Category Archives: Quick linking

Upcoming talks: October/November 2014

[Summary: quick links to upcoming talks]

The next month is shaping up to be a busy one with project deadlines, and lots of interesting opportunities to share reflections on research projects from the last year. Below are details of a few talks and activities I’m involved in over the coming weeks:

29th October 2014: ICT for Transparency, Accountability and Anti-Corruption: Incentives and Key Features for Implementation (Webinar)

Tomorrow (29th October) at 2pm BST (10am EST) I’ll be sharing an outline of the paper I wrote with Silvana Fumega that was published earlier this year, questioning how the motivations of government in adopting open government ICTs may affect the way those ICTs are implemented and the effects they can have, as well as looking at the different factors that shape adoption and implemention of these technologies. The session will also include Savita Bailur, sharing brand new research into the mySociety Alavateli platform for FOI requests, and it’s use around the world.

The session will consist of short presentations, followed by an opportunity for discussion.

Registration to take part is open here.

25th November 2014: Unpacking open data: power, politics and the influence of infrastructures

I’ll be back at the Berkman Center to talk about some of my research from the last year, and to explore some of the new directions my work on open data is taking. Here’s the blurb for the talk:

“Countries, states & cities across the globe are embracing the idea of ‘open data': establishing platforms, portals and projects to share government managed data online for re-use. Yet, right now, the anticipated civic impacts of open data rarely materialise, and the gap between the promise and the reality of open data remains wide. This talk, drawing on a series of empirical studies of open data around the world, will question the ways in which changing regimes around data can reconfigure power and politics, and will explore the limits of current practice. It will consider opportunities to re-imagine the open data project, not merely as one of placing datasets online, but as one that can positively reshape the knowledge infrastructures of civic life.”

The talk will be webcast, but if you happen to be in Cambridge, MA, you can also join in person at the Berkman Center over lunch. More details and in-person sign-up is here.

November 4th 2014: Sheffield iSchool Seminar

I’ll be joining Jo Bates and Danny Antrobus at the Sheffield iSchool for a seminar on open data theory of practice. Taking place at 1pm. More info should be up soon on the iSchool blog, and the blurb of what I’ll be talking on is below:

“Open data had rapidly become a global phenomena, driven both both top-down policy transfer, and bottom-up demands for greater access to vital information. Drawing on research from the Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC) project, which has supported case-study research into open data use and impacts in 12 countries across the global South, this presentation will explore how far the models for open government data that are promoted through global institutions are aligned with the needs and realities of different communities around the world. By moving beyond a ‘narrow model’ of open data, focused on datasets, portals and apps, a richer picture of both the potential and the pitfalls of particular approaches to opening up data can be uncovered. “

November 18th 2014: Launch of the Open Contracting Data Standard

At the Open Government Partnership regional meeting in Costa Rica, I’ll be joining with the team who have been working on prototyping a data standard for public contracting to see the public release of the standard launched, and I hope to engage in conversation about how to keep developing it further in open and collaborative ways.

Youth Participation in Norway

[Summary: A quick link to live-blogging from Northern Norway]

I’m currently in Northern Norway with students and staff from the Web Science Doctoral Training Centre in Southampton (where my PhD is based), preparing to take part in the bi-annual Dyroy Seminar. Dyroy is a coastal community of around 1,200 people, formerly a fishing and farming community – but now facing challenges of population decline as many increasingly move to urban areas.

The bi-annual Dyroy Seminaret  provides an opportunity for the community to come together to explore key issues, and this year is focussing on youth participation. We’ll be tweeting all day on the dyroy hashtag, and hopefully the event will also be webcast (though possibly in Norwegian). So, if you’re interested in how remote and coastal communities are exploring key issues of youth participation, follow us on twitter or join the webcast, or view the latest on Cover It Live below.

Find links to more coverage over on the Web Science DTC blog.

 

Guest post: What does ‘open knowledge’ have to do with ‘open development’?

Or, why international development practitioners should make a date with OKFest.

After a bit of guest blogging around the web myself this week, I thought it was time to feature a guest post over here. This time from the fantastic Linda Raftree of Plan International, who writes about the upcoming Open Knowledge Festival and the open development track we’re co-organising…


Linda Raftree

The Open Knowledge Festival (OKFest) happens this September 17-22 in Helsinki, Finland with the theme Open Knowledge in Action. OKFest will explore the benefits of opening up knowledge and information, look at the ecosystems of organisations that can benefit from openness, and discuss the impact that more transparency can have in our societies. OKFest will run 13 key Topic Streams, one of which will focus on the topic of ‘Open Development’.

So what does ‘open knowledge’ have to do with ‘open development’? And why are people putting the word ‘open’ in front of everything these days?

Well, in addition to being a bit of a buzz word or trend, the idea behind ‘open’ is that making data and information more accessible and less restricted can enhance transparency, accountability, sharing, and collaboration. This in turn can benefit development processes. (See this post for ideas on how openness and information literacy links with participatory governance, for example.)

As Matthew Smith, a strong proponent of ‘open development,’ says, ‘openness’ is not a new concept, especially with respect to development theory. Democracy and participation represent an opening up of decision-making processes to more people. Transparency and accountability are about opening up organizations, people and processes to scrutiny and feedback.

The Internet and new ICTs such as mobile phones play a big part in the idea of ‘open’ since these platforms and tools can allow data and information to be shared more freely and widely. The concept of ‘open development’ according to Smith is enhanced by ICTs when it favors:

  • Universal over restricted access to communication tools and information. For example, access to the telecommunications infrastructure through a mobile phone or access to online [educational] content or government information.
  • Universal over restricted participation in informal and formal groups/institutions. For example, the use of SMS to mobilize political protests or new e-government implementations that provide increased transparency and new accountability arrangements.
  • Collaborative over centralized production of information, cultural content, and physical goods. For example, collaborative production of school textbooks, co-creation of government services, mesh networks.

Attitudes and behaviors also play a part in ‘openness.’ Smith notes that egalitarianism and sharing are two core concepts within ‘openness:’

  • Egalitarianism suggests an equal right to participate (access, use and collaborate).
  • Sharing is embedded in the idea of enhanced access to things that were otherwise normally restricted. This enhanced access is often motivated by the normative desire to share – whether through an obligation to contribute to the common good or to participate in a coordinated or collaborative activity.

Policies, practices and philosophies that allow data and information to be shared are also a part of ‘open’. Tim Davies explains ‘open data‘ as:

  • a set of policies and practices – open data should be accessible (online); standardized (in a common format) and reusable (open licenses)
  • a response to how tech and society is changing –  bandwidth is growing, there is more capacity to share and analyze data, people want to do things for themselves and analyze information for themselves rather than have someone do it for them.
  • a tendency towards new combinations of data – seen in ‘mash-up’ websites where people pull data from different sources, combine it with other sources, add crowd-sourced information and maps, etc.
  • a philosophy or movement – there is a push to open information and access to knowledge because information is power; there is a tendency toward greater collaboration, transparency and collaboration

The Open Development stream at OKFest will explore ways that openness can help address key development challenges, from reducing poverty to improving access to education and healthcare to mitigating climate change and managing natural resources to improving transparency, accountability and governance. One of the most important aspects of the Open Development stream will be the participation of development practitioners and thematic experts on development.

As guest program planners for the Open Development stream*, we are determined to support two-way learning about how open data and open knowledge can benefit development. We know that ICTs and new technologies cannot work in a vacuum and that open information on its own is not enough. We know that creating ICT tools and applications without basing them on real needs and local context is not helpful, useful or sustainable. We also know that traditionally excluded and marginalized populations are the ones that most often do not have access to information and new ICTs, and therefore open access to information and knowledge needs to be part of a broader and more holistic development approach that takes care to include those who are often marginalized and excluded.

Within the Open Development stream, we will offer space where those working with new technologies and those working on development issues can learn more about each other and work on joint solutions that are based on local realities and that take advantage of new opportunities that new ICTs and ‘open knowledge’ can offer.

The Open Development stream will bring together key thinkers and doers in the ‘open’ movement and the development sector via a panel discussion. We are also organizing 3 working sessions to explore:

Open development and aid flows.  Here we will look more internally at ways that greater openness in aid and development funding, activities and impact (such as the  International Aid Transparency Initiative – IATI) can help make aid more transparent, accountable, coordinated and effective. What are the new opportunities Open Data and Open Knowledge provide? How can aid and aid organizations be more open, transparent and accountable?

Open = accessible? In this session we will explore practical issues and the realities of access to and use of open information in low-resource settings. We will hear opinions and realities from development practitioners regarding a series of critical questions such as: Open for who? Open for what? Is open data enough? How can we design for accessibility in communities with lower resources and access and/or in ‘developing’ countries? Who are the new information intermediaries (aka ‘infomediaries‘)? How can we ensure that ‘open’ is not replicating existing exclusions, creating a new middle-class or benefiting already well-off sections of communities and societies?

Technologies for open development In this session we will focus on the role that ICTs and open technologies, from open source to open hardware, can play in development. We will hear ideas from development workers, technology evangelists and those who bridge the two fields.

In addition to these sessions, there will be an ‘Open Development Hack Day‘ where development practitioners can share development challenges with the OKFest community to create mobile and other ICT applications.

Events like OKFest can be overwhelming the first time you participate in them, butwe are committed to making sure everyone who attends OKFest can join the discussions, contribute ideas, and learn from the wealth of keynotes, sessions and workshops. The organizers of the Open Development Stream will be on hand to support participants working in development and those who are new to the Open Knowledge World to navigate the conference via daily birds-of-a-feather gatherings, catch-up sessions and more.

In order for our stream to be a success, we need the participation of development practitioners and development workers!  The core OKFest team has made a number of travel bursaries available to help potential participants with the costs of getting to Finland, and the open development stream team are also working hard to encourage development organisations to support staff and associates from projects in the ‘global south’ to take part. If you need help securing support from your organization or funders to take part, then get in touch with the team (okfest-dev@practicalparticipation.co.uk) and we will do what we can to help.

For more on OKFest, watch the slideshow below:

The Digital Edge – Nominet Trust announce new funding challenge

[Summary: New funding opportunity from Nominet Trust, shaped by messages from the Digital Technology and Youth Engagement exploration]

The Nominet Trust have just announced a new £2m funding challenge focussed on support for young people. Here is how they describe it:

Nominet Trust is launching a programme of social investment to address the challenges faced by young people in participating socially and economically with their communities. This call for applications aims to seek out new approaches to using digital technology that re-design ways of supporting young people. We’re looking to invest in partners and ideas that address the challenges we have identified, and look forward to working with you to do so

A number of the areas of interest in the challenge have been shaped through the Digital Technology and Youth Engagement exploration which David Wilcox, Alex Farrow and I have been working on for Nominet Trust over April and May: seeking out key messages on opportunities and approaches for digital technology to be used supporting young people’s economic and social engagement in communities. The four areas the challenge looks to address (headings are from Nominet, reflections are my own) are:

  • Digging deeper into the problems and addressing the root causes- going beyond surface solutions to find new spaces for effective innovation. Our exploration highlighted the plural ‘causes’ is important: there is often not one root cause to be addressed, but a diversity of issues needing a diversity of approaches. Roots spread out underground, so as we dig we need to explore multiple pathways and many spaces for innovation.

  • Exploring the changing landscape and the nature of engagementMany of the models for youth engagement, or offering support to young adults, were developed in a pre-Internet era and haven’t really been updated, save from digitizing a few processes here and there. Looking at how digital technology has changed the context of young people’s lives (whilst many of the concerns of youth and young adulthood remain pretty consistent) can highlight opportunities for new forms of support and social and economic engagement for young people – not driven primarily by a desire to save money or streamline, but by an interest in making engagement more effective in an Internet age.

  • Renegotiating professional practiceI’m really happy to see this element in the challenge, as it provides a great opportunity for practitioners in Youth Work, Community Development and other youth-supporting professions to put forward projects that start from their professional values, but consider how these can be applied in new contexts. In a recent digital youth work workshop in Helsinki with Verke, CFDP and YouthPart, we started to sketch out a shared understanding of Digital Youth Work that started to consider what a renegotiation of youth work practice could involve, drafting the description below:

The Internet is playing a powerful role in shaping the lives of young people today: as a source of information, as a social space, and as a key part of everyday life. Youth work is a process of engagement with young people, supporting young people to make positive choices and shape their own futures, and to actively participate in communities and societies. Digital youth work is values-led practice working with young people that takes account of the digital dimensions of young people’s lives. It might be delivered through digital tools, using online environments or mobile communication; it might blend together physical and digital communication and collaboration; or it might take place face-to-face, but aware of and addressing issues raised by the digital world. 

The ethical values of digital youth work are rooted in voluntary engagement, empowering young people, and working from the interests, needs and concerns of young people. Digital youth work is necessarily a multi-professional field, involving a range of existing practitioners, and requiring us to develop new forms of practice and new roles. Digital youth work include specific online services (for example youth counseling delivered by professional adults), as well as facilitated peer-to-peer learning and engagement.

Digital youth work is a key part of supporting young people’s digital citizenship and securing the rights of everyone to participate fully in contemporary everyday life and its environments. 

The renegotiating professional practice element of the Nominet Trust challenge invites proposals that “support different professions… [to] test out and learn new approaches for engaging with young people?”, and there is real potential here for some action learning in different professional fields to feed back into scaleable change in the way support and engagement opportunities for young people work.

  • New forms of employment and rewardI like to think of this last element of the challenge as creating the space for some more radical rethinking of solutions to the current economic crisis. Although the challenge is a little narrower than the ‘Consider the livelihoods of the future’ message in the Provocation Paper (PDF), in getting beyond the idea that ‘economic engagement’ means getting into a full time job, and thinking about “ how we [prepare] young people to secure a decent living, and to be able to make positive choices about how they use their time, talents and resources”, there is hopefully space here for innovations that challenge a work-consumption treadmill, and explore with young people the social, as well as economic value, of work.

I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas and innovations that result from the challenge. The first deadline for Phase 1 proposals is 1st August, and support is available ranging from £2,500 up to over £250,000 for larger projects. So – head over to the Nominet Trust site to find out more and think about putting forward your project ideas…

 

Developing ten key messages on digital technology for youth engagement

[Summary: Searching out content to illuminate key messages on digital technologies to support youth engagement]

I’m half way through writing up a provocation paper for Nominet Trust based on the project David WilcoxAlex Farrow and I have been working on to explore key messages on how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities. You can find the latest blog posts from the project here.

We started the process with an open online document that generated over 30 suggested messages, both on the How To of using digital technology, and the issues to think about when engaging 16 – 24 year olds. We took the messages into a workshop with 30 young and older digital innovators in London, and came out with 10 prioritised messages. Driven by the idea of ‘social reporting’ as a process of bringing together and curating content that has already been generated, we then set out to find existing online material that could be used to expand on those key messages, and Alex Farrow has been working hard to put together 10 ‘storify’ posts (see below) that capture and curate key content – both gathered through the online document, tweeting and the workshop, and from going out and searching the web for relevant academic research and social media snippets.

The goal was for these storify posts both inform the write-up of a short paper summarising the messages, and for them to act as an extra resource that could ‘show not tell’ those interested in the messages what the mean. For example, it’s pretty hard to capture what co-design is in 300 words of prose, but in a couple of short video clips, photo-rich blog posts, and pithy tweets, it should be possible to communicate a more rounded picture. Alex Farrow has been hard at work curating content, and we’re getting close to that goal, although it’s turned out more challenging than we expected to track down snappy online content to illuminate the key messages*. So – we’re really after your help to really make sense what it means to blend online and offline in supporting young people, or to use games to engage (or any of the other messages below).

Here’s how you can help:
  1. Take a look at one or more of the storify posts below…
  2. Tweet us additional examples, quotes, links or comments using #DTYE or to @alexjamesfarrow, @timdavies or @davidwilcox. We’re particularly keen on good short video clips or slideshows that help make sense of the messages. Good tweets might be used directly in the storify posts, so clear and concise summaries of ideas very welcome.
  3. Using the comment box below each Storify post, give any feedback, comments, thoughts on the blog.
  4. Pass on to others who you think have something to add
Whilst the final draft of the provocations paper that Nominet Trust will be printing up will be completed in the next week or so, we’ll keep adding to the storify posts, which will be linked to from the paper, so ongoing input and ideas are really welcome.
  • Background post: Meeting the challenges: young people in the UK
    What challenges are young people facing in the UK today? At our workshop event in April 2012 we sought to dig behind the headline challenges to understand the underlying issues that social innovators might be able to address.

  • Blend online and offline
    Digital and online innovations don’t only have to be delivered online. Online tools can support local community building and action – and projects should plan to work both on the web, and in local or face-to-face settings.

  • Use games to engage
    Adding an element of gaming to your project can provide the incentives for young people to get engaged. Collecting points, completing challenges and competing with others can all spur young people on to get involved and stay involved.

  • Address the innovation gaps in the back-office
    Not all digital innovations have to be about directly using technology with young people. Putting better tools in the hands of frontline workers, and intermediaries who work with young people can create the biggest benefit.
  • Support young people to be creators, not consumers
    Digital technology can enable young people to be content creators: “youth can learn video making, digital engagement etc. – and if it aims to be social and community focused – imagine the possibilities!”. Many youth don’t take advantage of digital opportunities for creativity – and action to support them to do so is important. From creating multimedia content, to providing feedback on the good and the bad – young people can be involved in shaping digital resources developed to support them.

  • Co-design with young people
    The only way to create services for young people, is in collaboration with young people. User-centred design, agile and iterative design methods all provide ways for young people to be involved through the process of creating innovative solutions.

  • Consider the livelihoods of the future
    Digital technology is not just about easier ways to find a job: it changes the nature of work. Home working, portfolio working, freelancing and co-operative business structures are all enabled by the Internet. Better CVs and job information won’t solve the unemployment crisis: we need to use digital technologies to create and support new ways of working and making a living.

  • Use digital tools to enable peer-to-peer learning
    In the Internet age education doesn’t have to be top-down, digital tools allow for peer-to-peer learning: helping people come together to teach, learn and collaborate.

  • Use technology to personalise services
    Digital technologies can be used to aggregate content from multiple sources, and customise an individuals experience of online information. Young people out of work or education are not a homogeneous group: and have many different needs.

  • Be network literate and create new connections
    Although young people might be using online social networks like Facebook all the time, the connections they have to inspiration, role models and opportunities for volunteering, education or employment can be limited. Think about how digital tools can help you to map out networks, and to make new connections that broaden the horizons and increase the resources accessible to young people.

  • Recognise the diversity of youth
    Who are the young people? Although there are many similarities across the 16-24 age group, there are also some key differences in how they use technology.

Open data for charities: Live online Q&A with The Guardian

This Tuesday (22nd May) I’ll be taking part in a live Q&A from 1 – 3pm UK Time over on the Guardian website to explore what open data might mean for charities. Here’s the blurb:

As the public sector opens up much more of its data, many in the voluntary sector are looking at what open data can do for their organisations.

Ed Anderton from the Nominet Trust recently wrote on the network that “a broad base of organisations using and supplying open data would allow for better understanding of the impact made by the social sector, potentially revealing gaps in provision and providing evidence of the quality of the relationships between funders, public and private sector partners.”

But some charities are still confused by the concept of open data and how it could help them achieve their strategic aims. With this in mind, our live Q&A will consider:

• The $64m question – what is open data?

• The benefits of opening up data.

• How charities of all sizes can include open data into their strategy.

• The challenges that open data presents.

• The support and advice available.

Also taking part on the Q&A panel will be Ed Anderton from the Nominet Trust, David Kane from NCVO, Laura Conrad and Chris Lucas from Barnsley Hospice, and Matthew O’Reilly  from The Indigo Trust.

You can drop in your questions or thoughts on open data and charities in advance in the comment box of this page, or join us on Tuesday when we’ll be online and trying to respond to as many questions as we can.

Open data: embracing the tough questions – new publications

[Summary: launching open data special issue of Journal of Community Informatics, and a new IKM Emergent paper] (Cross posted from Open Data Impacts blog)

Two open data related publications I’ve been working on have made it to the web in the last few days. Having spent a lot of the last few years working to support organisations to explore the possibilities of open data, these feel like they represent a more critical strand of exploring OGD, trying to embrace and engage with, rather than to avoid the tough questions. I’m hoping, however, they both offer something to the ongoing and unfolding debate about how to use open data in the interests of positive social change.

Special Issue of JoCI on Open Government Data
The first is a Special Issue of the Journal of Community Informatics on Open Government Data (OGD) bringing together four new papers, five field notes, and two editorials that critically explore how Open Government Data policies and practices are playing out across the world. All the papers and notes draw upon empirical study and grassroots experiences in order to explore key challenges of, and challenges to, OGD.

Nitya Raman’s note on “Collecting data in Chennai City and the limits of Openness” and Tom Demeyer’s account of putting together an application competition in Amsterdam explore some of the challenges of accessing and opening up government datasets in very different contexts, highlighting the complex realities involved in securing ongoing access to reliable government data. Papers from Sharadini Rath (on using government data to influence local planning in India), and Fiorella De Cindo (on designing deliberative digital spaces), explore the challenges of taking open data into civic discussions and policy making – recognising the role that platforms, politics and social dynamics play in enabling, and putting the brakes on, open data as a tool to drive change. A field note from Wolfgang Both and a point of view note from Rolie Cole on “The practice of open data as opposed to it’s promise” highlight that any OGD initiative involves choices about the data to priotise, and the compromises to make between competing agendas when it comes to opening data. Shashank Srinivasan’s note on Mapping the Tso Kar basin in Ladakh, using GIS systems to represent the Changpa tribal people’s interaction with the land also draws attention to the key role that technical systems and architectures play in making certain information visible, and the need to look for the data that is missing from official records.

Unlike many reports and white papers on OGD out there, which focus solely on potential positive benefits, a number of the papers in the issue also take the important step of looking at the potential for OGD to cause harm, or for OGD agendas to be co-opted against the interests of citizens and communities. Bhuvaneswari Raman’s paper
The Rhetoric of Transparency and its Reality: Transparent Territories, Opaque Power and Empowerment
puts power front and centre of an analysis of how the impacts of open data may play out, and Jo Bates “This is what modern deregulation looks like” : co-optation and contestation in the shaping of the UK’s Open Government Data Initiative questions whether UK open data policy has become a fig-leaf for marketisation of public services and neoliberal reforms in the state.

These challenges to open government data, questioning whether OGD does (or even can?) deliver on promises to promote democratic engagement and citizen empowerment are, well, challenging. Advocates of OGD may initially want to ignore these critical cases, or to jump straight to sketching ‘patches’ and pragmatic fixes that route around these challenges. However, I suspect the positive potential of OGD will be closer when we more deeply engage with these critiques, and when in the advocacy and architecture of OGD we find ways to embrace tough questions of power and local context.

(Zainab and I have tried to provide a longer summary weaving together some of these issues in our editorial essay here, although we see this very much as the start, rather than end-point, of an exploration…)

More to come: I’ve been working on the journal issue for just over a year with my co-editor Zainab Bawa, and at the invitation of Michael Gurstein, who has also been fantastically supportive in us publishing this as a ‘rolling issue’. That means we’re going to be adding to the issue over the coming months, and this is just the first batch of papers available to start feeding into discussions and debates now, particuarly ahead of the Open Government Partnership meeting in Brasilia next week where IDRC, Berkman Centre and the World Wide Web Foundation are hosting a discussion to develop future research agendas on the impacts of Open Government Data.

ICT for or against development? Exploring linked and open data in development

The second publication is a report I worked on last year with Mike Powel and Keisha Taylor for the IKM Emergent programme, under the title: ICT for or against development? An introduction to the ongoing case of Web 3” (PDF). The paper asks whether the International Development sector has historically adopted ICT innovations in ways that empower the subjects of development and to deliver sustainable improvements for those whose lives ” are blighted by poverty, ill-health, insecurity and lack of opportunity”, and looks at where the opportunities and challenges might lie in the adoption of open and linked data technologies in the development sector. It’s online as a PDF here, and summaries are available in English, Spanish and French

 

Open Rights Group 2012 Conference

[Summary: A quick plug for the upcoming Open Rights Group conference on March 24th 2012.]

The Open Rights Group is a campaigning organisation focussed on protecting citizen’s rights in the digital age. From advocating for a proportional copyright system that doesn’t lead to rights-holders dictating the terms of Internet access, to scrutinising government policies on Internet filtering and blocking, protecting online freedoms, and digging into the detail of open data to balance benefits for society and individuals privacy, the Open Rights Group (ORG) is active on issues that are increasingly important to all of us. I recently joined the ORG Advisory Council to support work on open data, and have been really impressed to find an organisation committed to improving policy so that key digital (and thus, in a digital age, general) freedoms are not undermined by narrow or special interest driven policy making.

In a few Saturday’s ORG are holding their annual conference in London and tickets are still on sale here.

There’s a great line of speakers and workshops, including a rare UK appearance by Lawrence Lessig, and keynotes from Cory Doctorow and Wendy Seltzer.

Plus, in one of the workshops I’m going to be putting some key questions to open data advocates Rufus Pollock and Chris Taggart and another guest panelist asking: Raw, big, linked and open: is all this data doing us, our economy and our democracy any good?

It would be great to see you there if you can make it…

Focussing on open data where it matters: accountability and action

A lot of talk of open data proceeds as if all data is equal, and a government dataset is a government dataset. Some open data advocates fall into the trap of seeing databases as collections of ‘neutral facts’, without recognising the many political and practical judgements that go into the collection and modelling of data. But, increasingly, an awareness is growing that datasets are not a-political, and that not all datasets are equal when it comes to their role in constituting a more open government.

Back in November 2010 I started exploring whether the government’s ‘Public Sector Information Unlocking Service’ actually worked by asking for open data access to the dataset underling the Strategic Export Controls: Reports and Statistics Website. Data on where the UK has issued arms export licenses is clearly important data for accountability, and yet, the data is kept in obfuscated in an inaccessible website. 14 months on, and my various requests for the data have seen absolutely zero response. Not even an acknowledgement.

However, today Campaign Against the Arms Trade have managed to unlock the Export License dataset, after painstakingly extracting inaccessible statistics from the official government site, and turning this into an open dataset and providing an online application to explore the data. They explain:

Until now the data, compiled by the Export Control Organisation(ECO) in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), was difficult to access, use and understand. The new CAAT app, available via CAAT’s website, transforms the accessibility of the data.

The salient features are:

    • Open access – anyone can view data without registering and can make and refine searches in real time.
    • Data has been disaggregated, providing itemised licences with ratings and values.
    • Comprehensive searchability (including of commonly-required groupings, for example by region of the world or type of weaponry).
    • Graphs of values of items licensed are provided alongside listings of licences.
    • Revoked licences are identified with the initial licence approvals.
    • Individual pages/searches (unique urls) can be linked to directly.
    • The full raw data is available as csv files for download.
And as Ian Prichard, CAAT Research Co-ordinator put’s it:

It is hard to think of an area of government activity that demands transparency more than arms export licensing. 

The lack of access to detailed, easy-to-access information has been a barrier to the public, media and parliamentarians being able to question government policies and practices. These practices include routine arming of authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt.

As well as providing more information in and of itself, we hope the web app will prompt the government to apply its own open data policies to arms exports. and substantially increase the level and accessibility of information available.

Perhaps projects like CAAT’s can help bring back the ‘hard political edge’ Robinson and Yu describe in the heritage of ‘open government’. They certainly emphasise the need for a ‘right to data’ rather than just access to data existing as a general policy subject to the decisions of those in power.

Random Hacks of Kindness – Oxford – 3rd/4th December

[Summary: Volunteer for Random Hacks of Kindness, Oxford] 

Random Hacks of Kindness events bring together digital innovators to work on building practical open technology with the goal of making the world a better place. As a follow up to the open data day held in Oxford last December, this year White October are hosting a Random Hacks of Kindness weekend on the 3d and 4th December set up in partnership with Oxfam.

The event is on the look out for designers, developers, data wranglers and others who are willing to give up a weekend to work on practical solutions to key social problems… and maybe even to take forward the ideas after the weekend.

You can find more details and sign-up here.

I’m sure we’ll be linking up with some of the parallel open data day hacking going on too.