Open Steps: Documenting open knowledge in South America

This is the fourth and (so far) final travel-guest blog post from Open Steps, an initiative by two young Berliners Alex (a software developer from Spain) and Margo (a graduate in European politics from France) who decided to leave their daily lives and travel around the world for one year to meet people and organizations working actively in open knowledge related projects, documenting them on their website. Read also the first blog post, the second one and the third one.

Documenting Open Knowledge in South America, the last continent of an enriching one-year research journey.

It is very impressive for us to think that already a year has passed since we left Berlin in July 2013 and began this project that has taken us to so many places in the world. Looking back at the last twelve months and thinking about all what we have experienced, we can only feel honoured and thankful! We enjoyed so much meeting all these amazing persons and collectives, documenting their inspiring initiatives. Definitely, the most important thing we have learnt is the belief that, wherever in the world, applying an “open” approach to our lives (and thinking about common benefit while doing it) can achieve a positive, sustainable and meaningful development of our society.

South America: a fertile environment for Openness

We did not know this when we started our journey but we have had the opportunity to meet and document so many interesting Open Knowledge related projects in this continent that we could not imagine a better context to conclude our project than here in South America. After these last three months in a part of the South-American continent, our conclusion is that the quantity, diversity and scale of open knowledge initiatives here is without doubt big. So big as the distances we have travelled to get from one location to the other …

Chile’s community flourishing

Among the list of countries we have visited worldwide, Chile seems for us one of the countries showing the most diverse panel of open knowledge actors. There, not only the national administration promotes the use of Open Data through different platforms (Open Government initiatives, Open Data portal) but further agencies (INRIA Chile, independent agency for transparency) and groups from the civil society (Poderopedia, Ciudadano Inteligente) are advocating to empower the citizen. Opening and sharing knowledge is already an established practice there, not so strange that one of the most active hackerspaces in South America, STGO Makerspace, found its rooms in the city of Santiago.

Furthermore, we could find on the continent numerous examples of administrations at city level which can be considered as models, being much more advanced than their respective national governments. The first south-american municipality building its Open Data platform was the city of Buenos Aires which has led to successful experiments in Argentina (Bahía Blanca) and other countries (Rio de Janeiro, the both sites Numeros and Data Viva in Belo Horizonte, Municipality of Lima, Peñalolén), not counting further local initiatives still at their initial phase by the time we write these lines.

Argentina coming on the right track

All of them seem pioneers since the national contexts are not everywhere so bright as in Chile. In Argentina, a FOI law is still missing and the government appears to be slow to catch on the great job of both its capital city (above mentioned) and La Nación Data. This team of passionate journalists within La Nación’s newsroom is dedicated to Data journalism: it has its own Open Data platform, has set up many interesting data projects (Gastos del Senato, VozData) and works promoting the use of Open Data for journalistic purposes by organising intern trainings and public events. It is definitely there where we found the most active data journalists! Also to mention the local chapter of HacksHackers in Buenos Aires, one of the biggest in the world and the first one in South America.

Interesting initiatives brewing in Brazil, Peru and Uruguay despite difficult environment

In Brazil, even if we could find an Open Data platform at national level and a site committed to transparency, a lot of improvements have still to be done. But two main facts let us think that the global situation is changing today: first, a “Bill of Rights for the Internet” has finally been approved end of March by the Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies after being rejected nine times since 2012. Secondly, a Brazilian chapter of the OKFN has been created these last months and that gives the best auspices towards more initiatives from the civil society.

In Peru, the national status of Open Knowledge and Open Data is almost non-existent, although there is a FOI law since 2012 and a site devoted to transparency, plus the already mentioned platform of the municipality of Lima. Undoubtedly, the energy of few individuals, journalists included, (gathered in the university hackerspace FabLab Uni to quote only one) as well as the recent creation of local groups who are right now growing (Open Data Perú, HacksHackers Lima) ensure that ideas and projects will soon arise.

The perspectives appears good in Uruguay too, where there is already a momentum towards Openness. Indeed, a FOI law guarantees since 2008 the free access to public data. A governmental Open Data platform was initiated in 2010 by AGESIC, the Uruguayan Agency for E-government, and the site should contain 120 datasets by the end of this year, prioritising quality over quantity. The engagement of the civil society is also remarkable seeing as the citizens group named DATA which works since 2009 on making Open Data more known and efficiently used. They host regular meet-ups in Montevideo for collaborative projects and co-organised last year, together with their fellows from Chile (Ciudadano Inteligente) and Mexico (Socialtic and Fundar), the ABRE LATAM gathering, the first pan-Latinamerican unconference on Open Data and Transparency.

Lots of large events taking place across the region

Because the OK community in South America is so rich, a lot has been done to facilitate their talks and interactions with the aim to learn from the others. In addition to ABRE LATAM, other regional events are regularly organised (as the Uruguayan DataBootcamp we took part in or the annual Mediaparty from the HacksHackers Buenos Aires) and even a pan-Latinamerican Open Data platform has been set up, Open Data Latin America, which was built by Junar, a company which helps administrations and others building their own platform.

FLOK Society: a remarkable initiative made in Ecuador

There is one thing in particular we want to emphasize. Soon after arriving in South America and thanks to Louis Leclerc, we discovered FLOK Society and the “plan of good living” of the Ecuadorian government: Starting in November 2013, a team of ecuadorian and international researchers has been studying how the actual system based on finite resources can be switched towards a future sustained by free knowledge and Open Source paradigms that encourages the commons. The amazing point for us is the support of the Ecuadorian government and the coherence and respect with the local cultural context the project has. Willing to learn more about it and sadly not being able to travel to Ecuador, we managed to speak with Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2PFoundation who is leading the research team at FLOK. He could give us some insights that we shared on the article we published on our website shortly after, which we kindly invite you to read for more details.

Last but not least there are Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador among the list of countries we did not make it to visit but are definitely worth to explore regarding Open Knowledge.

The journey comes to an end but Open Steps has some plans for the future

Since the beginning, our project has been closely related to this amazing journey that was meant to last one year. The twelve months have already passed and now it is time to come back to Berlin. However, Open Steps will keep documenting open knowledge initiatives worldwide, exposing the state of the art in all things open and divulging the principles we believe are making our society better.

Also, if you have been following us, you might know about our Directory, a list of the individuals and organisations actively working in the field. Our intention is to bring this directory to the next level. With it, we aim to raise the visibility of remarkable projects and facilitate the collaboration between activists, hackers, designers, journalists and developers all over the world. Because, as we have experienced during this journey, the OK movement is absolutely global.

Such a project could not end without a big event and we are going to enjoy the opportunity of attending this year’s OKFestival (Berlin, 15th-17th July) to share our experiences. Also, fellows visiting our stand at the OKFair on the 15th will be able to contribute to our directory on the spot, sharing with us relevant projects worth to be documented. Are you going to be there? Come over and say hello!