The Holkham Bible Picture Book (ca. 1330)

- January 20, 2022 in Uncategorized

This "Bible" selectively illustrates the Old and New Testaments, taking us from Genesis to Revelation in a series of 231 beautifully executed miniatures.

Resurrection on Repeat: *Rules and Orders of the Humane Society* (1787)

- January 19, 2022 in Uncategorized

The pamphlet documents thirteen years of success since the 1774 establishment of Britain’s Humane Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Dead by Drowning.

Beastly Clues: T. S. Eliot, Torquemada, and the Modernist Crossword

- January 12, 2022 in Uncategorized

Just a few years after The Waste Land appeared — a poem whose difficulty critics compared to some “pompous cross-word puzzle” — Edward Powys Mathers (alias: Torquemada) pioneered the cryptic: a puzzle form that, like modernist poetry, unwove language and rewove it anew. Roddy Howland Jackson reveals the pleasures and imaginative creatures lurking in Torquemada's lively grids.

Reciting Pictures: Buddhist Texts for the Illiterate

- January 12, 2022 in Uncategorized

Some Japanese texts use a rebus-style script for teaching the illiterate to recite the Heart Sūtra, and other sacred texts, in Chinese.

Frictionless Planet – Save the Date

- January 10, 2022 in Events, News, Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

We believe that an ecosystem of organisations combining tools, techniques and strategies to transform datasets relevant to the climate crisis into applied knowledge and actionable campaigns can get us closer to the Paris agreement goals. Today, scientists, academics and activists are working against the clock to save us from the greatest catastrophe of our times. But they are doing so under-resourced, siloed and disconnected. Sometimes even facing physical threats or achieving very local, isolated impact. We want to reverse that by activating a cross-sectoral sharing process of tools, techniques and technologies to open the data and unleash the power of knowledge to fight against climate change. We already started with the Frictionless Data process – collaborating with researcher groups to better manage ocean research data and openly publish cleaned, integrated energy data – and we want to expand an action-oriented alliance leading to cross regional, cross sectoral, sustainable collaboration. We need to use the best tools and the best minds of our times to fight the problems of our times.  We consider you-your organisation- as leading thinkers-doers-communicators leveraging technology and creativity in a unique way, with the potential to lead to meaningful change and we would love to invite you to an initial brainstorming session as we think of common efforts, a sustainability path and a road of action to work the next three years and beyond.  What will we do together during this brainstorming session? Our overarching goal is to make open climate data more useful. To that end, during this initial session, we will conceptualise ways of cleaning and standardising open climate data, creating more reproducible and efficient methods of consuming and analysing that data, and focus on ways to put this data into the hands of those that can truly drive change.  WHAT TO BRING?
  • An effort-idea that is effective and you feel proud of at the intersection of digital and climate change.
  • A data problem you are struggling with.
  • Your best post-holidays smile.
When? 13:30 GMT – 20 January – Registration open here. 20:30 GMT – 21 January – Registration opening here. Limited slots, 25 attendees per session. 

100+ Conversations to inspire our new Direction

- January 10, 2022 in News, OKI Projects, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation, Our Work

It has been almost two decades since OKF was founded. Back then, the open movement was navigating uncharted waters, with hope and optimism. We created new standards, engaged powerful actors and achieved change in government, science and access to knowledge and education, unleashing the power of openness, collaboration and community in the early digital days. You were a key mind in shaping the movement with your ideas and contributions. Now, the World changed again. Digital power structures are in the hands of a few corporations, controlling not only the richest datasets but also what we see, read and interact with. The climate crisis is aggravated by our digital dependencies. Inequality is rampant and the benefits of the digital transition are once again, unevenly distributed. We transferred racism and prejudices of the past to the technologies of the future, and the permissionless openness we enabled and encouraged led in some cases to new forms of extractivism and exploitation. What is the role of Open Knowledge Foundation to face the new challenges of “open” and the new threats to a “knowledge society and economy”? Which are the most urgent and important areas of action? Who are the partners we need to bring in to gain relevance and traction? Who are the allies we need to get closer to? Priorities? Areas of opportunity? Areas of caution? We are meeting 100+ people to discuss the future of open knowledge, as we write our new strategy, which will be shaped by a diverse set of visions from artists, activists, academics, archivists, thinkers, policymakers, data scientists, educators and community leaders from all over the World, to update and upgrade our path of action and direction to meet the complex challenges of our times. We want these conversations to reflect the diversity in our societies and the very diverse challenges we will need to face. We are therefore gathering suggestions on people we should talk to, from as many allies as possible. Who do you think would make a difference in this conversation? Who should we go and talk to? Please let us know your suggestion via this form. Stay tuned to know more about these conversations and the outcome they will have on our strategy ahead. The collaborative strategy will be validated by our board of directors and network, and it will be launched this year.

Working with UNHCR to better collect, archive and re-use data about some of the world’s most vulnerable people

- January 7, 2022 in ckan, Interviews, News, OKI Projects, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

Since 2018, the team at Open Knowledge Foundation has been working with the Raw Internal Data Library (RIDL) project team at UNHCR to build an internal library of data to support evidence-based decision making by UNHCR and its partners.

What’s this about? 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a global organisation ‘dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people’.

Around the world, at least 82 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Many of these people are refugees and asylum seekers. Over half are internally displaced within the border of their own country. The vast majority of these people are hosted in developing countries. Learn more here.

UNHCR has a presence in 125 countries, with 90%+ of staff based in the field. An important dimension of their work involves collecting and using data – to understand what’s happening, to which people, where it’s happening and what should be done about it. 

In the past, managing this data has been a huge challenge. Data was collected in a decentralised manner. It was then stored, archived, and processed in a decentralised manner. This meant that much of the value of this data was lost. Insights were undiscovered. Opportunities missed. 

In 2019, the UNHCR released its Data Transformation Strategy 2020 – 2025 – with the vision of UNHCR becoming ‘a trusted leader on data and information related to refugees and other affected populations, thereby enabling actions that protect, include and empower’.

The Raw Internal Data Library (RIDL)  supports this strategy by creating a safe, organized place for UNHCR to store its data , with metadata that helps staff find the data they need and enables them to re-use it in multiple types of analysis. 

Since 2018, the team at Open Knowledge Foundation have been working with the RIDL team to build this library using CKAN –  the open source data management system. 

OKF spoke with Mariann Urban at UNHCR Global Data Service about the project to learn more. 

Here is an extract of that interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.


Hi Mariann. Can you start by telling us why data is important for UNHCR

MU/UNHCR: That’s a great question. Pretty much everyone at UNHCR now recognises that good data is the key to achieving meaningful solutions for displaced people. It’s important to enable evidence-based decision making and to deliver our mandate. And also, it helps us raise awareness and demonstrate the impact of our work. Data is at the foundation of what UNHCR does. It’s also important for building strong partnerships with governments and other organisations. When we share this data, anonymised where necessary, it allows our partners to design their programmes better. Data is critical to generate better knowledge and insights. Secondary usage includes indicator baseline analysis, trend analysis, forecasting, modeling etc. Data is really valuable!

What kinds of datasets does UNHCR collect and use?

MU/UNHCR: We have people working in countries all over the world, most of them in the field. Every year UNHCR spends a huge amount of money collecting data. It’s a huge investment. Much of this data collection happens at the field level, organised by our partners in operations. They collect a multitude of operational data each year.

You must have lots of interesting data. Can you give us an example of one important dataset?

MU/UNHCR: One of the most valuable datasets is our registration data. Registering refugees and asylum seekers is the primary responsibility of governments. But if they require help, UNHCR provides support in that area.

In the past, How was data collected, archived and used at UNHCR?

MU/UNHCR: Let me give you an example about how it used to be. In the past, let’s imagine, there was a data collection exercise in Cameroon. Our colleagues finished the exercise, and the data stayed in the partner organisation, or sometimes with the actual person collecting the data. It was stored on hard drives, shared drives, email accounts etc. Then, the next person who wanted to work with the data, or a similar data set probably had no access to this data, to use as a baseline, or for trends analysis.

That sounds like a problem.

MU/UNHCR: Yes! This was the problem statement that led to the idea of the Raw Internal Data Library (RIDL). Of course, we already have corporate data archiving solutions. But we realised we needed something more.

Tell us more about RIDL

MU/UNHCR: The main goal of RIDL is to stop data loss. We know that the organisation cannot capitalise on data if they are lost or forgotten, or not stored in a format that is interoperable, machine-readable, and does not include a minimum set of metadata to ensure appropriate further use.

RIDL is built on CKAN. Why is that?

MU/UNHCR: Our team had some experience with CKAN, which is already used in the humanitarian data community. UNHCR has been an active user of OCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) platform to share aggregate data externally and we closely collaborate with its technical team. After a market research, we realised that CKAN was also a good solution for an internal library – the data is internal, but it needs to be visible to a lot of people inside the organisation. 

What about external partners and the media? Can they access RIDL datasets?

MU/UNHCR: There are some complicated issues around privacy and security. Some of the data we collect is extremely sensitive. We have to be strong custodians of this data to ensure it is used appropriately. Once we analyse the data, we can take the next step and share it externally, of course. Sometimes our data include personal identifiers, it therefore must be cleaned and anonymised to ensure that data subjects are not identifiable. Once we have a dataset that is anonymised – we use our Microdata Library to publish it externally. Thus RIDL is the first step in a long chain of sharing our data with partners, governments, researchers and the media. 

RIDL is a technological solution. But I imagine there is some cultural change required for UNHCR to reach its vision of becoming a data-enabled organisation.

MU/UNHCR: Yes of course, achieving these aspirations is not just about getting the technology right. We also have to make cultural, procedural and governance changes to become a data-enabled organisation. It’s a huge project. It needs a culture shift in UNHCR – because even if it’s internal, it’s a bit of work to convince people to upload. The metadata is always visible for everyone internally, but the actual data itself can be restricted and only visible following a request and evaluation. We want to be a trusted leader, but we also want to use that data to arrive at a better solution for refugees, to enrich our partnerships, and to enable evidence-based decision making – which is what we always aim to do.

Thanks for sharing your insights with us today Mariann. 

MU/UNHCR: No problem. It’s been a pleasure. 


Find out more

Open Knowledge Foundation is working with UNHCR to deliver the Raw Internal Data Library (RIDL). If you work outside of UNHCR, you can access UNHCR’s Microdata Library here. Learn more about CKAN here. 

If your organisation needs a Data Library solution and you want to learn more about our work, email info@okfn.org. We’d love to talk to you !

Between Frogs and Gods: Illustrations of Physiognomy

- January 6, 2022 in Uncategorized

Images of a frog metamorphing into Apollo illustrating Johann Kaspar Lavater's theories of physiognomy.

Gustave Zander and the 19th-Century Gym

- January 4, 2022 in Uncategorized

Contemporary fitness culture finds its origins in 19th-century Stockholm, where Dr. Zander invented precursors to our contemporary gym equipment.

Happy Public Domain Day 2022!

- January 1, 2022 in Uncategorized

Each January 1st is Public Domain Day, where a new crop of works have their copyrights expire and become free to enjoy, share, and reuse for any purpose.