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What should we include in the Global Open Data Index? From reference data to civil society audit.

Mor Rubinstein - June 18, 2015 in Global Open Data Index

Three years ago we decided to begin to systematically track the state of open data around the world. We wanted to know which countries were the strongest and which national governments were lagging behind in releasing the key datasets as open data so that we could better understand the gaps and work with our global community to advocate for these to be addressed.

In order to do this, we created the Global Open Data Index, which was a global civil society collaboration to map the state of open data in countries around the world. The result was more than just a benchmark. Governments started to use the Index as a reference to inform their priorities on open data. Civil society actors began to use it as a tool to teach newcomers about open data and as advocacy mechanism to encourage governments to improve their performance in releasing key datasets.

Three years on we want the Global Open Data Index to become much more than a measurement tool. We would like it to become a civil society audit of the data revolution. As a tool driven by campaigners, researchers and advocacy organisations, it can help us, as a movement, determine the topics and issues we want to promote and to track progress on them together. This will mean going beyond a “baseline” of reference datasets which are widely held to be important. We would like the Index to include more datasets which are critical for democratic accountability but which may be more ambitious than what is made available by many governments today.

The 10 datasets we have now and their score in France

The 10 datasets we have now and their score in France

To do this, we are today opening a consultation on what themes and datasets civil society think should be included in the Global Open Data Index. We want you to help us decide on the priority datasets that we should be tracking and advocating to have opened up. We want to work with our global network to collaboratively determine the datasets that are most important to obtaining progress on different issues – from democratic accountability, to stronger action on climate change, to tackling tax avoidance and tax evasion.

Drawing inspiration from our chapter Open Knowledge Belgium’s activities to run their own local open data census, we decided to conduct a public consultation. This public consultation will be divided into two parts:

Crowdsourced Survey – Using the platform of WikiSurvey, a platform inspired by kittens war (and as we all know, anything inspired by viral kittens cannot be bad), we are interested in what you think about which datasets are most important. The platform is simple, just choose between two datasets the one that you see as being a higher priority to include in the Global Open Data Index. Can’t find a dataset that you think is important? Add your own idea to the pool. You do not have a vote limit, so vote as much as you want and shape the index. SUBMIT YOUR DATA NOW

Wiki Survey

Our Wiki Survey

 

Focused consultation with civil society organisations – This survey will be sent to a group of NGOs working on a variety of issues to find out what they think about what specific datasets are needed and how they can be used. We will add ideas from the survey to general pool as they come in. Want to answer the survey as well? You can find it here.

This public consultation will be open for the next 10 days and will be closed at June 28th. At the end of the process we will analyse the results and share them with you.

We hope that this new process that we are starting today will lead to an even better index. If you have thoughts about the process, please do share your thoughts with us on our new forum on this topic: https://discuss.okfn.org/c/open-data-index

Just Released: “Where Does Europe’s Money Go? A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources”

Jonathan Gray - July 2, 2015 in Data Journalism, Featured, open knowledge, Open Spending, Policy, Research, Where Does My Money Go

The EU has committed to spending €959,988 billion between 2014 and 2020. This money is disbursed through over 80 funds and programmes that are managed by over 100 different authorities. Where does this money come from? How is it allocated? And how is it spent?

Today we are delighted to announce the release of “Where Does Europe’s Money Go? A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources”, which aims to help civil society groups, journalists and others to navigate the vast landscape of documents and datasets in order to “follow the money” in the EU. The guide also suggests steps that institutions should take in order to enable greater democratic oversight of EU public finances. It was undertaken by Open Knowledge with support from the Adessium Foundation.

Where Does Europe's Money Go?

As we have seen from projects like Farm Subsidy and journalistic collaborations around the EU Structural Funds it can be very difficult and time-consuming to put together all of the different pieces needed to understand flows of EU money.

Groups of journalists on these projects have spent many months requesting, scraping, cleaning and assembling data to get an overview of just a handful of the many different funds and programmes through which EU money is spent. The analysis of this data has led to many dozens of news stories, and in some cases even criminal investigations.

Better data, documentation, advocacy and journalism around EU public money is vital to addressing the “democratic deficit” in EU fiscal policy. To this end, we make the following recommendations to EU institutions and civil society organisations:

  1. Establish a single central point of reference for data and documents about EU revenue, budgeting and expenditure and ensure all the information is up to date at this domain (e.g. at a website such as ec.europa.eu/budget). At the same time, ensure all EU budget data are available from the EU open data portal as open data.
  2. Create an open dataset with key details about each EU fund, including name of the fund, heading, policy, type of management, implementing authorities, link to information on beneficiaries, link to legal basis in Eur-Lex and link to regulation in Eur-Lex.
  3. Extend the Financial Transparency System to all EU funds by integrating or federating detailed data expenditures from Members States, non-EU Members and international organisations. Data on beneficiaries should include, when relevant, a unique European identifier of company, and when the project is co-financed, the exact amount of EU funding received and the total amount of the project.
  4. Clarify and harmonise the legal framework regarding transparency rules for the beneficiaries of EU funds.
  5. Support and strengthen funding for civil society groups and journalists working on EU public finances.
  6. Conduct a more detailed assessment of beneficiary data availability for all EU funds and for all implementing authorities – e.g., through a dedicated “open data audit”.
  7. Build a stronger central base of evidence about the uses and users of EU fiscal data – including data projects, investigative journalism projects and data users in the media and civil society.

Our intention is that the material in this report will become a living resource that we can continue to expand and update. If you have any comments or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you.

If you are interested in learning more about Open Knowledge’s other initiatives around open data and financial transparency you can explore the Where Does My Money Go? project, the OpenSpending project, read our other previous guides and reports or join the Follow the Money network.

Where Does Europe’s Money Go - A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources

UK Crime Data: Feeling is Believing

Meg Foulkes - July 1, 2015 in Featured, Legal, Open Data, Open Government Data, open knowledge

Latest crime data shows that the UK is getting significantly more ‘peaceful’. Last month, the Institute for Economics and Peace published the UK Peace Index, revealing UK crime figures have fallen the most of all EU countries in the past decade. Homicide rates, to take one indicator, have halved over the last decade.

Crime Scene by Alan Cleaver, Flickr, CC-BY

Crime Scene by Alan Cleaver, Flickr, CC-BY

But the British public still feels that crime levels are rising. How can opening up crime data play a part in convincing us we are less likely to experience crime than ever before?

The ‘Perception Gap’

The discrepancy between crime data and perceptions of the likelihood of crime is particularly marked in the UK. Although it has been found that a majority of the public broadly trust official statistics, the figures are markedly lower for those relating to crime. In one study, 85% of people agreed that the Census accurately reflects changes in the UK, but only 63% said the same of crime statistics.

Credibility of Police Data

Police forces have been publishing crime statistics in the UK since 2008, using their own web-based crime mapping tools or via the national crime mapping facility (http://maps.police.uk/ and http://www.police.uk). This has been purportedly for the purpose of improving engagement with local communities alongside other policy objectives, such as promoting transparency. But allegations of ‘figure fiddling’ on the part of the police have undermined the data’s credibility and in 2014, the UK Statistics Authority withdrew its gold-standard status from police figures, pointing to ‘accumulating evidence’ of unreliability.

The UK’s open data site for crime figures allows users to download street-level crime and outcome data in CSV format and explore the API containing detailed crime data and information about individual police forces and neighbourhood teams. It also provides Custom CSV download and JSON API helper interfaces so you can more easily access subsets of the data.

Crime map from data.police.co.uk

But the credibility of the data has been called into question. Just recently, data relating to stop-search incidents for children aged under-12 was proved ‘inaccurate’. The site itself details many issues which call the accuracy of the data into question: inconsistent geocoding policies in police forces; “Six police forces we suspect may be double-reporting certain types of incidents“; ‘siloed systems’ within police records; and differing IT systems from regional force to force.

In summary, we cannot be sure the ‘data provided is fully accurate or consistent.’

The Role the Media Plays: If it Bleeds, it Leads

In response to persistent and widespread public disbelief, the policies of successive UK governments on crime have toughened: much tougher sentencing, more people in prison, more police on the streets. When the British public were asked why they think there is more crime now than in the past, more than half (57%) stated that it was because of what they see on television and almost half (48%) said it was because of what they read in newspapers [Ipsos MORI poll on Closing the Gaps. One tabloid newspaper, exclaimed just recently: “Rape still at record levels and violent crime rises” and “Crime shows biggest rise for a decade“. As the adage goes, If it Bleeds, it Leads.

Crime Data and Mistrust of the Police

Those engaged in making crime figures meaningful to the public face unique challenges. When Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993, and the following public inquiry found institutional racism to be at the heart of the Met police, public trust towards the police was shattered. Since then, the police have claimed to have rid their ranks of racism entirely.

Police by Luis Jou García, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Police by Luis Jou García, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

But many remain less than convinced. According to official statistics, in 1999-2000, a black person was five times more likely than a white person to be stopped by police. A decade later, they were seven times more likely. One criminologist commented: “Claims that the Lawrence inquiry’s finding of institutional racism no longer apply have a hollow ring when we look at the evidence on police stops.” [Michael Shiner reported in the Guardian].

Equally, the police distrust the public too. The murder of two young, female police officers in Manchester in 2012 ignited the long-rumbling debate over whether the police should be armed. So the divide between the police and the public is a serious one.

A Different Tack?

In 2011, a review was undertaken by the UK Statistics Authority into Crime Data. Its recommendations included:

  • Improving the presentation of crime statistics to make them more authoritative
  • Reviewing the availability of local crime and criminal justice data on government websites to identify opportunities for consolidation
  • Sharing of best practice and improvements in metadata and providing reassurance on the quality of police crime records.

It’s clear that the UK police recognise the importance of improving their publication of data. But it seems that opening data alone won’t fix the shattered trust between the public and the police, even if the proof that Britons are safer than ever before is there in transparent, easily navigable data. We need to go further back in the chain of provenance, scrutinise the reporting methods of the police for instance.

But this is about forgiveness too, and the British public might just not be ready for that yet.

Become a Friend of The Public Domain Review

Naomi Lillie - June 25, 2015 in Featured, Featured Project, Free Culture, Open GLAM, open knowledge, Public Domain, Public Domain Review

Open Knowledge project The Public Domain Review launches a major new fundraising drive, encouraging people to become Friends of the site by giving an annual donation.

For those not yet in the know, The Public Domain Review is a project dedicated to protecting and celebrating, in all its richness and variety, the cultural public domain. In particular, our focus is on the digital copies of public domain works, the mission being to facilitate the appreciation, use and growth of a digital cultural commons which is open for everyone.

We create collections of openly licensed works comprised of highlights from a variety of galleries, libraries, archives, and museums, many of whom also contribute to our popular Curator’s Choice series (including The British Library, Rijksmuseum, and The Getty). We also host a fortnightly essay series in which top academics and authors write about interesting and unusual public domain works which are available online.

Founded in 2011, the site has gone from strength to strength. In its 4 plus years it has seen contributions from the likes of Jack Zipes, Frank Delaney, and Julian Barnes – and garnered praise from such media luminaries as The Paris Review, who called us “one of their favourite journals”, and The Guardian, who hailed us as a “model of digital curation”.

This is all very exciting but we need your help to continue the project into the future.

We are currently only bringing in around half of the base minimum required – the amount we need in order to tick along in a healthy manner. (And around a third of our ideal goal, which would allow us to pay contributors). So it is of urgent importance that we increase our donations if we want the project to continue.

Hence the launch of a brand new fundraising model through which we hope to make The Public Domain Review sustainable and able to continue into the future. Introducing “Friends of The Public Domain Review”https://publicdomainreview.org/support/

Image 1: one of the eight postcards included in the inaugural postcard set. The theme is "Flight" and the set will be sent out to all Friends donating $30/£20/€27.50 or more before 8th July - Source.

Image 1: one of the eight postcards included in the inaugural postcard set. The theme is “Flight” and the set will be sent out to all Friends donating $30/£20/€27.50 or more before 8th July. Source = http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00650258.

What is it?

This new model revolves around building a group of loyal PDR (Public Domain Review) supporters – the “Friends” – each of whom makes an annual donation to the project. This club of patrons will form the beating heart of the site, creating a bedrock of support vital to the project’s survival.

How can one become a Friend?

There is no fixed yearly cost to become a Friend – any annual donation will qualify you – but there is a guide price of $60 a year (£40/€55).

Are there any perks of being a Friend?

Yes! Any donation above $30 will make you eligible to receive our exclusive twice-a-year “postcard set” – 8 beautiful postcards curated around a theme, with a textual insert. Friends will also be honoured in a special section of the site and on a dedicated page in all PDR Press publications. They will also get first refusal in all future limited edition PDR Press creations, and receive a special end of year letter from the Editor.

How do I make my donation?

We’ve worked hard to make it as easy as possible to donate. You no longer have to use PayPal on the PDR site, but can rather donate using your credit or debit card directly on the site.

For more info, and to make your donation, visit: https://publicdomainreview.org/support/

Become a Friend before 8th July to receive the inaugural postcard set upon the theme of “Flight”

Image 2: one of the eight postcards included in the inaugural postcard set. The theme is "Flight" and the set will be sent out to all Friends donating $30/£20/€27.50 or more before 8th July - Source.

Image 2: one of the eight postcards included in the inaugural postcard set. The theme is “Flight” and the set will be sent out to all Friends donating $30/£20/€27.50 or more before 8th July. Source = http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002722387/.

Putting Open at the Heart of the Digital Age

Rufus Pollock - June 5, 2015 in Featured, Open Data, open knowledge

Introduction

I’m Rufus Pollock.

In 2004 I founded a non-profit called Open Knowledge

The mission we set ourselves was to open up all public interest information – and see it used to create insight that drives change.

What sort of public interest information? In short, all of it. From big issues like how our government spends our taxes or how fast climate change is happening to simple, everyday, things like when the next bus is arriving or the exact address of that coffee shop down the street.

For the last decade, we have been pioneers and leaders in the open data and open knowledge movement. We wrote the original definition of open data in 2005, we’ve helped unlock thousands of datasets. And we’ve built tools like CKAN, that powers dozens of open data portals, like data.gov in the US and data.gov.uk in the UK. We’ve created a network of individuals and organizations in more than 30 countries, who are all working to make information open, because they want to drive insight and change.

But today I’m not here to talk specifically about Open Knowledge or what we do.

Instead, I want to step back and talk about the bigger picture. I want to talk to you about digital age, where all that glitters is bits, and why we need to put openness at its heart.

Gutenberg and Tyndale

To do that I first want to tell you a story. Its a true story and it happened a while ago – nearly 500 years ago. It involves two people. The first one is Johannes Gutenberg. In 1450 Gutenberg invented this: the printing press. Like the Internet in our own time, it was revolutionary. It is estimated that before the printing press was invented, there were just 30,000 books in all of Europe. 50 years later, there were more than 10 million. Revolutionary, then, though it moved at the pace of the fifteenth century, a pace of decades not years. Over the next five hundred years, Gutenberg’s invention would transform our ability to share knowledge and help create the modern world.

The second is William Tyndale. He was born in England around 1494, so he grew up in world of Gutenberg’s invention.

Tyndale followed the classic path of a scholar at the time and was ordained as a priest. In the 1510s, when he was still a young man, the Reformation still hadn’t happened and the Pope was supreme ruler of a united church across Europe. The Church – and the papacy – guarded its power over knowledge, forbidding the translation of the bible from Latin so that only its official priests could understand and interpret it.

Tyndale had an independent mind. There’s a story that he got into an argument with a local priest. The priest told him:

“We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.”

Tyndale replied:

“If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!”

What Tyndale meant was that he would open up the Bible to everyone.

Tyndale made good on his promise. Having fled abroad to avoid persecution, between 1524 and 1527 he produced the first printed English translation of the Bible which was secretly shipped back to England hidden in the barrels of merchant ships. Despite being banned and publicly burnt, his translation spread rapidly, giving ordinary people access to the Bible and sowing the seeds of the Reformation in England.

However, Tyndale did not live to see it. In hiding because of his efforts to liberate knowledge, he was betrayed and captured in 1534. Convicted of heresy for his work, on the 6th October 1536, he was strangled then burnt at the stake in a prison yard at Vilvoorden castle just north of modern day Brussels. He was just over 40 years old.

Internet

So let’s fast forward now back to today, or not quite today – the late 1990s.

I go to college and I discover the Internet.

It just hit me: wow! I remember days spent just surfing around. I’d always been an information junkie, and I felt like I’d found this incredible, never-ending information funfair.

And I got that I was going to grow up in a special moment, at the transition to an information age. We’d be living in this magical world, where the the main thing we create and use – information – could be instantaneously and freely shared with everyone on the whole planet.

But … why Openness

So, OK the Internet’s awesome …

Bet you haven’t heard that before!

BUT … – and this is the big but.

The Internet is NOT my religion.

The Internet – and digital technology – are not enough.

I’m not sure I have a religion at all, but if I believe in something in this digital age, I believe in openness.

This talk is not about technology. It’s about how putting openness at the heart of the digital age is essential if we really want to make a difference, really create change, really challenge inequity and injustice.

Which brings me back to Tyndale and Gutenberg.

Tyndale revisited

Because, you see, the person that inspired me wasn’t Gutenberg. It was Tyndale.

Gutenberg created the technology that laid the groundwork for change. But the printing press could very well have been used to pump out more Latin bibles, which would then only have made it easier for local priests to be in charge of telling their congregations the word of God every Sunday. More of the same, basically.

Tyndale did something different. Something so threatening to the powers that be that he was executed for it.

What did he do? He translated the Bible into English.

Of course, he needed the printing press. In a world of hand-copying by scribes or painstaking woodcut printing, it wouldn’t make much difference if the Bible was in English or not because so few people could get their hands on a copy.

But, the printing press was just the means: it was Tyndale’s work putting the Bible in everyday language that actually opened it up. And he did this with the express purpose of empowering and liberating ordinary people – giving them the opportunity to understand, think and decide for themselves. This was open knowledge as freedom, open knowledge as systematic change.

Now I’m not religious, but when I talk about opening up knowledge I am coming from a similar place: I want anyone and everyone to be able to access, build on and share that knowledge for themselves and for any purpose. I want everyone to have the power and freedom to use, create and share knowledge.

Knowledge power in the 16th century was controlling the Bible. Today, in our data driven world it’s much broader: it’s about everything from maps to medicines, sonnets to statistics. Its about opening up all the essential information and building insight and knowledge together.

This isn’t just dreaming – we have inspiring, concrete examples of what this means. Right now I’ll highlight just two: medicines and maps.

Example: Medicines

Everyday, millions of people around the world take billions of pills, of medicines.

Whether those drugs actually do you good – and what side effects they have – is obviously essential information for researchers, for doctors, for patients, for regulators – pretty much everyone.

We have a great way of assessing the effectiveness of drugs: randomized control trials in which a drug is compared to its next best alternative.

So all we need is all the data on all those trials (this would be non-personal information only – any information that could identify individuals would be removed). In an Internet age you’d imagine that that this would be a simple matter – we just need all the data openly available and maybe some way to search it.

You’d be wrong.

Many studies, especially negative ones, are never published – the vast majority of studies are funded by industry who use restrictive contracts to control what gets published. Even where pharmaceutical companies are required to report on the clinical trials they perform, the regulator often keeps the information secret or publishes it as 8,000 page PDFs each page hand-scanned and unreadable by a computer.

If you think I’m joking I’ll give just one very quick example which comes straight from Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma. In 2007 researchers in Europe wanted to review the evidence on a diet drug called rimonabant. They asked the European regulator for access to the original clinical trials information submitted when the drug was approved. For three years they were refused access on a variety of grounds. When they did get access this is what they got initially – that’s right 60 pages of blacked out PDF.

We might think this was funny if it weren’t so deadly serious: in 2009, just before the researchers finally got access to the data, rimonabant was removed from the market on the grounds that it increased the risk of serious psychiatric problems and suicide.

This situation needs to change.

And I’m happy to say something is happening. Working with Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Pharma, we’ve just started the OpenTrials project. This will bring together all the data, on all the trials and link it together and make it open so that everyone from researchers to regulators, doctors to patients can find it, access it and use it.

Example: Maps

Our second example is maps. If you were looking for the “scriptures” of this age of digital data, you might well pick maps, or, more specifically the geographic data on which they are built. Geodata is everywhere: from every online purchase to the response to the recent earthquakes in Nepal.

Though you may not realize it, most maps are closed and proprietary – you can’t get the raw data that underpins the map, you can’t alter it or adapt it yourself.

But since 2004 a project called OpenStreetMap has been creating a completely open map of the planet – raw geodata and all. Not only is it open for access and reuse use the database itself is collaboratively built by hundreds of thousands of contributors from all over the world.

What does this mean? Just one example. Because of its openness OpenStreetMap is perfect for rapid updating when disaster strikes – showing which bridges are out, which roads are still passable, what buildings are still standing. For example, when a disastrous earthquake struck Nepal in April this year, volunteers updated 13,199 miles of roads and 110,681 buildings in under 48 hours providing crucial support to relief efforts.

The Message not the Medium

To repeat then: technology is NOT teleology. The medium is NOT the message – and it’s the message that matters.

The printing press made possible an “open” bible but it was Tyndale who made it open – and it was the openness that mattered.

Digital technology gives us unprecedented potential for creativity, sharing, for freedom. But they are possible not inevitable. Technology alone does not make a choice for us.

Remember that we’ve been here before: the printing press was revolutionary but we still ended up with a print media that was often dominated by the few and the powerful.

Think of radio. If you read about how people talked about it in the 1910s and 1920s, it sounds like the way we used to talk about the Internet today. The radio was going to revolutionize human communications and society. It was going to enable a peer to peer world where everyone can broadcast, it was going to allow new forms of democracy and politics, etc. What happened? We got a one way medium, controlled by the state and a few huge corporations.

Look around you today.

The Internet’s costless transmission can – and is – just as easily creating information empires and information robber barons as it can creating digital democracy and information equality.

We already know that this technology offers unprecedented opportunities for surveillance, for monitoring, for tracking. It can just as easily exploit us as empower us.

We need to put openness at the heart of this information age, and at the heart of the Net, if we are really to realize its possibilities for freedom, empowerment, and connection.

The fight then is on the soul of this information age and we have a choice.

A choice of open versus closed.

Of collaboration versus control.

Of empowerment versus exploitation.

Its a long road ahead – longer perhaps than our lifetimes. But we can walk it together.

In this 21st century knowledge revolution, William Tyndale isn’t one person. It’s all of us, making small and big choices: from getting governments and private companies to release their data, to building open databases and infrastructures together, from choosing apps on your phone that are built on open to using social networks that give you control of your data rather than taking it from you.

Let’s choose openness, let’s choose freedom, let’s choose the infinite possibilities of this digital age by putting openness at its heart.

Thank you.

Apply to attend OpenCon2015

Marieke Guy - June 3, 2015 in Access to Information, Open Access

Applications to attend OpenCon 2015 are now open.

opencon

OpenCon 2015 is the student and early career academic professional conference on Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data and will be held on November 14-16, 2015 in Brussels, Belgium. It is organized by the Right to Research Coalition, SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), and an Organizing Committee of students and early career researchers from around the world.

Jonathan Gray from Open Knowledge is on the organising committee and we are very excited to be supporting this event! Open Knowledge’s mission is to open up all essential public interest information and see it used to create insight that drives change. Open Access, Open Access to Research data and Open Education are an important part of this mission.

Applications to attend OpenCon are open until June 22nd, but applicants are encouraged to apply early. OpenCon seeks to bring together the most capable, motivated students and early career academic professionals from around the world to advance Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data—regardless of their ability to cover travel costs. In 2014, more than 80% of attendees received support. Due to this, attendance at OpenCon is by application only.

Applicants can request a full or partial travel scholarship, which will be awarded to most of those accepted. OpenCon 2015 will convene students and early career academic professionals from around the world and serve as a powerful catalyst for projects led by the next generation to advance OpenCon’s three focus areas—Open Access, Open Education, and Open Research Data. Through a program of keynotes, panel discussions, workshops, and hackathons, participants will build skills in key areas—from raising institutional awareness to coordinating national-level campaigns effectively. Apply early at www.opencon2015.org/attend.

Why Open Contracting Matters to the OGP Agenda in Africa

Guest - June 2, 2015 in Open Contracting, open knowledge

This is a guest post by Seember Nyager. Seember is an Open Knowledge/Code4Africa Open Government Fellow advocating for the adoption of open contracting data standards in Nigeria.

To be honest, the state of public services across Africa shames us. Often, you find that public services do not meet the generally accepted standards of efficiency, regular maintenance and service delivery. In most cases, it is unknown and improbable whether public services followed any specifications in the phase of contract execution and service delivery is often poor and non-standardized.

The state of public services on the continent is hard to relate with the abundance of our natural resources and the amount of external financing that is channeled to Africa in each year. The standard of Public service delivery has consequences; sometimes tragic and the prevalence of tragedy is witnessed in our health care systems. Arguably the most tragic consequence of low standards in public service delivery is the erosion of trust between the Government and the people as this is the greatest saboteur of good intentions that are in the public interest.

There is no quick fix to the infrastructure and service delivery deficit that plagues the continent. Some public services such as efficient transportation networks may only be fully operational after a decade. But there are ways to rebuild trust between Governments and the citizens and chart a formidable course for sustained efficiency in public service delivery.

In another vein, citizens of OGP participating countries may not know about the OGP and in the light of the current commitments being made by countries, may view OGP as an abstract concept that they do not need to involve themselves with. But there is compelling reason to believe that citizens of OGP participating countries may be able to relate and internalize the values behind the OGP if Open Contracting practices are made a part of the OGP agenda in each of these countries.

Open contracting advocates for all stages that lead to public service delivery to be exposed to scrutiny subject to narrowly defined exceptions. Open contracting also advocates that such routine information ought not be requested for but made readily available through multiple channels so that as much as it is possible, the people know where responsibility for the success or failure of public project lies and can participate in the contracting process which ultimately leads to public service delivery.

The scrutiny of the public contracting process requires that information is presented in ways that enables one set of information to be linked to other related information on a public project or service to be delivered. This would require data standards to be followed. Open contracting would require that information is shared through multiple channels and taken to people in formats that they would understand. Open contracting requires that information on public contracts has milestones that show expectations at each stage of contract implementation and specifications that must have been met at each milestone. Open contracting requires that there is publicly available information of the service to be expected at the end of contract execution. Open contracting requires information around the contracting process to be regularly updated and for contracting information to facilitate continuous dialogue between representatives of Government, the people, the contractors and other stakeholders within a community.

For OGP Africa participating countries like Kenya and Ghana who have FOI and RTI bills currently going through parliament, it is recommended that their bills reflect the proactive disclosure provisions on public finance information as contained in the Model Law on Access to Information. This would provide the legal backing for a robust open contracting practice to thrive. For OGP Africa participating countries like South Africa that are currently undergoing a reform to public sector procurement, it is recommended that there are clear requirements backed by law to ensure public participation in each phase of the contracting process.

For OGP participating countries like Sierra Leone who already have a robust access to information and Public Procurement Law, it is recommended that Contracting data such as pricing benchmarks for public contracts is made readily available, the data follows specified standard, is updated regularly and distributed through multiple channels, in ways that the people can understand.

Committing to open contracting practices would require Government and civil society organizations working closely together and the OGP provides that platform. Further, the Open Contracting Partnership and the web foundation have developed Open contracting data standards that would be of great help to each country willing to adopt open contracting practices. As a non-participant to the OGP, I am hopeful that my own country, Nigeria, would prioritize trust in public service delivery by adopting the spirit and practice of Open Contracting.

Seember can be reached on twitter @Seember1

Call for applications for Data Journalism Philippines 2015

Sam Leon - May 27, 2015 in Data Journalism, Featured

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Open Knowledge in partnership with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism is pleased to announce the launch of Data Journalism Ph 2015. Supported by the World Bank, the program will train journalists and citizen media in producing high-quality, data-driven stories.

In recent years, government and multilateral agencies in the Philippines have published large amounts of data such as the government’s recently launched Open Data platform. These were accompanied by other platforms that track the implementation and expenditure of flagship programs such as Bottom-Up-Budgeting via OpenBUB.gov.ph, Infrastructure via OpenRoads.ph and reconstruction platforms including the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub. The training aims to encourage more journalists to use these and other online resources to produce compelling investigative stories.

Data Journalism Ph 2015 will train journalists on the tools and techniques required to gain and communicate insight from public data, including web scraping, database analysis and interactive visualization. The program will support journalists in using data to back their stories, which will be published by their media organization over a period of five months.

Participating teams will benefit from the following:

  • A 3-day data journalism training workshop by the Open Knowledge and PCIJ in July 2015 in Manila
  • A series of online tutorials on a variety of topics from digital security to online mapping
  • Technical support in developing interactive visual content to accompany their published stories

Apply now!

Teams of up to three members working with the same print, TV, or online media agencies in the Philippines are invited to submit an application here.

Participants will be selected on the basis of the data story projects they pitch focused on key datasets including infrastructure, reconstruction, participatory budgeting, procurement and customs. Through Data Journalism Ph 2015 and its trainers, these projects will be developed into data stories to be published by the participants’ media organizations.

Join the launch

Open Knowledge and PCIJ will host a half-day public event for those interested in the program in July in Quezon City. If you would like to receive full details about the event, please sign up here.

To follow the programme as it progresses go to the Data Journalism 2015 Ph project website.

Open Knowledge International does IODC2015!

Open Knowledge - May 23, 2015 in open knowledge

It’s that time of the year again. That time when the international open data community descends on an unsuspecting city for a jam packed week of camps, meet-ups, hacks and conference events. Next week, open data enthusiasts will be taking over Ottawa and Open Knowledge will be there in full force! As we don’t want to miss an opportunity to meet with anyone, we have put together a list of events that we will be involved in and ways to get in touch.We have also started collecting this information in a spreadsheet!

The School of Data team is arriving early for the second annual School of Data Summer Camp. Every year we strive to bring the entire School of Data community together for three intense days to plan future activities, to learn from each other, to improve our skills and ways of working and to give new School of Data fellows the opportunity to meet their future collaborators! This year’s School of Data Summer Camp will take place at the HUB Ottawa. We’ll have a meet and greet on one of the evenings for School of Data family and friends – so watch this space for details, or follow @SchoolofData on Twitter.

On Tuesday, we are partnering with Open North, the Sunlight Foundation, Iniciativa Latinoamericana de Datos Abiertos (ILDA) and Aspiration Tech to put on the Open Data Con Unconference.

Wednesday is going to be a busy day as we will be spread out across three events – CKANCon, organised by the CKAN association, the Opening Parliaments Fringe Event and the Open Data Con Research Symposium, where we will be presenting new work on measuring and assessing open data initiatives and on “participatory data infrastructures”.

At the International Open Data Conference, Open Knowledge team members are co-organising or presenting at the following sessions:

As you can probably see, the week is going to be a busy one and we are aware that it will be difficult to schedule meetings with everyone! To accommodate, the Open Knowledge team and the entire School of Data family are organising informal drinks at The Brig Pub from 7:30 PM Thursday evening! We would love for you to come say hello in person or you can always find Pavel (Open Knowledge’s new CEO!!!!), Zara, Milena, Jonathan, Mor, Sander, Katelyn, School of Data & of course Open Knowledge on twitter!

Safe travels and we will see you in Ottawa!

Announcing the new open data handbook

Open Knowledge - May 13, 2015 in Community, Open Data Handbook, open knowledge

We are thrilled to announce that the Open Data Handbook, the premier guide for open data newcomers and veterans alike, has received a much needed update! The Open Data Handbook, originally published in 2012, has become the go to resource for the open data community. It was written by expert members of the open data community and has been translated into over 18 languages. Read it now »

handbook

The Open Data Handbook elaborates on the what, why & how of open data. In other words – what data should be open, what are the social and economic benefits of opening that data, and how to make effective use of it once it is opened.

The handbook is targeted at a broad audience, including civil servants, journalists, activists, developers, and researchers as well as open data publishers. Our aim is to ensure open data is widely available and applied in as many contexts as possible, we welcome your efforts to grow the open knowledge movement in this way!

The idea of open data is really catching on and we have learned many important lessons over the past three years. We believe that is time that the Open Data Handbook reflect these learnings. The revised Open Data Handbook has a number of new features and plenty of ways to contribute your experience and knowledge, please do!

 Inspire Open Data Newcomers

The original open data guide discussed the theoretical reasons for opening up data – increasing transparency and accountability of government, improving public and commercial services, stimulating innovation etc. We have now reached a point where we are able to go beyond theoretical arguments — we have real stories that document the benefits open data has on our lives. The Open Data Value Stories are use cases from across the open knowledge network that highlighting the social and economic value and the varied applications of open data in the world.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; in fact just the beginning! If you have an open data value story that you would like to contribute, please get in touch.

 Learn How to Publish & Use Open Data

The Open Data Guide remains the premier open data how-to resource and in the coming months we will be adding new sections and features! For the time being, we have moved the guide to Github to streamline contributions and facilitate translation. We will be reaching out to the community shortly to determine what new content we should be prioritising.

While in 2012, when we originally published the open data guide, the open data community was still emerging and resources remained scarce, today as the global open data community is mature, international and diverse and resources now exist that reflect this maturity and diversity. The Open Data Resource Library is curated collection of resources, including articles, longer publications, how to guides, presentations and videos, produced by the global open data community — now available all in one place! If you want to contribute a resource, you can do so here! We are particularly interested in expanding the number of resources we have in languages other than English so please add them if you have them!

Finally, as we are probably all aware, the open data community likes its jargon! While the original open data guide had a glossary of terms, it was far from exhaustive — especially for newcomers to the open data movement. In the updated version we have added over 80 new terms and concepts with easy to understand definitions! Have we missed something out? Let us know what we are missing here.

The updated Open Data Handbook is a living resource! In the coming months, we will be adding new sections to the Open Data Guide and producing countless more value stories! We invite you to contribute your stories, your resources and your ideas! Thank you for your contributions past, present and future and your continued efforts in pushing this movement forward.

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