic Web Companies’ recent Poolparty Semantic Drupal developments and is based on OpenLinks Virtuoso 7 QuadStore holding and calculating ~235 million triples as well as it makes use of the RDF ETL Tool: UnifiedViews as well as D2R Server for RDF conversion. The underlying GBPNontology runs on PoolParty 4.2 and serves also a powerful domain-specific news aggregator realized with SWC’s sOnr webminer.

Together with other Energy Efficiency related Linked Open Data Initiatives like REEEP, NREL, BPIE and others, GBPNs recent initative is a contribution towards a broader availability of data supporting action agains global warming – as also Dr. Peter Graham, Executive Director of GBPN emphasized “…data and modelling of building energy use has long been difficult or expensive to access – yet it is critical to policy development and investment in low-energy buildings. With the release of the BEPS open data model, GBPN are providing free access to the world’s best aggregated data analyses on building energy performance.” The Linked Open Data (LOD) is modelled using the RDF Data Cube Vocabulary (that is aW3C recommendation) including 17 dimensions in the cube. In total there are 235 million triples available in RDF including links to DBpedia and Geonames – linking the indicators: years – climate zones – regions and building types as well as user scenarios….

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