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Happy Spring Cleaning, Community Style

Heather Leson - April 1, 2014 in Community Stories, Events, Featured, Network, OKF Projects, OKFestival, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Our Work, Working Groups

OKF_HK

Crazy about happy? Call it spring fever, but I am slightly addicted to the beautiful creativity of people around the world and their Happy videos (map). We are just one small corner of the Internet and want to connect you to Open Knowledge. To do this, we, your community managers, need to bring in the Happy. How can we connect you, meet your feedback, continue the spirit of global Open Data Day, and celebrate our upcoming 10 year anniversary as Open Knowledge? Tall order, but consider this.

Open Knowledge is a thriving network. We exist because of all of you and the incremental efforts each of you make on a wide-range of issues around the world. The way forward is to flip the community around. We will focus on connecting you to each other. Call it inspired by Happy or the Zooinverse mission, but we heard your input into the community survey and want to meet it.

Coffee smiley by spaceageboy

So, here are 4 key ways we aim to connect you:

1. Community Tumblr

Greece, MENA, and Tanzania – these are just some of the locations of Open Knowledge Stories on the Community Tumblr. We know that many of you have stories to tell. Have something to say or share? Submit a story. Just one look at the recent WordPress about 10 moments around the world gives me inspiration that the stories and impact exist, we just need to share more.

The Open Knowledge Community Tumblr

2. Wiki Reboot

As with every spring cleaning, you start by dusting a corner and end up at the store buying bookshelves and buckets of paint. The Open Knowledge wiki has long been ridden with spam and dust bunnies. We’ve given it a firm content kick to make it your space. We are inspired by the OpenStreetMap community wiki.

What next? Hop on over and create your Wiki User account – Tell us about yourself, See ways to Get Involved and Start Editing. We think that the wiki is the best way to get a global view of all things Open Knowledge and meet each other. Let’s make this our community hub.

3. Community Sessions

We have a core goal to connect you to each other. This April we are hosting a number of online community events to bring you together. Previously, we had great success with a number of online sessions around Open Data Day and OKFestival.

The Community Sessions can be in a number of forms: a scheduled IRC chat, a community Google hangout, a technical sprint or hackpad editathon. We are using the wiki to plan. All events will be announced on the blog and be listed in the main Open Knowledge events calendar.

Wiki planning for the Community Sessions:

The first session is Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 14:30 UTC/10:30 ET. We will host an IRC chat all about the wiki. To join, hop onto irc.freenode.net #okfn. IRC is a free text-based chat service.

4. OkFestival

OKFestival is coming soon. You told us that events is one of the biggest ways that you feel connected to Open Knowledge. As you many know, there are regular online meetups for School of Data, CKAN and OpenSpending Communities. Events connect and converge all of us with location and ideas.

Are you planning your own events where you live or on a particular open topic? We can help in a few ways:

  • Let us know about the events you’re running! Let’s discover together how many people are joining Open knowledge events all around the world!
  • Never organized an event before or curious to try a new type of gathering? Check out our Events Handbook for tips and tricks and contact our Events Team if you have questions or feedback about it
  • Want to connect with other community members to talk about your events, share skills, create international series of events together? Ping our global mailing list!

Have some ideas on how we can bring on the happy more? Drop us a line on the okfn-discuss mailing list or reach out directly – heather DOT leson AT okfn DOT org.

(Photo by SpaceAgeBoy)

Building an archaeological project repository I: Open Science means Open Data

Guest - February 24, 2014 in CKAN, Open Science, WG Archaeology

This is a guest post by Anthony Beck, Honorary fellow, and Dave Harrison, Research fellow, at the University of Leeds School of Computing.

In 2010 we authored a series of blog posts for the Open Knowledge Foundation subtitled ‘How open approaches can empower archaeologists’. These discussed the DART project, which is on the cusp of concluding.

The DART project collected large amounts of data, and as part of the project, we created a purpose-built data repository to catalogue this and make it available, using CKAN, the Open Knowledge Foundation’s open-source data catalogue and repository. Here we revisit the need for Open Science in the light of the DART project. In a subsequent post we’ll look at why, with so many repositories of different kinds, we felt that to do Open Science successfully we needed to roll our own.

Open data can change science

Open inquiry is at the heart of the scientific enterprise. Publication of scientific theories – and of the experimental and observational data on which they are based – permits others to identify errors, to support, reject or refine theories and to reuse data for further understanding and knowledge. Science’s powerful capacity for self-correction comes from this openness to scrutiny and challenge. (The Royal Society, Science as an open enterprise, 2012)

The Royal Society’s report Science as an open enterprise identifies how 21st century communication technologies are changing the ways in which scientists conduct, and society engages with, science. The report recognises that ‘open’ enquiry is pivotal for the success of science, both in research and in society. This goes beyond open access to publications (Open Access), to include access to data and other research outputs (Open Data), and the process by which data is turned into knowledge (Open Science).

The underlying rationale of Open Data is this: unfettered access to large amounts of ‘raw’ data enables patterns of re-use and knowledge creation that were previously impossible. The creation of a rich, openly accessible corpus of data introduces a range of data-mining and visualisation challenges, which require multi-disciplinary collaboration across domains (within and outside academia) if their potential is to be realised. An important step towards this is creating frameworks which allow data to be effectively accessed and re-used. The prize for succeeding is improved knowledge-led policy and practice that transforms communities, practitioners, science and society.

The need for such frameworks will be most acute in disciplines with large amounts of data, a range of approaches to analysing the data, and broad cross-disciplinary links – so it was inevitable that they would prove important for our project, Detection of Archaeological residues using Remote sensing Techniques (DART).

DART: data-driven archaeology

DART aimed is to develop analytical methods to differentiate archaeological sediments from non-archaeological strata, on the basis of remotely detected phenomena (e.g. resistivity, apparent dielectric permittivity, crop growth, thermal properties etc). The data collected by DART is of relevance to a broad range of different communities. Open Science was adopted with two aims:

  • to maximise the research impact by placing the project data and the processing algorithms into the public sphere;
  • to build a community of researchers and other end-users around the data so that collaboration, and by extension research value, can be enhanced.

‘Contrast dynamics’, the type of data provided by DART, is critical for policy makers and curatorial managers to assess both the state and the rate of change in heritage landscapes, and helps to address European Landscape Convention (ELC) commitments. Making the best use of the data, however, depends on openly accessible dynamic monitoring, along the lines of that developed for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) satellite constellations under development by the European Space Agency. What is required is an accessible framework which allows all this data to be integrated, processed and modelled in a timely manner.

It is critical that policy makers and curatorial managers are able to assess both the state and the rate of change in heritage landscapes. This need is wrapped up in national commitments to the European Landscape Convention (ELC). Making the best use of the data, however, depends on openly accessible dynamic monitoring, along similar lines to that proposed by the European Space Agency for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) satellite constellations. What is required is an accessible framework which allows all this data to be integrated, processed and modelled in a timely manner. The approaches developed in DART to improve the understanding and enhance the modelling of heritage contrast detection dynamics feeds directly into this long-term agenda.

Cross-disciplinary research and Open Science

Such approaches cannot be undertaken within a single domain of expertise. This vision can only be built by openly collaborating with other scientists and building on shared data, tools and techniques. Important developments will come from the GMES community, particularly from precision agriculture, soil science, and well documented data processing frameworks and services. At the same time, the information collected by projects like DART can be re-used easily by others. For example, DART data has been exploited by the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) for use in such applications as carbon sequestration in hedges, soil management, soil compaction and community mapping. Such openness also promotes collaboration: DART partners have been involved in a number of international grant proposals and have developed a longer term partnership with the RAU.

Open Science advocates opening access to data, and other scientific objects, at a much earlier stage in the research life-cycle than traditional approaches. Open Scientists argue that research synergy and serendipity occur through openly collaborating with other researchers (more eyes/minds looking at the problem). Of great importance is the fact that the scientific process itself is transparent and can be peer reviewed: as a result of exposing data and the processes by which these data are transformed into information, other researchers can replicate and validate the techniques. As a consequence, we believe that collaboration is enhanced and the boundaries between public, professional and amateur are blurred.

Challenges ahead for Open Science

Whilst DART has not achieved all its aims, it has made significant progress and has identified some barriers in achieving such open approaches. Key to this is the articulation of issues surrounding data-access (accreditation), licensing and ethics. Who gets access to data, when, and under what conditions, is a serious ethical issue for the heritage sector. These are obviously issues that need co-ordination through organisations like Research Councils UK with cross-cutting input from domain groups. The Arts and Humanities community produce data and outputs with pervasive social and ethical impact, and it is clearly important that they have a voice in these debates.

Dispatch: Crisismappers Community needs Data Makers

Heather Leson - November 25, 2013 in Data Journalism, Events, Open Data and My Data, Open Data Partnership For Development, WG Open Government Data, Workshop

What does open data / open knowledge have to do with Crisismapping? Everything. In times of crisis, we live in open data / open government ecosystem. We seek, build and make it happen in real time – talk converts to action quickly.

On Tuesday, November 19th, the School of Data hosted a full day pre-conference training session as part of the International Conference of Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM) in Nairobi, Kenya. The full event hosted over 110 attendees from around the world for a training offering with Knowledge/Research, Maps to Data and Mobile/Security. The Crisismappers community brings humanitarians, governmental staff, civil society practitioners, researchers, and technologists in a common, equal space. Participants work on projects ranging from human rights, anti-corruption, humanitarian response and economic development in post-conflict zones. The brilliance of cross-sector community focused on using data for their work highlights the importance that Open Knowledge Foundation as an member of the greater network. Building a global network of data makers is a one-by-one task. Our goal is to have leaders train their colleagues thus widening a circle of sharing and collaboration.

Some recent examples of our communities connecting include: Open Spending Tree Map by Donor: Foreign Aid Transparency – Faith (Philippines) and Early Results – Micromappers Yolanda (uses Crowdcrafting which was incubated at OKFN Labs).

Baking Soda with Crisis Mappers

Steve and School of Data

(Steve Kenei, Development Initiatives)

Data is just a word until we activate it. I like to call the School of Data the “Baking Soda” team. Together with key ingredients (community, problem/issue description, data sets and tool menus), they work with others to make data usable and actionable.

School of Data in session (School of Data session at ihub for ICCM)

The data track workshop sessions including using spreadsheets, cleaning data, data visualization and how to geocode. Some folks stayed in this track all day, even skipping breaks. The track started with a spreadsheet training delivered by Steve Kenei from Development Initiatives, continued with an Introduction to OpenRefine and an introduction to data visualization by Agnes Rube of Internews Kenya. The track was finished by School of Data mentor Ketty Adoch. The workshop was designed to address issues that civil society organizations have using data. One of the exciting results was the sheer concentration and intent of participants. They skipped breaks and even brought their own datasets to guide their learning.

Communities, Ideas connecting:

Ketty Adour, Fruits of Thought

Ketty Adour, Fruits of Thought

The ICCM conference, including pre-conference events, was jam packed week of maps, data, research and technology. Most of the ignite talks and panels referred to some stage of open data needs or the issues ranging from data ethics, data quality and data collection methodology. Ketty Adour – one of this years ICCM fellows – she shared her experiences on building a community mapping in Uganda using OpenStreetMap at Fruits of Thought.

Next Steps

During the self-organized sessions, together with Luis Capelo of UN OCHA , I hosted a discussion about Open Data Opportunities and Challenges. It was an exercise for the attendees to discuss Open Data and Crisismapping.

We determined a few concrete actions for the community:

  • A common data sharing space for Crisismappers interested in Humanitarian data.
  • A Crisismappers Open Data Working Group to help share impact and build momentum.
  • Training and a mentorship programs to help build skills and leadership in the field.

The Crisismappers community is over 5000 members strong with a mailing list, webinar and NING site. Do consider joining this vibrant community of maps and data makers who are at the edge of what it takes to unite policy with sheer determined actions. Also see our various Working Groups and the Open Data Partnership for Development programme.

Some additional resources:

Working Group Community Stories

Katelyn Rogers - November 11, 2013 in Open GLAM, WG Open Product Data, Working Groups

The Open Knowledge Foundation is proud to support over 20 active and incubating working groups, domain specific groups promoting, advocating for and building openness in their respective fields. Here is what some of our working groups have been up to over the past few months!

OpenScience

Open Science:

The Open Science Working Group has welcomed three new Panton Fellows. Meet Samuel Moore, Rosie Grave and Peter Krater, three early career researchers who will spend the next year exploring and supporting the adoption of open research practices in science and other fields of research.

In addition to welcoming these incredible new fellows, the Open Science working group (in collaboration with IDRC and Open-UTC) organised two Open Science for Development workshops, one in Cape Town (see photo above) and one in London. Following from these successful workshops, the working group has been working tirelessly to produce an Open Science for Development Research Framework. At OKcon in September, the working group organised an Open & Citizen Science Hack Day, where they succeeded in attracting both OKcon attendees present in Geneva and remote participants from France, the US, the Netherlands and Germany.

Open Science is spreading across the world! More and more local open science strands are coming together as open science enthusiasts from different corners of the globe are getting together and developing projects in their local community. Now you can join an open science community in Stockholm, Brazil or one of the other local strands of the working group. If you’d like to get involved, introduce yourself on the open science mailing list and follow the group on twitter.

Open Product Data:

Open Product Data is one of the newest Open Knowledge Foundation working groups with the goal of both developing the largest open product database in the world and advocating for increased access to product data. Open product data has the potential to empower consumers, increase efficiency and drive economic growth but at the moment product data, such as a product’s barcode, is public but not open. Since joining the Open Knowledge Foundation only a month ago, our community has already developed an android application for Open Product Data and heard stories of others use our database to further their initiatives.

The working group is organising an event (in collaboration with Hub Westminster and Provenance) in London on November 26th, 2013 in order to bring together a diverse group of people interested in open product data to share what they are building and discuss future collaborations. The daytime event will be focused on the more technical aspects of open product data with discussion topics such as mapping the data source possibilities, hypothesising the future implications of open product data and brainstorming the information architecture necessary for such an endeavour. A separate evening event will bring together manufacturers, retailers and consumer groups to discuss the business model opportunities that a more open product data environment would create.

Find out more about the ambitions of the group here and remember, Open Product Data is a community project, if you want to contribute, join the group on github, say hello on the mailing list and follow everything that they are doing on twitter.

OpenGLAM:

OpenGLAM is now all over the world. 2013 has seen the growth of local OpenGLAM groups organising professional networks that take action and promote the value of open culture within a given region or country (ex US, Switzerland, Austria etc.).

The OpenGLAM Working Group is now also supported by a new set of key network partners including the Digital Public Library of America, LODLAM and the Internet Archive.

The OpenGLAM Working Group has been working hard on a set of principles, which cultural institutions can adopt and endorse in order to make their resources more open to re-use. The OpenGLAM Working Group has been collecting useful research and resources on open cultural data and specifically its measurable impact on cultural institutions. You can check the page where we are gathering together these resources and essential reading for anyone hoping to open up cultural content or data.


OpenGLAM, Open Science and Open Product Data are only three of our 20+ working groups dedicated to making their fields more open! If you would like to get involved, join one of the mailing lists or contact us directly at getinvolved {at} okfn . org and make sure to tune in next month to find out what other groups have been up to.

Ethics and risk in open development

Guest - November 5, 2013 in OKCon, Open Development, Open Knowledge Foundation, Working Groups

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The following guest post is by Linda Raftree. Linda works with Plan International USA, serves as a special advisor on ICTs and M&E for the Rockefeller Foundation’s Evaluation Office and is a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation Open Development Working Group.

A core theme that the Open Development track covered at September’s Open Knowledge Conference was Ethics and Risk in Open Development. There were more questions than answers in the discussions, summarized below, and the Open Development working group plans to further examine these issues over the coming year.

Informed consent and opting in or out

Ethics around ‘opt in’ and ‘opt out’ when working with people in communities with fewer resources, lower connectivity, and/or less of an understanding about privacy and data are tricky. Yet project implementers have a responsibility to work to the best of their ability to ensure that participants understand what will happen with their data in general, and what might happen if it is shared openly.

There are some concerns around how these decisions are currently being made and by whom. Can an NGO make the decision to share or open data from/about program participants? Is it OK for an NGO to share ‘beneficiary’ data with the private sector in return for funding to help make a program ‘sustainable’? What liabilities might donors or program implementers face in the future as these issues develop?

Issues related to private vs. public good need further discussion, and there is no one right answer because concepts and definitions of ‘private’ and ‘public’ data change according to context and geography.

Informed participation, informed risk-taking

The ‘do no harm’ principle is applicable in emergency and conflict situations, but is it realistic to apply it to activism? There is concern that organizations implementing programs that rely on newer ICTs and open data are not ensuring that activists have enough information to make an informed choice about their involvement. At the same time, assuming that activists don’t know enough to decide for themselves can come across as paternalistic.

As one participant at OKCon commented, “human rights and accountability work are about changing power relations. Those threatened by power shifts are likely to respond with violence and intimidation. If you are trying to avoid all harm, you will probably not have any impact.” There is also the concept of transformative change: “things get worse before they get better. How do you include that in your prediction of what risks may be involved? There also may be a perception gap in terms of what different people consider harm to be. Whose opinion counts and are we listening? Are the right people involved in the conversations about this?”

A key point is that whomever assumes the risk needs to be involved in assessing that potential risk and deciding what the actions should be — but people also need to be fully informed. With new tools coming into play all the time, can people be truly ‘informed’ and are outsiders who come in with new technologies doing a good enough job of facilitating discussions about possible implications and risk with those who will face the consequences? Are community members and activists themselves included in risk analysis, assumption testing, threat modeling and risk mitigation work? Is there a way to predict the likelihood of harm? For example, can we determine whether releasing ‘x’ data will likely lead to ‘y’ harm happening? How can participants, practitioners and program designers get better at identifying and mitigating risks?

When things get scary…

Even when risk analysis is conducted, it is impossible to predict or foresee every possible way that a program can go wrong during implementation. Then the question becomes what to do when you are in the middle of something that is putting people at risk or leading to extremely negative unintended consequences. Who can you call for help? What do you do when there is no mitigation possible and you need to pull the plug on an effort? Who decides that you’ve reached that point? This is not an issue that exclusively affects programs that use open data, but open data may create new risks with which practitioners, participants and activists have less experience, thus the need to examine it more closely.

Participants felt that there is not enough honest discussion on this aspect. There is a pop culture of ‘admitting failure’ but admitting harm is different because there is a higher sense of liability and distress. “When I’m really scared shitless about what is happening in a project, what do I do?” asked one participant at the OK Con discussion sessions. “When I realize that opening data up has generated a huge potential risk to people who are already vulnerable, where do I go for help?” We tend to share our “cute” failures, not our really dismal ones.

Academia has done some work around research ethics, informed consent, human subject research and use of Internal Review Boards (IRBs). What aspects of this can or should be applied to mobile data gathering, crowdsourcing, open data work and the like? What about when citizens are their own source of information and they voluntarily share data without a clear understanding of what happens to the data, or what the possible implications are?

Do we need to think about updating and modernizing the concept of IRBs? A major issue is that many people who are conducting these kinds of data collection and sharing activities using new ICTs are unaware of research ethics and IRBs and don’t consider what they are doing to be ‘research’. How can we broaden this discussion and engage those who may not be aware of the need to integrate informed consent, risk analysis and privacy awareness into their approaches?

The elephant in the room

Despite our good intentions to do better planning and risk management, one big problem is donors, according to some of the OK Con participants.  Do donors require enough risk assessment and mitigation planning in their program proposal designs? Do they allow organizations enough time to develop a well-thought-out and participatory Theory of Change along with a rigorous risk assessment together with program participants? Are funding recipients required to report back on risks and how they played out? As one person put it, “talk about failure is currently more like a ‘cult of failure’ and there is no real learning from it. Systematically we have to report up the chain on money and results and all the good things happening. and no one up at the top really wants to know about the bad things. The most interesting learning doesn’t get back to the donors or permeate across practitioners. We never talk about all the work-arounds and backdoor negotiations that make development work happen. This is a serious systemic issue.”

Greater transparency can actually be a deterrent to talking about some of these complexities, because “the last thing donors want is more complexity as it raises difficult questions.”

Reporting upwards into government representatives in Parliament or Congress leads to continued aversion to any failures or ‘bad news’. Though funding recipients are urged to be innovative, they still need to hit numeric targets so that the international aid budget can be defended in government spaces. Thus, the message is mixed: “Make sure you are learning and recognizing failure, but please don’t put anything too serious in the final report.” There is awareness that rigid program planning doesn’t work and that we need to be adaptive, yet we are asked to “put it all into a log frame and make sure the government aid person can defend it to their superiors.”

Where to from here?

It was suggested that monitoring and evaluation (M&E) could be used as a tool for examining some of these issues, but M&E needs to be seen as a learning component, not only an accountability one. M&E needs to feed into the choices people are making along the way and linking it in well during program design may be one way to include a more adaptive and iterative approach. M&E should force practitioners to ask themselves the right questions as they design programs and as they assess them throughout implementation. Theory of Change might help, and an ethics-based approach could be introduced as well to raise these questions about risk and privacy and ensure that they are addressed from the start of an initiative.

Practitioners have also expressed the need for additional resources to help them predict and manage possible risk: case studies, a safe space for sharing concerns during implementation, people who can help when things go pear-shaped, a menu of methodologies, a set of principles or questions to ask during program design, or even an ICT4D Implementation Hotline or a forum for questions and discussion.

These ethical issues around privacy and risk are not exclusive to Open Development. Similar issues were raised last week at the Open Government Partnership Summit sessions on whistle blowing, privacy, and safeguarding civic space, especially in light of the Snowden case. They were also raised at last year’s Technology Salon on Participatory Mapping.

A number of groups are looking more deeply into this area, including the Capture the Ocean Project, The Engine Room, IDRC’s research network, The Open Technology InstitutePrivacy InternationalGSMA, those working on “Big Data,” those in the Internet of Things space, and others.

I’m looking forward to further discussion with the Open Development working group on all of this in the coming months, and will also be putting a little time into mapping out existing initiatives and identifying gaps when it comes to these cross-cutting ethics, power, privacy and risk issues in open development and other ICT-enabled data-heavy initiatives.

Please do share information, projects, research, opinion pieces and more if you have them!

Second Open Education Booksprint

Marieke Guy - October 24, 2013 in Open Education, WG Open Education

The Open Education Working Group and LinkedUp Project will be hosting the second Open Education Handbook booksprint in collaboration with Wikimedia Deutschland on Friday 22nd November 2013. The booksprint will be held at the at the Wikimedia Deutschland office, Berlin and we’d really like you to participate! During the booksprint participants will be involved in group discussions, constructing questions, building on chapter themes and negotiating with others on concepts!

IMG_8024

The Open Education Handbook is a collaboratively written living web document targeting educational practitioners and the education community at large. It was started at an initial booksprint in September and has recently been moved to Booktype, an open source open source platform that assists groups to write and publish print and digital books. It’s now openly available for all to contribute to – we suggest you read our introduction if you’d like to start contributing.

The second booksprint will continue to move the content further along and will consider the questions the audience of the handbook will ask and whether what we have so far truly answers those questions. So for example: what are the real benefits of creating an Open Educational Resource (OER)? How can data about open education lead to changes in open education policy? Where have open badges been used effectively? We also hope to have a couple of speakers along from local organisations to help us frame the day.

Most booksprints aim to write a book in under 5 days! We’ll be taking a slightly less pressurised approach and will be drafting the handbook over a longer time period of time (delivering a final version for theLinkedUp Project next year).

If you are interested in being involved in the booksprint then please register on the EventBrite page. All those who take part in the handbook booksprints will given attribution (using names and affiliations) in the about section of the handbook. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

Note that the handbook and the booksprint will be in English, though we are very interested in collaborating with people who would like to translate the handbook at a later stage.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wikimedia_Deutschland_GS_April_2012_029.JPG

The revolution will NOT be in Open Data

Guest - October 21, 2013 in Open Development, WG Development

The following guest post is by Duncan Edwards from the Institute of Development Studies.

I’ve had a lingering feeling of unease that things were not quite right in the world of open development and ICT4D (Information and communication technology for development), so at September’s Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva I took advantage of the presence of some of the world’s top practitioners in these two areas to explore the question: How does “openness” really effect change within development?

Inspiration for the session came from a number of conversations I’ve had over the last few years. My co-conspirator/co-organiser of the OKCon side event “Reality check: Ethics and Risk in Open Development,” Linda Raftree, had also been feeling uncomfortable with the framing of many open development projects, assumptions being made about how “openness + ICTs = development outcomes,” and a concern that risks and privacy were not being adequately considered. We had been wondering whether the claims made by Open Development enthusiasts were substantiated by any demonstrable impact. For some reason, as soon as you introduce the words “open data” and “ICT,” good practice in development gets thrown out the window in the excitement to reach “the solution”.

A common narrative in many “open” development projects goes along the lines of “provide access to data/information –> some magic occurs –> we see positive change.” In essence, because of the newness of this field, we only know what we THINK happens, we don’t know what REALLY happens because there is a paucity of documentation and evidence.

It’s problematic that we often use the terms data, information, and knowledge interchangeably, because:

Data is NOT knowledge.
Data is NOT information.
Information is NOT knowledge.
Knowledge IS what you know. It’s the result of information you’ve consumed, your education, your culture, beliefs, religion, experience – it’s intertwined with the society within which you live.

Understanding and thinking through how we get from the “openness” of data, to how this affects how and what people think, and consequently how they MIGHT act, is critical in whether “open” actually has any additional impact.

At Wednesday’s session, panellist Matthew Smith from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) talked about the commonalities across various open initiatives. Matthew argued that a larger Theory of Change (ToC) around how ‘open’ leads to change on a number of levels could allow practitioners to draw out common points. The basic theory we see in open initiatives is “put information out, get a feedback loop going, see change happen.” But open development can be sliced in many ways, and we tend to work in silos when talking about openness. We have open educational resources, open data, open government, open science, etc. We apply ideas and theories of openness in a number of domains but we are not learning across these domains.

We explored the theories of change underpinning two active programmes that incorporate a certain amount of “openness” in their logic. Simon Colmer from the Knowledge Services department at the Institute of Development Studies outlined his department’s theory of change of how research evidence can help support decision-making in development policy-making and practice. Erik Nijland from HIVOS presented elements of the theory of change that underpins the Making All Voices Count programme, which looks to increase the links between citizens and governments to improve public services and deepen democracy. Both of these ToCs assume that because data/information is accessible, people will use it within their decision-making processes.

They also both assume that intermediaries play a critical role in analysis, translation, interpretation, and contextualisation of data and information to ensure that decision makers (whether citizens, policy actors, or development practitioners) are able to make use of it. Although access is theoretically open, in practice even mediated access is not equal – so how might this play out in respect to marginalised communities and individuals?

What neither ToC really does is unpack who these intermediaries are. What are their politics? What are their drivers for mediating data and information? What is the effect of this? A common assumption is that intermediaries are somehow neutral and unbiased – does this assumption really hold true?

What many open data initiatives do not consider is what happens after people are able to access and internalise open data and information. How do people act once they know something? As Vanessa Herringshaw from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative said in the “Raising the Bar for ambition and quality in OGP” session, “We know what transparency should look like but things are a lot less clear on the accountability end of things”.

There are a lot of unanswered questions. Do citizens have the agency to take action? Who holds power? What kind of action is appropriate or desirable? Who is listening? And if they are listening, do they care?

Linda finished up the panel by raising some questions around the assumptions that people make decisions based on information rather than on emotion, and that there is a homogeneous “public” or “community” that is waiting for data/information upon which to base their opinions and actions.

So as a final thought, here’s my (perhaps clumsy) 2013 update on Gil Scott Heron’s 1970 song “The Revolution will not be televised”:

“The revolution will NOT be in Open data,
It will NOT be in hackathons, data dives, and mobile apps,
It will NOT be broadcast on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube,
It will NOT be live-streamed, podcast, and available on catch-up
The revolution will not be televised”

Heron’s point, which holds true today, was that “the revolution” or change, starts in the head. We need to think carefully about how we get far beyond access to data.

Look out for a second post coming soon on Theories of Change in Open, and a third post on ethics and risk in open data and open development. And if you’re interested in joining the conversation, why not sign up to our Open Development mailing list

Image source: http://epicgraphic.com/data-cake/ Data cake metaphor developed by Mark Johnstone

Open Legislation Working Group Relaunched at OKCon

Oleg Lavrovsky - October 15, 2013 in Featured, OKCon, Sprint / Hackday, WG Open Legislation

Legal questions are at the heart of what openness is about, and there has always been interest at the Open Knowledge Foundation in open legislation – both in theory and in practice. Remarkable projects have been started around the world in open lobbying and open law data.

This has proven ample inspiration to put open law, legal apps and legislation in the spotlight at the Open Knowledge Conference 2013 in Geneva, during a four day satellite event conducted by members of the local Open Knowledge Foundation Switzerland chapter.

Law Mining Hackdays

We convened at OKCon’s conference venue for three days, then wrapped up with a day on campus at the University of Geneva. The Monday morning workshop saw over 25 people pack into the room from diverse backgrounds: hackers, lawyers, businesspeople, academics. They took part in an introduction to mining legal data, to see our expert panel present 11 challenges, and to hear John Sheridan speak about legislation.gov.uk, the open legislation portal of the United Kingdom: a remarkable project and valuable lesson in the particularities of working with legal data and making it accessible to all.


John Sheridan presentation on Vimeo

Wide public interest

Over the following three days dozens of people dropped into the specially set up OKCon hackspace to put brains, pens and computers together to make the most of the opportunity to collaborate across geographic and professional boundaries, pitching in to advance the projects during the busy conference schedule.

People took part who were already running successful legal software businesses, mingling with staunch advocates of open source and open data, data scientists applying Semantic Web ideas to meta-laws, students keenly visualizing the intricate networks of legal code, activists launching new awareness initiatives. On-the-ground experiences were being shared from around the world, and a “hacky”, let’s-do-it atmosphere prevailed.

In the buzz of excitement around OKCon and the ideas going around the room, three groups formed around our participants core areas of interests for the hackday, which we referred to as:

  • Case Law – working with data about legal cases, such as the proceedings of courts
  • Legal Concepts – making the laws and their workings more open, and
  • Usability of Law – making legal data more usable to the general public.

Law Mining Hackathon at OKCon 2013

Projects and initiatives

On Thursday we wrapped up the event with interesting results. It is clear that the law has much to say about openness, and that at the same time the road ahead to opening up the legal world to more analysis, visualization, and usable applications is long. While the technical understanding of laws around the world today continues to be more grounded in stories than systems, an enormous amount of work is being done to transform justice from a social artefact to a methodical science. The hackday projects are seeds of change:

§ Case Law as a Service (CLaaS) will make legal decisions on national and international levels available online and more accessible than ever. The team aims to create an open framework and platform architecture that allows users and a multitude of applications easy access to case law data. Concepts and demos included: Human Rights Case Laws, Case Law Linked Data, and an open search engine for the Swiss Supreme Court.

§ Open Law Search makes everyday law work easier by exposing valuable resources on the Open Web. Users can search and filter across a variety of domains especially relevant to European law. It is live and available here: http://www.openlaws.eu/

§ Open This Data! is a simple idea with an aim to help lift legal or technical restrictions on data, and get rapid community response to changes of terms of use. The Open Data Button is a new, easy, social way to raise awareness of not-so-open data.

§ Open Privacy Legislation assesses a range of government websites and rates them according to criteria from the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness. The result is this map of world legislative standards.


These projects are all open source, they need your feedback, support and championing. Please try their demos, check out the wiki pages, let us know over the mailing list if you have ideas to share with the teams.

Simultaneously to the conclusion of the Law Mining Hackdays, an exciting new project was unwrapped from across the Atlantic which we couldn’t help but admire: The Constitute Project, a beautifully designed search engine and explorer of the world’s constitutions. This and many more inspirations and open data sources will guide us in future endeavours.

What happens next?

The meetings at OKCon and Law Mining Hackathon results have led to a renewed interest and several new initiatives for the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Legislation Working Group, where Clemens Wass has stepped up to moderate the mailing list.

Discussions are re-starting after a few months of hiatus, and we are looking forward to more shared thoughts and observations on the world of legal openness. Please sign up at legislation.okfn.org and use it to send in your announcements, suggestions and ideas for projects on these themes. Stay on the list to stay on top of all the above, including news of upcoming events in the months ahead.

On behalf of my co-organizers, we extend our thanks to OKCon and the University of Geneva for hosting the event, to our experts and sponsors for their support, and most kindly to everyone who contributed sparks of knowledge and made the hackdays a blast of learning, collaboration and making. Let the #legalhack-ing continue!

New Working Group: Open Product Data

Katelyn Rogers - October 8, 2013 in Featured, WG Open Product Data

The biggest open product database in world joins Open Knowledge Foundation and you can get involved!

We vote with our wallet everyday, but are rarely aware of everything we endorse through our purchases. Product supply chains are complex, our ethical preferences are diverse and in practice we, as consumers, do not have the time or knowledge to make fully informed purchasing decisions. That is why we need build new tools, tools that empower us with the information we need to make purchasing decisions that are right for us, our families and our community; only then can we truly vote with our wallet. The newest Open Knowledge Foundation working group is doing just that. We are building the consumer tools of the future and changing the consumer experience.

Barcodes are the key to unlocking the potential of product data. For over 40 years, GS1 has contributed to the standardisation of barcodes across the world. GS1 assigns manufacturers a GCP (Global Company Prefix) code, which is used by the company to generate unique identification numbers for all their products (the GTIN code or barcode). As a result, GTIN codes are a unique and standardised identifier for the vast majority of products sold across the world.

There is just one problem: product data is public but not open. Manufacturers assign a GS1 GTIN code to each of their products and they print this code on the packaging, meaning that GTIN codes are publicly available. However, they do not provide a digital catalogue of all their products meaning GTIN codes are not open.

A database containing the GTIN codes, in addition to other product identifiers such as the GLN (Global Location Number) and GPC (Global Product Classification), is a crucial first step in developing the consumer tools of the future. Opening up product data can:

  1. Empower Consumers by allowing third parties to build applications that provide consumers with the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions. From applications that provide consumers with information about the allergens contained in certain foods to applications that calculate and compare the air miles or carbon footprint of similar products, using barcodes in combination with other data allows for countless applications to be built that will inform and empower consumers.
  2. Improve Efficiency by helping humanitarian organisations, charities and food banks manage their supply of donated products or providing individuals with information about how and where to recycle a product according to local ordinances and their location.
  3. Generate Economic Growth and Innovation by creating an entirely new channel of communication for discovering and discussing products. Imagine simply scanning a barcode and seeing product advertisements, seeing customer reviews, seeing suggested recipes and so on, all in real time.

Product Open Data (POD), founded by Philippe Plagnol, represents the first step in opening up product data. Philippe, working independently on the database since November 2012, has begun building a product database that currently contains over one million product GTIN numbers (of which 400,000 are already matched to their brand, GCP and GPC), over 600,000 images and 4,000 brands, all open for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute. Philippe has proved that a product database is possible, we are building a community to make it scalable.

The Open Product Data Working group will provide a new home for POD and a space for a community of builders, thinkers and advocates to come together and share, discuss, learn and create. Join us on our mailing list, start contributing on GitHub, find out more at product.okfn.org and follow us on twitter @openproductdata.

Eugène Delacroix, “la liberté guidant le peuple”, 1830 – redesigned by Jessica Dere

New Panton Fellows Announced!

Michelle Brook - September 16, 2013 in Featured, Open Science, Panton Fellows, WG Open Data in Science

We’ve just finished the second round of appointments for the Panton Fellowships, and this year we have three Fellows joining us: Rosie Graves (UK), Peter Kraker (Austria), and Sam Moore (UK). Peter will be joining us at OKCon this year, so please come and find him and introduce yourself!

Panton fellows 2013 Left to right: Sam Moore, Peter Kraker and Rosie Graves

We had some really excellent applications this year, so we’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who helped us spread the word.

The Panton Fellowships are year-long awards with a small stipend and additional travel budget. They are typically awarded to early career researchers (although those with other backgrounds are very welcome to apply), who submit proposals that we think will be really beneficial to promote open science, open data in science, and the Panton Principles.

We’ve expanded from last year’s two Fellows, who were both based in the UK, so we are really excited to see what they manage to do! We’re aware that this year’s Fellows are going to have a tough job living up to the amazing work carried out by our inaugural Fellows, Ross Mounce and Sophie Kershaw, however this lot certainly have the potential to do so!

Each of the Fellows will be writing a short introductory post about themselves, their thoughts and plans for the year. We also hope they will be posting semi regular updates about their activities, so sign up to the open science working group mailing list to be kept up to date!

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