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Why the Open Definition Matters for Open Data: Quality, Compatibility and Simplicity

Rufus Pollock - September 30, 2014 in Featured, Open Data, Open Definition, Policy

The Open Definition performs an essential function as a “standard”, ensuring that when you say “open data” and I say “open data” we both mean the same thing. This standardization, in turn, ensures the quality, compatibility and simplicity essential to realizing one of the main practical benefits of “openness”: the greatly increased ability to combine different datasets together to drive innovation, insight and change.

Recent years have seen an explosion in the release of open data by dozens of governments including the G8. Recent estimates by McKinsey put the potential benefits of open data at over $100bn and others estimate benefits at more than 1% of global GDP.

However, these benefits are at significant risk both from quality-dilution and “open-washing”” (non-open data being passed off as open) as well as from fragmentation of the ecosystem as the proliferation of open licenses each with their own slightly different terms and conditions leads to incompatibility.

The Open Definition helps eliminates these risks and ensure we realize the full benefits of open. It acts as the “gold standard” for open content and data guaranteeing quality and preventing incompatibility.

This post explores in more detail why it’s important to have the Open Definition and the clear standard it provides for what “open” means in open data and open content.

Three Reasons

There are three main reasons why the Open Definition matters for open data:

Quality: open data should mean the freedom for anyone to access, modify and share that data. However, without a well-defined standard detailing what that means we could quickly see “open” being diluted as lots of people claim their data is “open” without actually providing the essential freedoms (for example, claiming data is open but actually requiring payment for commercial use). In this sense the Open Definition is about “quality control”.

Compatibility: without an agreed definition it becomes impossible to know if your “open” is the same as my “open”. This means we cannot know whether it’s OK to connect your open data and my open data together since the terms of use may, in fact, be incompatible (at the very least I’ll have to start consulting lawyers just to find out!). The Open Definition helps guarantee compatibility and thus the free ability to mix and combine different open datasets which is one of the key benefits that open data offers.

Simplicity: a big promise of open data is simplicity and ease of use. This is not just in the sense of not having to pay for the data itself, its about not having to hire a lawyer to read the license or contract, not having to think about what you can and can’t do and what it means for, say, your business or for your research. A clear, agreed definition ensures that you do not have to worry about complex limitations on how you can use and share open data.

Let’s flesh these out in a bit more detail:

Quality Control (avoiding “open-washing” and “dilution” of open)

A key promise of open data is that it can freely accessed and used. Without a clear definition of what exactly that means (e.g. used by whom, for what purpose) there is a risk of dilution especially as open data is attractive for data users. For example, you could quickly find people putting out what they call “open data” but only non-commercial organizations can access the data freely.

Thus, without good quality control we risk devaluing open data as a term and concept, as well as excluding key participants and fracturing the community (as we end up with competing and incompatible sets of “open” data).

Compatibility

A single piece of data on its own is rarely useful. Instead data becomes useful when connected or intermixed with other data. If I want to know about the risk of my home getting flooded I need to have geographic data about where my house is located relative to the river and I need to know how often the river floods (and how much).

That’s why “open data”, as defined by the Open Definition, isn’t just about the freedom to access a piece of data, but also about the freedom connect or intermix that dataset with others.

Unfortunately, we cannot take compatibility for granted. Without a standard like the Open Definition it becomes impossible to know if your “open” is the same as my “open”. This means, in turn, that we cannot know whether it’s OK to connect (or mix) your open data and my open data together (without consulting lawyers!) – and it may turn out that we can’t because your open data license is incompatible with my open data license.

Think of power sockets around the world. Imagine if every electrical device had a different plug and needed a different power socket. When I came over to your house I’d need to bring an adapter! Thanks to standardization at least in a given country power-sockets are almost always the same – so I bring my laptop over to your house without a problem. However, when you travel abroad you may have to take adapter with you. What drives this is standardization (or its lack): within your own country everyone has standardized on the same socket type but different countries may not share a standard and hence you need to get an adapter (or run out of power!).

For open data, the risk of incompatibility is growing as more open data is released and more and more open data publishers such as governments write their own “open data licenses” (with the potential for these different licenses to be mutually incompatible).

The Open Definition helps prevent incompatibility by:

Join the Global Open Data Index 2014 Sprint

Mor Rubinstein - September 29, 2014 in Community, Featured, Open Data

In 2012 the Open Knowledge launched the Global Open Data Index to help track the state of open data around the world. We’re now in the process of collecting submissions for the 2014 Open Data Index and we want your help!

Global Open Data Census: Survey

How can you contribute?

The main thing you can do is become a Contributor and add information about the state of open data in your country to the Open Data Index Survey. More details and quickstart guide to contributing here »

We also have other ways you can help:

Become a Mentor: Mentors support the Index in a variety of ways from engaging new contributors, mentoring them and generally promoting the Index in their community. Activities can include running short virtual “office hours” to support and advise other contributors, promoting the Index with civil society organizations – blogging, tweeting etc. To apply to be a Mentor, please fill in this form.

Become a Reviewer: Reviewers are specially selected experts who review submissions and check them to ensure information is accurate and up-to-date and that the Index is generally of high-quality. To apply to be a Reviewer, fill in this form.

Mailing Lists and Twitter

The Open Data Index mailing list is the main communication channel for folks who have questions or want to get in touch: https://lists.okfn.org/mailman/listinfo/open-data-census

For twitter, keep an eye on updates via #openindex14

Key dates for your calendar

We will kick off on September 30th, in Mexico City with a virtual and in-situ event at Abre LATAM and ConDatos (including LATAM regional skillshare meeting!). Keep an eye on Twitter to find out more details at #openindex14. Sprints will be taking place throughout October, with a global sprint taking place on 30 October!

More on this to follow shortly, keep an eye on this space.

Why the Open Data Index?

The last few years has seen an explosion of activity around open data and especially open government data. Following initiatives like data.gov and data.gov.uk, numerous local, regional and national bodies have started open government data initiatives and created open data portals (from a handful three years ago there are now nearly 400 open data portals worldwide).

But simply putting a few spreadsheets online under an open license is obviously not enough. Doing open government data well depends on releasing key datasets in the right way.

Moreover, with the proliferation of sites it has become increasingly hard to track what is happening: which countries, or municipalities, are actually releasing open data and which aren’t? Which countries are releasing data that matters? Which countries are releasing data in the right way and in a timely way?

The Global Open Data Index was created to answer these sorts of questions, providing an up-to-date and reliable guide to the state of global open data for policy-makers, researchers, journalists, activists and citizens.

The first initiative of its kind, the Global Open Data Index is regularly updated and provides the most comprehensive snapshot available of the global state of open data. The Index is underpinned by a detailed annual survey of the state of open data run by Open Knowledge in collaboration with open data experts and communities around the world.

Global Open Data Index: survey

A Data Revolution that Works for All of Us

Rufus Pollock - September 24, 2014 in Featured, Open Data, Open Development, Open Government Data, Our Work, Policy

Many of today’s global challenges are not new. Economic inequality, the unfettered power of corporations and markets, the need to cooperate to address global problems and the unsatisfactory levels of accountability in democratic governance – these were as much problems a century ago as they remain today.

What has changed, however – and most markedly – is the role that new forms of information and information technology could potentially play in responding to these challenges.

What’s going on?

The incredible advances in digital technology mean we have an unprecedented ability to create, share and access information. Furthermore, these technologies are increasingly not just the preserve of the rich, but are available to everyone – including the world’s poorest. As a result, we are living in a (veritable) data revolution – never before has so much data – public and personal – been collected, analysed and shared.

However, the benefits of this revolution are far from being shared equally.

On the one hand, some governments and corporations are already using this data to greatly increase their ability to understand – and shape – the world around them. Others, however, including much of civil society, lack the necessary access and capabilities to truly take advantage of this opportunity. Faced with this information inequality, what can we do?

How can we enable people to hold governments and corporations to account for the decisions they make, the money they spend and the contracts they sign? How can we unleash the potential for this information to be used for good – from accelerating research to tackling climate change? And, finally, how can we make sure that personal data collected by governments and corporations is used to empower rather than exploit us?

So how should we respond?

Fundamentally, we need to make sure that the data revolution works for all of us. We believe that key to achieving this is to put “open” at the heart of the digital age. We need an open data revolution.

We must ensure that essential public-interest data is open, freely available to everyone. Conversely, we must ensure that data about me – whether collected by governments, corporations or others – is controlled by and accessible to me. And finally, we have to empower individuals and communities – especially the most disadvantaged – with the capabilities to turn data into the knowledge and insight that can drive the change they seek.

In this rapidly changing information age – where the rules of the game are still up for grabs – we must be active, seizing the opportunities we have, if we are to ensure that the knowledge society we create is an open knowledge society, benefiting the many not the few, built on principles of collaboration not control, sharing not monopoly, and empowerment not exploitation.

Join our first Regional Community Mentoring and Skill-share Gathering

Christian Villum - September 23, 2014 in Community, Featured, Meetups

Open Knowledge community gathering

We are glad to announce our first official Community Mentoring and Skillshare Gathering to be held in Mexico City on October 3, 2014 in connection with the ConDatos and AbraLatam conferences. The event will kick off a series of similar regional events on other continents later this year and into next and will serve to enhance our virtual skill sharing and mentoring activities.

The Community Mentoring and Skillshare Gathering is a 1-day event scheduled to take place right after the ConDatos and AbreLatam conferences in Mexico next week. Open Knowledge community members from Latin America will join other grassroots open activists from across the region to build relationships, share skills, and find mentors.

The event is a pilot that will explore new ways of supporting the global (and often virtual) open knowledge community by organising face-to-face skill sharing and mentoring activities around relevant regional open events. The intention is to use these gatherings to jumpstart a community lead mentorship programme, an idea that we have been discussing with community members for a few months (see here for more details). The mentorship programme is intended to be largely self-sustainable, community/peer-to-peer driven and of benefit to both newcomers and more experienced community members. The program should run on volunteer basis, to ensure broad commitment and inclusivity. We are honoured to be able to experiment with this idea in collaboration with our community in and around Latin America following AbreLatam/ConDatos this month in Mexico, and hope to learn a lot about the needs and desires of community members seeking mentorship – as well as how we can make the most of in person gatherings to strengthen both our skills and community.

Powered by the Partnership for Open Data

The series of events are organized in close collaboration with the Partnership for Open Data and in partnership with SocialTIC. One goal of the Partnership for Open Data is to support the development of strong open knowledge communities around the world, and the aim of the community summit will be to run a number of peer to peer skillshares designed to strengthen the open community’s ability to continue to grow and diversify.

A day full of activities

Activities at the event will include a mentoring brainstorming session, where we will discuss how and why mentoring is needed in the network, actual skill sharing sessions as well as some time dedicated to discussing how we continue to support and teach each other online after we return to our respective cities and countries.

In this same spirit of peer-to-peer support, the Partnership for Open Data and Open Knowledge will host a skillshare corner at the ConDatos. One of the activities that we will be running is a Open Data Census community sprint in which we will try to expand the community of contributors to the open data census.

Community building of the programme and upcoming community calls

In order to ensure that we make the most of the time we have all together and put together a programme that suits the needs of the Latin American open community, we would like to invite you to participate in one of the following community calls to discuss the ideas mentioned above:

  • Tuesday, 23th of September, 6 pm CET/12 pm EDT (HANGOUT LINK)
  • Thursday, 25th of September, 9 pm CET/3 pm EDT (HANGOUT LINK)

If you are unable to attend one of the above calls but would like to suggest ideas, we would love to hear from you via this idea submission form or on email local (at) okfn (dot) org.

How to join

If you are in Mexico next week and would like to participate, please register for the event to let us know you will be coming.

As this event is being organised with and for the Latin American open data community, the event will be facilitated in Spanish.

Lastly, we would like to extend a warm thank you to our friends at SocialTIC for helping to make this happen! We are looking forward to seeing you all next week in Mexico!

Announcing a Leadership Update at Open Knowledge

Rufus Pollock - September 18, 2014 in Featured, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

Today I would like to share some important organisational news. After 3 years with Open Knowledge, Laura James, our CEO, has decided to move on to new challenges. As a result of this change we will be seeking to recruit a new senior executive to lead Open Knowledge as it continues to evolve and grow.

As many of you know, Laura James joined us to support the organisation as we scaled up, and stepped up to the CEO role in 2013. It has always been her intention to return to her roots in engineering at an appropriate juncture, and we have been fortunate to have had Laura with us for so long – she will be sorely missed.

Laura has made an immense contribution and we have been privileged to have her on board – I’d like to extend my deep personal thanks to her for all she has done. Laura has played a central role in our evolution as we’ve grown from a team of half-a-dozen to more than forty. Thanks to her commitment and skill we’ve navigated many of the tough challenges that accompany “growing-up” as an organisation.

There will be no change in my role (as President and founder) and I will be here both to continue to help lead the organisation and to work closely with the new appointment going forward. Laura will remain in post, continuing to manage and lead the organisation, assisting with the recruitment and bringing the new senior executive on board.

For a decade, Open Knowledge has been a leader in its field, working at the forefront of efforts to open up information around the world and and see it used to empower citizens and organisations to drive change. Both the community and original non-profit have grown – and continue to grow – very rapidly, and the space in which we work continues to develop at an incredible pace with many exciting new opportunities and activities.

We have a fantastic future ahead of us and I’m very excited as we prepare Open Knowledge to make its next decade even more successful than its first.

We will keep everyone informed in the coming weeks as our plans develop, and there will also be opportunities for the Open Knowledge community to discuss. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions.

Launching a new collaboration in Macedonia with Metamorphosis and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Guest - September 18, 2014 in Open Data

Dona

As part of the The Open Data Civil Society Network Project, School of Data Fellow, Dona Djambaska, who works with the local independent nonprofit, Metamorphosis, explains the value of the programme and what we hope to achieve over the next 24 months.

“The concept of Open Data is still very fresh among Macedonians. Citizens, CSOs and activists are just beginning to realise the meaning and power hidden in data. They are beginning to sense that there is some potential for them to use open data to support their causes, but in many cases they still don’t understand the value of open data, how to advocate for it, how to find it and most importantly – how to use it!

Metamorphosis was really pleased to get this incredible opportunity to work with the UK Foreign Office and our colleagues at Open Knowledge, to help support the open data movement in Macedonia. We know that an active open data ecosystem in Macedonia, and throughout the Balkan region, will support Metamorphosis’s core objectives of improving democracy and increasing quality of life for our citizens.

It’s great to help all these wonderful minds join together and co-build a community where everyone gets to teach and share. This collaboration with Open Knowledge and the UK Foreign Office is a really amazing stepping-stone for us.

We are starting the programme with meet-ups and then moving to more intense (online and offline) communications and awareness raising events. We hope our tailored workshops will increase the skills of local CSOs, journalists, students, activists or curious citizens to use open data in their work – whether they are trying to expose corruption or find new efficiencies in the delivery of government services.

We can already see the community being built, and the network spreading among Macedonian CSOs and hope that this first project will be part of a more regional strategy to support democratic processes across the Balkan region.”

Read our full report on the project: Improving governance and higher quality delivery of government services in Macedonia through open data


Dona Djambaska, Macedonia.

Dona graduated in the field of Environmental Engineering and has been working with the Metamorphosis foundation in Skopje for the past six years assisting on projects in the field of information society.

There she has focused on organising trainings for computer skills, social media, online promotion, photo and video activism. Dona is also an active contributor and member of the Global Voices Online community. She dedicates her spare time to artistic and activism photography.

Open data for Development Training Starts Tomorrow!

Katelyn Rogers - September 16, 2014 in Open Data, Open Government Data

This is a guest post written by Justyna Krol of the UNDP and originally posted on the UNDP blog.
development

>> Is data literacy the key to citizen engagement in anti-corruption efforts?

Access to open data is transforming the way we live of our lives, and the conversation in our region is just beginning.

Governments are opening their data, joining the Open Government Partnership, and trying to work together with the civil society organizations and the private sector to build an open data ecosystem in their countries.

This Wednesday, public officials from fifteen countries in the region will meet in Istanbul for the Open Data for Social and Economic Development Training.

 

In two days of intensive sessions, we will be discussing a number of pressing topics.

On the day one, the focus will be on the arguments for and against implementation of the open data agenda in the region.

We will look at how best to build an open data ecosystem in the country. Three sessions will provide space to discuss country-specific experiences with opening the data, alongside some of the challenges governments in the region might face.

The second day will be devoted to the technical aspects. We will analyze what it means to really open the data, where to start, and how much does it cost. We will test a few useful tools, and discuss the follow-up to the event for individual countries.

For those of you, who are interested in joining the event online, we are going to live stream the first session delivered by the World Bank on Wednesday (9:00 AM EEST).

A presentation by Oleg Petrov and Andrew Stott will be followed by a panel discussion with experts from Moldova, fYR Macedonia, and Kosovo* sharing their experiences in opening governmental data.

To watch this session, join us the hangout on air or simply play this video:

And of course, we’ll be tweeting!

I am proud to say that the event is co-sponsored by the Partnership for Open Data, which also means that we will have with us fantastic experts and trainers from: the World Bank, the Open Data Institute and the Open Knowledge Foundation. What a treat!

Join us online this Wednesday and Thursday and stay tuned for post-event blog posts and presentations!

 

Matchmakers in Action – Help Wanted

Heather Leson - September 11, 2014 in Community, Events, Ideas and musings

Do you have a skill to share? Want to host an online discussion/debate about an Open Knowledge-like topic? Have an idea for a skillshare or discussion, but need help making it happen? Some of you hosted or attended sessions at OKFest. Why not host one online? At OKFestival, we had an Open Matchmaker wall to connect learning and sharing. This is a little experiment to see if we can replicate that spirit online. We’d love to collaborate with you to make this possible.

photo by Gregor Fischer

How to help with Online Community Sessions:

We’ve set up a Community Trello board where you can add ideas, sign up to host or vote for existing ideas. Trello, a task management tool, has fairly simple instructions.

The Community Sessions Trello Board is live. Start with the Read me First card.

Hosting or leading a Community Session is fairly easy. You can host it via video or even as an editathon or a IRC chat.

  • For video, we have been using G+. We can help you get started on this.
  • For Editathons, you could schedule it, share on your favourite communications channel and then use a shared document like a google doc or an etherpad.
  • For an IRC chat, simply set up a topic, time and trello card to start planning.

We highly encourage you to do the sessions in your own language.

Upcoming Community Sessions

We have a number of timeslots open for September – October 2014. We will help you get started and even co-host a session online. As a global community, we are somewhat timezone agnostic. Please suggest a time that works for you and that might work with others in the community.

In early October, we will be joined by Nika Aleksejeva of Infogr.am to do a Data Viz 101 skillshare. She makes it super easy for beginners to use data to tell stories.

The Data Viz 101 session is October 8, 2014. Register here.

Community Session Conversation – September 10, 2014

In this 40 minute community conversation, we brainstormed some ideas and talked about some upcoming community activities:

Some of the ideas shared including global inclusiveness and how to fundraise. Remember to vote or share your ideas. Or, if you are super keen, we would love it if you would lead an online session.

(photo by Gregor Fischer)

OKFestival 2014: we made it! A write-up & Thank You note

Beatrice Martini - September 5, 2014 in Community, Events, Featured, OKFest, OKFestival

Open Knowledge Festival 2014! We built it, made it and ran it – it was a blast, thank you!

  • 1056 participants from 60 countries
  • 215 facilitators and moderators
  • 17 Programme Team members
  • 70 volunteers

made it all happen. Who says that numbers are dry? Just by writing them down, our hearts are melting.

1

Group work! – Pic by Gregor Fischer

Six weeks have passed since the end of OKFestival 2014, many of you participated in our feedback survey, we all caught up with the lack of sleep and are now hard at work with the public post-event report which will be shared on the festival website in the next few weeks (keep your eyes peeled!).

At the festival, we tried a lot of experiments, and experimenting is both risky and thrilling – and you were up for the challenge! So we thought it was time to take a moment to have a look at what we built together and celebrate the challenges we bravely took on and the outcomes that came out of them (and, yes, there are also learnings from things which could have gone better – is there any event with bullet-proof WiFi? can a country not known to be tropical and not used to air conditioning experience a heat wave on the 2 days out of 365 when you’ll run an event?)

2 Rocking selfies! – Pic by Burt Lum

Summing it up:

  • an event for the whole open movement: we were keen to be the convenor of a global gathering, welcoming participants from all around the world and a multitude of folks from open communities, organisations, small and big NGOs, governments, grassroots initiatives as well as people new to the topic and willing to dive in. We wanted to create an environment connecting diverse audiences, thus enabling a diverse groups of thinkers, makers and activists to come together and collaborate to effect change.

3 Ory Okolloh & Rufus Pollock fireside chat – Pic by Gregor Fischer

  • hands-on and outcome-driven approach: we wanted the event to be an opportunity to get together, make, share and learn with – and from – each other and get ready to make plans for what comes next. We didn’t want the event to be simply wonderful, we also wanted it to be useful – for you, your work and the future of the open movement. We’ve just started sharing a selection of your stories on our blog and more is yet to come this month, with the launch of our public post-OKFestival report, filled out with outcome stories you told us in the weeks after the event – who you met, what did you start to plan, what’s the new project coming out of the festival you’re already working on as we speak!

4 Meeting, talking, connecting! – Pic by Gregor Fischer

  • narrative streams: We made a bold choice – no streams-by-topic, but streams following a narrative. The event was fuelled by the theory that change happens when you bring together knowledge – which informs change – tools – which enable change – and society – which effects change. The Knowledge, Tools and Society streams aimed to explore the work we do and want to develop further beyond the usual silos which streams-by-topic could have created. Open hardware and open science, open government and open sustainability, open culture and open source, arts and privacy and surveillance.

5 Your vote, your voice! – Pic by Gregor Fischer

  • crowd sourced programme and participatory formats and tools (and powerpoints discouraged): We encouraged you to leave the comfort zone with no written presentations to read in sync with slides, but instead to create action-packed sessions in which all participants were contributing with their knowledge to work to be done together. We shared tips and tricks about creation and facilitation of such formats and hosted hangouts to help you propose your ideas for our open call – and hundreds of community members sent their proposals! Also, in the most participatory of the spirits, OKFestival also had its own unconference, the unFestival run by the great DATA Uruguay Team, who complemented our busy core programme with a great space where anyone could pitch and run her/his own emerging session on the spot, to give room and time to great new born ideas and plans. And a shout out also goes to a couple of special tools: our etherpads – according to the OKFestival Pad of Pads 85 pads have been co-written and worked with – and our first code of collaboration which we hope will accompany us also in future ventures!

6 Green volunteering power – always on! – Pic by Gregor Fischer

  • diversity of backgrounds, experiences, cultures, domains: months before we started producing the festival, we started to get in touch with people from all around the world who were running projects we admired, and with whom we’d never worked together before. This guided us in building a diverse Programme Team first, and receiving proposals and financial aid applications from many new folks and countries later on. This surely contributed to the most exciting outcome of all – having a really international crowd of the event, people from 60 countries, speaking dozens of different languages. Different backgrounds enriched everybody’s learning and networking and nurtured new collaborations and relationships.

Wow, that was a journey. And it’s just the beginning! As we said, OKFestival aimed to be the fuel, the kick-off, the inspiration for terrific actions and initiatives to come and now it’s time to hear some of most promising stories and project started there!

You can start having taste following the ever-growing OKFestival Stories article series on our blog and be ready for more, when in the next weeks we’ll publish more outcomes, interviews, quotes and reports from you, the protagonists of it all.

Thank you again, and see you very soon!

Your OKFestival Team

September Community Summit On Air

Heather Leson - September 3, 2014 in Community, Events, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Working Groups

We’re hosting a September Community Call. Join us to discuss a number of community programming ideas and help make a plan. All welcome. okfest by artepilpilean

(Amazing drawing by Artepilpilean)

  • What: September Community Summit On Air
  • Date: Wednesday, September 10th
  • Your Local time:
  • 8:00 – 9:00 EDT, 13:00 – 14:00 BST, 14:00 – 15:00 CEST (Also see worldtimebuddy.com)
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Registration
Draft Agenda
  • Talk about how to implement some of the OKFest Community Summit Outputs
  • Source: )
  • Outline the International Council
  • Plan Fall Community programming (e.g. Skillshares)

Talk Soon!

Get Updates