What is Open Development?

In just over a week I’ll be at the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki, where thanks to the work of an amazing team of volunteers, we will have a series of sessions taking place under the banner of ‘Open Development‘, looking at where Open Knowledge themes meet international development.

In one of those sessions we’ll be asking what we really mean by open development: inviting participants to share their own responses to the question ‘What does open development mean to you?’. I realised that, for all the time I’ve spent moderating the OKF open-development working group’s mailing list, and inputting to the OKFest Open Development stream, I’ve not had a clear answer to that question. I’m hoping that next weeks session will help address that, but in advance I thought it would be useful to jot down some reflections on how I might answer the question right now.

Of course, as luck would have it, I’m at just that stage in the PhD process of working out the questions, but not yet getting to the simplified crisp answers, so what follows is some thinking aloud, rather than a set answer…

The essence of open

I’ve written before about the way that the prefix ‘open’ does not necessarily pick out some common property across it’s wide usage for ‘open access’, ‘open source’, ‘open data’ and ‘open content’, ‘open government’, and ‘open development’ – but at best can be seen as offering these labels a broad ‘family resemblance‘. There is an important distinction to observe between openness focussed on artifacts such as data, source code, or academic articles, and openness of processes, such as democracy and development. Formal definitions of the former may tend to be concerned more with the legal or technical status of the artifact, whereas definitions of the latter may focus on questions of who is participating, how they are allowed to participate.

In so far as we can find a common family trait amongst ‘the opens’, then I would suggest ‘access and permission’ is a good candidate. Openness should remove barriers to access, and should grant relevant permissions that allow either use of an artifact, or participation in a process.

Note that whilst the artifact and process distinction might be possible to make at the level of formal definitions, many times when terms like ‘open source’, or ‘open government’ are deployed, they are used to refer to refer to both artifacts and processes. For example, we might use open source to refer to the processes of the open source community and movement, rather than just the properties of the source code itself; or we might use the term open government to refer to the papers and documents of government, as well as to participative processes that let citizens input into governance. Open artifacts may in some cases be necessary, but not sufficient, for an open process. In their work on Open ICT’s for Development, Smith et. al provide a definition that combines ‘artifact’ and ‘process’ elements in understanding how open ICTs may be a matter of access, participation and collaboration. In the case of development though I think it can be sustained that development is a process, and a process that is concerned primarily with increasing human quality of life.

Of course, development in practice involves many processes, and in assessing in any case whether we have open development or not we might have to ask about the relative openness of any number of processes, from priority setting, to planning, to spending, to monitoring and governance.

Open as oppositional

If openness is about ‘access and permission’, then generally it is articulated in opposition to some set of ‘closed’ arrangements. For example, open access is articulated in opposition to the tight intellectual property control and high prices of journal articles that restrict academics access to articles, and their permission to share them. Open movements are hard to isolate and specify separately from those arrangements they oppose (this tends to cloud the artifact/process distinction – as getting a process to open up might well involve some opening of its constituent artifacts).

So, in the case of international development, what is being opposed? It would be easy to generate a long list of things wrong with the way development is done, and to suggest that ‘open development’ is simply the negation of these – but that would overload the concept of open development, and lead to it being seen as a panacea for all that is wrong. Rather, where is there a lack of access, and a lack of permission, in development as it is currently practised? My own initial answer would focus on the fact that those whose human welfare is supposed to be increased by development often have very little stake in the decision making about where resources for development will be used, or in wider policy debates with an influence on their welfare. Access to decision making, and permission to participate, are limited right now – and open development should be about addressing the closed nature of information artifacts, and communication opportunities, that support exclusive processes of governance.

Others may want to focus on different ‘closed’ areas of the current development field, and in doing so, to articulate different visions, or different aspects of the same vision, for open development.

Open X for open development

Counter to the argument above, open development could be said to simply be the application of other open initiatives to the development field. That is – using open data for international development could be said to in itself be ‘open development’. However, I would argue that this is overly reductive, and indeed misses that open technologies or artifacts could potentially be used for non-open development.

‘Open ICT for development’, ‘open source for development’ and ‘open data for development’ are all potentially very good things – but we might also want to ask about whether they need an extra open in there – as in ‘open data for open development’ and so-on.

Open is not enough

As I outlined above, openness removes specific barriers to access, and provides permissions to participate. However, this does not mean effective access to decision making for all. That requires additional attention.

Again, we could load this into the concept of open development, to suggest that openness of process necessarily requires us to ensure all potential participants can overcome barriers outside the process that inhibit their participation. For example, we could say that a community meeting which is formally open to all, is not truly open unless we have been able to pay all the travel costs of everyone who might want to participate and to translate it into all local languages, because without this, there are still barriers to access. However, rather than build these ideas into ‘open development’ I would suggest that we are better to see ‘open’ as amongst a number of desirable prefixes and modifiers for development, such as ‘inclusive’ and ‘egalitarian’.

So what is open development?

When I started writing, I wasn’t sure if I would get down to one clear sentence, or nothing at all. As it is, I think I can offer the following as an interim answer to the question:

  • Open development is a process
  • Open development is about providing access to information, and permission to participate
  • Open development is about challenging closed and distant decision making on development issues
  • Open development is a companion to inclusive development and can provide the foundations for greater inclusion
  • Open development is more than just using open data for development, or taking open source to developing countries
  • Open development is still open to debate

Whether I’ll say the same after next weeks debate we’ll find out – and if you want to suggest your own definition of open development to feed into the discussions, you can do so before 19th September 2012 in this Etherpad.

Open data quick links: cook books; aid data; campaign camps; MADwData

[Summary: A couple of quick open data links]

The Open Data Cook Book now has a new look and a few more recipes – providing step by step instructions for working with open data. It’s also now Wikified – so anyone can sign-up to edit and add recipes. So, if you’ve got ideas for how people can use open data in creative ways – head over and add some recipes.

On the topic of Making a Difference With Data the new MADwData website is packed full of links and analysis on open data to support change at a local level, particularly organised around different sectors: health, local authorities, housing, transport, crime & education.  I’m editing the education section, and have been exploring how open the EduBase dataset really is. Take a look though at the fantastic content from the other editors – all giving some great overviews of the state of data for change in different contexts.

In the MADwData forum Vicky Sargent has been asking about the use of data in library closure campaigns. I’ve been in touch with a lot of campaigning organisations recently who sense that there is real potential for using open data as part of campaigns – but unsure exactly how it should work and how to start engaging with data (and open data advocates asking the same questions from the other direction). Hopefully we’ll be digging into exactly these questions, and providing some practical learning opportunities and take-away ideas at the upcoming Open Data Campaigning Camp in Oxford on 24th March. It’s tacked onto the end of the E-Campaigning Forum, and I’m co-organising with Rolf Kleef and Javier Ruiz. Free places are still left for organisations interested in spending day of hands-on learning exploring how data could help in campaigning against cuts; on environmental issues; and in international development campaigns and funding.

And talking of development funding… (not only a post of outward links; seemless links internally as well!) – last week the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Standard‘s first version was full agreed. I had the pleasure of working with Development Initiatives on a demonstrator of how IATI data could be visualised, the results of which are available on AidInfoLabs as the IATI Data Explorer allowing you to pick any country and dig into details of where DFID UK Government Aid spending has gone there – and, where the data is available, digging into the individual transactions.

Linked Open Data & Development at ICTD2010

[Summary: Short paper and presentations exploring linked open data in International Development]

Yesterday, Tim Berners-Lee gave the keynote speech at the 2010 ICT & International Development conference in London, including talk of the potential role of open data in development (I was following via Twitter). The details of how open and linked data might impact development were the key theme in the recent IKM workshop I blogged about a few weeks ago, and as a follow up to that workshop, a short discussion paper was available at ICTD, alongside a range of fantastic touchscreen kiosks produced  by Ralph Borland.

Last week, I rather rapidly put together the interface for one of those kiosks, focussed on offering users an introduction to open data, linked data, data visualisation, and the IKM questions being asked about how the development of standards, norms and practices in the creation, sharing and linking of datasets might impact upon development at local levels.

You can find the IKM discussion paper on linked open information for Development for download here and if you want to explore the TouchScreen interface, albeit with some bits that might not work 100% in browsers other than Firefox and which might not make sense on a standard machine rather than touchscreen, you can launch it below.

I’ve also noticed that the draft of Keish Taylor and Ginette Law’s fantastic (and very comprehensive) write-up of the IKM Linked Information Workshop is also available for download on the IKM site.


Open Arms? Unlocking raw data

[Summary: Exploring the process of requesting access to a raw dataset]

Update 22nd December: Almost a month on, and whilst my post on the OPSI Data Unlocking Service has had 30 votes in favour (more than any other request I can see by far) I’ve not heard from either OPSI or the data owner/data.gov.uk in response to my comments/requests for raw data. So far, it looks like requesting new raw data through the advertised routes doesn’t meet with much action. I’ll wait till the Open Up competition closes in the New Year to see what results that might bring – and then it’s time to start looking at what other ways there might be to request this data…

A lot of the open government data that has been released in recent years is only available locked up in PDFs and website interfaces. As this definition seeks to explain this radically limits the potential uses of that data.

Following a recent event organised by Campaign Against the Arms Trade I was curious about who the UK issues Export Control Licenses to, so I took a look on data.gov.uk. Sure enough, the Strategic Export Controls: Reports and Statistics Website is listed on the Data.gov.uk catalogue. But on closer investigation it turn out that the Strategic Export Controls: Reports and Statistics Website (a) requires registration before you can access it; (b) predominantly provides data as PDFs; (c) has a very complex search interface that generates reports in the background ready for download later – but reports which don’t include key information such as the month a license was issued. All the data is clearly in the system – as you can search by date – but in it’s current form, to extract meaningful information about where UK companies have gained arms export licenses (or been refused) would be a long and slow job.

I’ve heard about the OPSI Data Unlocking Service, and I’ve been in a number of presentations hearing senior government officials and Ministers talking about the commitment of government to releasing raw data, so I thought this would provide a good opportunity to test the process of requesting raw data.

So – as of this morning, I’ve tried three routes to ask for access to this data:

  1. Adding a comment to the package on Data.gov.uk requesting access to the data. I’ve also sent a copy of the comment via the ‘Feedback Form’ listed under ‘Contact Details’ for each dataset. From past experience, I think the comment form gets forwarded to the Data.gov.uk team who forward it on to the department – but I’m not certain where that message has gone, or who reads the comments on datasets.
  2. Submitting a request to the OPSI Data Unlocking Service. This appeared to submit an e-mail form to the OPSI webmaster, who is, I understand, supposed to check the request and  then add it to the OPSI website for others to vote on – as well as – I presume, to someone inside OPSI to review and act upon – although the process by which a request could lead to data is fairly unclear. My request is not yet on the website.
  3. Adding an idea submission to the TSO Open Up Competition which you can see here. As I understand, the TSO are working closely with government on open data projects, although don’t have authority to open access to data themselves. However, there does appear to be an interest from the competition in what datasets people want to see – so I figured a request via here can’t harm.

I suspect a fourth route might be to submit a Freedom of Information Request, but I’m keen to explore in the first place how these open data requesting channels work in practice. Have I missed any? How else should be requesting access to raw data? Do you have experience of requesting data? What worked and what didn’t?

I’ll report back on any updates on the process of getting access to this data…

Young Rewired State at Oxfam

Update: Postponedwe weren’t quite quick off the blocks enough to recruit young people to take part in an Oxfam hack-day during the main Youth Rewired State week: so the Oxfam YRS has been postponed. We’ll hopefully work out a new date / plan in the next few weeks. However, other Young Rewired State centres are still on the go…

What happens when you take 5 or 10 young coders and designers aged between 15 and 18; give them a room at the heart of Oxfam HQ; link them up with designers, campaigners and digital experts; and give them a week to create things with government data?

I’m not sure yet. But in few weeks hopefully we’ll find out.

I’m helping to organise a Young Rewired State event at Oxfam HQ in Oxford to do just that – and right now we’re looking for young people from the local area to apply to take part.

You can download a flyer with lots more information to share with any young people you think might be interested, and a sign-up form is here. Deadline for applications is 25th July – but the sooner applications come in the more chance they have. Young Rewired State events are also taking place across the UK, so if you know young people who might be interested but can’t make it to Oxfam HQ in Oxford every day during the first week of August, point them in the direction of the national Rewired State Website.

Guest post: Using data to highlight poverty and social justice issues in the World Cup

Today brings two firsts for this blog. The first ever guest post on the blog. And the first (and possibly only) instance of a post here dedicated to football. So, please welcome Pontus Westerberg from the World Development Movement, introducing this summer’s most essential data driven website…

Pontus WesterbergWho are you going to cheer for in the World Cup? Most people in the UK will probably support England, but what if you’re from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and your team didn’t qualify?

Even if your team did qualify, who do you cheer for when they’re not playing? Perhaps a team that plays attractive football, like Brazil or a team that contains players from the club team that you support.

At the World Development Movement we wanted to take this idea a bit further and get people to discuss issues of social injustice, poverty and unfairness that we care a lot about.

The result is the site www.whoshouldicheerfor.com which ranks the countries playing in the World Cup based on a range of development and social justice indicators such as maternal maternity rate, carbon emissions per capita and income inequality.

The statistics for the indicators have mostly been taken from the UN’s Human Development Report and place Ghana as the most supportable team. To get the ‘league table we ranked each team for each indicator, then worked out a mean position for each one.

We’ve had some questions about the rankings. ‘Why is Nigeria so high up?’, has been a common one. The answer is that Nigeria has comparatively low carbon emissions and military spending, but also that it is the poorest country playing in the world cup.

That’s right – to highlight the gross inequalities that exist in the world we’ve ranked teams with low GDP per capita higher than teams with high GDP per capita. In our view, the underdogs – teams such as Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria – from the poorest countries in the World Cup deserve our support more than richer countries.

Of course, the ranking does not represent the official view of WDM on the countries themselves. It’s meant to be a fun and interested way to think hard about serious issues. How come Nigeria is the poorest country in the World Cup, yet has one of the world’s largest oil reserves? Why does the United States – the richest country – give so little money in aid?

So, go ahead, get involved. Who are you going to cheer for?


Exploring Social Network Sites for HIV/AIDS communication: online forum

Communication for Social Change: Future Connect ForumA while back I worked on a report for AIDS2031 with Pete Cranston about the potential for Social Network Sites to play a role in HIV/AIDS education. As a follow up from that, Ann Kao, from the Southeast Asia, Frontier Foundation has been running a number of workshops in Asia on Social Networking and HIV/AIDS education, and today we launched an online forum – running between now and the end of June, to host dialogue around the issue.

You can find more information on the forum and how to take part over on the Communications Initiative site where it is hosted.

If you know anyone specialising in work on HIV/AIDS education or sexual health education who might be interested in taking part, then do pass them the link.

Where is DFID spending money on youth, and other interesting project data mash-ups

I was down in London again on Saturday for the AID Information Challenge – another data-focussed event, but this time looking at International Development Data.

One of the main datasets we had to work with was the DFID Projects Database – a list of all the different development projects the Department for International Development has been funding over recent years, and has funding committed to in the future. Given I’ve recently finished getting the DFID funded ‘Youth Participation in Development‘ guide online, I initially thought I would explore how to link project data to the case studies in that guide. However, I soon found myself joining in with a team of others who were trying to visualise the projects dataset in more general ways.

The result: a faceted browsing mash-up using the fantastic Exhibit framework – turning this into this.

The faceted browser means that you can select different countries (only by their country code at the moment), years, funding types or funding programmes and explore the different project funding DFID has been giving out to these.

Click through to the Map view, and where funding went to a specific country you’ll be able to see a map of where the funds were distributed. (A lot of funding goes to regions or is non-specific geographically – at the moment this just display under the ‘could not be plotted’ above the map).

Even though I didn’t work directly with the Youth Participation in Development Guide, down at the bottom of the list of facets you will find one to help explore youth-related funding: you can pull out all the projects which include ‘Youth’ or ‘Young People’ in their project titles or descriptions.

Thanks to the Publish What You Fund and Open Knowledge Foundation teams for organising the day 🙂