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A Blog recording the life a Web Scientist
OKFest Recap – Day 1
At the end of Open Government Data Camp (OGDC) 2011, I promised myself that in the following year I would get more involved with the Open Data community, fast forward a year (well just about) and OKFest 2012 has just began, and this year, I’m helping run a session for Academic Research interested in the impacts of Open Data (Not so much a shameless plug as it’s on my blog).
OKFest kicked off to a brilliant (and timely start), attending only OGDC means I have only that to compare it to, but this year, instead of the Warsaw warehouse – which was brilliant in itself – OKFest is being held in the Arabia Campus at the Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland. A clever, complex building, with galleries, cinemas, auditoriums and hangout spaces (and also some elevators that don’t arrive at the expected floor); the venue this year definitely lives up to last year’s location, and this time, I’m not having to wear a coat inside (for those that were not there last year, heaters were required constantly).
As by tradition, Rufus opened up the Plenary, offering some important advice to the current Open Data and Information climate; the original challenge of obtaining the information is now underway and to some extent (but still requires work) is being achieved. The challenge now faced is how to use the information, and how to use it effectively – a key message, that appeared to lay the foundations for the rest of the day.
Following Rufus was Martin Tisne, who discussed his experience with working with government to become more open and also his current work at Omidyar, pushing transparency and driving change at the government level. Martin’s presentation drove home some really important messages, especially in regards to data engagement and use; open government (data) is great, but only when people use it. One of the most important questions is why do people use it, and what can be done to increase engagement? On the other side of this, Martin also raised questions about how data should be opened, and suggests two paths, hacking out the data, or working with government, setting up standards (which was discussed in the following sessions), and working with the right stakeholders. As Martin wrapped up, he left us with some really good thinking points, open data needs to be recognised as an ecosystem, and by getting everyone (technologists, developers, civil servants, businesses, citizens) will improve its chances of growth and success.
Next up was Farida Vis, with a lighter start to her presentation (yet, with a serious message), discussing the publication of UK Allotment data (or the lack of it). As Farida explained, allotment data may not be sexy, but it’s important, perhaps not for government (although I’m sure that they could use that data to explore the relationship between areas with higher concentrations of vegetable allotments tend and local greengrocers), but it’s important for the individuals that own, run, or request an allotment. Farida also emphasised the point that this data is the product of individuals, the data holders are not central or local government, and this needs to be recognised. The second part of the presentation examined Farida’s work on analysing the London riots and associated social media streams, demonstrating the power of (big) data – which did raise the question about the relationship between open data and social media data. This is a question that definitely needs addressing, especially with the changing tides of Terms and Conditions, and restrictions of data collection and archiving.
After a short coffee break the second, OKFest attendees had a choice between 12 topic streams ranging from the likes of Open Government, Open Cities, Sustainability, Cultural Heritage, Data Journalism, just to name a few. Having all these tracks is amazing and has really brought diversity to the Festival, however the only downside to it (a human constrain unfortunately) is that one can only attend a single session at a time – I suppose it is possible to watch all steams simultaneously via webcast, but my battery life was bad enough as it is!
Attending the Transparency and Accountability session, the first talk in the Open Government Data movements and Related Initiatives session was given by Teemu and Salla, providing an overview of the activities of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Finland. It was great to see that more and more countries and getting involved with the OGP, and also the speed to which this is happening. The draft roadmap for Finland’s commitment to the OGP is set to be completed by early 2013, and as Teemu and Salla suggested; the current plans are still in draft, so suggestions for improvements are more than welcome. A number of take away points that was brought up during this presentation strongly resembled that of last year’s OGDC, pointing out that Open Government is not just about Open Data, it is the process that surrounds it, and also how governments need to adapt to the way citizens and businesses participant with Open Data. These are important messages, and tie nicely with the points Martin raised about Open Data as an ecosystem in the opening session.
The second talk of the session was given by Marta Nagy-Rothengass from the European Commission on the vision and strategy of Europe’s Data. Marta drove a strong message about the EU’s drivers for Open Data, arguing the case for better business and economic opportunities and also improved and more appropriate governance and policies. It was great to see that revisions in the EU commission re-use decision see’s the drive towards machine-readable formats, and also the use of licences that enable a genuine right to re-use. Marta also discussed the launch of the new EU data portal which aims to be publically available by 2013, a new hub for European-wide data!
To close the session, a number of quick-fire (and when I say quick, 2 minutes or less!) presentations were given providing an update on the progress of Open Government in a wide variety of countries, including (wait for it): Uruguay, Italy, Nigeria, UK, Slovakia, Argentina, Brazil, Kenya, France South Africa, Australia, Czech Republic, Holland, Canada, Ireland, Spain, US, Israel, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, and also a talk by Chris Taggart from Open Corporates. These ranged from a number of positive to not so great updates, yet often shared the common problem of how to gain and sustain the commitment of stakeholders needed for OGD success (typically the government and citizens). However there was an overall sense of growth in OGD around the world, and it was great to hear such a wide mix of countries reporting on their efforts so far.
That wrapped the morning up, and lunch very quickly became a hotbed for discussions about the morning’s sessions, catching up with colleagues, and frantically finding a socket to charge laptops.
Attending the second Transparency and Accountability session on Open Government Standards provided a great way to kick off the afternoon. The panel, consisting of Martin, Jose Alonso, John Wonderlich, and Rufus gave a diverse set of talks about the development of Standards for Open Government. Martin kicked off with thoughts about standards can offer a practical way for OGD to grow, and how technical standards are important, but at the same time can become barriers, or silos between organisations or governments. Questions were also raised about how the development of standards for Metadata, how should this move forward, is a global standard required?
Jose followed this with a talk about the Web Foundation Open Data Index, a project which recently launched, accessing 61 different countries in terms 14 different indicators of Open Data. It was great to see the start of a cross-comparison and ranking system for countries involved in OGD, perhaps offering an incentive to improve Open Data standards and increase the publication of data. More information about this project can be found here: http://www.webfoundation.org/projects/the-web-index/
Reflecting the morning sessions, John’s talk drove home the message that Open Data is much more than releasing data, it is allowing citizens to connect with their government, allowing them to know how their country, city, region, or town functions. Open Data should be about empowering citizens using data, technologies and applications, and more so, it needs to reflect the needs of society, just as Martin said previously, it needs to be part of an ecosystem which is constantly evolving and adapting.
Finally Rufus rounded up the panel’s presentations with a strong message that opening data is not a process that has an end, it is something that needs to continue to happen. Yes, we currently have a good amount of data, but this must continue to grow, commitment from stakeholders are required if the OGD initiatives are to continue to develop. Aligned to the idea of the ecosystem, Open Data is part of a 2 part process, opening data, and using the data – and now there needs to be focus on using the data efficiently, and this is partly done by putting the data in the hands of the citizens. As Rufus pointed out, the Open Data community has matured, and the pitfalls and issues that have become apparent during the years need to be reflected on and learnt from. Hard work is still required for Open Data to continue to grow and using measurements, clear principles and standards will help this.
The floor was then open up for questions, provoking the question (which was asked in the morning session) about opening 100% of government data up. It was great to see the panel agree that not all data should be opened up, and for obvious reasons, some data, such as health data is too sensitive for public consumption (yet some would argue against this). An important question was also raised about the barriers that standards may introduce, with an agreement that there needs to be some level of standards (both technical and social), but the most important thing is to get the data out there (as long as it isn’t in PDF…)! Rufus also made an important point about governments worrying about the return of investment as a result of publishing data; in the past, money was spent in the technology sector without the guarantee that there would be any economic gain or ROI, Open Data needs to be approached with the same mind set, and growth takes time. As Andrew Stott suggested, try and make the case for Closed Data and see what benefits and ROI it provides.
The session came to a close on a positive note, and was a reflection of the morning’s attitude towards the current state of development of Open Government and Open Data. There is definitely a positive buzz and energy within the community this year, and hopefully this continues to grow with day 2 of OKFest.
Just for your amusement, I’ve done a quick network analysis of the #OKFest Tweets from Day 1, the graph below shows the retweet network, with the red nodes being users that have been retweeted 75 times or more. For more information about the colour coding, have a read of this: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2187980.2188256
The other statistics are for your amusement as well, enjoy!