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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%.

New opinion poll – UK contact-tracing app must take account of human rights

- May 4, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

A new opinion poll has revealed that an overwhelming majority of Brits want any coronavirus contact-tracing app to take account of civil liberties and people’s privacy. The Survation poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation comes ahead of today’s evidence session at Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on the human rights implications of COVID-19 tracing apps. The poll has found widespread support for the introduction of a contact-tracing app in the UK at 65 per cent, but 90 per cent of respondents said it is important that any app takes account of civil liberties and protects people’s privacy. A total of 49 per cent of people in the poll of over 1,000 people in the UK said this was ‘very important’. An NHS contact-tracing app designed to alert users when they have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus symptoms and should seek a COVID-19 test will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week. Human rights campaigners have raised questions about how the data will be processed, who will own the information, and how long it will be kept for. The UK is understood to be working towards a centralised model, but this approach has been abandoned in Germany due to privacy concerns. Other countries, including Ireland, are using a decentralised model, where information is only held on individual smartphones, not a server. Today, a series of experts will be giving oral evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, including the UK Information Commissioner. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “Technology will rightly play a key role in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, and there is clear support in the UK for a contact-tracing app in the UK. “But what is even clearer is that people want the app to take account of civil liberties and ensure that people’s privacy is protected. “We must not lose sight of ethical responsibilities in the rush to develop these tools. “It is vital to balance the needs of individuals and the benefit to society, ensuring that human rights are protected to secure public trust and confidence in the system.” 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. Q) Smartphone software called ‘contact-tracing’ is being developed to alert users when someone they were recently close to becomes infected with COVID-19. Contact-tracing apps log every instance a person is close to another smartphone-owner for a significant period of time. It has not been announced how your data will be processed, who will own the information, and how long it will be kept for. To what extent do you support or oppose the introduction of a contact-tracing app in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic? Strongly support: 28%
Somewhat support: 37%
Neither support nor oppose: 18%
Somewhat oppose: 6%
Strongly oppose: 6%
Don’t know: 4% Q) How important is it to you that any contact-tracing app in the UK takes account of civil liberties and protects people’s privacy? Very important: 49%
Quite important: 29%
Somewhat important: 13%
Not so important: 5%
Not at all important: 1%
Don’t know: 4%

Open Knowledge Foundation CEO Catherine Stihler awarded OBE

- November 27, 2019 in Open Knowledge

Our chief executive Catherine Stihler has been awarded an OBE by Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge.

She was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her service to politics.

Yesterday, Catherine took part in the investiture at Buckingham Palace, watched on by her proud family.

Catherine said: “It was an immense honour to receive this recognition and be awarded an OBE by Prince William.

“When I entered the European Parliament as Britain’s youngest MEP 20 years ago it was because I believed in public service as a force for good. That’s something I still passionately believe today.

“At the Open Knowledge Foundation I continue to fight to improve politics, tackling disinformation and lies and working towards a future that is fair, free and open.

“The overwhelming majority of people who choose public service do so to improve lives for their communities, and we should never lose sight of that.”

Catherine has been chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation since February 2019. Prior to this, she represented Scotland as a Member of the European Parliament for Labour since 1999. As Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, she worked on digital policy, prioritising the digital single market, digital skills, better accessibility of digital products for the disabled, as well as citizen online data protection and privacy. As leader and founder of the All-Party Library Group she promoted and advocated for the importance of libraries and how libraries can remain relevant in the new digital age.

Born in Bellshill in 1973, Catherine was educated at Coltness High School, Wishaw and St Andrews University, where she was awarded a MA (Hons) Geography and International Relations (1996), and a MLitt in International Security Studies (1998). Before becoming a MEP, Catherine served as President of St Andrews University Students Association (1994-1995) and worked in the House of Commons for Dame Anne Begg MP (1997-1999). She has a Master of Business Administration from the Open University, and in 2018 was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews. Catherine was elected to serve as the 52nd Rector of the University of St Andrews between 2014 and 2017.

A recap of the 2019 eLife Innovation Sprint

- September 26, 2019 in Events, Frictionless Data, Open Science

Over 36 hours, Jo Barratt and Lilly Winfree from Open Knowledge Foundation’s Frictionless Data team joined 60 people from around the world to develop innovative solutions to open science obstacles at the 2019 eLife Innovation Sprint. This quick, collaborative event in Cambridge, UK, on September 4th and 5th brought together designers, scientists, coders, project managers, and communications experts to develop their budding ideas into functional prototypes. Projects focused on all aspects of open science, including but not limited to improving scientific publishing, data management, and increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Both Jo and Lilly pitched projects and thoroughly enjoyed working with their teams on these projects.  Lilly pitched creating an open science game that could be used to teach scientists about open best practices in a fun and informative way. Read on to learn more about these projects, and their experiences at the Sprint. Jo proposed making a podcast documenting the Sprint experience, projects, and people aiming to that would be fully produced and edited and publish the piece during the Sprint.  Lilly’s inspiration to create an open science game came from her experience at Force11 in 2018, where she played a game about FAIR data (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable). She realized that playing a game can be a great way to learn about a subject that might otherwise seem dry, and creating a game prototype seemed like a fun, accessible, and achievable goal for the Sprint. The open science game team formed with eight people from diverse backgrounds, including a game designer, board game enthusiasts, publishers, and scientists. This mix of backgrounds was a big asset to the team, and played a large role in the development of a functional game prototype. To start designing the game, the team first decided that the goal of the game should be to teach scientists about open science best practices, while the collaborative goal for the players would be to make an important scientific discovery – like curing a disease. The team crafted the storyline of the game, and finally worked on the game play mechanics. In the end, the game was made for 2-5 players and ideally would take about 30-45 minutes to play. To play, each player gets a role card — Lab Principal Investigator, Graduate Student, Data Management Librarian, Teaching Assistant, and Data Scientist. Each of these roles has personas and attributes that impact the game. For instance, the Principal Investigator has negative attributes that make sharing research openly harder, while the Teaching Assistant has positive attributes that make it easier to teach new tools to other players. On each turn, the players can draw research object cards or tool cards that help advance the game, but might also draw an event card, which can have positive of negative effects on the gameplay. The ultimate goal is for the players to share their research findings, which requires the player to draw and “research” an insight card and it’s related methods card, data collection card, and analysis card. The game ends once enough research findings are shared (either openly or with restricted access). A fun and interesting part of the game is that the players can role play their characters and see how attitudes towards open science differ and how those attitudes affect the progression of science. Hint: to win the game, the players have to cooperate with each other and openly share at least some of their research findings. The team is currently digitising the game so others can play it – keep track of their progress on their GitHub Repository.
“My team was fantastic to work with. I came to the Sprint with a basic idea and a hope that we could create a fun, educational game on open science, but my team really ran with the idea and created a game that is so much more than I had hoped for!” – Lilly Winfree, OKF

OKF delivery manager, Jo Barratt, brought his storytelling talents to the forefront for the eLife Sprint by proposing the creation of a podcast to document the people and ideas at the Sprint. Jo has produced many podcasts over the years, and thought the podcast format would offer a unique perspective into the inner workings of the Sprint. He was delighted to have two other Sprint members join his Podcast team: Hannah Drury and Elsa Loissel from eLife. Neither Hannah nor Elsa had worked on a podcast before, but both were eager and quick learners. Their project started with Jo giving Hannah and Elsa quick lessons on interviewing, using recording equipment, editing and sound design. Jo was really excited to have such collaborative team members to work with, which was very in line with the synergistic spirit of the Sprint. To capture a feel for the essence of the Sprint, Hannah and Elsa began by interviewing most Sprint members, asking them questions like about their backgrounds and what they hoped to get out of the sprint. Interviewees were also asked to give their views on what ‘open science’ means to them. Next, the team interviewed several projects for a more in depth discussion into how the Sprint works and what types of projects were being developed. In the final podcast, there are interviews with the teams from the open science game project, one on equitable preprints, the project looking at computational training best practices, and the high performance computing in Africa team. Each of these segments shows the people, methods, and progress of the projects, highlighting the diverse people and ideas at the Sprint and giving listeners insight into the process of this type of event as well as many of the problems that face the open science community. Jo’s highlight of the podcast was a conversation between current Innovation officer at eLife, Emmy Tsang, and the past officer, Naomi Penfold. They discussed their experiences hosting the Sprint, and to commented on changes they have witnessed in the open science movement. Listeners to the podcast will notice the overarching themes of openness, collaboration, excitement, and hope for the future of science, while also being challenged to think about who is being left behind in the progress towards a more open world. You can hear the full podcast (and see pictures from the Sprint) here, or listen on Soundcloud here.
“I supported them but really this was made by two scientists who had zero experience in this and I think making this in 2 days is really quite impressive!” – Jo Barratt, OKF
The OKF team would like to thank Emmy and eLife for a great experience at the Sprint!

Part of the Open Knowledge Foundation team met up in Cambridge the day before the Sprint began, and saved the world from a meteor (at an escape room)!

Frictionless Data at the EPFL Open Science in Practice Summer School

- September 16, 2019 in Featured, Frictionless Data, Open Science

In early September our Frictionless Data for Reproducible Research product manager, Lilly Winfree, presented a workshop at the Open Science in Practice Summer School at EPFL University in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Lilly’s workshop focused on teaching early career researchers about using Frictionless software and specs to make their research data more interoperable, shareable, and open. The audience learned about metadata, data schemas, creating data packages, and validating their data with Goodtables. The slides for her workshop are available here, and are licensed as CC-BY-4.0. The Summer School was organized by Luc Henry, Scientific Advisor at EPFL, and was a week-long series of talks and workshops on open science best practices for research students and early career researchers. A highlight of the workshop for Lilly was having the opportunity to work with Oleg Lavrovsky in person. Oleg is on the board of the Swizz chapter of OKF, Opendata.ch, and created the Frictionless Data Julia libraries as a Tool Fund grantee two years ago. Oleg wrote a recap of the workshop, which we are republishing below. The original can be read here. Thanks for your help, Oleg, and for Luc for organizing!

“Open” is the new black. Everybody talks about open science. But what does it mean exactly?

Lilly Winfree of the Frictionless Data for Reproducible Research project at OKF ran a workshop at Open Science in Practice, a week long training organized by the EPFL with Eurotech Universities. It was a top grade workshop delivered to a diverse room of doctoral students, early career researchers, “and beyond” in Lausanne. I had the opportunity to assist her, and learn from her professional delivery, get up to speed with key points about Open Knowledge Foundation, the latest news from the small, diligent people working to make open data more accessible and useful. With a fascinating science background, she connected well with the audience and made a strong case for well published open research data. The workshop reignited my desire to continue publishing Data Packages, contribute to the project, develop better support in various software environments, and be present in community channels. In our conversation afterwards, we talked about the remote work culture and global reach of the team, expectations management, and the challenges ahead. Thanks very much to @heluc and the rest of the #OSIP2019 team for organizing a great event, to all who participated in the workshop for patiently and interestedly hacking their first Data Packages together, and kudos to Lilly for crossing distances to bridge gaps and support Open Science in Switzerland.

Next events

There are two upcoming events that Oleg is involved with that might be of interest to the Frictionless Data and OKF communities: the DINAcon Digital Sustainability Conference, on October 18 in Bern, and the Opendata.ch Tourism Hackathon on November 29 in Lucerne.

Women in data can help tackle gender inequality

- September 10, 2019 in data literacy, Events, gender, News

Encouraging more women and girls to learn data skills can help tackle gender inequality and build a more diverse society, a conference will hear today. Speaking at the annual ‘Doing Data Right’ conference in Edinburgh, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler will call on governments to do more to engage young women in data skills, particularly outwith maths and science. She will argue that this will help empower more women to use data to improve their local communities, their cities and their countries. Former MEP for Scotland Ms Stihler will call for more citizen-generated data through schools, libraries, churches and community groups to generate high-quality data relating to gender equality and diversity, as well as other issues such as air quality and climate action. Ms Stihler is speaking at The Scotsman conference, Doing Data Right: Through people and partnerships, on a panel on ‘Women in data’ – along with campaigner and writer Caroline Criado Perez, Gillian Hogg of Heriot-Watt University, and Talat Yaqoob of Equate Scotland. Speaking ahead of the event, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler said:
“Governments across the world must work harder to give everyone access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives, building a fair, free and open future. “Without data skills, people will be ill-equipped to take on many jobs of the future. “We need to encourage more women and girls to learn data skills, particularly outwith subjects such as maths and science.

“These skills will then pave the way for pioneering new ways of producing and harnessing citizen-generated data through schools, libraries, churches and community groups, which in turn can help tackle gender inequality, build a more diverse society, and address issues such as climate change and air quality.”

Women in data can help tackle gender inequality

- September 10, 2019 in data literacy, Events, gender, News

Encouraging more women and girls to learn data skills can help tackle gender inequality and build a more diverse society, a conference will hear today. Speaking at the annual ‘Doing Data Right’ conference in Edinburgh, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler will call on governments to do more to engage young women in data skills, particularly outwith maths and science. She will argue that this will help empower more women to use data to improve their local communities, their cities and their countries. Former MEP for Scotland Ms Stihler will call for more citizen-generated data through schools, libraries, churches and community groups to generate high-quality data relating to gender equality and diversity, as well as other issues such as air quality and climate action. Ms Stihler is speaking at The Scotsman conference, Doing Data Right: Through people and partnerships, on a panel on ‘Women in data’ – along with campaigner and writer Caroline Criado Perez, Gillian Hogg of Heriot-Watt University, and Talat Yaqoob of Equate Scotland. Speaking ahead of the event, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler said:
“Governments across the world must work harder to give everyone access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives, building a fair, free and open future. “Without data skills, people will be ill-equipped to take on many jobs of the future. “We need to encourage more women and girls to learn data skills, particularly outwith subjects such as maths and science.

“These skills will then pave the way for pioneering new ways of producing and harnessing citizen-generated data through schools, libraries, churches and community groups, which in turn can help tackle gender inequality, build a more diverse society, and address issues such as climate change and air quality.”

World Library Congress – Closing Libraries is ‘short-sighted’

- August 26, 2019 in Featured, library, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

Closing down libraries to save money is ‘one of the most short-sighted decisions that public officials can make’, the World Library and Information Congress has heard.
Speaking at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) annual congress in Athens, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler said ‘libraries are too often seen as an easy target for cuts’. The former MEP for Scotland said libraries can also ‘fill the gap’ in the delivery of coding lessons and data practice in schools, to ensure people across Europe and the world have the skills for the jobs of the future. In 2017, it is estimated that more than 120 libraries closed their doors in England, Wales and Scotland. But a recent study by the Carnegie UK Trust found that people aged 15-24 in England are the most likely age group to use libraries. And nearly half of people aged 25 to 34 still visit them, according to the study. The IFLA World Library and Information Congress (https://2019.ifla.org/) is the international flagship professional and trade event for the library and information services sector, bringing together over 3,500 participants from more than 120 countries. In her address to the World Library and Information Congress, Open Knowledge Foundation chief executive Catherine Stihler said:
“Governments across the world must now work harder to give everyone access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives; as well as making powerful institutions more accountable; and ensuring vital research information that can help us tackle challenges such as poverty and climate change is available to all.
“In short, we need a future that is fair, free and open.
“But this is not the way things are going in the UK, the EU, the US, China and across our world.
“Instead, we see in the UK, councils across the country facing major financial pressures, and libraries are too often seen as an easy target for cuts.
“But closing down a library has to be one of the most short-sighted decisions that public officials can make, with serious consequences for the future of local communities.” She added:
“There is a widespread misconception that the services offered are out-of-date – a relic of a bygone age before youngsters started carrying smartphones in their pockets with instant access to Wikipedia, and before they started downloading books on their Kindle.
“Today, the most successful libraries have remodelled themselves to become fit for the 21st century, and more can follow suit if they receive the right support and advice, and have the backing of governments and councils.
“I have long championed the importance of coding as part of the education curriculum, especially given that my home country of Scotland is home to more than 100,000 digital tech economy jobs.
“But while there remains a shortfall in what is delivered in our schools in terms of coding and data practice, libraries can fill that gap.
“Our world is moulded in code, and libraries offer young people an opportunity to bring ideas to life and build things that will bring joy to millions.
“So by embracing the future, they can continue to be an unrivalled place of learning, like they always were for previous generations.”