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The UK’s National Data Strategy: first impressions and observations

- September 10, 2020 in Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge, Policy, training


National Data Strategy
After years of promises, the UK Government has finally announced the launch of a ‘framework’ National Data Strategy. The aim of the strategy is to “drive the UK in building a world-leading data economy while ensuring public trust in data use” and the government has set out five missions for this work:
  • Unlocking the value of data across the economy
  • Securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime
  • Transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services
  • Ensuring the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which data relies
  • Championing the international flow of data
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has now kicked off a 12-week consultation period. Last year, the Open Knowledge Foundation submitted our thoughts to help shape the National Data Strategy and also signed a joint letter with other UK think tanks, civil and learned societies calling for urgent action from government to overhaul its use of data.  In our evidence, we called for a focus on teaching data skills to the British public so we are glad to see a focus on data skills in the strategy where the government notes that “everyone needs some level of data literacy in order to operate successfully in increasingly data–rich environments”. We said that the UK has a golden opportunity to lead by example and boost its economy, but must invest in skills to make this a reality. Without training and knowledge, large numbers of UK workers will be ill-equipped to take on many jobs of the future. So while there are funding commitments and assigned actions to recruit expert innovation fellows and 500 data science analysts into government, we hope to see future funding set aside to improve data literacy and data skills for all, not just public sector experts. As we noted in 2019, “learning data skills can prove hugely beneficial to individuals seeking employment in a wide range of fields including the public sector, government, media and voluntary sector” so getting this right will be crucial if the government hopes to make the better use of data part of its plan for building a stronger economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also welcome the strategy’s focus on “fixing the plumbing” and ensuring that data is fit for purpose and standardised. As noted in our 2019 submission, 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” so further efforts to improve data quality and standardisation are sorely needed. On the availability of data and open data, it is encouraging to see a recognition of issues relating to the government’s consistency in open data publication with a promise to review and better measure the impact of existing processes and published data. Our mission is a fair, free and open future so we also welcome the acknowledgement in the strategy of the overarching importance of harnessing data for the purpose of creating a fairer society for all. The consultation on the National Data Strategy is now open and runs for the next 12 weeks to 2nd December 2020.  We will be examining the ‘framework’ strategy documents further and look forward to engaging more with the process of refining and improving the strategy. The UK must not miss this opportunity to be at the forefront of a global future that is fair, free and open.

Open Data Day 2020: it’s a wrap!

- June 18, 2020 in Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020

  On Saturday 7th March 2020, the tenth Open Data Day took place with people around the world organising over 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Thanks to the generous support of this year’s funders – Datopian, the Foreign & Commonwealth OfficeHivos, the Latin American Open Data Initiative (ILDA)MapboxOpen Contracting Partnership and Resource Watch – the Open Knowledge Foundation was able to give out more than 60 mini-grants this year. Sadly several events had to be cancelled or delayed as the COVID-19 pandemic affected countries around the world but some of our grantees were able to swiftly adapt their plans in order to deliver engaging virtual Open Data Day celebrations. The community registered a total of 307 events on the Open Data Day map with events taking place in every timezone and the Open Knowledge Foundation team captured some of the great conversations across Asia/Oceania, Africa/Europe and the Americas by using Twitter Moments.

Mini-grant scheme

This year’s tracks for the Open Data Day 2020 mini-grant support scheme were:
  • Environmental data: Using open data to illustrate the urgency of the climate emergency and spurring people to take a stand or make changes in their lives to help the world become more environmentally sustainable.
  • Tracking public money flows: Expanding budget transparency, diving into public procurement, examining tax data or raising issues around public finance management by submitting Freedom of Information requests.
  • Open mapping: Learning about the power of maps to develop better communities.
  • Data for equal development: How can open data be used by communities to highlight pressing issues on a local, national or global level? Can open data be used to track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs?
Below you can read reports from all of the events which took place thanks to these mini grants:

Environmental data

Tracking public money flows

Open mapping

Data for equal development

Thanks to everyone who organised or took part in these celebrations and see you next year for Open Data Day 2021!

Designing a zine about environmental data in Mexico: Open Data Day 2020 report

- May 15, 2020 in mexico, Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020

On Saturday 7th March 2020, the tenth Open Data Day took place with people around the world organising over 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Thanks to generous support from key funders, the Open Knowledge Foundation was able to support the running of more than 60 of these events via our mini-grants scheme This blogpost is a report by Sofia Shapiro from Técnicas Rudas in Mexico who received funding from Resource Watch to collectively explore Mexico’s mandated public data on construction projects and their environmental impacts. To contextualise the state of environmental open data in Mexico, we can look at the case of the exploding mining industry. In 2011, the Wixárica people started a battle against the Canadian mining company First Majestic Silver Corp which decided to do an open-pit mining project in Cerro del Quemado, a sacred place for the Wixáricas. One of the big questions that existed at that time was where the exact location of the mining operation would be – information that by law should be public, but that the Ministry of Economy kept secret. Public requests to the National Institute of Access to Information (INAI, formerly IFAI) to see the number of mining operation applications and their geographical locations, were for many years “kidnapped” in the hands of the government, companies and some individuals. It took until 2014 for the Ministry of Economy to deliver the file with the geographical coordinates of the mining operations in an information request to INAI, making it available as “open data” (Sánchez, 2014). However, to this day there are still many communities that are unaware that their land has already been granted to a company for ecologically devastating mining practices. Part of the reason for this is that even though now the Ministry of Economy supposedly makes information on mining concessions available via their online portal – CartoMinMex (the website currently seems to be down) – the most complete and recent information about mining is not available as open data. It is only possible to view it but not to download it. The second part is that the cost of developing the portal was $855,639.20 in contracts to ArcGIS and $3,045,817.80 in update, maintenance, and support subscriptions for the ArcGIS tools, favouring a large sum to proprietary tools over free and open source tools. This example is illustrative of the general state practice around environmental open data, including other types of projects from pipelines to water sanitation facilities.  In light of the deep lack of accessibility and reliability of this data, as well as the importance of this information to the health of our land, water, and bodies, we invited members of the community to come together to discuss Mexico’s environmental open data resources and what we are lacking.  Our March 7th 2020 event was held at El Foro Cultural Karuzo and was hosted by Técnicas Rudas, an organisation dedicated to the intersection of technology, feminism, and human rights, and publicised by Lado B, an independent journalism organisation. More than a presentation, the event was a collaborative space to explore the data, ask questions and amplify the accessibility of these open data resources in our community. We considered what makes data about construction projects good or trustworthy, why we need it and what is lacking in the data provided by the government. And ultimately we asked how to make this kind of data truly accessible. As an exercise in community knowledge and collaborative creation, we made a (rough first draft) zine about open data – specifically data related to the environment and resource extraction in Mexico. It has information on what materials companies are legally required to submit in order to get a pipeline or another ecologically sensitive project approved by the state, and where to find this information. It also has a bibliography of other independent tools for exploring this data, such as geamatica.me, a tool made by Técnicas Rudas to host several open data projects. Amongst these is one project that specifically generates visualisations of preventive reports (ingresos preventivos) during the period of Felipe Calderón’s and Enrique Peña’s presidencies, using sources like the Ecological Gazette, the Environmental Impact portal of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, as well as some official information for access requests. This zine was a starting point of how to think about bringing this process of data collection, analysis and questioning outside of Open Data Day and into a long-term community practice of proactive involvement and protection of our resources. Together we saw the need for independent projects – both for accountability and publicity – in order to translate this open data into an actionable resource for protecting our environment. Without a vigilant public demanding that this data be open and reliable, the state has shown it simply will avoid the task. And without the perspective of the community the databases will simply not contain important data points we need to inform ourselves properly.  To summarise, some of the open databases and tools we shared with each other were the following: Government databases datos.gob.mx – General entry point for government open data on any topic apps1.semarnat.gob.mx:8443/consultatramite/inicio.php Current site for all infrastructure/construction applications being processed by the The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales) semarnat.gob.mx/gobmx/transparencia/gaceta.html – Ecological Gazette: list of all projects submitted and approved to the Ministry of the Environment semarnat.gob.mx/gobmx/biblioteca/biblio.html – Digital library of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Biblioteca digital de la SEMARNAT) Other tools geamatica.me – Preventative impact reports submitted during the Calderón-Peña period geamatica.me/SecEco/SecEcon.htmlDatabase and visualisation of mining concessions in Mexico (current plots of land, pending applications for future mining projects, and mining reserve areas – amongst other data points)  sinapsis.lat – A tool designed to detect connections between companies in Latin America, used often to detect irregularities and potential sites of corruption between various corporate and state actors.

Supporting the Open COVID Pledge

- April 9, 2020 in Open Knowledge Foundation

Openness and transparency are key to solving the COVID-19 crisis. The open sharing of data will help ensure public trust, encourage the restoration of public confidence in experts in the era of populism, and ultimately help lead to a vaccine to defeat the virus. The Open COVID Pledge – a project of an international coalition of scientists, technologists, and legal experts – has been created to push for greater openness and transparency in the face of this crisis. The project has called on companies, universities and other organisations to remove barriers to the use of intellectual property with the potential to help end and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mission of the Open Knowledge Foundation 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. 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 and are happy to add the Open Knowledge Foundation as a supporter. Find out more about how you can support the Open COVID Pledge at opencovidpledge.org/support.

Meet the organisations who have been awarded Open Data Day 2020 mini-grants

- February 20, 2020 in Open Data, Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020

Open Data Day 2020 The Open Knowledge Foundation is happy to announce that dozens of organisations from all over the world have been awarded mini-grants to support the running of events that celebrate Open Data Day on Saturday 7th March 2020. Thanks to the generous support of this year’s mini-grant funders – Datopian, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Hivos, the Latin American Open Data Initiative (ILDA), Mapbox, Open Contracting Partnership and Resource Watch – the Open Knowledge Foundation will be giving out a total of 67 mini-grants to the organisations listed below in order to help them run great events on or around Open Data Day. We received 246 mini-grant applications this year and were greatly impressed by the quality of the events being organised all over the world. Learn more about Open Data Day, discover events taking place and find out how to get technical assistance or connect with the global open data community by checking out the information at the bottom of this blogpost. Here are the organisations whose Open Data Day events will be supported by mini-grants divided up by the tracks their events are devoted to:

Environmental data

  • Escuela de Fiscales’ event in Argentina will promote the use of open data for the training, dissemination and development of civic activism in the preservation of the environment in the community
  • Nigeria’s Adamawa Agricultural Development Programme will sensitise fishery stakeholders – especially fishermen –  on the importance of stock taking to prevent overfishing in our water bodies and how to update the fisheries database using open data
  • Afonte Jornalismo de Dados (Afonte Data Journalism) in Brazil will provide awareness about environmental politics and empower the community to use public and open data
  • The Department of Agriculture at the Asuogyaman District Assembly in Ghana will host local farming organisations to create awareness on the need for data to be open and to show the effect of climate change on agriculture and related livelihoods using rainfall data 
  • An Open Data Day event planned at Tangaza University College in Kenya will discuss how to tackle climate change challenges with data
  • The University of Dodoma in Tanzania will invite girls from a local school to a geospatial open data networking event to instill environmental thinking among young girls
  • The Open Internet for Democracy team and Creative Commons Venezuela chapter will join forces to train a group of environmental journalists about open and reliable data sources they can use to develop stories
  • iWatch Africa will host a forum in Ghana to leveraging the power of public domain satellite and drone imagery to track deforestation and water pollution in West Africa
  • Ghana’s Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation will run a hackathon on how local communities can use open data for sustainable development especially to improve sanitation issues
  • Sustenta in Mexico will share knowledge about sustainable development, climate change and sustainability
  • Grafoscopio / HackBo (Colombia) will bring together two citizen science communities working on air quality issues and reproducible research, data activism, visualisation and storytelling
  • Youth for Environmental Development (Malawi) will inspire university students to take action and contribute to environmental protection through mapping
  • WikiRate from Germany will engage the public in the research and collection of open data about how companies are impacting climate change
  • Liga de Defensa del Medio Ambiente (LIDEMA) from Bolivia plan to identify open data sources that can help address socio-environmental conflicts
  • The Open Cities Lab team in South Africa will create an open and accessible space for community scientists to meet, network and collaborate on an air quality project
  • Costa Rica’s ACCESA will help attendants identify and visualise new and unexpected relationships and connections between land-use and territorial planning, on the one hand, and climate change and decarbonisation
  • Young Volunteers for the Environment from Togo will promote the use of open data in environmental protection
  • Técnicas Rudas will collectively explore Mexico’s mandated public data on construction projects and their environmental impacts

Tracking public money flows

  • Spotlight for Transparency and Accountability Initiative in Nigeria will host an event to increasing understanding of and access to local budget data
  • EldoHub will hold a hackathon to develop tools and systems which can facilitate county governments’ involvement in Kenya’s transparency, accountability and public participation
  • FollowTheMoney Kaduna will use contracting data including responses to FOI letters and on the spot assessment of projects and infrastructures across communities in Kaduna state, Nigeria
  • The Alliance of Independent Journalists in Bandung, Indonesia will use open contracting data to encourage collaboration among civil society groups to access and monitor public budgets
  • Afroleadership in Cameroon will organise a training on the analysis of budget data by civil society using open data
  • The event run by Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST Malawi) will call for greater transparency and accountability in public budget management the through Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard
  • Somalia’s Bareedo Platform will encourage uptake of local public contracting data
  • The Perkumpulan Inisiatif in Indonesia plan to host a youth open budget hack clinic building on the principles of public participation in fiscal policy from the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency
  • Dataphyte in Nigeria will support change agents to track and use budget, procurement and revenue data to demand accountability
  • The Collective of Journalists for Peace and Freedom of Expression from Mexico will design a workshop to explain all the contracts of the City Council of Mazatlan, Sinaloa
  • Diálogos will visualise the volume of public procurement of the main ministries of the Government of Guatemala 
  • The 1991 Open Data Incubator will facilitate a workshop and discussions to share the experiences of many parties working with or producing open data in Ukraine
  • LEAD University in Costa Rica will organise an event for data science students to meet public officials behind the National Public Procurement Portal
  • Russia’s Infoculture will hold a conference on open data and information transparency
  • The Kikandwa Rural Communities Development Organisation showcase the Uganda Budget Information website and how to use it to report, track and monitor public funds
  • The Centre for Information, Peace and Security in Africa will work with journalists in Tanzania to promote openness in public contract in terms of transparency and integrity on public expenditures and value for public money
  • Bolivia’s CONSTRUIR Foundation will organise a data camp to advocate for more and better public contracting data
  • Ojoconmipisto in Guatemala will teach students and journalists how to investigate and tell stories from public budget and contracting data
  • Sluggish Hackers will use their event to investigate how to track public money flows from the National Assembly or local assemblies in South Korea

Open mapping

  • Exegetic Analytics in South Africa will expose the South African R community to a range of resources for working with open spatial data
  • OpenMap Development Tanzania will spread awareness on the usefulness of open data for development among participants through workshops, trainings, break-out sessions and a mapathon 
  • Spain’s TuTela Learning Network will map the housing situation of migrant women in Granada
  • ODI Leeds in the UK will host a data surgery to assist attendees with their data, converting the data into GeoJSON files and mapping it
  • Girolabs from Paraguay will show initiatives using and producing open data
  • Open Knowledge Belgium will use open data to build a map visualising the streets names of Hasselt by gender
  • BloGoma (Blogosphère Gomatracienne) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will using open mapping solutions to increase young people’s knowledge of free local HIV-related services
  • OpenStreetMap Kenya and Map Kibera will empower young people in Kibera Slum, (Africa’s largest urban slum) with skills in open mapping
  • The University of Pretoria in South Africa will develop a complete map of minibus taxi routes in Mamelodi East with the local knowledge of school learners
  • Brazil’s Federal University of Bahia wants to popularise open data mapping systems, especially OpenStreetMap, among undergraduate students and young people from vulnerable areas of Salvador
  • Youth Innovation Lab in Nepal will showcase crowdsourced streetlights data for Kathmandu collected by digital volunteers to influence policy for the maintenance of streetlights
  • Transparência Hackday Portugal / Open Knowledge Portugal will host a morning of hacking and learning, followed by an afternoon of quick talks and networking

Data for equal development

  • Footprints Bridge International will focus on how open data can help create jobs for rural youth and women in Ghana
  • The Bangladesh chapter of Creative Commons will host a mini conference to discuss the benefits of open source projects and open government data in the country
  • Nigeria’s National Institute for Freshwater Fisheries Research is developing an event to sensitise agricultural stakeholders on the need and benefits of data for equal development
  • MapBeks will organise a mapping party in the Philippines to highlight HIV facilities and LGBT-friendly spaces on OpenStreetMap
  • Khumbo Bangala Chirembo is a librarian at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi. He will host a workshop for other librarians to raise awareness of open data and its benefits
  • Mexico’s Future Lab aims to give visibility to women and the LGBT community in local decision making within government, business and civil society using open data
  • Zimbabwe Library Association’s Open Data Day event will highlight the importance of open data in promoting and supporting the girl child as well as raising the negative effects of gender-based violence against women and the role that libraries can play in providing current awareness to communities
  • Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will help young and female agricultural entrepreneurs explore how they can use open data to create new businesses
  • Datasketch in Colombia will organise a series of lightning talks from social entrepreneurs and journalists to share their work using open data
  • Youths in Technology and Development Uganda plan to share innovative data tools and a FAIR open data road map to measure progress against the SDGs in the country
  • Mexico’s Ligalab will open a space for local speakers to present their open data projects and for the community to gather and engage with local issues towards equal development
  • The Association SUUDU ANDAL in Burkina Faso plan to emphasise the importance of open data for development and accountability during their event
  • Argentina’s Fundación Conocimiento Abierto will run a Data Camp on gender and diversity before spending the next few months developing local apps using open data
  • NaimLab Peru are organising an event for undergraduate students to share the open data work being done by local and national organisations
  • YWCA Honduras’ event will host a focus group for local women from middle and low income backgrounds to discuss and generate data on female migration in Honduras
  • We Are Capable Data for Good Namibia (WACDGN) will train young Namibians in using data science skills for sustainable development projects
  • Tutator from Bolivia will use their event to understand the impact of open data in the livelihood of the beneficiaries of social services

About Open Data Day

Open Data Day is the annual event where we gather to reach out to new people and build new solutions to issues in our communities using open data. The tenth Open Data Day will take place on Saturday 7th March 2020. If you have started planning your Open Data Day event already, please add it to the global map on the Open Data Day website using this form You can also connect with others and spread the word about Open Data Day using the #OpenDataDay or #ODD2020 hashtags. Alternatively you can join the Google Group to ask for advice or share tips. To get inspired with ideas for events, you can read about some of the great events which took place on Open Data Day 2019 in our wrap-up blog post.

Technical support

As well as sponsoring the mini-grant scheme, Datopian will be providing technical support on Open Data Day 2020. Discover key resources on how to publish any data you’re working with via datahub.io and how to reach out to the Datopian team for assistance via Gitter by reading their Open Data Day blogpost.

Need more information?

If you have any questions, you can reach out to the Open Knowledge Foundation team by emailing network@okfn.org or on Twitter via @OKFN. There’s also the Open Data Day Google Group where you can connect with others interested in taking part.

Announcing the launch of the Open Data Day 2020 mini-grant scheme

- January 16, 2020 in Featured, Open Data, Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020, Open Knowledge Foundation

Open Data Day 2020 We are happy to announce the launch of the mini-grant scheme for Open Data Day 2020. This scheme will provide small funds to support the organisation of open data-related events across the world on Saturday 7th March 2020. Thanks to the generous support of this year’s mini-grant funders – Datopian, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Hivos, the Latin American Open Data Initiative (ILDA), Mapbox, Open Contracting Partnership and the World Resources Institute – the Open Knowledge Foundation will be able to give out 60 mini-grants this year. Applications for the mini-grant scheme must be submitted before midnight GMT on Sunday 9th February 2020 via filling in this form. To be awarded a mini-grant, your event must fit into one of the four tracks laid out below. Event organisers can only apply once and for just one track. Open Data Day 2020 mini-grant tracks Mini-grant tracks for Open Data Day 2020 Each year, the Open Data Day mini-grant scheme looks to highlight and support particular types of open data events by focusing applicants on a number of thematic tracks. This year’s tracks are:
  • Environmental data: Use open data to illustrate the urgency of the climate emergency and spur people into action to take a stand or make changes in their lives to help the world become more environmentally sustainable.
  • Tracking public money flows: Expand budget transparency, dive into public procurement, examine tax data or raise issues around public finance management by submitting Freedom of Information requests.
  • Open mapping: Learn about the power of maps to develop better communities.
  • Data for equal development: How can open data be used by communities to highlight pressing issues on a local, national or global level? Can open data be used to track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs?
What is a mini-grant? A mini-grant is a small fund of between $200 and $300 USD to help support groups organising Open Data Day events. Event organisers can only apply once and for just one track. The mini-grants cannot be used to fund government events, whether national or local. We can only support civil society actions. We encourage governments to find local groups and engage with them if they want to organise events and apply for a mini-grant. The funds will only be delivered to the successful grantees after their event takes place and once the Open Knowledge Foundation team receives a draft blogpost about the event for us to publish on blog.okfn.org. In case the funds are needed before 7th March 2020, we will assess whether or not we can help on a case-by-case basis. About Open Data Day Open Data Day is the annual event where we gather to reach out to new people and build new solutions to issues in our communities using open data. The tenth Open Data Day will take place on Saturday 7th March 2020. If you have started planning your Open Data Day event already, please add it to the global map on the Open Data Day website using this form You can also connect with others and spread the word about Open Data Day using the #OpenDataDay or #ODD2020 hashtags. Alternatively you can join the Google Group to ask for advice or share tips. To get inspired with ideas for events, you can read about some of the great events which took place on Open Data Day 2019 in our wrap-up blog post. Technical support As well as sponsoring the mini-grant scheme, Datopian will be providing technical support on Open Data Day 2020. Discover key resources on how to publish any data you’re working with via datahub.io and how to reach out to the Datopian team for assistance via Gitter by reading their Open Data Day blogpost. Need more information? If you have any questions, you can reach out to the Open Knowledge Foundation team by emailing network@okfn.org or on Twitter via @OKFN. There’s also the Open Data Day Google Group where you can connect with others interested in taking part.

Getting ready for Open Data Day 2020 on Saturday 7th March

- November 8, 2019 in Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020

Open Data Day 2020Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Open Data Day! Open Data Day is the yearly event where we gather to reach out to new people and build new solutions to issues in our communities using open data. The next edition will take place on Saturday 7th March 2020. Over the last decade, this event has evolved from a small group of people in a few cities trying to convince their governments about the value of open data, to a full-grown community of practitioners and activists around the world working on putting data to use for their communities.  Like in previous years, the Open Knowledge Foundation will continue with the mini-grants scheme giving between $200 and $300 USD to support great Open Data Day events across the world, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, you can collaborate on the website. opendataday.org is on Github. Pull requests are welcome and we have a bunch of issues we’d love to get through.  If coding is not your thing but you know a language besides English, you can translate the website into your language, or update one of the other nine languages available so far. If you have started planning your Open Data Day event for next year, the new form to start populating the map will be available soon. You can also connect with others and spread the word about Open Data Day using the #OpenDataDay or #ODD2020 hashtags. Alternatively you can join the Google Group to ask for advice or share tips. To get inspired, you can read more about everything from this year’s edition on our wrap-up blog post.

Why greater tax transparency is needed to help fix the broken global tax system

- July 30, 2019 in Open Knowledge

Public CBCR by Financial Transparency Coalition is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The international tax system is broken and in need of urgent updating to address issues which allow globalised businesses to move their profits and intellectual property around the world, often to locations where they pay the least tax. Indeed some economists estimate that “close to 40% of multinational profits are shifted to tax havens globally each year” with many of the world’s most important tax havens being connected to the UK. The digital services taxes being proposed by countries such as France and the UK arise from frustrations with the slow pace of progress towards an internationally-agreed solution.  Those processes may continue to be held back by reactions from the US – where many of the largest digital businesses originate – or countries such as Ireland which corporations like Facebook may have chosen as their European base for beneficial tax reasons. The EU has so far failed to pass its own legislation to better tax digital businesses although the incoming president of the European Commission recently stated that the EU must act by the end of 2020 if no other international solution is agreed.  The OECD is currently in discussions about a new programme of work to “develop a consensus solution to the tax challenges arising from the digitalisation of the economy. This work is expected to conclude by the end of 2020 and establish a follow-up to their anti tax avoidance Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project. However the BEPS process has been criticised as being biased towards rich countries prompting calls – from the G77 coalition of developing nations, China and others, most recently Norway – for the United Nations to set up a UN tax body to create a truly global solution to modern taxation. Tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook may be some of the most high-profile examples of companies using complicated tax structuring that the public is aware of – thanks to years of media reporting and targeted campaigning – but the problem is systemic. Tax justice advocates – such as those that the Open Knowledge Foundation helped convene for our Open Data for Tax Justice project – argue that the world’s tax systems need to be fundamentally restructured and have also pushed for a variety of measures sometimes summed up as the ABCs of tax transparency. A stands for automatic exchange of information where countries can more easily share tax data on individuals or businesses. B stands for beneficial ownership where the issue of opaque company ownership is addressed by publishing public registers of who owns or runs companies and trusts. C stands for country-by-country reporting where corporations would be required to publish details about the tax they pay, people they employ and profits they make in each country where they operate to build up a better picture of their activities. Taken together, it is believed that such transparency measures would shine a light on the insalubrious practices currently being used by multinational corporations in order to help the push to crack down on abuses as exposed by investigations such as the Mauritius Leaks, Paradise Papers and Panama Papers. The BEPS process has seen pushed automatic exchange of information forwards and many countries are joining the drive for beneficial ownership transparency (see the OpenOwnership project for more). There are also steps being taken towards making country-by-country reporting public, but progress is slow.  Two years after the EU voted in favour of publishing public country-by-country reporting information as open data for all large corporations operating in Europe, the issue remains stuck in trilogue discussions at the EU Council. Meanwhile others are taking on the issue including international accounting standards setters and civil society efforts such as the Fair Tax Mark. We believe that a lack of transparency in current country-by-country reporting standards will fail to build confidence in the treatment of corporations, missing an important opportunity to build tax morale and wider public support for tax compliance.  Research has shown how restricting access to country-by-country reporting exacerbates global inequalities in taxing rights while civil society organisations have set out why public country-by-country reporting is a must for large multinationals to create an “effective deterrent of aggressive tax avoidance and profit shifting”. We urge all policymakers working on tax issues to prioritise increased tax transparency as an essential strand of modernising the global taxation system as a way to improve public trust and ensure corporate compliance.

Missed opportunities in the EU’s revised open data and re-use of public sector information directive

- July 9, 2019 in European Union, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Research

Published by the European Union on June 26th, the revised directive on open data and the re-use of public sector information – or PSI Directive – set out an updated set of rules relating to public sector documents, publicly funded research data and “high-value” datasets which should be made available for free via application programming interfaces or APIs. EU member states have until July 2021 to incorporate the directive into law.  While Open Knowledge Foundation is encouraged to see some of the new provisions, we have concerns – many of which we laid out in a 2018 blogpost – about missed opportunities for further progress towards a fair, free and open future across the EU. Open data stickers Lack of public input Firstly, the revised directive gives responsibility for choosing which high-value datasets to publish over to member states but there are no established mechanisms for the public to provide input into the decisions.  Broad thematic categories – geospatial; earth observation and environment; meteorological; statistics; companies and company ownership; and mobility – are set out for these datasets but the specifics will be determined over the next two years via a series of further implementing acts. Datasets eventually deemed to be high-value shall be made “available free of charge … machine readable, provided via APIs and provided as a bulk download, where relevant”. Despite drawing on our Global Open Data Index to generate a preliminary list of high-value datasets, this decision flies in the face of years of findings from the Index showing how important it is for governments to engage with the public as much and as early as possible to generate awareness and increase levels of reuse of open data. We fear that this could lead to a further loss of public trust by opening the door for special interests, lobbyists and companies to make private arguments against the release of valuable datasets like spending records or beneficial ownership data which is often highly disaggregated and allows monetary transactions to be linked to individuals. Partial definition of high-value data Secondly, defining the value of data is also not straightforward. Papers from Oxford University, to Open Data Watch and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data demonstrate disagreement about what data’s “value” is. What counts as high-value data should not only be based on quantitative indicators such as potential income generation, breadth of business applications or numbers of beneficiaries – as the revised directive sets out – but also use qualitative assessments and expert judgment from multiple disciplines. Currently less than a quarter of the data with the biggest potential for social impact is available as truly open data even from countries seen as open data leaders, according to the latest Open Data Barometer report from our colleagues at the World Wide Web Foundation. Why? Because “governments are not engaging enough with groups beyond the open data and open government communities”.   Lack of clarity on recommended licenses Thirdly, in line with the directive’s stated principle of being “open by design and by default”, we hope to see countries avoiding future interoperability problems by abiding by the requirement to use open standard licences when publishing these high-value datasets. It’s good to see that the EU Commission itself has recently adopted Creative Commons licences when publishing its own documents and data.  But we feel – in line with our friends at Communia – that the Commission should have made clear exactly which open licences they endorsed under the updated directive, by explicitly recommending the adoption of Open Definition compliant licences from Creative Commons or Open Data Commons to member states. The directive also missed the opportunity to give preference to public domain dedication and attribution licences in accordance with the EU’s own LAPSI 2.0 licensing guidelines, as we recommended. The European Data Portal indicates that there could be up to 90 different licences currently used by national, regional, or municipal governments. Their quality assurance report also shows that they can’t automatically detect the licences used to publish the vast majority of datasets published by open data portals from EU countries. If they can’t work this out, the public definitely won’t be able to: meaning that any and all efforts to use newly-released data will be restrained by unnecessarily onerous reuse conditions. The more complicated or bespoke the licensing, the more likely data will end up unused in silos, our research has shown. 27 of the 28 EU member states may now have national open data policies and portals but, once discovered, it is currently likely that – in addition to confusing licencing – national datasets lack interoperability. For while the EU has substantial programmes of work on interoperability under the European Interoperability Framework, they are not yet having a major impact on the interoperability of open datasets. Open Knowledge Foundation research report: Avoiding data use silos More FAIR data Finally, we welcome the provisions in the directive obliging member states to “[make] publicly funded research data openly available following the principle of open by default and compatible with FAIR principles.” We know there is much work to be done but hope to see wide adoption of these rules and that the provisions for not releasing publicly-funded data due to “confidentiality” or “legitimate commercial interests” will not be abused. The next two years will be a crucial period to engage with these debates across Europe and to make sure that EU countries embrace the directive’s principle of openness by default to release more, better information and datasets to help citizens strive towards a fair, free and open future.

Missed opportunities in the EU’s revised open data and re-use of public sector information directive

- July 9, 2019 in European Union, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Research

Published by the European Union on June 26th, the revised directive on open data and the re-use of public sector information – or PSI Directive – set out an updated set of rules relating to public sector documents, publicly funded research data and “high-value” datasets which should be made available for free via application programming interfaces or APIs. EU member states have until July 2021 to incorporate the directive into law.  While Open Knowledge Foundation is encouraged to see some of the new provisions, we have concerns – many of which we laid out in a 2018 blogpost – about missed opportunities for further progress towards a fair, free and open future across the EU. Open data stickers Lack of public input Firstly, the revised directive gives responsibility for choosing which high-value datasets to publish over to member states but there are no established mechanisms for the public to provide input into the decisions.  Broad thematic categories – geospatial; earth observation and environment; meteorological; statistics; companies and company ownership; and mobility – are set out for these datasets but the specifics will be determined over the next two years via a series of further implementing acts. Datasets eventually deemed to be high-value shall be made “available free of charge … machine readable, provided via APIs and provided as a bulk download, where relevant”. Despite drawing on our Global Open Data Index to generate a preliminary list of high-value datasets, this decision flies in the face of years of findings from the Index showing how important it is for governments to engage with the public as much and as early as possible to generate awareness and increase levels of reuse of open data. We fear that this could lead to a further loss of public trust by opening the door for special interests, lobbyists and companies to make private arguments against the release of valuable datasets like spending records or beneficial ownership data which is often highly disaggregated and allows monetary transactions to be linked to individuals. Partial definition of high-value data Secondly, defining the value of data is also not straightforward. Papers from Oxford University, to Open Data Watch and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data demonstrate disagreement about what data’s “value” is. What counts as high-value data should not only be based on quantitative indicators such as potential income generation, breadth of business applications or numbers of beneficiaries – as the revised directive sets out – but also use qualitative assessments and expert judgment from multiple disciplines. Currently less than a quarter of the data with the biggest potential for social impact is available as truly open data even from countries seen as open data leaders, according to the latest Open Data Barometer report from our colleagues at the World Wide Web Foundation. Why? Because “governments are not engaging enough with groups beyond the open data and open government communities”.   Lack of clarity on recommended licenses Thirdly, in line with the directive’s stated principle of being “open by design and by default”, we hope to see countries avoiding future interoperability problems by abiding by the requirement to use open standard licences when publishing these high-value datasets. It’s good to see that the EU Commission itself has recently adopted Creative Commons licences when publishing its own documents and data.  But we feel – in line with our friends at Communia – that the Commission should have made clear exactly which open licences they endorsed under the updated directive, by explicitly recommending the adoption of Open Definition compliant licences from Creative Commons or Open Data Commons to member states. The directive also missed the opportunity to give preference to public domain dedication and attribution licences in accordance with the EU’s own LAPSI 2.0 licensing guidelines, as we recommended. The European Data Portal indicates that there could be up to 90 different licences currently used by national, regional, or municipal governments. Their quality assurance report also shows that they can’t automatically detect the licences used to publish the vast majority of datasets published by open data portals from EU countries. If they can’t work this out, the public definitely won’t be able to: meaning that any and all efforts to use newly-released data will be restrained by unnecessarily onerous reuse conditions. The more complicated or bespoke the licensing, the more likely data will end up unused in silos, our research has shown. 27 of the 28 EU member states may now have national open data policies and portals but, once discovered, it is currently likely that – in addition to confusing licencing – national datasets lack interoperability. For while the EU has substantial programmes of work on interoperability under the European Interoperability Framework, they are not yet having a major impact on the interoperability of open datasets. Open Knowledge Foundation research report: Avoiding data use silos More FAIR data Finally, we welcome the provisions in the directive obliging member states to “[make] publicly funded research data openly available following the principle of open by default and compatible with FAIR principles.” We know there is much work to be done but hope to see wide adoption of these rules and that the provisions for not releasing publicly-funded data due to “confidentiality” or “legitimate commercial interests” will not be abused. The next two years will be a crucial period to engage with these debates across Europe and to make sure that EU countries embrace the directive’s principle of openness by default to release more, better information and datasets to help citizens strive towards a fair, free and open future.