Raminetinati's Corner

A Blog recording the life a Web Scientist

OKFest 2012 – Day 2

Following the same manner as the previous day, Day 2 kicked off to a timely start, with the session hosted by Jarmo Eskelinen. The session, which featured 3 invited speakers including Philip Thigo, Carlos Rossel, and Ville Peltola offered a fresh set of ideas for a new day at OKFest, with an increase in focus towards the changing world, and the impacts that Open Data is and will continue to have on society.

Philip’s talk, which focused on the transformation of Kenya was inspiring yet grounded in a number of serious issues. Kenya itself if a country of mixed wealth, as Philip explained, in a distance of less than 20km there exist two extremes in living conditions, education, and basic human standards. Yet it appears that these issues are superseded by things that perhaps are less important (to those that require the help the most). As Philip rightfully said, the current challenges in Kenya are not being addressed, they are being swept under the carpet, something that needs to change. A key point raised was Kenya (and other countries) need to be addressing needs, and not creating demand, which undoubtedly, are not there. Open Data is a key component within this environment of change, empowering citizens, but also providing the state with capacity to respond when required. When asked what is the biggest opportunity that Open Data will provide for developing countries, Philip replied with a very important message – it will provide a voice for the people.

Carlos Rossel, from the World Bank was up next, providing an update on the World Bank’s commitment towards Openness, which not only involves the opening up of datasets that individuals once paid for, but also the openness of their own records, how the organisation is run, finance, etc. It was great to see the World Bank’s data portal and the increase in Web Traffic (>2 million ) since the development of their Open Data portal. If there was one key message that really stood out from this presentation was 3 words, Results, Accountability, and Openness, which as Carlos suggested, needs to be conceptualised as Openness, Accountability, and Results. This workflow (or iterative process) is something that needs to be embraced by all, openness is truly the first step to enable transparency, accountability, adoption, change and growth to happen. However, as day one of OKFest demonstrated, and I’m sure the other days will follow a similar path, the strive towards openness is a complex, long-term journey.

The final presentation was given by Ville Peltola from IBM, discussing the interested topic of Smart Cities and the Three I’s: Instrumented, Interconnected and Intelligent. Some really insightful ideas were provided by Ville, especially with the conceptualisation of cities of complex network of systems, which all operate together, adapting, influencing and competing with each other. A little off topic, but this kind of conceptualisation of systems is something that I’ve been researching, looking at how we can understand complex networks of technologies, humans and artefacts as network of Actor-Networks, all interconnected and co-evolving around each other. Ville’s comment regarding the problems of taking a reductionalistic approach also played well to these concepts; understanding the overall function of a network becomes increasingly difficult if the macro becomes obscured. Ville provided much food for thought, and closed with an important statement which brings back the discussion to the need for open data – “People are the most important part of systems” (although slightly socially deterministic), and with open data, smart cities are one step closer to achieving their goals.

After the short coffee break and a difficult decision to which session to attend, The Transparency and Accountability session on Corporate Transparency, Corruption and Open Data looked exciting, especially with two presentations by Chris Taggart and Rosie Sharpe.

Chris was first to present, with an update on OpenCorperates, something that has come on a long way since I last saw it at OGDC in Warsaw last year. However, before this, Chris provided a useful insight into the complexities of company structures, how they are complex networks of networks, interconnected, self-looping (potentially). Furthermore, these are growing in complexity, scale, and opacity. As Chris suggested, this leads to many problems, and most important perhaps is obscurity for the bad guys, those who are committing illegal or even unethical activity. As Chris said, it is easy for the bad guys to get lost in the crowd, but open data helps reduce this crowd down to something manageable, increasing the chance of at least identifying who and where they are. OpenCorperates is helping achieve this, with the sole aim to provide an entry for every corporate entity in the world, and is underpinned by 5 key elements: An Open Identifying system (using URI’s), simple search capabilities, Sources for additional information, Reconciliation, and importantly, a platform which provides access to all this information via simple, yet powerful API’s. It was great to see that in over 20 months, OpenCorperates has grown significantly, with over 45 million companies now listed, and increasing support from those providing the data. If this was achieved in only 20 months, let’s see what 2013 brings!

Rosie Sharpe from Global Witness followed Chris’s presentation, with an important discussion on why companies need to publish who they are. A number of case studies were listed regarding the dealings of large, western banks and corrupt government and their ministers, demonstrating the problems with companies being able to hide who they are, which is facilitating the process of hiding illegal activities such as money laundering. Rosie’s concise overview of how money laundering works really demonstrated the simplicity of the process, and the loopholes which exist to make it possible. Rosie’s closing point really was an important one, if society thinks (and prosecutes with a long term sentence) Fake ID’s are a crime, then why can companies hide behind fake ID’s, and be prosecuted with the risk of losing their personal assets? The final quote that Rosie provided is something that we should all consider:

“Anyone registering a limited company should have to declare the names of the real people who ultimately own it, wherever they are, and report any changes, lying about this should be a crime” – The Economist, January 2012

That was the end of the morning sessions, lunch arrived, and unfortunately I had to attend an external call, missing some of the afternoon sessions. However as before I’ve had been tracking the Twitter stream (which I will provide a dynamic video of its growth at the end), and similar to yesterday here are some interesting visualisation of both Day 1 and 2 of the #OKFest twitter stream.

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