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Opening up governance: OpenMENA joins public consultation process in Tunisia

Rayna Stamboliyska - May 23, 2014 in Open Government Data, OpenMENA, Transparency


This is a cross-post from the OpenMENA blog. Find the original here.

Civil society group OpenGovTN have asked our OpenMENA collaboration of Local Groups to join a forthcoming national public consultation in Tunesia. This aims to build an action plan which will bring greater openness and more collaborative governance to Tunisia, and the process, referred to as OGP.Dialogue, will run starting 28 May until September 2014. And we are delighted to be part of it!

Some background, please?

As you may have heard, Tunisia recently joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Launched back in 2011, the OGP aims “to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Since then, OGP has grown from 8 countries to the 64 participating countries. In all of these countries, government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms.” Prior to expressing interest in joining the OGP, a country has to fulfill several eligibility requirements in four key areas (Fiscal Transparency, Access to Information, Income and Asset Disclosures, and Citizen Engagement). Jordan was actually the first MENA country to join the Partnership.

Tunisia officially joined the OGP earlier in 2014: the country has now to present an action plan where it lists the commitments it makes in order to increase openness, transparency and accountability in the governance process. As per the OGP requirements, after joining the program, the country’s government has to work with civil society to elaborate an action plan.


In comes OGP.Dialogue, the Tunisian national public consultation, initiated by civil society organisations and joined by the government in an effort to bolster a truly participatory process. More than 40 Tunisian NGOs has confirmed their involvement, Touensa being the initiative’s transparency watchdog and TACID Network coordinating local associations in order to include rural areas. Civil society members and government officials will thus strive to gather and narrow down a set of concrete and measurable commitments. These will be Tunisia’s action plan for the next two years: a roadmap to reforms in the areas of transparency, integrity and citizen participation.

OGP.Dialogue: bootstrapping a participatory governance

OGP.Dialogue will be organised in an ambitious yet strategised fashion. Impulsed by OpenGovTN, an umbrella collective coordinating numerous Tunisian NGOs, the OGP.Dialogue will include a few different yet complementary approaches:

The consultation process will start on 28 May 2014 and numerous NGOs will participate, either through on-site activities in the cities where they are based in or through traveling across the country. Thus, the widest possible number of people will be able to have a say and provide valuable citizen input to the forthcoming action plan.

In parallel, an online platform will be launched. Its aim is three-fold: first, it will enable even wider participation. Second, an important part of Tunisians live abroad; thus, an online platform will allow them to contribute. Third, the platform will help structure the contributions. Indeed, most of those will happen asynchronously and will emerge from many and diverse stakeholders. It is therefore crucial to safeguard these insights all by making them available throughout the whole duration of the consultation – and beyond.

In order to assess the progress of the whole process, an event will be held in the capital city of Tunis on 20 and 21 June. It will welcome a wide number of stakeholders: NGOs, government representatives, OGP Support Unit staff, external experts. The event will be a series of public discussions on the main OGP topics where a member of the civil society meets a government representative to discuss the proposed approach. This ‘reality check’ is needed in order to harmonise the efforts: the action plan is an endeavour that the Tunisian government takes seriously and it is also working on narrowing down concrete commitments.

For the discussion between the civil society and the government representative to be as smooth and fruitful as possible, a neutral, external expert will be moderating the exchange. This expert will in addition provide feedback on the different suggestions and expertise from other countries where s/he has already worked on the topic. The two-day event will culminate with a big show-and-tell and various media points so the widest possible audience can be informed in due time about the progress of the consultation.

OpenMENA will be there!


OpenMENA founder, Rayna Stamboliyska, will be present for the 20-21 June OGP.Dialogue progress point. We are grateful to OpenGovTN to have invited us as being there is important: the OGP.Dialogue event is a great opportunity for the Open Knowledge values to be brought to an ever-growing number of people. Taking an active part to the building of the forthcoming OGP Tunisia action plan is a challenge OpenMENA is more than keen to address.

We are thus more than delighted to be partners and to participate to this grand endeavour of co-creating a more open and collaborative society in Tunisia.

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!

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.

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!

Community Session: Open Data Hong Kong

Heather Leson - May 7, 2014 in Events, Interviews, OKF Hong Kong, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups

Open Data Hong Kong is an open, participative, and volunteer-run group of Hong Kong citizens who support Open Data. Join Mart van de Ven, Open Knowledge Ambassador for Hong Kong, and Bastien Douglas of ODHK for a discussion about their work.

odhk - logo

How to Participate

This Community Session will be hosted via G+. We will record it.

  • Date: Wednesday, May 14, 2014
  • Time: Wednesday 21:00 – 22:00 EDT/ Thursday 09:00 – 10:00 HKT/01:00 – 02:00 UTC
  • See to convert times.

  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Register for the event here

About our Community Session Guests

Mart van de Ven

Mart van de Ven co-founded Open Data Hong Kong to inspire and nurture a techno-social revolution in Hong Kong. He believes Open Data is a chance for citizens to be better served by government. Not only because it enables greater transparency and accountability, but because when governments open up their data it allows them to concentrate on their irreducible core – enabling us as citizens. He is also Open Knowledge’s ambassador to Hong Kong, a data-driven developer and technology educator for General Assembly.

Bastien Douglas

Bastien’s role with ODHK is to create a structure for the community to develop sustainability, form partnerships with other organisations and operationalize projects to achieve the goals of the organisation. Bastien’s background combines public sector experience, research analysis and citizen engagement. For over 4 years as a public servant in the federal government of Canada in Ottawa, he analysed policy at the front lines of policy development and researched public management issues at the centre of the bureaucracy. In 2009, a community of innovative public servants formed by Bastien to work across silos using collaborative tools and social media pushed projects for to forward Open Data to raise capacity to share knowledge and better support the public. Bastien then worked in the NGO sector building knowledge capacity for the immigrant-serving sector, while supporting advocacy for improved services, information-sharing, access to resources and sharing of practices for service delivery.

Bastien Douglas on Twitter

More Details

See the full Community Session Schedule

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.

Open Knowledge Brazil is a finalist of the Google Impact Challenge | Brazil!

Guest - April 29, 2014 in Featured, News, OKF Brazil

This is a guest post by Everton Zanella Alvarenga, Executive Director of Open Knowledge Brazil.


We are proud to announce we are finalists at the Google Global Impact Challenge | Brazil. Please, vote in our project to help us transform Brazil!

About the project

The Open Knowledge Brazil team works for a world in which knowledge empowers people. We are proud to announce that we are one of the finalists in Google Impact Challenge | Brazil, with the Project Gastos Abertos. We want you to help us build a different story to our country.

Brazilians work for almost half of the year just to pay taxes. After that, they know almost nothing about where their money goes. This is not the Brazil we want. Since we take good care of the spending of our homes, we should also pay attention to the spending of our country. Open Spending is calling for a change in attitude. Let’s play the leading role in the Brazil we want!

Our project deals with something that affects everybody: your pocket. Open Spending will show you how the federal government of Brazil and the state government of São Paulo are spending YOUR money. We’ll do everything through easy and interactive data visualizations.

But we will not stop right there! We know that such a change in attitude doesn’t come overnight. It requires a lot of effort and dedication. It requires awareness.

That’s why we’ll offer courses and tools so anyone will be able to use Open Spending in efficient and striking ways, anywhere. We’ll create the conditions for anyone to bring Open Spending to any city. When everyone changes their realities, we change the country.


Caroline Riley – Carol

Areas of expertise: strategic planning, branding, innovation and sustainability. Caroline has more than 10 years of experience in businesses management, strategic planning and branding in Brazil, Latin America, Europe and United States. Sha has worked in developing, innovating and specific projects such as: Tam, Lan, Telefónica, Vivo, Fast Shop, Bunge, Microsoft, Nestlé and GVces. She graduated at ECA-USP and obtained her MBA at Escola de Negócios de Madrid.

    Everton Zanella Alvarenga – Tom

    Everton Zanella Alvarenga, aka Tom, is the Executive Director of Open Knowledge Brazil. He has been involved in many projects about free knowledge, from building softwares to stimulating access to OER. He has worked as a consultant for Wikimedia Foundation, coordinated the project Wikimedia in Teaching in Brazil, and has worked at Open Knowledge Foundation since 2011, when the Brazilian chapter was suggested. He co-founded Stoa project at the University of São Paulo, which aims to create a public space for sharing and producing knowledge with focus on science and education, and has been supporting many projects in the context of open and free culture.

    Gisele Craveiro

    Since 2005 is University of São Paulo assistant professor, teaching and researching at the School of Arts, Science and Humanities. She and colleagues have founded the Research Group on Public Policies for Access to Information, which since 2006 contributes in the public debate about open access, copyright, FLOSS, Open Data and Open Government. She is member of the Brazilian National Open Data Infrastructure steering committee, representing civil society. She is also in the Open Government Partnership Latin American Civil Society advisor committee. Her national and international projects and publications are mainly focused in open budget, ranging from government transparency portals analysis, data extraction, standardization of budgetary data disclosure on the web, civic application development and open data initiatives impact research.

    Marco Túlio Pires

    Marco Túlio Pires

    Marco Túlio is the coordinator of Escola de Dados (School of Data) in Brazil. Journalist (UFMG) graduated in Electrical Engineering (PUC-Minas), Data Visualization (University of Michigan), Project Management (Georgetown University) and programming, he is advisor of innovation and technology at the Bureau of Social Progress of São Paulo. He learned how to program in Python with the help of MIT and edX platform and has been trying to connect Computer Sciences and Journalism at the emerging area called Data Journalism.

    Thiago Rondon

    Thiago Rondon

    Thiago develops software at Aware and b-datum. He is a big enthusiastic of the Free Software Movement and has won many prizes of programming, such as Desarrollando América Latina, White Camel Awards, Prêmio Mário Covas, and others.

    Upcoming Community Sessions: CKAN, Community Feedback

    Heather Leson - April 28, 2014 in CKAN, Events, Network, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Our Work, Working Groups

    Happy week! We are hosting two Community Sessions this week. You have expressed an interest in learning more about CKAN. As well, We are continuing our regular Community Feedback sessions.

    Boy and the world image

    Take a CKAN Tour:

    This week we will give an overview and tour of CKAN – the leading open source open data platform used by the national governments of the US, UK, Brazil, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Austria and many more. This session will cover why data portals are useful, what they provide and showcase examples and best practices from CKAN’s varied user base! Bring your questions on how to get started and best practices.

    Guest: Irina Bolychevsky, Services Director (Open Knowledge) Questions are welcome via G+ or Twitter.

    • Date: Wednesday, April 30, 2014
    • Time: 7:30 PT /10:30 ET /14:30 UTC /15:30 BST/16:30 CEST
    • Duration: 1 hour
    • Register and Join via G+ (The Hangout will be recorded.)
    Community Feedback Session

    We promised to schedule another Community Feedback Session. It is hard to find a common time for folks. We will work on timeshifting these for next sessions. This is a chance to ask questions, give input and help shape Open Knowledge.

    Please join Laura, Naomi and I for the next Community Feedback Session. Bring your ideas and questions.

    • Date: Wednesday, April 30, 2014
    • Time:9:00 PT/12:00EDT/16:00 UTC /17:00 BST/18:00 CEST
    • Duration:1 hour
    • Join via Meeting Burner

    We will use Meeting Burner and IRC. (Note: We will record both of these.)

    How to join meeting Burner: Audio instructions Option 1 Dial-in to the following conference line: Number 1- (949) 229 – 4400 # Option 2 You may join the conference bridge with your computer’s microphone/speakers or headset

    How to join IRC:

    More about the new Open Knowledge Brand

    Host a Community Session in May

    We are booking Community Sessions for May. These Open Knowledge online events can be in a number of forms: a scheduled IRC chat, a community google hangout, a technical sprint or an editathon. The goal is to connect the community to learn and share their stories and skills. If you would like to suggest a session or host one, please contact heather dot leson at okfn dot org.

    More details about Community Sessions

    (Photo: Heather Leson (San Francisco))

    Draft Open Data Policy for Qatar

    Rayna Stamboliyska - April 24, 2014 in Open Government Data, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Open MENA, Open Standards, Policy

    The following post was originally published on the blog of our Open MENA community (Middle East and North Africa).

    The Qatari Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies (generally referred to as ictQATAR) had launched a public consultation on its draft Open Data Policy. I thus decided to briefly present a (long overdue) outline of Qatar’s Open Data status prior to providing a few insights of the current Policy document.

    Public sector Open Data in Qatar: current status

    Due to time constraints, I did not get the chance to properly assess public sector openness for the 2013 edition of the Open Data Index (I served as the MENA editor). My general remarks are as follows (valid both end of October 2013 and today):

    • Transport timetables exist online and in digital form but are solely available through non-governmental channels and are in no way available as Open Data. The data is thus neither machine-readable nor freely accessible — as per the Open Definition, — nor regularly updated.
    • Government budget, government spending and elections results are nowhere to be found online. Although there are no elections in the country (hence no election results to be found; Qatar lacks elected Parliament), government budget and spending theoretically exist.
    • Company register is curated by the Qatar Financial Centre Authority, is available online for anyone to read and seems to be up-to-date. Yet, the data is not available for download in anything other than PDF (not a machine-readable format) and is not openly licensed which severely restricts any use one could decide to make out of it.
    • National statistics seem to be partly available online through the Qatar Information Exchange office. The data does not, however, seem to be up-to-date, is mostly enclosed in PDFs and is not openly licensed.
    • Legislation content is provided online by Al-Meezan, the Qatari Legal Portal. Although data seems available in digital form, it does not seem to be up-to-date (no results for 2014 regardless of the query). The licensing of the website is not very clear as the mentions include both “copyright State of Qatar” and “CC-by 3.0 Unported”.
    • Postcodes/Zipcodes seem to be provided through the Qatar Postal Services yet the service does not seem to provide a list of all postcodes or a bulk download. The data, if we assume it’s available, is not openly licensed.
    • National map at a scale of 1:250,000 or better (1cm = 2.5km) is nowhere to be found online, at least I did not manage to (correct me if I am wrong).
    • Emissions of pollutants data is not available through the Ministry of Environment. (Such data is defined as “aggregate data about the emission of air pollutants, especially those potentially harmful to human health. “Aggregate” means national-level or more detailed, and on an annual basis or more often. Standard examples of relevant pollutants would be carbon monoxides, nitrogen oxides, or particulate matter.”)

    This assessment would produce an overall score of 160 (as per the Open Data Index criteria) which would rank Qatar at the same place as Bahrain, that is much lower than other MENA states (e.g., Egypt and Tunisia). A national portal exists but it does not seem to comprehend what open format and licensing mean as data is solely provided as PDFs and Excel sheets, and is the property of the Government. (The portal basically redirects the user to the aforementioned country’s national statistics website.) Lastly, information requests can be made through the portal.

    The 2013 edition of the Open Data Barometer provides a complementary insight and addresses the crucial questions of readiness and outreach:

    [There is] strong government technology capacity, but much more limited civil society and private sector readiness to secure benefits from open data. Without strong foundations of civil society freedoms, the Right to Information and Data Protection, it is likely to be far harder for transparency and accountability benefits of open data to be secured. The region has also seen very little support for innovation with open data, suggesting the economic potential of open data will also be hard to realise. This raises questions about the motivation and drivers for the launch of open data portals and platforms.

    Screenshot from the Open Data Barometer 2013.

    2014 Open Data Policy draft

    Given the above assessment, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a draft Open Data Policy is being composed by ictQATAR. The document sets the record straight from the beginning:

    Information collected by or for the government is a national resource which should be managed for public purposes. Such information should be freely available for anyone to use unless there are compelling privacy, confidentiality or security considerations by the government. [...] Opening up government data and information is a key foundation to creating a knowledge based economy and society. Releasing up government-held datasets and providing raw data to their citizens, will allow them to transform data and information into tools and applications that help individuals and communities; and to promote partnerships with government to create innovative solutions.

    The draft Policy paper then outlines that “all Government Agencies will put in place measures to release information and data”. The ictQATAR will be in charge of coordinating those efforts and each agency will need to nominate a senior manager internally to handle the implementation of the Open Data policy through the identification and release of datasets as well as the follow-up on requests to be addressed by citizens. The Policy emphasizes that “each agency will have to announce its “Terms of Use” for the public to re-use the data, requirement is at no fees”.

    The Policy paper also indicates how the national Open Data portal will operate. It will be “an index to serve as gateway to public for dataset discovery and search, and shall redirect to respective Government Agencies’ data source or webpage for download”. Which clearly indicates that each individual Agency will need to create own website where the data will be released and maintained.

    The proposed national Open Data portal is also suggested to operate as an aggregator of “all public feedback and requests, and the government agencies’ responses to the same”. Alongside, the portal will continue to allow the public to submit information requests (as per the freedom of information framework in the country). This is an interesting de facto implementation of the Freedom of Information Act Qatar still lacks.

    The draft Policy further states:

    Where an Agency decides to make information available to the public on a routine basis, it should do so in a manner that makes the information available to a wide range of users with no requirement for registration, and in a non-proprietary, non-exclusive format.

    This is an interesting remark and constitutes one of my main points of criticism to the proposed paper. The latter neither contains a mention about what the recommended formats should be nor about licensing. Thus, one is left wondering whether the Agencies should just continue to stick to Microsoft Excel and PDF formats. If these were adopted as the default formats, then the released data would not be truly open as none of these two formats is considered open and the files are not machine-readable (a pre-requisite for data to be defined as open). Indeed, instead of going for a lengthy description of various formats, it would have been much more useful to elaborate on preferred format, e.g. CSV.

    An additional concern is the lack of mention of a license. Even though the Policy paper does a great job emphasizing that the forthcoming data needs to be open for anyone to access, use, reuse and adapt, it makes no mention whatsoever about the envisioned licensing. Would the latter rely on existing Creative Commons licenses? Or would the ictQATAR craft its own license as have done other governments across the world?

    An additional reason for concern is the unclear status of payment to access data. Indeed, the Policy paper mentions at least three times (sections 4.2 (i); 4.4 (ii); Appendix 6, ‘Pricing Framework’ indicator) that the data has to be provided at no cost. Yet, the Consultation formulates the question:

    Open Data should be provided free of charge where appropriate, to encourage its widespread use. However, where is it not possible, should such data be chargeable and if so, what are such datasets and how should they be charged to ensure they are reasonable?

    This question indicates that financial participation from potential users is considered probable. If such a situation materialized, this would be damaging for the promising Open Data Policy as paying to access data is one of the greatest barriers to access to information (regardless of how low the fee might be). Thus, if the data is provided at a cost, it is not Open Data anymore as by definition, Open Data is data accessible at no cost for everyone.

    My personal impression is that the Policy draft is a step in the right direction. Yet the success of such a policy, if implemented, remains very much dependent on the willingness of the legislator to enable a shift towards increased transparency and accountability. My concerns stem from the fact that the national legislation has precedence over ictQATAR’s policy frameworks which may make it very difficult to achieve a satisfactory Open Data shift. The Policy draft states:

    Agencies may also develop criteria at their discretion for prioritizing the opening of data assets, accounting for a range of factors, such as the volume and quality of datasets, user demand, internal management priorities, and Agency mission relevance, usefulness to the public, etc.

    The possibility that an Agency might decide to not open up data because it would be deemed potentially harmful to the country’s image or suchlike is real. Given that no Freedom of Information Act exists, there is no possible appeal mechanism allowing to challenge a negative decision citing public interest as outweighing deemed security concerns. The real test for how committed to openness and transparency the government and its Agencies are will come at that time.

    The Appendix 6 is thus very imprecise regarding the legal and security constraints that might prevent opening up public sector data. Furthermore, the precedence of the national legislation should not be neglected: it for ex. prohibits any auditing or data release related to contracting and procurement; no tenders are published for public scrutiny. Although the country has recently established national general anti-corruption institutions, there is a lack of oversight of the Emir’s decisions. According to Transparency International Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index 2013, “the legislature is not informed of spending on secret items, nor does it view audit reports of defence spending and off-budget expenditure is difficult to measure”.

    Note: I have responded to the consultation in my personal capacity (not as OpenMENA). Additional insights are to be read which I have chosen not to feature here.

    Skillshares and Stories: Upcoming Community Sessions

    Heather Leson - April 3, 2014 in CKAN, Events, Network, OKF Brazil, OKF Projects, Open Access, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, School of Data

    We’re excited to share with you a few upcoming Community Sessions from the School of Data, CKAN, Open Knowledge Brazil, and Open Access. As we mentioned earlier this week, we aim to connect you to each other. Join us for the following events!

    What is a Community Session: These online events can be in a number of forms: a scheduled IRC chat, a community google hangout, a technical sprint or hackpad editathon. The goal is to connect the community to learn and share their stories and skills.

    We held our first Community Session yesterday. (see our Wiki Community Session notes) The remaining April events will be online via G+. These sessions will be a public Hangout to Air. The video will be available on the Open Knowledge Youtube Channel after the event. Questions are welcome via Twitter and G+.

    All these sessions are Wednesdays at 10:30 – 11:30 am ET/ 14:30 – 15:30 UTC.

    Mapping with Ketty and Ali: a School of Data Skillshare (April 9, 2014)

    Making a basic map from spreadsheet data: We’ll explore tools like QGIS (a free and Open-source Geographic Information System), Tilemill (a tool to design beautiful interactive web maps) Our guest trainers are Ketty Adoch and Ali Rebaie.

    To join the Mapping with Ketty and Ali Session on April 9, 2014

    Q & A with Open Knowledge Brazil Chapter featuring Everton(Tom) Zanella Alvarenga (April 16, 2014)

    Around the world, local groups, Chapters, projects, working groups and individuals connect to Open Knowledge. We want to share your stories.

    In this Community Session, we will feature Everton (Tom) Zanella Alvarenga, Executive Director.

    Open Knowledge Foundation Brazil is a newish Chapter. Tom will share his experiences growing a chapter and community in Brazil. We aim to connect you to community members around the world. We will also open up the conversation to all things Community. Share your best practices

    Join us on April 16, 2014 via G+

    Take a CKAN Tour (April 23, 2014)

    This week we will give an overview and tour of CKAN – the leading open source open data platform used by the national governments of the US, UK, Brazil, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Austria and many more. This session will cover why data portals are useful, what they provide and showcase examples and best practices from CKAN’s varied user base! Our special guest is Irina Bolychevsky, Services Director (Open Knowledge Foundation).

    Learn and share your CKAN stories on April 23, 2014

    (Note: We will share more details about the April 30th Open Access session soon!)


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