Raminetinati's Corner

A Blog recording the life a Web Scientist

Open Government Data Camp 2011 Day 2

Day two of Open Government Data Camp 2011 kicked off to a swift start, running pretty much on time. First note of the day was Alek Tarkowski assuring the attendees that Warsaw wasn’t all post-industrial, armed with plans of sending everyone to the city for drinks later in the evening. A light-hearted start to the day; perhaps Alek knew the forecast of the keynotes that were to follow.

The keynote speakers opened with Andrew Rasiej, who discussed the problems faced with governments not understanding what technology, let alone Open Data is. Andrew raised a good point with the current development of Government data, why is it called eGov or Gov 2.0, if it is the citizen’s data, which it is, then we need to call it we.gov – it is the people’s data, not the governments. Andrew built upon the themes of Day one, discussing the need to develop a growing community, similar to that of David Eaves, suggesting that we need to mature, and for governments, citizens, and organisations to take notice of Open Data, it needs to have an impact. But how can we achieve this, what are the next steps? A Manifesto, one which promotes completeness, primary, timely, accessible, machine readable, non-discriminatory, non-Propriety, and licence free data; and we can do more! Why not measure the success, and reward excellence, providing feedback to why their work is important. The overall message of this talk is that the Open Data scene has grown well in the last few years, but for it to go forward; it needs agenda, specification and unity.

Next up was Nigel Shadbolt with his keynote on making open government data real. A great introduction, discussing the phenomenal growth of data.gov.uk – within 24 months it has become one of the most successful Open Government Data portals developed, benefiting all part of society, education, transport, crime. But as Nigel then went on to explain, this is not Open Government Data (yet). Scraping Sites for data, dealing with licencing issues, lack of data maintenance – these are things that need to be overcome before this can be called OGD. The solution to this as Nigel suggests, comes back to the theme of the previous keynote, there needs to be an agenda available to guide its development. To achieve real OGD, the right people are needed: developers, designers, businesses, policy makers. The right tools are needed, and finally, every bit of available data must be published. But, as Nigel made it clear, the reason for the success so far is the movement’s agility, and to continue to grow in the same way, simplicity is required. Nigel finished his keynote by pushing for need for contributions from all parts of the Open Data movement, the voice of the community need to be heard.

Tom Steinberg was next, introducing mySociety, an organisation which develops Web sites to provide civic and democratic empowerment to citizens. Tom’s talked followed a similar theme to the previous two, discussing the current problems with Open Government Data, specifically government funded projects. Using Prieto-Martín, Luis de Marcos, Jose Javier Martínez paper regarding the funding of projects by the European Commission, Tom highlighted the fact that projects are over funded, and money is getting thrown away. A very real statistics that stood out was that an average project has 450 active users, funded by 715,000 Euros. With a total of 74 projects, and over 180 million spent, that makes over 115,000 Euros per user. Expressing it like this really illustrates the problems that exist. The underlying theme here is that money is being wasted, there needs to be a development of usable, engaging, and costly e-participation projects. This really draws upon this morning’s talks, agenda and manifestos are key to enable this, ending with Tom saying “we need a new vision”.
Andrew Stott followed this with his talk on how bureaucratic resistance is a major barrier to Open Government Data, listing of a variety of situations which have arisen where ministers have blocked change. Andrew expressed issues of licencing problems, where ministers are taking the licencing principles, and changing them for their own use. He also raised issues regarding the laziness surrounding the release of data, and the “We’ll make the data available when there is demand for it” attitude. Andrews offered a number of pointers to how this can be tackled: including the need to keep open data on the political agenda, the need for real world applications, establishing an ecosystem, and making a common cause with the data industry, pointers which reflect the voices of this morning’s keynote speakers.

Finally, Chris Taggart stepped up to give his speech on the death of Open Data (that’s if nothing is done to fix it!). Chris first introduced OpenCorporates.com, an Open Database containing over 27 million URL’s for companies around the world. However, as Chris argues, this is overshadowed by the small, tightly coupled group of large data owners. These data holders, including companies in the banking and commerce sector lock their data away, and it’s becoming worse. Their holding of the data is becoming tighter and tighter, and threatens the existence of the very nature of Open Data. However, as Chris carries on to express, there are more problems that Open Data is facing, all which point to the relevance of it. Firstly, allowing a top-down agenda, a solution which is non-threatening to the government is taking power away from the individuals within the community that need it. Secondly, there is no critical mass forming, there are silos of open data communities and development, interconnectivity between sites is non-existent. There is also the fight with search engines – they hate Open Data. Replication of data makes Open Data sites look bad, which makes them have had index ratings. Chris also raises the issue that without businesses depending on Open Data, how can it continue to grow? It’s not all doom and gloom, as Chris did offer some key pointers to create change, with the most important being “Don’t be irrelevant”, suggesting a read of 10 Rules for Radicals, a paper by Carl Malumad. Other pointers include building business on Open Data (which Chris urges the community to do ASAP), linking intelligently between sites, and divide the politicians into enablers and blockers, support and praise the enablers, work around the blockers, and go public when necessary. This brought Chris’s presentation and the morning’s keynotes to a close. The theme of agenda and maturity ran through all the talks, steering the discussion of Day 2 to a much more serious direction, Day 1 was about congratulating what has been done so far, Day 2 aimed to offer a realistic view of the work ahead if Open Government Data is to success.

Following a group photo and a (short) coffee break the sessions resumed, with a range of short talks ranging from looking at the directive on the re-use of public sector information, examining metrics for tracking open knowledge creation, to the experiences from TravelHack 2011. An interesting talk was provided by Michael Cross on his experiences of using Open Data within a media company. His experiences mirrored that of what was heard of in the morning keynotes: governments are hard to contact, and when they are available, they aren’t interested. Michael did offer a number of pointers including the need to keep pushing forward, engaging with the enemies, keeping it simple, and finally, if you want to get the attention of the government, put it in writing. The theme of day 2 really is pushing the need for a pro-active, relevant, and forward moving agenda.

Before the lunch break, a number of lightning talks were given, offering a more light-hearted session which was well needed (and received). The talks presented a range of new Open Data portals, technological solutions to engage citizens and politicians, and also ways to track the sustainability of data activities within government data portals.
After lunch (pasta, soup and actimel), the first of two workshop sessions began. Again, a variety of topics were being covered: legal issues within Open Data, cross boarder open data, producing international licences, and looking at grass roots movements. Attending Open… by Andrew Rasiej and Nigel Shadbolt offered a really good debate on what it means for data to be public. There was a lot of input and discussion on this subject, it was obviously a passionate and contentious subject within the community, going off on tangents such as data formats raised by David Eaves, arguing that closed data formats (PDF) are painfully hard to use, especially if man-power available to cleanse the data is limited. A key point was raised during the discussion, what it means to be public – what is the difference between public data, and accessible data? As Tim Davies stated, Access and Public are two different things (especially to the individual). Nigel also raised the issue of making releasing data an embedded practice within government, changing the current culture and environment that exists. The workshop concluded with an overall positive note, with everyone agreeing that no matter what, all the data needs to be released – “badly formatted data is better than no data”

Attending David Eaves workshop on Open Data Day 2011 ended the workshops sessions well, which had a great community spirit running through it. The discussion of hack-a-tons really highlighted the benefits of them – governments pay attention to them; the outcomes produce visible aids for governments to get involved and gain interest in Open Data. Another key point discussed was the need to involve the media in the events, and not only have them there as onlookers, but get them to take part, teach them how to use applications, turn them into data journalists! There was a real sense of community spirit at the end of the workshop, morals were raised again, spirits left high for the closing talk.

Before the closing talk, Mark Gayler from Microsoft gave a talk on their involvement with Open Data, offering a free and open source (!) OGDI platform which uses Windows Azure platform. It offers a simple solution to publish web-formatted data, which can be obtained via a built-in API – Perhaps future development will include machine-readable formats such as RDF?

The closing speeches brought the day nicely to a close (something which I need to do), and the atmosphere was truly positive. Although Day 2 was much more hard hitting, at times even offering a bleak outlook on Open Government Data, the community is now aware of what lies ahead, what work needs to be done, and what can be achieved.


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