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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 !

Take part in EU Open Data Days, an event focused on the benefits of open data and its reuse in the EU

- March 31, 2021 in Open Government Data, Open Knowledge Foundation

Open Knowledge Foundation are partnering with the Publications Office of the European Union for EU Open Data Days, an event to bring the benefits of open data and its reuse to the EU public sector. Below you can find details about the event in a press release republished from the Publications Office.

Participate in the first edition of the EU Open Data Days from 23-25 November 2021. This unique event will serve as a knowledge hub, bringing the benefits of open data to the EU public sector, and through it to people and businesses.

This fully online event will start with EU DataViz 2021, a conference on open data and data visualisation, on 23 and 24 November. It will close with the finale of EU Datathon, the annual open data competition, on 25 November.

Speak at EU DataViz 2021

The EU Open Data Days organising team are looking for speakers to help shape a highly relevant conference programme. Are you an expert on open data and/or data visualisation? We encourage you to share your ideas, successful projects and best practices, which can be actionable in the setting of the EU public sector.

We welcome proposals from all over the world, and from all sectors: academia, private entities, journalists, data visualisation freelancers, EU institutions, national public administrations and more. For more information, visit the EU DataViz website.

Submit your proposal for a conference contribution by 21 May 2021 here.

Compete in EU Datathon 2021

Propose your idea for an application built on open data and compete for your share of the prize fund of EUR 99 000. Demonstrate the value of open data and address a challenge related to the European Commission’ priorities.

We welcome ideas from data enthusiasts from all around the world. Check the rules of the competition and to participate, submit your proposal for an application by 21 May 2021 here.

Follow us for more information

The EU Open Data Days are organised by the Publications Office of the European Union with the support of the ISA2 programme. Find out more on the EU Open Data Days website and follow updates on Twitter @EU_opendata.

Our Open Future

- August 19, 2020 in Featured, Join us, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

  Our world has been turned upside down. We stand at a crossroads with a choice between two futures. A closed future where knowledge belongs to the few; or an open future where knowledge is shared and used by everyone so that we can live happier and healthier lives. Our work has never been more important. And we’d like you to join us. The Open Knowledge Foundation has launched a new campaign for Our Open Future.  You can join the campaign here.  We will email you regular updates explaining why an open future has never been more important and how you can learn more about the key issues.  Watch our new campaign video:

Click here

   At the Open Knowledge Foundation, we want to build a fair, free and open future. To embrace an open future, we believe that more information should be open including information which can be released as open data. Open data is data which can be “freely used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose”. But data on its own is often not enough to generate understanding. So open knowledge is what open data becomes when it’s useful, usable and used. This language is from the Open Definition which we created in 2005 and which is now translated into dozens of languages. In the years since the term was first used in 1995 and a decade since it broke onto the global stage, the idea of open data has spread around the world. Some countries have embraced it, some have balked at it and others have yet to embrace its true potential. We hope that this campaign will help more people understand why we believe in the idea of an open future. If you want to open up your data, visit our website to read a brief how-to guide or consult the Open Data Handbook for more in-depth advice. If you want to publish information under an open license for anyone to use, visit Creative Commons or our own Open Data Commons website to learn more about available open licenses. Our open-source technical tools like CKAN or DataHub can also be used to publish open data.   Sign up to Our Open Future to learn more about why we are running the campaign now and how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the future of openness. 

Catherine Stihler to leave Open Knowledge Foundation to lead Creative Commons

- July 9, 2020 in Featured, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

Catherine Stihler OBE

Catherine Stihler. Photo: David Iliff / CC BY-SA.

Our Chief Executive Catherine Stihler OBE has accepted a new opportunity and will soon be leaving the Open Knowledge Foundation.

She goes with our very warmest wishes and we hope to continue a strong relationship with her in her new role as CEO of Creative Commons.

Catherine joined the Open Knowledge Foundation in February 2019 and has overseen a new chapter for the organisation to celebrate our 15th anniversary.

Under her leadership we have redefined our campaign for a fair, free and open future with a renewed mission to create an open world, where all non-personal information is open, free for everyone to use, build on and share; and creators and innovators are fairly recognised and rewarded.

As we work to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we face a new global recession and an ongoing climate emergency.

Our vision of a fair, free and open future has never been so important.

Vanessa Barnett, Chair of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “On behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation board, I’d like to thank Catherine for her work overseeing a positive new chapter for our organisation.

“She leaves with our best wishes and we look forward to collaborating with her in the future through our partnerships with organisations across the world which champion openness. “The strong team at Open Knowledge Foundation will continue to campaign and help deliver programmes for an open future: our work and distinct skill sets have never been more important than they are today.” Catherine Stihler said: “It was a huge privilege to join the incredible team at the Open Knowledge Foundation. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with so many talented people who campaign tirelessly for a more open world. “I wish the Open Knowledge Foundation every success in the future and look forward to watching the organisation continue to grow.” The process of recruiting a new CEO will commence immediately.

OpenSpending stewardship moving to Datopian

- July 9, 2020 in Datopian, News, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Spending, OpenSpending

  OpenSpending is one of the longest running projects both at Open Knowledge Foundation and within the open data ecosystem in its entirety. Starting life in 2009 as Where Does my Money Go?, OpenSpending has played a vital role in the publication of open budget and spending data by governments world over.  Over the past five years, much of the work around OpenSpending has been in collaboration with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT). Via this collaboration, the Fiscal Data Package – a data standard for a wide range of public financial data – has been adopted by multiple countries, which use OpenSpending as a platform for publishing data in the Fiscal Data Package format. Given Datopian’s long-standing association with OpenSpending and Fiscal Data Package, it was agreed that Datopian would take on the stewardship of OpenSpending going forward with Rufus Pollock, the original creator of OpenSpending, in the lead. Datopian will be consulting with the community to plan the evolution of the platform over the next few weeks and will also continue to provide updates on progress with GIFT, including they ways in which they plan to increase the adoption of Fiscal Data Package and aid governments to publish timely financial data.  For now, existing users and community members can reach out to the Datopian team via a new discord channel,  where they will be happy to chat and answer any questions.This post has been republished from datopian.com.

Lessons learned from organising the first ever virtual csv,conf

- June 17, 2020 in #CSVconf, Events, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

This blogpost was collaboratively written by the csv,conf organising team which includes Lilly Winfree and Jo Barratt from the Open Knowledge Foundation. csv,conf is supported by the Sloan Foundation as part of our Frictionless Data for Reproducible Research grant.

A brief history

csv,conf is a community conference that brings diverse groups together to discuss data topics, and features stories about data sharing and data analysis from science, journalism, government, and open source. Over the years we have had over a hundred different talks from a huge range of speakers, most of which you can still watch back on our YouTube Channel.

csv,conf,v1 took place in Berlin in 2014 and we were there again for v2 in 2016 before we moved across the Atlantic for v3 and v4 which were held in Portland, Oregon in the United States in 2017 and 2019. For csv,conf,v5, we were looking forward to our first conference in Washington DC, but unfortunately, like many other in-person events, this was not going to be possible in 2020. People have asked us about our experience moving from a planned in-person event to one online, in a very short space of time, so we are sharing our story with the hope that it will be helpful to others, as we move into a world where online events and conferences are going to be more prevalent than ever. The decision to take the conference online was not an easy one. Until quite late on, the question csv,conf organisers kept asking each other was not “how will we run the conference virtually?” but “will we need to cancel?“. As the pandemic intensified, this decision was taken out of our hands and it became quickly clear that cancelling our event in Washington D.C. was not only the responsible thing to do, but the only thing we could do.

Weighing the decision to hold csv,conf,v5 online

Once it was clear that we would not hold an in-person event, we deliberated on whether we would hold an online event, postpone, or cancel.

Moving online – The challenge

One of our main concerns was whether we would be able to encapsulate everything good about csv,conf in a virtual setting – the warmth you feel when you walk into the room, the interesting side conversations, and the feeling of being reunited with old friends, and naturally meeting new ones were things that we didn’t know whether we could pull off. And if we couldn’t, did we want to do this at all?

We were worried about keeping a commitment to speakers who had made a commitment themselves. But at the same time we were worried speakers may not be interested in delivering something virtually, or that it would not have the same appeal. It was important to us that there was value to the speakers, and at the start of this process we were committed to making this happen. Many of us have experience running events both in person and online, but this was bigger. We had some great advice and drew heavily on the experience of others in similar positions to us. But it still felt like this was different. We were starting from scratch and for all of our preparation, right up to the moment we pressed ‘go live’ inside Crowdcast, we simply didn’t know whether it was going to work. But what we found was that hard work, lots of planning and support of the community made it work. There were so many great things about the format that surprised and delighted us. We now find ourselves asking whether an online format is in fact a better fit for our community, and exploring what a hybrid conference might look like in the future.

Moving online – The opportunity

There were a great many reasons to embrace a virtual conference. Once we made the decision and started to plan, this became ever clearer. Not least was the fact that an online conference would give many more people the opportunity to attend. We work hard every year to reduce the barriers to attendance where possible and we’re grateful to our supporters here, but our ability to support conference speakers is limited and it is also probably the biggest cost year-on-year. We are conscious that barriers to entry still apply to a virtual conference, but they are different and it is clear that for csv,conf,v5 more people who wanted to join could be part of it. Csv,conf is normally attended by around 250 people. The in-person conferences usually fill up with just a few attendees under capacity. It feels the right size for our community. But this year we had over 1,000 registrations. More new people could attend and there were also more returning faces.


Attendees joined csv,conf,v5’s opening session from around the world

Planning an online conference

Despite the obvious differences, much about organising a conference remains the same whether virtual or not. Indeed, by the time we by the time we made the shift to an online conference, much of this work had been done.

Organising team

From about September 2019, the organising team met up regularly every few weeks on a virtual call. We reviewed our list of things and assigned actions. We used a private channel on Slack for core organisers to keep updated during the week.

We had a good mix of skills and interests on the organising team from community wranglers to writers and social media aces. We would like to give a shout out to the team of local volunteers we had on board to help with DC-specific things. In the end this knowledge just wasn’t needed for the virtual conf. We recruited a group of people from the organising team to act as the programme committee. This group would be responsible for running the call for proposals (CFP) and selecting the talks. We relied on our committed team of organisers for the conference and we found it helpful to have very clear roles/responsibilities to help manage the different aspects of the ‘live’ conference. We had a host who introduced speakers, a Q&A/chat monitor, a technical helper and a Safety Officer/Code of Conduct enforcer at all times. It was also helpful to have “floaters” who were unassigned to a specific task, but could help with urgent needs.

Selecting talks

We were keen on making it easy for people to complete the call for proposals. We set up a Google form and asked just a few simple questions. All talks were independently reviewed and scored by members of the committee and we had a final meeting to review our scores and come up with a final list. We were true to the scoring system, but there were other things to consider. Some speakers had submitted several talks and we had decided that even if several talks by the same person scored highly, only one could go into the final schedule. We value diversity of speakers, and reached out to diverse communities to advertise the call for proposals and also considered diversity when selecting talks. Also, where talks were scoring equally, we wanted to ensure we we’re giving priority to speakers who were new to the conference. We asked all speakers to post their slides onto the csv,conf Zenodo repository. This was really nice to have because attendees asked multiple times for links to slides, so we could simply send them to the Zenodo collection. Though it proved to not be relevant for 2020 virtual event, it’s worth mentioning that the process of granting travel or accommodation support to speakers was entirely separate from the selection criteria. Although we asked people to flag a request for support, this did not factor into the decision making process.

Creating a schedule

Before we could decide on a schedule, we needed to decide on the hours and timezones we would hold the conference. csv,conf is usually a two-day event with three concurrently run sessions, and we eventually decided to have the virtual event remain two days, but have one main talk session with limited concurrent talks.

Since the in-person conference was supposed to occur in Washington, D.C., many of our speakers were people in US timezones so we focused on timezones that would work best for those speakers. We also wanted to ensure that our conference organisers would be awake during the conference. We started at 10am Eastern, which was very early for West Coast (7am) and late afternoon for non-US attendees (3pm UK; 5pm Eastern Europe). We decided on seven hours of programming each day, meaning the conference ended in late afternoon for US attendees and late evening for Europe. Unfortunately, these timezones did not work for everyone (notably the Asia-Pacific region) and we recommend that you pick timezones that work for your speakers and your conference organisers whilst stretching things as far as possible if equal accessibility is important to you. We also found it was important to clearly list the conference times in multiple timezones on our schedule so that it was easier for attendees to know what time the talks were happening.

Tickets and registration

Although most of what makes csv,conf successful is human passion and attention (and time!), we also found that the costs involved in running a virtual conference are minimal. Except for some extra costs for upgrading our communication platforms, and making funds available to support speakers in getting online, running the conference remotely saved us several thousand dollars.

We have always used an honour system for ticket pricing. We ask people pay what they can afford, with some suggested amounts depending on the attendees situation. But we needed to make some subtle changes for the online event, as it was a different proposition. We first made it clear that tickets were free, and refunded those who had already purchased tickets. Eventbrite is the platform we have always used for registering attendees for the conference, and it does the job. It’s easy to use and straightforward. We kept it running this year for consistency and to ensure we’re keeping our data organised, even though it involved importing the data into another platform. We were able to make the conference donation based thanks to the support of the Sloan Foundation and individual contributors and donations. Perhaps because the overall registrations also went up, we found that the donations also went up. In future – and with more planning and promotion – it would be feasible to consider a virtual event of the scale of csv,conf funded entirely by contributions from the community it serves.

Code of Conduct

We spent significant time enhancing our Code of Conduct for the virtual conference. We took in feedback from last year’s conference and reviewed other organisations’ Code of Conduct. The main changes were to consider how a Code of Conduct needed to relate to the specifics of something happening online. We also wanted to create more transparency in the enforcement and decision-making processes.

One new aspect was the ability to report incidents via Slack. We designated two event organisers as “Safety Officers”, and they were responsible for responding to any incident reports and were available for direct messaging via Slack (see the Code of Conduct for full details). We also provided a neutral party to receive incident reports if there were any conflicts of interest.

Communication via Slack

We used Slack for communication during the conference, and received positive feedback about this choice. We added everyone that registered to the Slack channel to ensure that everyone would receive important messages.

We had a Slack session bot that would announce the beginning of each session with the link to the session and we received a lot of positive feedback about the session-bot. For people not on Slack, we also had the schedule in a Google spreadsheet and on the website, and everyone that registered with an email received the talk links via email too. For the session bot, we used the Google Calendar for Team Events app on Slack. Another popular Slack channel that was created for this conference was a dedicated Q&A channel allowing speakers to interact with session attendees, providing more context around their talks, linking to resources, and chatting about possible collaborations. At the end of each talk, one organiser would copy all of the questions and post them into this Q&A channel so that the conversations could continue. We received a lot of positive feedback about this and it was pleasing to see the conversations continue. We also had a dedicated speakers channel, where speakers could ask questions and offer mutual support and encouragement both before and during the event. Another important channel was a backchannel for organisers, which we used mainly to coordinate and cheer each other on during the conf. We also used this to ask for technical help behind the scenes to ensure everything ran as smoothly as possible. After talks, one organiser would use Slack private messaging to collate and send positive feedback for speakers, as articulated by attendees during the session. This was absolutely worth it and we were really pleased to see the effort was appreciated. Slack is of course free, but its premium service does offer upgrades for charities and we were lucky enough to make use of this. The application process is very easy and takes less that 10 mins so this is worth considering. We made good use of Twitter throughout the conference and there were active #commallama and #csvconf hashtags going throughout the event. The organisers had joint responsibility for this and this seemed to work. We simply announced the hashtags at the beginning of the day and people picked them up easily. We had a philosophy of ‘over-communicating’ – offering updates as soon as we had them, and candidly. We used it to to share updates, calls-to-action, and to amplify people’s thoughts, questions and feedback

Picking a video conference platform

Zoom concerns

One of the biggest decisions we had to make was picking a video conferencing platform for the conference. We originally considered using Zoom, but were concerned about a few things. The first was reports of rampant “zoombombing”, where trolls join Zoom meetings with the intent to disrupt the meeting. The second concern was that we are a small team of organisers and there would be great overhead in moderating a Zoom room with hundreds of attendees – muting, unmuting, etc. We also worried that a giant Zoom room would feel very impersonal. Many of us now spend what is probably an unnecessary amount of our daily lives on Zoom and we also felt that stepping away from this would help mark the occasion as something special, so we made the decision to move away from Zoom and we looked to options that we’re more of a broadcast tool than meeting tool.

Crowdcast benefits

We saw another virtual conference that used Crowdcast and were impressed with how it felt to participate, so we started to investigate it as a platform before enthusiastically committing to it, with some reservations.

The best parts of Crowdcast to us were the friendly user interface, which includes a speaker video screen, a dedicated chat section with a prompt bar reading “say something nice”, and a separate box for questions. It felt really intuitive and the features were considered, useful and we incorporated most of them. From the speaker, participant and host side, the experience felt good and appropriate. The consideration on the different user types was clear in the design and appreciated. One great function was that of a green room, which is akin to a speakers’ couch at the backstage of an in-person conference, helping to calm speakers’ nerves, check their audio and visual settings, discuss cues, etc. before stepping out onto the stage. Another benefit of Crowdcast is that the talks are immediately available for viewing, complete with chat messages for people to revisit after the conference. This was great as it allowed people to catch up in almost real time and so catch up quickly if they missed something on the day and feel part of the conference discussions as the developed. We also released all talk videos on YouTube and tweeted the links to each talk.

Crowdcast challenges

But Crowdcast was not without its limitations. Everything went very well, and the following issues were not deal breakers, but acknowledging them can help future organisers plan and manage expectations.

Top of the list of concerns was our complete inexperience with it and the likely inexperience of our speakers. To ensure that our speakers were comfortable using Crowdcast, we held many practice sessions with speakers before the conference, and also had an attendee AMA before the conference to get attendees acquainted with the platform. These sessions were vital for us to practice all together and this time and effort absolutely paid off! If there is one piece of advice you should take away from reading this guide it is this: practice practice practice, and give others the opportunity and space to practice as well. One challenge we faced was hosting – only one account has host privileges, but we learned that many people can log into that account at the same time to share host privileges. Hosts can allow other people to share their screen and unmute, and they can also elevate questions from the chat to the questions box. They can also kick people out if they are being disruptive (which didn’t happen for us, but we wanted to be prepared). This felt a bit weird, honestly, and we had to be careful to be aware of the power we had when in the hosts position. Weird, but also incredibly useful and a key control feature which was essential for an event run by a group rather than an individual. With Crowdcast, you can only share four screens at a time (so that would be two people sharing two screens). Our usual setup was a host, with one speaker sharing their screen at a time. We could add a speaker for the talks that only had a single other speaker but any more that this we would have had problems. It was easy enough for the host to chop and change who is on screen at any time, and there’s no limit on the total number of speakers in a session. So there is some flexibility, and ultimately, we were OK. But this should be a big consideration if you are running an event with different forms of presentation. Crowdcast was also not without its technical hiccups and frustrations. Speakers sometimes fell off the call or had mysterious problems sharing their screens. We received multiple comments/questions on the day about the video lagging/buffering. We often had to resort to the ol’ refresh refresh refresh approach which, to be fair, mostly worked. And on the few occasions we were stumped, there’s quite a lot of support available online and directly from Crowdcast. But honestly, there were very few technical issues for a two-day online conference. Some attendees wanted info on the speakers (ex: name, twitter handle) during the presentation and we agree it would have been a nice touch to have a button or link in Crowdcast. There is the “call to action” feature, but we were using that to link to the code of conduct. Crowdcast was new to us, and new to many people in the conference community. As well as these practices we found it helpful to set up an FAQ page with content about how to use Crowdcast and what to expect from an online conference in general. Overall, it was a good decision and a platform we would recommend for consideration.

#Commallama

Finally, it would not be csv,conf if it had not been for the #commallama. The comma llama first joined us for csv,conf,v3 in Portland and joined us again for csv,conf,v4. The experience of being around a llama is both relaxing and energising at the same time, and a good way to get people mixing.

Taking the llama online was something we had to do and we were very pleased with how it worked. It was amazing to see how much joy people go out of the experience and also interesting to notice how well people naturally adapted to the online environment. People naturally organised into a virtual queue and took turns coming on to the screen to screengrab a selfie. Thanks to our friends at Mtn Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas for being so accommodating and helping us to make this possible.

A big thank you to our community and supporters

As we reflect on the experience this year, one thing is very clear to us: The conference was only possible because of the community to speak, attend and supported us. It was a success because the community showed up, was kind, welcoming and extremely generous with their knowledge, ideas and time. The local people in D.C. who stepped up to offer knowledge and support on the ground in D.C. was a great example of this and we are incredibly grateful or the support, though this turned out not to be needed.

We were lucky to have a community of developers, journalists, scientists and civic activists who intrinsically know how to interact and support one another online, and who adapted to the realities of an online conference well. From the moment speakers attended our practice sessions on the platform and started to support one another, we knew that things we’re going to work out. We knew things would not all run to plan, but we trusted that the community would be understanding and actively support us in solving problems. It’s something we are grateful for. We were also thankful to Alfred P. SLOAN Foundation and our 100+ individual supporters for making the decision to support us financially. It is worth noting that none of this would have been possible without our planned venue, hotel and catering contracts being very understanding in letting us void our contracts without any penalties.

Looking ahead – the future of csv,conf

Many people have been asking us about the future of csv,conf. Firstly it’s clear that the csv,conf,v5 has given us renewed love for the conference and made it abundantly clear to us of the need for a conference like this in the world. It’s also probably the case that the momentum generated by running the conference this year will secure enthusiasm amongst organisers for putting something together next year.

So the questions will be “what should a future csv,conf look like?”. We will certainly be considering our experience of running this years event online. It was such a success that there is an argument for keeping it online going forward, or putting together something of a hybrid. Time will tell. We hope that this has been useful for others. If you are organising an event and have suggestions or further questions that could improve this resource, please let us know. Our Slack remains open and is the best place to get in touch with us. • The original version of this blogpost was published on csvconf.com and republished here with kind permission.

Opinion poll: majority of Brits want government action against online disinformation

- May 7, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

A new opinion poll has revealed that a majority of people in the UK want ministers to take action against disinformation on social media sites. The poll by Survation for the Open Knowledge Foundation found that 55 per cent of people in the UK believe the Government should ‘impose compulsory action on social media sites to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites’. One-third (33 per cent) said social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter should take voluntary action to tackle disinformation, and only 7 per cent said no action should be taken. Over half of people (51 per cent) said they have seen content about COVID-19 they believe to be false or misleading. One of the most common claims which has been discredited by medical experts is a link to 5G phone masts. The poll also asked respondents about micro-targeting – the marketing strategy that uses people’s data to create small groups for targeting through adverts. The results show that 43 per cent of people believe the UK Government should ‘impose compulsory action on internet platforms to restrict micro-targeting’, while 32 per cent believe internet platforms should take voluntary action to restrict micro-targeting. Only 10 per cent said no action should be taken. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “The spread of fake news and disinformation on internet platforms has been ignored for too long, and now it is causing major concern during a global health emergency. “It is sadly not surprising, and yet deeply worrying, that a majority of people in the UK have seen COVID-19 related information they believe to be false. “The best way to tackle disinformation is to make information open, allowing journalists, scientists and researchers to provide facts to the public. “Tech giants have a responsibility to increase transparency and work closely with fact checkers, but voluntary action is never going to be enough by itself. “It’s encouraging that a majority of people in the UK want the UK Government to take action against social media platforms to prevent the spread of fake news. “The UK Government should take account of these results and work towards a future that is fair, free and open.” The Open Knowledge Foundation has been campaigning for greater openness amid concerns about micro-targeting. Recent recommendations from the UK government advisory body on data technology include regulation of the online targeting systems that promote and recommend content like posts, videos and adverts. But Facebook has refused calls for it to change its policies on fact-checking political adverts and limit micro-targeting. Google previously said it is limiting political ads audience targeting to more general categories, and Twitter has banned political ads. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “Restricting micro-targeting and tackling some forms of false information will help rebuild trust in the political process. “But the long-term solution to this does not involve self-regulation. The only way to build a fair, free and open digital future in the UK and across the world is to update analogue laws for the digital age.”
Poll results Opinion poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Fieldwork conducted 27-28th April 2020, all residents aged 18+ living in UK, sample size 1,006 respondents. Download the full report. Tables available here. Q. Disinformation is false information which is intended to mislead, including claims about COVID-19 which have been discredited by medical experts, such as a link to 5G phone masts. Have you seen any content about COVID-19 on social media sites such as Facebook, instagram or Twitter that you believe to be false or misleading?
  • Yes: 51%
  • No: 37%
  • Don’t know: 12%
Q. Thinking about social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which of the following statements best reflects your views?
  • There should be no action taken to prevent the spread of disinformation on social media sites: 7%.
  • Social media sites should take voluntary action to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites: 33%.
  • The UK Government should impose compulsory action on social media sites to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites: 55%.
  • Don’t know: 5%.
Q. Micro-targeting is a marketing strategy that uses people’s data – about what they like, who they’re connected to, what they’ve purchased and more – to create small groups for targeting through adverts. It is commonly used by political parties and campaigns, as well as companies. Which of the following statements best reflects your views?
  • There should be no action taken regarding the use of micro-targeting: 10%.
  • Internet platforms should take voluntary action to restrict micro-targeting: 32%.
  • The UK Government should impose compulsory action on internet platforms to restrict micro-targeting: 43%.
  • Don’t know: 15%.

Brits demand openness from government in tackling coronavirus

- May 5, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

  A new opinion poll has revealed that people across the UK want openness from the government as it tackles the coronavirus pandemic. The Survation poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation found that in response to COVID-19, people want data to be openly available for checking, they are more likely to listen to expert advice from scientists and researchers, and they oppose restricting the public’s right to information. The poll found:
  • 97% believe it is important that COVID-19 data is openly available for people to check
  • 67% believe all COVID-19 related research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely
  • 64% are now more likely to listen expert advice from qualified scientists and researchers
  • Only 29% believe restricting the public’s right to information is a necessary emergency measure
  • 63% believe a government data strategy would have helped in the fight against COVID-19
The UK Government has faced calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the coronavirus outbreak. The calls came after The Guardian revealed that the Prime Minister’s top aide, Dominic Cummings, had been attending meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). Ministers have said they are following ‘the best science’, but concerns have been raised about data secrecy with the UK Government accused of acting too slowly, lagging behind on testing, and having insufficient supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Over a number of years the UK government has been developing a National Data Strategy with rules and guidelines on how to share data between organisations like the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. The strategy has not yet been published. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has also been criticised for measures to tighten Freedom of Information legislation. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “At the heart of the response to the pandemic is data, which tells us what is happening in our communities. “Ensuring that data is open is the first stage in the battle against the coronavirus. “This poll shows that people in the UK want COVID-19 data to be openly available for checking, and that research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely. “This is important as removing barriers to the use of intellectual property will ultimately help lead to a vaccine. “The poll shows that measures to restrict the public’s right to information must be avoided, as transparency is more important than ever. “People still trust the government to take the right decisions, but this will be eroded if information is withheld. “One particularly encouraging finding is that people are now more likely to listen to expert advice.  “I am hopeful that the acceptance of basic facts will return after this pandemic and there will be a renewed focus on building a fair, free and open future.”
Poll results Opinion poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Fieldwork conducted 27-28th April 2020, all residents aged 18+ living in UK, sample size 1,006 respondents. Q1. During the COVID-19 crisis, lots of information provided to the public has been based on data. How important is it to you that this data is openly available for you to check? Very important: 58% Quite important: 28% Somewhat important: 11% Not so important: 2% Not at all important: 0% Don’t know: 1% Q2. Knowledge becomes ‘open’ when any non-personal content, information or data is free to use, re-use and redistribute – without any legal, technological or social restriction. Closed knowledge is when non-personal content, information or data is not shared. How important is it to you that knowledge relating to the COVID-19 crisis is open? Very important: 54% Quite important: 30% Somewhat important: 11% Not so important: 3% Not at all important: 0% Don’t know: 2% Q3. Over a number of years the UK government has been developing a National Data Strategy with rules and guidelines on how to share data between organisations like the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. The strategy has not yet been published. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? A government data strategy would have helped in the fight against COVID-19: 63%. A government data strategy would not have helped in the fight against COVID-19: 20%. Don’t know: 18%. Q4. The UK government has said that it will be guided by scientists when it comes to lifting the national lockdown and planning social measures needed to prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks. Not all of the data provided to politicians has been made public. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? I trust the UK Government to take the right decisions for the country based on confidential evidence and data: 59%. I do not trust the UK Government to take the right decisions for the country based on confidential evidence and data and they should be more transparent: 35%. Don’t know: 6%. Q5. Thinking about the work being done by scientists and drug companies towards creating a COVID-19 vaccine, which of the following statements best reflects your views? All COVID-19 related research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely: 67%. All COVID-19 related research and data should be kept private: 17%. Don’t know: 16%. Q6. Has the COVID-19 pandemic made you more or less likely to listen to expert advice from qualified scientists and researchers? Far more likely: 31% Slightly more likely: 33% Neither more or less likely: 28% Slightly less likely: 4% Far less likely: 1% Don’t know: 3% Q7. Governments across the world are passing new emergency laws to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Many governments have temporarily altered, delayed or suspended the public’s right to information. In the UK, the Scottish Government has granted time extensions for responding to Freedom of Information requests from the public. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? Restricting the public’s right to information is a necessary emergency measure: 29%. Restricting the public’s right to information is an unnecessary emergency measure: 52%. Don’t know: 18%.