I had initially assumed that I would be unable to attend the International Open Data Conference (IODC) 2016 due to lack of funding. Fortunately, Open Knowledge International (OKI) chose me to join the IODC unconference (and thank you IDRC/OD4D for sponsoring my trip) to represent and share the perspective of Sinar Project, one of our collaborative projects. So, props to OKI for being such a generous sport in flying a person from the other side of the globe to IODC in Madrid. It was my first physical attendance to IODC (and my first time in continental Europe!). Based on my experiences at IODC16 as a participant, volunteer facilitator and volunteer notetaker, I would like to share some ideas on how we can improve the IODC conference format for 2018 in Argentina.

From the point of view as a female hijabi southeast Asian-born person of colour who works in a civil society organisation based in Southeast Asia, I see that international conferences such as IODC often lack two fundamental aspects:
1. Diversity
2. Inclusiveness
I am aware that IODC is meant to be a meeting point for the global community to debate and study the future of open data. However, when it comes to “Global Goals, Local Impact” (the theme of this year’s conference), there are a number of aspects of the conference which hinder its ability to be inclusive and diverse from the beginning. Diversity and inclusiveness can and should act as the foundation of IODC, balancing at the same time cost-effectiveness and hopefully, sustainability.

Here are some ideas (or a proposal for a session in IODC18) –
To promote global participation and sustainable discussion for the future of open data, remote participation is crucial for communities who are unable to attend the conference physically. Even though face to face interaction is the best way for communication and decision making, physical participation comes with a high price to cover incurred costs for travel, accommodation and per diem.

Following are four points that we, as the global, digital & data driven community, need to consider when we talk actively about diversity and inclusiveness while supporting communities who are facing difficulties in constraint environments.

Are we really inclusive? (Image: IODC16)

1. The element of remote

The Open Data field has many challenges to deal with, as well as strategies and shared experiences. Wouldn’t the discussion be more thought provoking when sessions are adaptable for remote panels where anybody and everybody from around the world can contribute their input in the session? We don’t need to eliminate the panel format entirely, but there should be a flexibility where panel format can be changed from its traditional form to reduce the interaction of barriers between moderator(s), speaker(s) and audiences. For an example of this in practice, the Data + Accountability I session was in an un-panel format. The un-panel format is the opposite of panel format where there are more live interaction and feedback from the attendees/participants with speakers and moderators. This format is done off the stage and most of the discussion made in a circle. This allows better knowledge sharing.

As a requirement, I propose at least three moderators to able to moderate the discussions in verbal and in written because handling participants from around the world are challenging. Best example found so far: The Open Exchange Facilitation workshop. The flow of the workshop was moderated by three people (2 of which were monitoring actively in the chat room) with very clear participant guidelines, and it was done in remotely via GoToMeeting. Additionally, careful planning is crucial to allow smooth operation throughout this session.

When it comes to igniting discussions and encouraging feedback, diverse participants are important in making the discussion itself more inclusive.

For example, who would have known that a country like Malaysia would benefit from applying social audit approaches practiced in Kenya to hold the decision makers accountable?

2. Outreach & Capacity Building

As a follow-up to point 1, we have to approach the right target group(s) that are reliable and responsive in respective projects while sharing common goals.

I echoed this point in an article on the creation of elites, how can you address the repetition of participation of small groups of elites that claim to represent the minorities and the communities in their respective country/region? Following are four groups that we, the open data community, need to consider approaching particularly: non-tech skilled persons that have experiences in rights-based issues, tech experienced individuals, intermediaries, and beneficiaries.

Nany in the unconference discussing capacity building (image: IODC16)

3. Window shopping

This is not just any a typical kind of window shopping. This is window shopping for funding. Can IODC be more than just a one-off meeting point? Wouldn’t it be great if some percentage of the conference budget allocated to fund projects at the end of the conference? There is another way to have an added value for IODC: fund small scale & measurable open data projects by regions. This is where organisers of sessions participate with a mission to not just bring ideas and share it with the world but to make it come to life in small projects. IODC can become a platform where organisers of sessions begin to experiment their ideas that can really lead to social change.

4. Measurement of progress

In supporting all of the points above, we need to look at two aspects of measuring the growth of our target groups: period to measure progress (minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 2 years) and milestones for both achievements and failures. More importantly, we must ensure there are suitable mechanisms for capacity building. There should be an expectation set to allow organisers to evaluate progress. This progress should be shared with IODC organisers, attendees and the rest of the world.

Furthermore, in the proposed session on diversity and inclusivity, we can discuss further:
– Barriers of participation for remote participants and panels/facilitators
– Best practices in collecting feedbacks before and after participating IODC
– Is a centralized hub a useful contribution for remote participation? Are there any existing examples?
– Ways to attract new participants and panels/facilitators
There is a need for capacity building internally and externally so the open data community can ensure local communities understand the importance of open data. This will entail further training/coaching people to make use of open data, putting the pressure on policy makers to implement better National Action Plans, improving Freedom of Information policy, and a renewed focus on better open government policy. Therefore, let’s spare some energy to make IODC more inclusive and diverse through remote participation and see how we can grow together collectively as a movement.

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Program Officer, Open Data, Sinar Project, Malaysia

2 thoughts on “How we, as Open Data community, can improve International Open Data Conference (IODC) together?”

  1. Thanks for such a thoughtful post! I’m a big fan of remote attendance at conferences too. It does take effort to make it work, but the additional costs pay off in increased engagement and awareness. (Some of the effort helps with other things anyway – eg having good microphones/cameras in a session helps with archiving as well as live sharing.)

    One of the best remote-supporting conferences I’ve attended has been that of Sakai, an open source education system, where technologists and educators collaborate. The virtual/remote side of the conference is fully recognised and supported effectively with multiple tools/platforms and people. Definitely worth a look for inspiration.

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