Fostering open, inclusive, and respectful participation

At Open Knowledge International we have been involved with various projects with other civil society organisations aiming for the release of public interest data, so that anyone can use it for any purpose. More importantly, we focus on putting this data to use, to help it fulfil its potential of working towards fairer and more just societies.

Over the last year, we started the first phase of the project Open Data for Tax Justice, because we and our partners believe the time is right to demand for more data to be made openly available to scrutinise the activities of businesses. In an increasingly globalised world, multinational corporations have tools and techniques to their disposal to minimise their overall tax bill, and many believe that this gives them an unfair advantage over ordinary citizens. Furthermore, the extent to which these practices take place is unknown, because taxes that multinational corporations pay in all jurisdictions in which they operate are not reported publicly. By changing that we can have a proper debate about whether the rules are fair, or whether changes will need to be made to share the tax bill in a different way.

For us at Open Knowledge International, this is an entry into a new domain. We are not tax experts, but instead we rely on the expertise of our partners. We are open to engaging all experts to help shape and define together how data should be made available, and how it can be put to use to work towards tax systems that can rely on more trust from their citizens.

Unsurprisingly, in such a complex and continuously developing field, debates can get very heated. People are obviously very passionate about this, and being passionate open data advocates ourselves, we sympathise. However, we think it is crucial that the passion to strive for a better world should never escalate to personal insults, ad-hominem attacks, or violate basic norms in any other way. Unfortunately, this happened recently with a collaborator on a project. While they made clear they were not affiliated with Open Knowledge International, nevertheless their actions reflected very badly on the overall project and we deeply condemn their actions.

Moving forward, we want to make more explicitly clear what behaviour is and is not acceptable within the context of the projects we are part of. To that end, we are publishing project participation guidelines that make clear how we define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and what you can do if you feel any of these guidelines are being violated. We invite your feedback on these guidelines, as it is important that these norms are shared among our community. So please let us know on our Open Knowledge forum what you think and where you think these guidelines could be improved.

Furthermore, we would like to make clear what the communities we are part of, like the one around tax justice, can expect from Open Knowledge International beyond enforcing the basic behavioural norms that we set out in the guidelines linked above. Being in the business of open data, we love facts and aim to record many facts in the databases we build. However, facts can be used to reach different and sometimes even conflicting conclusions. Some partners engage heavily on social media channels like Twitter to debate conflicting interpretations, and other partners choose different channels for their work. Open Knowledge International is not, and will never be, in a position to be the arbiter on all interpretations that partners make about the data that we publish. Our expertise is in building open databases, helping put the data to use, and convening communities around the work that we do. On the subject matter of, for example, tax justice, we are more similar to those of us who are interested and care about the topic, but would rely on the debate being led by experts in the field. Where we spot abuse of the data published in databases we run, or obvious misrepresentation of the data, we will speak out. But we will not monitor or take a stance on all issues that are being debated by our partners and the wider communities around our projects.

Finally, we strongly believe that the open knowledge movement is best served by open and diverse participation. We aim for the project participation guidelines to spell out our expectations and hope these will help us move towards developing more inclusive and diverse communities, where everyone who wants to participate respectfully feels welcomed to do so. Do you think these guidelines are a step in the right direction? What else do you feel we should be doing at Open Knowledge International? We look forward to hearing from you in our forum.

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