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.

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.

Skills for the job: digital literacy

In the lead up to the Youth Work Online Month of Action I’ve got an article in Children and Young People Now’s ‘skills for the job’ section, talking about digital literacy. Here’s how it starts:

A lot of what we hear about young people and the internet is focused on e-safety. But digital literacy is about a lot more than that. Digital literacy involves being able to navigate the digital world – making the most of the many opportunities it provides for accessing information, creating connections, having a say, being part of communities and developing skills and knowledge for now and for the future.

Developing young people’s digital literacy needs professionals to engage with the online world – supporting young people to move beyond narrow use of a few social networking websites or apps – to discover the full potential of the internet as a global information resource. It also involves the development of critical skills – enabling internet users to choose what information to engage with. One key part of digital literacy is to know when to multi-task, when to focus, when to be connected, and when to disconnect.

You can read the full article over on the CYPN Website.

In the upcoming Month of Action we’ll be focusing a lot more on these themes – working to build broader networks of practitioners focussed on all aspects of the digital world for young people.

P.S. I’m still on the lookout for a venue for the Month of Action’s unConference. We’re looking for somewhere in London, available on Saturday 16th April, with good Wifi, room for 100 people in break-out spaces, and crucially, either free or low-cost. If you know someone who could sponsor the event by sharing their venue/offices/meeting rooms for the day, do get in touch.

CfP: Journal Special Issue on Open Data

[Summary: Abstracts wanted for special issue of Journal of Community Informatics focussing on supply and use of open government data in different contexts across the world]

Michael Gurstein’s blog post last year on Open Data: Empowering the Empowered, or Effective Use for Everyone sparked some interesting discussions about how open data policies and practices impact different groups on the ground. The question of what impacts open data will have in different contexts has been picked up in Daniel Kaplan’s recent post on the OKF blog, and the need for different approaches to open data in different countries is a key theme in the draft Open Government Data in India report. With the discussion on open data impacts growing, I’m really pleased to be able to share the Call for Proposal below for a special issue of the Journal of Community Informatics that I’ll be guest editing along with Zainab Bawa of the CIS in India. So, if you’ve been meaning to write an article on the impacts of open data, or you know of grass roots projects in different places across the world working with the supply or use of open data, take a look at the call below…

Journal of Community Informatics: Call for Papers for Special issue on Open Data

Guest editors:  Tim Davies, Practical Participation and Zainab Bawa, CIS-RAW fellow

Call for Proposals
The Journal of Community Informatics is a focal point for the communication of research that is of interest to a global network of academics, Community Informatics practitioners and national and multi-lateral policy makers.

We invite submission of original, unpublished articles for a forthcoming special edition of the Journal that will focus on Open Data. We welcome research articles, case studies and notes from the field. All research articles will be double blind peer-reviewed. Insights and analytical perspectives from practitioners and policy makers in the form of notes from the field or case studies are also encouraged. These will not be peer-reviewed.

Why a special issue on Open Data
In many countries across the world, discussions, policies and developments are actively emerging around open access to government data. It is believed that opening up government data to citizens is critical for enforcing transparency and accountability within the government. Open data is also seen as holding the potential to bring about greater citizens’ participation, empowering citizens to ask questions of their governments via not only the data that is made openly available but also through the interpretations that different stakeholders make of the open data. Besides advocacy for open data on grounds of democracy, it is also argued that opening government data can have significant economic potential, generating new industries and innovations.

Whilst some open government data initiatives are being led by governments, other open data projects are taking a grassroots approach, collecting and curating government data in reusable digital formats which can be used by specific communities at the grassroots and/or macro datasets that can be used/received/applied in different ways in different local/grassroots contexts. INGOs, NGOs and various civil society and community based organizations are also getting involved with open data activities, from sharing data they hold regarding aid flows, health, education, crime, land records, demographics, etc, to actively sourcing public data through freedom of information and right to information acts. The publishing of open data on the Internet can make it part of a global eco-system of data, and efforts are underway in technology, advocacy and policy-making communities to develop standards, approaches and tools for linking and analysing these new open data resources. At the same time, there are questions surrounding the very notion of ‘openness’, primarily whether openness and open data have negative repercussions for particular groups of citizens in certain social, geographic, political, demographic, cultural and other grassroots contexts.

In sum then, what we find in society today is not only various practices relating to open data, but also an active shift in paradigms about access and use of information and data, and notions of “openness” and “information/data”. These emerging/renewed paradigms are also configuring/reconfiguring understandings and practices of “community” and “citizenship”. We therefore find it imperative to engage with crucial questions that are emerging from these paradigm shifts as well as the related policy initiatives, programmatic action and field experiences.

Some of the questions that we hope this special issue will explore are:

  1. How are citizens’ groups, grassroots organizations, NGOs, diverse civil society associations and other public and private entities negotiating with different arms of the state to provide access to government data both in the presence and absence of official open data policies, freedom/right of information legislations and similar commitments on the part of governments?
  2. What are the various models of open data that are operational in practice in different parts of the world? What are the different ways in which open data are being used by and for the grassroots and what are the impacts (positive, negative, paradoxical) of such open data  for communities and groups at the grassroots?
  3. Who/which actors are involved in opening up what kinds of data? What are their stakes in opening up such data and making it available for the public?
  4. What are the different technologies that are being used for publishing, storing and archiving open data? What are the challenges/issues that various grassroots users and the stakeholders, experience with respect to these technologies i.e., design, scale, costs, dissemination of the open data to different publics and realizing the potential of open data?
  5. What notions of openness and publicness are at work in both policies as well as initiatives concerning open data and what impacts do these notions have on grassroots’ practitioners and users?
  6. Following from the above, what are the implications of opening up different kinds of data for privacy, security and local level practices and information systems?

Thematic focus
The following suggested areas of thematic focus (policy, technology, uses, impacts) give a non-exhaustive list of potential topic areas for articles or case studies. The core interest of the special issue is addressing each of these themes from, or taking into account, grassroots, local citizen and community perspectives.

  1. Different policy and practice approaches to open data and open government data
  2. Diverse uses of open data and their impacts
  3. Technologies that are deployed for implementing open data and their implications
  4. Critical assessments of stakeholders and stakes in opening up different kinds of data.
Submission
Abstracts are invited in the first instance, to be submitted by e-mail to jociopendata@gmail.com.

Deadline for abstracts: 31st March 2011
Deadline for complete paper submissions: 15th September 2011
Publication date is forthcoming

Please send abstracts, in the first instance, to jociopendata@gmail.com.

For information about JCI submission requirements, including author guidelines, please visit: http://www.ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/about/submissions#onlineSubmissions

Guest Editors

Zainab Bawa
Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) RAW fellow bawazainab79@gmail.com

Tim Davies
Director, Practical Participation (http://www.practicalparticipation.co.uk)
tim@practicalparticipation.co.uk | @timdavies | +447834856303

Young Lives Linked Data Demonstrator

[Summary: showcasing linked data for development project]

Over the past month or so I’ve been working for IKM Emergent on a demonstrator project to explore the potential implications of linked data for information management in the development sector – seeking put a small sub-section of the survey micro-data from the Young Lives longitudinal study online in order to explore the process and potential of generating linked data in development-focussed settings.

The results of that project are now live and online for the time being, and accessible here. The most visually interesting part of the demonstrator (thanks to the work or Rupert Redington at NeonTribe) is the Comparator tool which does some pretty clever things to identify ‘Data Cubes’ in the Young Lives linked data dataset we’ve published, and to offer (in the case of the smoking prevalence data) comparisons between the Young Lives dataset, and another comparable dataset we’ve also loaded into our Young Lives datastore.

However, through the demonstrator we’ve also made the Health dataset from the Young Lives data available to browse via OntoWiki interface, and to query via SPARQL – exploring how linked data structures give us the opportunity to annotate the questions from the young lives data – potentially helping future researchers to find questions and data of interest to them,

The presentation below steps through some of the basics of Linked Data, before, from slide 13 onwards, introducing the Young Lives Data Demonstrator.

I’ll be sharing some more learning notes from the Young Lives Linked Data Demonstrator over on the open data impacts blog soon.

(Data week on Tim’s blog)

Just a quick note for all of you who follow this blog for the youth participation & digital youth work related bits… the next week of posting is going to be quite a lot on the other topic I spend lots of time thinking about/working on of open data (and I realise that past months have had a lot of open data stuff to).

But please don’t re-adjust your blog-reader/subscription just yet… some exciting digital youth work, children’s rights and youth participation posts to come soon – right after this week of data-related postings.


Youth Participation in the Big Society…

[Summary: explore & add your thoughts to this paper from North West Regional Youth Work Unit on youth participation in the Big Society]

Last week a new paper from the North West Regional Youth Work Unit (NWRYWU) crossed my radar – exploring how a wide range of approaches to youth participation may fare under current government policies and priorities – particularly those framed by ideas of the big society.

It looks at approaches including:

  • Youth led grant giving
  • Youth inspectors
  • Shadow boards and youth panels
  • Youth councils and fora
  • Campaigning work
  • Regional youth fora & youth parliaments
  • Peer education
  • Short-term projects
  • Rights and advocacy work
  • Health service participation
    and
  • Youth-led organisations

Partly to aid my own note-taking on the document – but also to open it up to wider discussion (and with kind permission from NWRYWU) I’ve put the document up as a commentable doc over here where it can be read paragraph-by-paragraph and you can leave your comments on any section.

Whilst I’m not convinced that those supporting young people should immediately bend their language and focus to the priorities and language of a ‘big society’ agenda (and Kevin Harris’s critiques on the naivety of much big society thinking are worth reading), exploring and understanding what big society ideas might mean for youth engagement and getting more dialogue on the future of youth engagement can only be a good thing.