Monthly Archives: February 2016

Join the Open Data Services Co-operative team…

Open_Data_Services_logos_1

[Summary: Developer and analysts jobs with a workers co-operative committed to using open data for social change]

Over the last year I’ve had the immense pleasure of getting to work with a fantastic group of colleagues creating ‘Open Data Services Co-operative‘. It was created in recognition of the fact that creating and using distributed open data requires ongoing labour to develop robust platforms, support publishers to create quality data, and help users access data in the forms they need.

Over the last year we’ve set up ongoing support systems for the Open Contracting Data Standard and 360Giving, and have worked on projects with NCVO, NRGI and the Financial Transparency Coalition, amongst others – focussing on places where open data can make a real difference to governance, accountability and participation. We’ve been doing that with a multidisciplinary team, combining the capacity to build and maintain technical tools, such as CoVE, which drives an accessible validation and data conversion tool, with a responsive analysis team – able to give bespoke support to data publishers and users.

And we’ve done this as a workers co-operative, meaning that staff who joined the team back in October last year are now co-owners of the company, sharing in setting it’s direction and decision making over how we use co-op resources to provide a good working environment, and further our social goals. A few weeks back we were able to vote on our first profit distributions, committing to become corporate sponsors of a number of software projects and social causes we support.

The difference that being organised as co-op makes was particularly brought home to me at a recent re-union of my MSc course: where it seemed many others have graduated into a start-up economy which is all about burning through staff, with people spending months rather than years in jobs, and constantly having dealing with stressful workloads. Operating as a workers co-op challenges us to create good and sustainable jobs.

Any that’s what we’re trying to do again now: recruiting for two new people to join the team.

We’re looking for a developer to join us, particularly someone with experience of managing technical roadmaps for projects; and we’re looking for someone to work with us as an analyst – combining a focus on policy and technology, and ready to work on outreach and engagement with potential users of the open data standards we support.

You can find more details of both roles over on the Open Data Services website, and applications are open until 14th March.

Practical Participation – 2016 update

pp-logo-2014-alpha-largeAlthough this year my primary focus is on PhD write-up, I’m still keeping active with the two companies I’ve co-founded. So, a couple of updates – firstly, the annual Practical Participation newsletter, compiled by Jennie Fleming.

Practical Participation 2016 – looking back and looking ahead

We wanted to get in contact with you with our annual update of what we are doing at Practical Participation. Tim, Bill and Jennie – are a team with complementary skills, backgrounds and interests and have extensive experience in a range of areas. If you are interested in working with any of the team, do please contact them personally to discuss how we can work together.  

Over the last year, Tim has been working on incubating and spinning out a couple of open data and engagement projects. 2015 started with Practical Participation acting as host to newly formed technical help-desk services for the Open Contracting Data Standard, and 360 Giving standard for philanthropy data. Those are now transferred over to a new workers co-operative, Open Data Services, where a growing team is supporting work to open up data for public good across the world. Tim also spent a large part of 2015 working on the International Open Data Conference (IODC) in Ottawa. His main role was facilitating an ‘action track’ – running a participatory process to bring together threads of discussion at the conference into a global roadmap for open data collaboration. The result is available online here. He’s continued to support the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition  (GODAN) network, working with the team on inputs to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit in Mexico last October, and on a range of other research projects. 

Also at the OGP Summit, Tim co-hosted a workshop on the development resources to support the implementation of the recently launched International Open Data Charter. Over 2016 he’ll be working with the Open Data Charter network to support the creation of ‘Sector Packages’, showing key ways open data can make a difference in anti-corruption, amongst other places. You can contact Tim at tim@practicalparticipation.co.uk.

Jennie’s been continuing her evaluation work with the Children’s Society Young Carers in Focus project and Enthusiasm youth projects. She also undertook a review of the work of the Youth Team at Trafford Housing Trust. The review considered the activity and impact of the youth team to learn from the previous years’ work and to inform proposals for the future. With Practical Participation associate Sarah Hargreaves and young advisor Ruth Taylor she undertook research for Heritage Lottery Fund about youth involvement in decision making about a new grant programme they are establishing. The report reviewed current good practice in the area and set out models for how young people could be meaningfully involved in the decision making processes for the grants.

Jennie is also providing non-line managerial support to the Youth and Community team at Valley House and the youth worker at The Nottingham Refugee Forum. With CRAE’s merger with Just for Kids Law she is now a Trustee of Just for Kids Law and the Chair of the Policy and Strategic Litigation sub-committee. If you think Jennie’s skills and expertise could be useful to you – do get in contact with her jennie@practicalparticipation.co.uk

Bill’s main focus is supporting four local communities as part of the resident-led Lottery funded Big Local programme of £1m over ten years in 150 neighbourhoods in England. Each area has built a dynamic community conversation as the foundation for their plans. Each is seeing great outcomes for residents across a range of priorities they themselves have set. It’s an exciting and replicable model of community empowerment and control

Work relating to Children and Young People Improving Access to Psychological Services has taken Bill back to Rotherham, with a focused piece of work scoping children and young people’s voice and influence in mental health services and offering a practical model to help map and plan improvement. 

Bill remains involved with a number of youth services and especially with youth work within the Housing sector, facilitated by Joe Rich of Affinity Sutton. Youth services continue their freefall with occasional glimmers of hope as in Brighton where the worst of cuts were averted in part we hope through our support to young people’s voices being heard.

Work with young carers has continued through partnership with The Children’s Society and Carers Trust in the Making a Step Change programme. Working across a number of local authorities is a reminder of the power of the voice of experience, coupled with vital leadership and management.

And finally, Bill continues as a practice educator with three social work students this last year, helping retain the vital focus on quality of direct inter-personal practice.

A workshop on open data for anti-corruption

Last autumn the International Open Data Charter was launched, putting forward six key principles for governments to adopt to pursue an ‘open by default’ approach to key data.

However, for the Charter to have the greatest impacts requires more than just high-level principles. As the International Open Data Conference explored last year, we need to focus on the application of open data to particular sectors to secure the greatest impact. That’s why a stream of work has been emerging to develop ‘Sector Packages’ as companion resources to the International Open Data Charter.

The first of these is focussing on anti-corruption. I’ve been supporting the Technical Working Group of the Charter to sketch a possible outline for this in this consultation document, which was shared at the G20 meeting last year. 

To build on that we’ve just launched a call for a consultant to act as co-ordinating author for the package (closing date 28th Jan – please do share!), and a few weeks back I had the chance to drop into a mini-workshop at DFID to share an update on the Charter, and talk with staff from across the organisation about potential areas that the anti-corruption package should focus on. 

Slides from the talk are below, and I’ve jotted down some brief notes from the discussions as well. 

Datasets of interest

In the session we posed the question: “What one dataset would you like to see countries publish as open data to address corruption?”

The answers highlight a range of key areas for exploration as the anti-corruption sector package is developed further. 

1) Repository of registered NGOs and their downstream partners – including details of their bank accounts, board, constitution and rules etc.

This kind of data is clearly useful to a donor wanting to understand who they are working with, or considering whether to work with potential partners. But it is also a very challenging dataset to collate and open. Firstly, many countries either lack comprehensive systems of NGO registration, or have thresholds that mean many community-level groups will be non-constituted community associations rather than formally registered organisations. Secondly, there can be risks associated with NGO registration, particularly in countries with shrinking civil society space, and where lists of organisations could be used to increase political control or restrictions on NGO activity. 

Working these issues through will require thought about where to draw the lines between open and shared data, and how organisations can pool their self-collected intelligence about partnr organisations, whilst avoiding harms, and avoiding the creation of error-prone datasets where funding isn’t approved because ‘computer says no’. 

2) Data on the whole contracting chain – particularly for large infrastructure projects.

Whilst issolated pockets of data on public contracts often exist, effort is needed to join these up, giving a view of the whole contracting chain. The Open Contracting Data Standard has been developing the technical foundations for this to happen, and work is not beginning to explore how it might be used to track the implementation of infrastructure projects. In the UK, civil society are calling for the next Open Government National Action Plan to include a committment to model contract clauses that encourage contractors to disclose key information on subcontracting arrangements, implementation milestons and the company’s beneficial owners.

3) Identifying organisations and the people involved

The challenge of identifying the organisations who are counterparty to a funding transaction or a contract is not limited to NGOs. Identifying government agencies, departments, and the key actors within them, is also important. 

Government entity identifiers is a challenge the International Aid Transparency Initiative has been grapling with for a few years now. Could the Open Data Charter process finally move forward some agreement on the core data infrastructure describing the state that is needed as a foundation for accountability and anti-corruption open data action?

4) Beneficial ownership

Benefial ownership data reveals who is ultimately in control of, and reaping the profits from, a company. The UK is due to publish an open beneficial ownership register for the first time later this year – but there is still much to do to develop common standards for joined-up data on beneficial ownership. For example, the UK register will capture ownership information in bands at 25%, 50% and 75%, where other countries are exploring either detailed ownership percentage publication, or publication using other, non-overlapping bands. Without co-ordination on interoperability, potential impacts of beneficial ownership open data may be much harder to secure. 

5) Localised datasets and public expenditure tracking data

In thinking about the ‘national datasets’ that governments could publish as part of a sector package for anti-corruption, it is also important to not lose sight of data being generated and shared at the local level. There are lots of lessons to learn from existing work on Public Expenditure Tracking which traces the disbursement of funds from national budgets, through layers of administration, down to local services like schools. With the funding flows posted on posters on the side of school buildings there is a clearer answer to the question: “What does this mean to me?”, and data is more clearly connected with local citizen empowerment. 

Where next

Look out for updates about the anti-corruption sector package on the Open Data Charter website over the first part of 2016.