You are browsing the archive for Catherine Stihler.

Coronavirus: why an open future has never been more important

- April 16, 2020 in Open Knowledge Foundation

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down. 2020 will be remembered as the year when we faced the greatest global crisis since the Second World War, and its impact will be felt for generations to come. Tens of thousands of families have said goodbye to loved ones, taken from them by an invisible killer. Hundreds of thousands are risking their lives as they fight COVID-19, and It has left people feeling lost, scared and overwhelmed. I offer my personal heartfelt gratitude to all those fighting the coronavirus on the frontline. With many countries still in lockdown and struggling with rising numbers of cases, it is hard to look to the future with optimism. For those of us who campaign for openness, our beliefs were already under threat before this outbreak in many different and challenging ways. Now, with disinformation rampant, governments introducing emergency measures, and restrictions being imposed on people, our job is even harder.  But there is hope. Openness is the way we will get through this global crisis. Open research and sharing data and information openly will likely lead to the creation of a vaccine in record time which will save lives. If ever there was an example of the importance of open knowledge to the public, here it is. We will get through this, and we will emerge on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic. When we do, our world will have changed. Our job is to make sure that the future we emerge into is a fair, free and open future.

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s work continues

During the coronavirus pandemic, we continue with our important work. You can read more below about just some of the issues we are addressing. As chief executive, my first priority is the wellbeing of our staff and teams around the world. We are fortunate as we have successfully operated remote working for several years, and you can read more about how we do this here. As you will see from the blog on our recently revamped website, our network has been busy all over the world. On Saturday 7th March, groups from around the world organised more than 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data.  And later this year, look out for our Open Knowledge Justice Programme, which includes work to develop and implement training programmes for lawyers who challenge, defend and advise government agencies on implementing AI and automated decision-making projects. We aim to play a positive and constructive role throughout 2020 and beyond.

COVID-19 open data

At the heart of the global response to the pandemic is data, which tells us what is happening in different countries. DataHub, set up by our own founder Rufus Pollock and maintained by his company Datopian, is being used to collate open data to track the number of people affected by COVID-19 worldwide, including: confirmed tested cases of coronavirus infection; the number of people who have reportedly died while sick with coronavirus; and the number of people who have reportedly recovered from it. Being able to see global trends is vital information which dictates how we respond to the coronavirus – it’s why we see government scientific officers sharing graphs in their daily media briefings on TV each day. Many countries have been open about releasing data, but this wasn’t the case initially in Brazil. As a result, Open Knowledge Brazil launched a successful legal challenge to get the Brazilian government to release more open data to help in the fight against COVID-19. The chapter has since launched a COVID-19 data transparency site for Brazil. Ensuring there is open data is the first stage in the battle against the coronavirus.  That open data can then become open knowledge when it’s useful, usable and used.

Tackling disinformation

While we battle to ensure that data about COVID-19 is openly available, we must also simultaneously fight those using this crisis to spread disinformation – or ‘fake news’. The UK media regulator Ofcom recently found that almost half of online adults in Britain had seen false or misleading information about coronavirus. Last year, the Open Knowledge Foundation campaigned for improved transparency from large social media companies about tackling fake news and disinformation. This was aimed at political adverts, but the same principle applies to COVID-19. There is still not enough transparency about efforts in terms of what is being taken down and why. The tech giants have a responsibility, but so too do governments: international legislation is needed, otherwise the platforms will continue to make up the rules. And there is a job for each and every one of us as well. In the same way that we are all washing our hands and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, so too can we help prevent spreading the virus of fake news by refusing to share it. The best way to tackle disinformation is to make information open, allowing journalists and researchers to provide facts to the public. Newspapers have never been more important; scientists and researchers have never been more important. In America, a new service to ‘ask a scientist’ has been developed by the Federation of American Scientists in collaboration with the New Jersey Office of Innovation and the Governance Lab at New York University. Open initiatives like this are helping to spread facts, not fake news. Read my article for The Scotsman newspaper on the dangers of disinformation at this time, and why openness is so crucial.

Protecting our freedoms

Governments across the world are passing new laws to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. This is inevitable during an emergency on this scale. The public will tolerate necessary restrictions to ensure we can defeat COVID-19. But it is also vital for governments to maintain trust during this crisis, as that is the way to ensure that people follow the guidelines. While attempts to restrict physical movement are required, attempts to restrict access to public information are not. For example, it was disappointing that the government in my home country, Scotland, chose to apply restrictions to the Freedom of Information Act. A list of countries which have suspended or altered Right To Information (RTI) obligations can be found here. There are many organisations which focus on protecting individual expression and fundamental human rights, and we applaud their work. This is not our primary focus given the excellent job they are doing, but we have signed up to a statement on the importance of protecting human rights. As Timo Harakka, the Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications, said: “Only with the consent of the citizens will we be able to move forward in a very difficult situation in society – without compromising privacy and trust.” 

Ethical contact tracing

Technology to alert people if they have recently come into contact with others infected with COVID-19 is coming. Big companies inevitably want a piece of the action, but the scale of the crisis means even Apple and Google are working together on this. Some countries such as Singapore and South Korea are already using people’s mobile phones to issue coronavirus alerts. In the UK, we have called on the NHSX division and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ensure new technologies follow ethical best practice. I have signed this statement on the issue. Our collective call is:
  1. Institute a culture of working in the open, with clear, regular public communication about projects being undertaken and the publication of machine readable data and models — to build trust and minimise speculation
  2. Introduce bold emergency governance measures, including privacy and rights impact assessments and the drafting of an expert governance panel, with public and patient participation, to ensure innovation works and is held to account
  3. Develop collective mechanisms for social licence, to balance the needs of individuals and the benefit to society, ensuring the communities and groups affected by data collection have a say, and publish clear terms and conditions for any new applications, following in the footsteps of the Singapore government app TraceTogether.
Technology will rightly play a key role in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, but we must not lose sight of ethical responsibilities in the rush to develop these tools.

Open solutions

Open Knowledge chapters from around the world are stepping up, lending their knowledge and expertise to efforts to tackle COVID-19. Members of the Open Knowledge Switzerland team joined with other open data experts, public health officials and government workers to generate comprehensive and timely open data on the spread of COVID-19 in all the Swiss cantons that make up the country.  In Germany, Code for Germany – an Open Knowledge Germany project – was one of the partners which initiated the huge WirVsVirus hackathon aimed at solving COVID-19 issues with over 40,000 people taking part. Open Knowledge Belgium partnered for the Hack the Crisis Belgium initiative, bringing together the tech and start-up world to launch a public platform to create dedicated solutions  Several teams worked remotely on various societal problems, all of which are linked to the coronavirus crisis. Developers, innovative companies, tech players, creatives, and others put their minds together to identify innovative solutions to counter this crisis. One of the positives from the pandemic is the way that people have come together to help during this international emergency. I am extremely proud that Open Knowledge groups across the world are playing their part.

Open research: a Coronavirus vaccine

While addressing the ongoing crisis is a vital part of the coronavirus response, so too is how we bring this to an end. And that’s where openness plays its most important role. It is openness that will, ultimately, lead to a COVID-19 vaccine. The Open Knowledge Foundation supports the Open COVID Pledge which calls on organisations to remove barriers to the use of intellectual property which will help in the fight against the pandemic. As the originators of the Open Definition which set out principles that define openness in relation to data and content, we wholeheartedly endorse the aims of this project. It will allow experts to use otherwise inaccessible technology and content, with the potential to help end the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Elsewhere, there are examples such as Nextstrain, an open-source project for tracking and analysing pathogen genomes, with a dashboard of the genomic epidemiology of COVID-19. This can help to trace the origins of the virus.  It is science that will bring this emergency to an end, and it is open science that will ensure this happens sooner rather than later.

An open future

We live in powerful times where the greatest danger is not the chaos but to rest in the past. Our world will forever more be changed by the coronavirus pandemic. We can’t go back to business-as-usual. Open knowledge has been challenged by vested economic interests where the public benefit comes secondary to private profit. No more. Let’s change the way we operate so that we can build a fairer world. And let’s hear it for the experts, too. In recent years, the acceptance of basic facts has disappeared, with expert views dismissed and a culture of ‘anti-intellectualism’ from those on the extremes of politics. I hope the response to this international emergency is that people who should know better stop their anti-expert rhetoric. The work of the Open Knowledge Foundation will be more important than it ever has. A new world order is coming. Join us as we build a fair, free and open future.

Staying open: how we will continue our work despite COVID-19

- March 19, 2020 in Open Knowledge Foundation

We know that you will be concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on you and your loved ones. At the Open Knowledge Foundation, our thoughts are with all those around the world who have been affected by the outbreak, and we would like to thank everyone working on the frontline to tackle the virus – health workers, researchers, public servants, cleaners, scientists, shopworkers and many, many others. We urge everyone to follow the official advice issued in their own country. Despite the challenging circumstances, the Open Knowledge Foundation will continue to campaign for a fair, free and open future. We recognise that data can play a significant role in obtaining positive solutions to the pandemic when it is open, accessible and disseminated in ways that are useful. Emergency situations inevitably require emergency governmental powers, so we will be looking to apply our knowledge and skills to ensure technologies are developed and deployed in a manner that is equitable for everyone. The Open Knowledge Foundation will maintain our international links which will be more critical than ever in the months and years ahead. We will continue to use our best endeavours to support all of our stakeholders and our team members. We want to reassure all our partners that we expect to be working and delivering on our commitments as normal during this time. We have been a remote organisation for many years and on a practical level, we want to share our individual experiences in the hope that they may be of benefit and comfort to others as people recalibrate. You can read our recently published article on my experiences of remote working here. Remote working has many challenges and opportunities, and being open about our experiences will help others as this practice becomes the new normal.

Making remote working work for you and your organisation

- March 19, 2020 in Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

The coronavirus outbreak means that up to 20 per cent of the UK workforce could be off sick or self-isolating during the peak of an epidemic.

Millions of people may not be ill, but they will be following expert advice to stay away from their workplace to help prevent the spread of the virus.

There are clearly hundreds of roles where working from home simply isn’t possible, and questions are rightly being asked about ensuring people’s entitlement to sick pay.

But for a huge number of workers who are usually based in an office environment, remote working is a possibility – and is therefore likely to become the norm for millions.

With the economy in major trouble as evidenced by yesterday’s stock market falls, ensuring those who are fit and able can continue to work is important.

So employers should start today to prepare for efficient remote working as part of their coronavirus contingency planning.

Giant companies such as Twitter are already prepared. But this may be an entirely new concept for some firms.

The Open Knowledge Foundation which I lead has been successfully operating remote working for several years.

Our staff are based in their homes in countries across the world, including the UK, Portugal, Zimbabwe and Australia.

Remote working was new to me a year ago when I joined the organisation.

I had been based in the European Parliament for 20 years as an MEP for Scotland. I had a large office on the 13th floor of the Parliament in Brussels, with space for my staff, as well as an office in Strasbourg when we were based there. For most of my time as a politician, I also had an office in Fife where my team would deal with constituents’ queries.

Things couldn’t be more different today. I work from my home in Dunfermline, in front of my desktop computer, with two screens so that I can type on one and keep an eye on real-time alerts on another.

The most obvious advantage is being able to see more of my family. Being a politician meant a lot of time away from my husband and children, and I very much sympathise with MSPs such as Gail Ross and Aileen Campbell who have decided to stand down from Holyrood to see more of their loved ones. If we want our parliaments to reflect society, we need to address the existing barriers to public office.

Now in charge of a team spread around the world, using a number of technology tools to communicate with them, remote working has been a revelation for me.

Why couldn’t I have used those tools in the European Parliament and even voted remotely?

In the same way that Gail Ross has questioned why there wasn’t a way for her to vote remotely from Wick, hundreds of miles from Edinburgh, the same question must be asked of the European Parliament.

But for companies now planning remote working, it is vital to adopt effective methods.

Access to reliable Wi-Fi is key, but effective communication is critical. Without physical interaction, a virtual space with video calling is essential.

It is important to see the person when remote working and be able to interact as close as it would be face-to-face. This also avoids distraction and allows people to check in with each other.

We tend to do staff calls through our Slack channel and our weekly all-staff call is through Google Hangout.

All-staff calls – or all-hands call as we call them – are important if people are forced to work remotely. We do this once a week, but for some organisations morning calls will also become an essential part of the day.

Our monthly global network call is on an open source tool called Jitsi and I use Zoom for diary meetings.

If all else fails, we resort to Skype and WhatsApp.

In terms of how we share documents between the team, we use Google Drive. That means participants in conference calls can see and update an agenda and add action points in real-time, and make alterations or comments on documents such as letters which need to be checked by multiple people.

In the same way that our staff work and collaborate remotely, using technology to co-operate on a wider scale also goes to the heart of our vision for a future that is fair, free and open.

We live in a time when technological advances offer incredible opportunities for us all.

Open knowledge will lead to enlightened societies around the world, where everyone has access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives; where powerful institutions are comprehensible and accountable; and where vital research information that can help us tackle challenges such as poverty and climate change is available to all.

Campaigning for this openness in society is what our day job entails.

But to achieve that we have first worked hard to bring our own people together using various technological options.

Different organisations will find different ways of making it work.

But what is important is to have a plan in place today.

This post was originally published by the Herald newspaper

Open knowledge, AI and algorithms

- March 13, 2020 in Featured

 

As the Open Knowledge Foundation turned 15 years old, we took the time to look at the changing landscape of challenges faced by society.  The tumultuous debate around algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) appeared to us as an opportunity to mobilise our unique experience with open data and data literacy and create positive change. After all, the issues of transparency, accountability, ethics and civic empowerment that we’ve addressed while working on open data are also present in the civic and political debate around algorithms and AI. Even more, it appears to us that our experience building communities, defining shared concepts, and raising data literacy translate directly to this new field.  This is why today the Open Knowledge Foundation is making a new commitment – to apply our unique skills and network to the emerging issues of AI and algorithms.  We are aware of the existing work around these issues by celebrated academics, civic organisations and even private companies and do not intend to reinvent the wheel. Nonetheless, the conversations we have been having with multiple stakeholders for the past year have convinced us that our experience can strengthen existing communities, projects and research on the topic, with the help of our existing and future partners around the world. Working with partners across civil society, academia and governments, we’ll apply to AI and algorithms each of the building blocks that we believe made the open data movement impactful: 
  • Shared definitions (what kind of algorithms are we talking about?)
  • Standard tools and resources (to facilitate transparency around algorithm and AI use)
  • Literacy among stakeholders (citizens, but also lawyers, civil servants and others)
Cutting across those building blocks will be three themes which will guide our action: 
  • Accountability: training lawyers and journalists to make sure that problematic algorithms can be investigated and challenged
  • Monitoring: training journalists, CSOs and citizens to monitor the impact of algorithms, which is sometimes the only way to really understand their effects
  • Improvement: we will train public and private organisations, and the lawyers advising them, to push them toward a better use of this technology
The table below shows some of the activities we are researching:
Shared definitions Standard resources Literacy
Accountability Mobilising thematic communities of researchers, activists, civil servants, private organisations and other stakeholders to define common concepts and methods Participation in public policy debates to embed accountability in upcoming regulations Creating learning content and guides on legal and non-legal ways to enforce transparency and accountability around algorithmic usage
Monitoring Mapping algorithm & AI usage across government (and delegated agencies) Training journalists in algorithm impact monitoring
Improvement Training watchdog civic organisations on legal frameworks and best practices Training government lawyers on algorithmic risk
  Stay tuned for more on the topic! For comments, contributions, or if you want to collaborate on this programme, you can get in touch with us at contact@okfn.org.

Celebrating the tenth Open Data Day on Saturday 7th March 2020

- March 6, 2020 in Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020, Open Knowledge

Open Data Day 2020 In Ghana, satellite and drone imagery is being used to track deforestation and water pollution in West Africa. In South Africa, the first map of minibus taxi routes in a township in Pretoria is being created. In the Philippines, a map is being designed to highlight HIV facilities and LGBT-friendly spaces, while a similar project is underway in Granada to assess the housing situation of migrant women. And in Mexico, construction projects are being analysed to check their impact on the local environment. All these community-led projects, and many more like it, are improving lives for people in some of the world’s most deprived areas. They are all linked by one thing: open data. This Saturday is the tenth annual Open Data Day, which celebrates its transformational impact around the globe. Open data is data that can be freely accessed, used, modified and shared by anyone. It is the opposite of personal data, which must be kept private and there have rightly been concerns raised about how that is used by giant technology firms. Open data is altogether different – this is non-personal information, and it can and should be used for the public good. It is the building block of what is called ‘open knowledge’, which is what data can become if it is useful, usable and used. The key features of openness are availability and access, reuse and redistribution and universal participation. Open Data Day is an opportunity to show its benefits and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society. The Open Knowledge Foundation operates a mini-grants scheme for community projects every year, and in 2020 we are supporting 65 events taking place all over the world including in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Venezuela. With the climate crisis now an emergency, open data can help tackle deforestation and monitor air pollution levels on our streets. It is being used in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo to increase young people’s knowledge of free local HIV-related services. In Nepal, streetlights data for Kathmandu has been collected by digital volunteers to influence policy for the maintenance of streetlights. The possibilities are endless. Open data can track the flow of public money, expanding budget transparency, examining tax data and raising issues around public finance management. And it can be used by communities to highlight pressing issues on a local, national or global level, such as progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. I know that phrases like ‘open data’ and ‘open knowledge’ are not widely understood. With partners across the world, we are working to change that. This decade and the decades beyond are not to be feared. We live in a time when technological advances offer incredible opportunities for us all. This is a time to be hopeful about the future, and to inspire those who want to build a better society. Open knowledge will lead to enlightened societies around the world, where everyone has access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives; where powerful institutions are comprehensible and accountable; and where vital research information that can help us tackle challenges such as poverty and climate change is available to all: a fair, free and open future. • The tenth Open Data Day will take place on Saturday 7th March 2020 with celebrations happening all over the world. Find out more at opendataday.org, discover events taking place near you and follow the conversation online via the hashtags #OpenDataDay and #ODD2020.

Unveiling the new okfn.org website, blog and logo

- February 11, 2020 in Open Knowledge Foundation, Our Work

Today the Open Knowledge Foundation is launching its revamped website, updated blog and new logo. Our vision is for a future that is fair, free and open. This will be our guiding principle in everything we do. Our mission is to create a more open world – a 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. We understand that phrases like ‘open data’ and ‘open knowledge’ are not widely understood. It is our job to change that. Our strategy, continuum and animated video aim for us to reach a wider and more mainstream audience with relatable and practical interventions. This renewed mission has limitless possibilities and the Board and team are excited about our organisation’s next steps and hopeful for the future. Please let us know any thoughts you have about our website, blog, animated video or new logo by emailing info@okfn.org.

Transforming the UK’s data ecosystem: Open Knowledge Foundation’s thoughts on the National Data Strategy

- July 17, 2019 in National Data Strategy, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge, Policy

Following an open call for evidence issued by the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Open Knowledge Foundation submitted our thoughts about what the UK can do in its forthcoming National Data Strategy to “unlock the power of data across government and the wider economy, while building citizen trust in its use”. We also signed a joint letter alongside other UK think tanks, civil and learned societies calling for urgent action from government to overhaul its use of data. Below our CEO Catherine Stihler explains why the National Data Strategy needs to be transformative to ensure that British businesses, citizens and public bodies can play a full role in the interconnected global knowledge economy of today and tomorrow: Today’s digital revolution is driven by data. It has opened up extraordinary access to information for everyone about how we live, what we consume, and who we are. But large unaccountable technology companies have also monopolised the digital age, and an unsustainable concentration of wealth and power has led to stunted growth and lost opportunities. 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. The UK has a golden opportunity to lead by example, and the Westminster government is currently developing a long-anticipated National Data Strategy. Its aim is to ensure all citizens and organisations trust the data ecosystem, are sufficiently skilled to operate effectively within it, and can get access to high-quality data when they need it. Laudable aims, but they must come with a clear commitment to invest in better data and skills. The Open Knowledge Foundation I am privileged to lead was launched 15 years ago to pioneer the way that we use data, working to build open knowledge in government, business and civil society – and creating the technology to make open material useful. This week, we have joined with a group of think tanks, civil and learned societies to make a united call for sweeping reforms to the UK’s data landscape. In order for the strategy to succeed, there needs to be transformative, not incremental, change and there must be leadership from the very top, with buy-in from the next Prime Minister, Culture Secretary and head of the civil service. All too often, piecemeal incentives across Whitehall prevent better use of data for the public benefit. A letter signed by the Open Knowledge Foundation, the Institute for Government, Full Fact, Nesta, the Open Data Institute, mySociety, the Royal Statistical Society, the Open Contracting Partnership, 360Giving, OpenOwnership, and the Policy Institute at King’s College London makes this clear. We have called for investment in skills to convert data into real information that can be acted upon; challenged the government to earn the public’s trust, recognising that the debate about how to use citizens’ data must be had in public, with the public; proposed a mechanism for long-term engagement between decision-makers, data users and the public on the strategy and its goals; and called for increased efforts to fix the government’s data infrastructure so organisations outside the government can benefit from it. Separately, we have also submitted our own views to the UK Government, calling for a focus on teaching data skills to the British public. Learning such skills can prove hugely beneficial to individuals seeking employment in a wide range of fields including the public sector, government, media and voluntary sector.  But at present there is often a huge amount of work required to clean up data in order to make it usable before insights or stories can be gleaned from it.  We believe that the UK government could help empower the wider workforce by instigating or backing a fundamental data literacy training programme open to local communities working in a range of fields to strengthen data demand, use and understanding.  Without such training and knowledge, large numbers of UK workers will be ill-equipped to take on many jobs of the future where products and services are devised, built and launched to address issues highlighted by data. Empowering people to make better decisions and choices informed by data will boost productivity, but not without the necessary investment in skills. We have also told the government that one of the most important things it can do to help businesses and non-profit organisations best share the data they hold is to promote open licencing. Open licences are legal arrangements that grant the general public rights to reuse, distribute, combine or modify works that would otherwise be restricted under intellectual property laws. We would also like to see the public sector pioneering new ways of producing and harnessing citizen-generated data efforts by organising citizen science projects through schools, libraries, churches and community groups.  These local communities could help the government to collect high-quality data relating to issues such as air quality or recycling, while also leading the charge when it comes to increasing the use of central government data. We live in a knowledge society where we face two different futures: one which is open and one which is closed. A closed future is one where knowledge is exclusively owned and controlled leading to greater inequality and a closed society. But an open future means knowledge is shared by all – freely available to everyone, a world where people are able to fulfil their potential and live happy and healthy lives. The UK National Data Strategy must emphasise the importance and value of sharing more, better quality information and data openly in order to make the most of the world-class knowledge created by our institutions and citizens.  Without this commitment at all levels of society, British businesses, citizens and public bodies will fail to play a full role in the interconnected global knowledge economy of today and tomorrow.

Reflections on the 2019 European parliamentary elections

- May 30, 2019 in News

With around 200 million people voting across Europe, the make-up of the new European Parliament for the next five years has been decided. While the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) won the most seats, its contingent is down on the previous election. The traditional centre-left grouping of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – which I was a member of – has also been squeezed by the rise of populist parties. Anti-establishment parties won close to a third of seats, including the Brexit Party in the UK, and they head to Brussels to be destructive, not constructive.  But these parties are fragmented and will largely be snubbed by the majority of MEPs, meaning the Liberals and Greens elected will prove far more pivotal to Europe’s journey over the next five years. The two main groupings need to build coalitions, so horse-trading will be getting underway between pro-EU parties. The European Parliament needs to elect a new President, who normally comes from the largest group, then there is the selection of Vice Presidents, Quaestors, chairs of committees and vice chairs of committees, which will be divided up between the political groups dependent on individual delegation size. And what about the special candidate who leads the Commission? Will this happen like last time where the EPP with the largest number of elected MEPs got Jean Claude Juncker in for the top job? If history repeats itself that will be Manfred Weber, the German lead candidate, but opinions are split across Europe. The Member States will also choose who will be the head of the Council. Unlike the Commission position, the head of the Council is picked by the heads of the Member States. It is unclear how long the UK’s MEPs will be sitting in the parliament, which means they’re unlikely to find themselves in the running for these key positions, diluting the country’s influence before – or if – Brexit takes place. During the last parliamentary term, when I was an MEP for Scotland, much of my work was focused on proposed EU-wide copyright changes, and opposing what was originally known as Article 13 and later became Article 17. The changes are opposed by over five million people through a petition, but MEPs backed the changes earlier this year, as did the Council of the European Union – with six countries voting against: Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Finland and Sweden. Poland is now launching a legal challenge. If implemented, the changes are expected to lead to the introduction of ‘filters’ on sites such as YouTube, which will automatically remove content that could be copyrighted. While entertainment footage is most likely to be affected, academics fear it could also restrict the sharing of knowledge, and critics argue it will have a negative impact on freedom of speech and expression online. Despite the recent votes, this issue is likely to be a major issue for the new crop of MEPs, and the battle is not over. Green parties in particular have been vocal opponents of this crackdown, and they have been successful across Europe.  The more diverse make-up of the European Parliament should allow more voices to be heard, and I hope many MEPs choose to champion openness over the next five years. That includes supporting improved transparency measures at social media companies like Facebook to prevent the spread of disinformation and fake news and backing efforts to force governments and organisations to use established and recognised open licences when releasing data or content. Our mission is 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. I hope MEPs from across Europe will work with us to build a fair, free and open future.  

For a fair, free and open future: celebrating 15 years of the Open Knowledge Foundation

- May 20, 2019 in Featured, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

Fifteen years ago, the Open Knowledge Foundation was launched in Cambridge by entrepreneur and economist Rufus Pollock. At the time, open data was an entirely new concept. Worldwide internet users were barely above the 10 per cent mark, and Facebook was still in its infancy. But Rufus foresaw both the massive potential and the huge risks of the modern digital age. He believed in access to information for everyone about how we live, what we consume, and who we are – for example, how our tax money gets spent, what’s in the food we eat or the medicines we take, and where the energy comes from to power our cities. From humble beginnings, the Open Knowledge Foundation grew across the globe and pioneered the way that we use data today, striving to build open knowledge in government, business and civil society – and creating the technology to make open material useful. We created the Open Definition that is still the benchmark today – that open data and content can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose. With staff on six continents, we became known as Open Knowledge International and launched projects in dozens of countries. As we celebrate our 15th anniversary today, our world has changed dramatically. Large unaccountable technology companies have monopolised the digital age, and an unsustainable concentration of wealth and power has led to stunted growth and lost opportunities. When that happens it is consumers, future innovators and society that loses out. We live in powerful times, where the greatest danger is not the chaos but to rest in the past. So as we reach an important milestone in our organisation’s own journey, we recognise it is time for new rules for this new digital world. We have decided to re-focus our efforts on why we were created in 2004, ‘to promote the openness of all forms of knowledge’, and return to our name as the Open Knowledge Foundation. Our vision is for a future that is fair, free and open. That will be our guiding principle in everything we do. Our mission is to create a more open world – a 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. We understand that phrases like ‘open data’ and ‘open knowledge’ are not widely understood. It is our job to change that. The next 15 years and beyond are not to be feared. We live in a time when technological advances offer incredible opportunities for us all. This is a time to be hopeful about the future, and to inspire those who want to build a better society. We want to see enlightened societies around the world, where everyone has access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives; where powerful institutions are comprehensible and accountable; and where vital research information that can help us tackle challenges such as poverty and climate change is available to all. Our work will focus on health, where access to medicines requires new thinking, and on education where new EU-wide copyright law impacts on both academic research and on people’s ability to access knowledge. We will also concentrate on employment, including tackling the growing inequality from working patterns and conditions, and the ability for creators and innovators to be fairly compensated. This reaches to the heart of a fair, free and open future where there is opportunity for all. We have also set out five demands for this week’s European elections and will push for MEPs from across Europe to prioritise these when the European Parliament returns in summer. Firstly, we will fight the introduction of Article 17 of the EU’s copyright reforms which threatens to restrict the sharing of data and other content on the internet for half-a-billion people in Europe. We also want to see improved transparency measures at social media companies like Facebook to prevent the spread of disinformation and fake news. We recognise the concerns that people have about the misuse of data, so we will champion ‘responsible data’ to ensure that data is used ethically and legally, and protects privacy. We also want to persuade governments and organisations to use established and recognised open licences when releasing data or content; and we will aim to build a network of open advocates in the European Parliament who will push for greater openness in their own nations. We live in a knowledge society where we face two different futures: one which is open and one which is closed. An open future means knowledge is shared by all – freely available to everyone, a world where people are able to fulfil their potential and live happy and healthy lives. A closed future is one where knowledge is exclusively owned and controlled leading to greater inequality and a closed future. With inequality rising, never before has our vision of a fair, free and open future been so important to realise our mission of an open world in complex times.

World Wide Web faces real dangers as it turns 30

- March 12, 2019 in Featured, Internet, Open Knowledge International

This article was originally published in The Scotsman. Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the world wide web has transformed modern life, but more work must be done to ensure it continues to be a force for good, writes Catherine Stihler. At the giant research laboratory in a suburb of Geneva, the innovative ideas produced by the scientists were stored on multiple, incompatible, computers. It was the year 1989, and one British worker at CERN decided to write a short document called “Information Management: A Proposal”. Tim Berners-Lee wrote: “Many of the discussions … end with the question – ‘Yes, but how will we ever keep track of such a large project?’ This proposal provides an answer to such questions.” In simpler terms, his theory addressed this idea: “Suppose all the information stored on computers everywhere were linked.” This vision of universal connectivity was produced 30 years ago today, and by 1991 it became the World Wide Web. Within just a few years, the web became something that wasn’t restricted to computer scientists alone, with the computers in libraries, universities and eventually people’s homes, fundamentally changing our lives. Over three decades, there has been a long list of extraordinary achievements, culminating in a world where we can now access the web from phones in our pockets, the TVs in our living rooms and the watches on our wrists. To mark the 30th anniversary, web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee is taking a 30-hour trip, starting at CERN in Switzerland, travelling via London and finishing in Lagos. Throughout, he will be participating in a #web30 Twitter feed that will highlight significant moments in the web’s history. Former Vice-President Al Gore will recall the passing of the High Performance Computing Act in 1991, also called the Gore Bill, which promoted cooperation between government, academia, and industry. It helped fund work which led to the creation of the Mosaic web browser – a key moment as browsers are how we access the World Wide Web. In 1995, Microsoft launched Internet Explorer – a platform still familiar to millions of people around the world. There will also be a fun side to the celebrations, such as the moment the world was first introduced to ‘grumpy cat’. For me, as chief executive of Open Knowledge International, there are several key moments that I believe deserve to be remembered. Our role is to help governments, universities, and civil society organisations reach their full potential by providing them with skills and tools to publish, use, and understand data. We deliver technology solutions, enhance data literacy, provide cutting-edge research and mobilise communities to provide value for a wide range of international clients. In 2005 we created the Open Definition, the gold standard for open data which remains in place to this day. Two years later, our founder Rufus Pollock launched the Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network, or CKAN as it is known. It’s a registry of open knowledge packages and projects — be that a set of Shakespeare’s works, the voting records of MPs, or 30 years of US patents. It is now used across the world, including the data.gov.uk site where you can find data published by central government, local authorities and public bodies in the UK to help designers build products and services. Another key moment which deserves to be celebrated came in July 2009 when a set of principles to promote open science were written down in a pub called the Panton Arms in Cambridge – the Panton Principles. Among those present was Rufus Pollock. When open data becomes useful, usable and used – when it is accessible and meaningful and can help someone solve a problem – that’s when it becomes open knowledge. It can make powerful institutions more accountable, while vital research can help us tackle challenges such as poverty, disease and climate change. All this would not have been possible without the invention of the World Wide Web. Today, however, we are at a crossroads. While the web has been a force for good, it has also allowed for the spread of fake facts and disinformation. Political earthquakes around the globe have led to the rise of populism, and people are uncomfortable about the amount of power held by some giant tech companies like Facebook and Google. The challenge for the next 30 years is to build a digital economy for the many, based on the principles of fairness and freedom. The web provides the opportunity to empower communities, and we must seize that opportunity and ensure that digital advances are used for the public good. So attempts to build a more closed society must be addressed. One example of that will come later this month when the European Parliament votes on a controversial copyright crackdown that threatens the future of the internet. If passed, it could lead to the automatic removal of legal online content which will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. That’s why one of Open Knowledge International’s five demands for candidates standing in this year’s European elections is a public pledge to oppose the contentious ‘Article 13’ of these copyright reforms. We also want candidates to support improved transparency measures at social media companies like Facebook to prevent the spread of disinformation and fake news; champion ‘responsible data’ to ensure that data is used ethically and legally; back efforts to force governments and organisations to use established and recognised open licences when releasing data or content; and push for greater openness in their country, including committing to domestic transparency legislation. Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention has transformed our world, but the task is to ensure that it continues to transform our world for the better – and that falls to all of us. Let’s make the next 30 years of the digital era one of fairness, freedom and openness for all.