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Open Economics: the story so far…

- August 30, 2013 in Advisory Panel, Announcements, Events, Featured, Open Data, Open Economics, projects

A year and a half ago we embarked on the Open Economics project with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and we would like a to share a short recap of what we have been up to. Our goal was to define what open data means for the economics profession and to become a central point of reference for those who wanted to learn what it means to have openness, transparency and open access to data in economics.

Advisory Panel of the Open Economics Working Group: openeconomics.net/advisory-panel/

Advisory Panel

We brought together an Advisory Panel of twenty senior academics who advised us and provided input on people and projects we needed to contact and issues we needed to tackle. The progress of the project has depended on the valuable support of the Advisory Panel.

1st Open Economics Workshop, Dec 17-18 ’12, Cambridge, UK: openeconomics.net/workshop-dec-2012/

2nd Open Economics Workshop, 11-12 June ’13, Cambridge, MA: openeconomics.net/workshop-june-2013

International Workshops

We also organised two international workshops, first one held in Cambridge, UK on 17-18 December 2012 and second one in Cambridge U.S. on 11-12 June 2013, convening academics, funders, data publishers, information professionals and students to share ideas and build an understanding about the value of open data, the still persisting barriers to opening up information, as well as the incentives and structures which our community should encourage.

Open Economics Principles

While defining open data for economics, we also saw the need to issue a statement on the openness of data and code – the Open Economics Principles – to emphasise that data, program code, metadata and instructions, which are necessary to replicate economics research should be open by default. Having been launched in August, this statement is now being widely endorsed by the economics community and most recently by the World Bank’s Data Development Group.

Projects

The Open Economics Working Group and several more involved members have worked on smaller projects to showcase how data can be made available and what tools can be built to encourage discussions and participation as well as wider understanding about economics. We built the award-winning app Yourtopia Italy – http://italia.yourtopia.net/ for a user-defined multidimensional index of social progress, which won a special prize in the Apps4Italy competition.

Yourtopia Italy: application of a user-defined multidimensional index of social progress: italia.yourtopia.net

We created the Failed Bank Tracker, a list and a timeline visualisation of the banks in Europe which failed during the last financial crisis and released the Automated Game Play Datasets, the data and code of papers from the Small Artificial Agents for Virtual Economies research project, implemented by Professor David Levine and Professor Yixin Chen at the Washington University of St. Louis. More recently we launched the Metametrik prototype of a platform for the storage and search of regression results in the economics.

MetaMetrik: a prototype for the storage and search of econometric results: metametrik.openeconomics.net

We also organised several events in London and a topic stream about open knowledge and sustainability at the OKFestival with a panel bringing together a diverse range of panelists from academia, policy and the open data community to discuss how open data and technology can help improve the measurement of social progress.

Blog and Knowledge Base

We blogged about issues like the benefits of open data from the perspective of economics research, the EDaWaX survey of the data availability of economics journals, pre-registration of in the social sciences, crowd-funding as well as open access. We also presented projects like the Statistical Memory of Brazil, Quandl, the AEA randomized controlled trials registry. Some of the issues we raised had a wider resonance, e.g. when Thomas Herndon found significant errors in trying to replicate the results of Harvard economists Reinhart and Rogoff, we emphasised that while such errors may happen, it is a greater crime not to make the data available with published research in order to allow for replication.

Some outcomes and expectations

We found that opening up data in economics may be a difficult matter, as many economists utilise data which cannot be open because of privacy, confidentiality or because they don’t own that data. Sometimes there are insufficient incentives to disclose data and code. Many economists spend a lot of resources in order to build their datasets and obtain an advantage over other researchers by making use of information rents. Some journals have been leading the way in putting in place data availability requirements and funders have been demanding data management and sharing plans, yet more general implementation and enforcement is still lacking. There are now, however, more tools and platforms available where researchers can store and share their research content, including data and code. There are also great benefits in sharing economics data: it enables the scrutiny of research findings and gives a possibility to replicate research, it enhances the visibility of research and promotes new uses of the data, avoids unnecessary costs for data collection, etc. In the future we hope to concentrate on projects which would involve graduate students and early career professionals, a generation of economics researchers for whom sharing data and code may become more natural.

Keep in touch

Follow us on Twitter @okfnecon, sign up to the Open Economics mailing list and browse our projects and resources at openeconomics.net.

Open Economics: the story so far…

- August 30, 2013 in Advisory Panel, Announcements, Events, Featured, Open Data, Open Economics, projects

A year and a half ago we embarked on the Open Economics project with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and we would like a to share a short recap of what we have been up to.

Our …

Securing the Knowledge Foundations of Innovation

- May 15, 2013 in Advisory Panel, Featured, Open Access, Open Data, Open Research

Last month, Paul David, professor of Economics at Stanford University, Senior Fellow of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and a member of the Advisory Panel delivered a keynote presentation at the International Seminar of the PROPICE in Paris. Professor David expresses concern that the increased use of intellectual property rights (IPR) protections “has posed problems for open collaborative scientific research” and that the IPR regime has been used by businesses e.g. to “raise commercial rivals’ costs”, where empirical evidence shows has shown that business innovation is “is being inhibited by patent thickets”. In describing the anti-commons issue, professor David also pointed out that research databases are likely sites for problems and emphasised the importance of protecting the future open access to critical data. Also, high quality data would be very costly, where “…strengthening researchers’ incentives to create transparent, fully documented and dynamically annotated datasets to be used by others remains an insufficiently addressed problem”. Read the whole presentation below:

Joshua Gans Joining the Advisory Panel of the Working Group

- February 14, 2013 in Advisory Panel, Contribution Economy, Featured, Open Access, Open Data, Open Economics

We are happy to welcome Joshua Gans in the Advisory Panel of the Open Economics Working Group. Joshua Gans Joshua Gans is a Professor of Strategic Management and holder of the Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto (with a cross appointment in the Department of Economics). Prior to 2011, he was the foundation Professor of Management (Information Economics) at the Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne and prior to that he was at the School of Economics, University of New South Wales. In 2011, Joshua was a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research (New England). Joshua holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University and an honors degree in economics from the University of Queensland. In 2012, Joshua was appointed as a Research Associate of the NBER in the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program. At Rotman, he teaches MBA and Commerce students Network and Digital Market Strategy. Most recently, he has written an eBook, Information Wants to be Shared (Harvard Business Review Press). While Joshua’s research interests are varied he has developed specialities in the nature of technological competition and innovation, economic growth, publishing economics, industrial organisation and regulatory economics. In 2007, Joshua was awarded the Economic Society of Australia’s Young Economist Award. In 2008, Joshua was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, Australia. Details of his research activities can be found here. In 2011, Joshua (along with Fiona Murray of MIT) received a grant for almost $1 million from the Sloan Foundation to explore the Economics of Knowledge Contribution and Distribution.

First Open Economics International Workshop Recap

- January 25, 2013 in academia, Advisory Panel, collaboration, Economic Publishing, economics profession, Events, Featured, Open Access, Open Data, Open Economics, Open Research, Open Tools, research, Workshop

The first Open Economics International Workshop gathered 40 academic economists, data publishers and funders of economics research, researchers and practitioners to a two-day event at Emmanuel College in Cambridge, UK. The aim of the workshop was to build an understanding around the value of open data and open tools for the Economics profession and the obstacles to opening up information, as well as the role of greater openness of the academy. This event was organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law and was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Audio and slides are available at the event’s webpage. Open Economics Workshop

Setting the Scene

The Setting the Scene session was about giving a bit of context to “Open Economics” in the knowledge society, seeing also examples from outside of the discipline and discussing reproducible research. Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge Foundation) emphasised that there is necessary change and substantial potential for economics: 1) open “core” economic data outside the academy, 2) open as default for data in the academy, 3) a real growth in citizen economics and outside participation. Daniel Goroff (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) drew attention to the work of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in emphasising the importance of knowledge and its use for making decisions and data and knowledge as a non-rival, non-excludable public good. Tim Hubbard (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) spoke about the potential of large-scale data collection around individuals for improving healthcare and how centralised global repositories work in the field of bioinformatics. Victoria Stodden (Columbia University / RunMyCode) stressed the importance of reproducibility for economic research and as an essential part of scientific methodology and presented the RunMyCode project.

Open Data in Economics

The Open Data in Economics session was chaired by Christian Zimmermann (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / RePEc) and was about several projects and ideas from various institutions. The session examined examples of open data in Economics and sought to discover whether these examples are sustainable and can be implemented in other contexts: whether the right incentives exist. Paul David (Stanford University / SIEPR) characterised the open science system as a system which is better than any other in the rapid accumulation of reliable knowledge, whereas the proprietary systems are very good in extracting the rent from the existing knowledge. A balance between these two systems should be established so that they can work within the same organisational system since separately they are distinctly suboptimal. Johannes Kiess (World Bank) underlined that having the data available is often not enough: “It is really important to teach people how to understand these datasets: data journalists, NGOs, citizens, coders, etc.”. The World Bank has implemented projects to incentivise the use of the data and is helping countries to open up their data. For economists, he mentioned, having a valuable dataset to publish on is an important asset, there are therefore not sufficient incentives for sharing. Eustáquio J. Reis (Institute of Applied Economic Research – Ipea) related his experience on establishing the Ipea statistical database and other projects for historical data series and data digitalisation in Brazil. He shared that the culture of the economics community is not a culture of collaboration where people willingly share or support and encourage data curation. Sven Vlaeminck (ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics) spoke about the EDaWaX project which conducted a study of the data-availability of economics journals and will establish publication-related data archive for an economics journal in Germany.

Legal, Cultural and other Barriers to Information Sharing in Economics

The session presented different impediments to the disclosure of data in economics from the perspective of two lawyers and two economists. Lionel Bently (University of Cambridge / CIPIL) drew attention to the fact that there is a whole range of different legal mechanism which operate to restrict the dissemination of information, yet on the other hand there is also a range of mechanism which help to make information available. Lionel questioned whether the open data standard would be always the optimal way to produce high quality economic research or whether there is also a place for modulated/intermediate positions where data is available only on conditions, or only in certain part or for certain forms of use. Mireille van Eechoud (Institute for Information Law) described the EU Public Sector Information Directive – the most generic document related to open government data and progress made for opening up information published by the government. Mireille also pointed out that legal norms have only limited value if you don’t have the internalised, cultural attitudes and structures in place that really make more access to information work. David Newbery (University of Cambridge) presented an example from the electricity markets and insisted that for a good supply of data, informed demand is needed, coming from regulators who are charged to monitor markets, detect abuse, uphold fair competition and defend consumers. John Rust (Georgetown University) said that the government is an important provider of data which is otherwise too costly to collect, yet a number of issues exist including confidentiality, excessive bureaucratic caution and the public finance crisis. There are a lot of opportunities for research also in the private sector where some part of the data can be made available (redacting confidential information) and the public non-profit sector also can have a tremendous role as force to organise markets for the better, set standards and focus of targeted domains.

Current Data Deposits and Releases – Mandating Open Data?

The session was chaired by Daniel Goroff (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) and brought together funders and publishers to discuss their role in requiring data from economic research to be publicly available and the importance of dissemination for publishing. Albert Bravo-Biosca (NESTA) emphasised that mandating open data begins much earlier in the process where funders can encourage the collection of particular data by the government which is the basis for research and can also act as an intermediary for the release of open data by the private sector. Open data is interesting but it is even more interesting when it is appropriately linked and combined with other data and the there is a value in examples and case studies for demonstrating benefits. There should be however caution as opening up some data might result in less data being collected. Toby Green (OECD Publishing) made a point of the different between posting and publishing, where making content available does not always mean that it would be accessible, discoverable, usable and understandable. In his view, the challenge is to build up an audience by putting content where people would find it, which is very costly as proper dissemination is expensive. Nancy Lutz (National Science Foundation) explained the scope and workings of the NSF and the data management plans required from all economists who are applying for funding. Creating and maintaining data infrastructure and compliance with the data management policy might eventually mean that there would be less funding for other economic research.

Trends of Greater Participation and Growing Horizons in Economics

Chris Taggart (OpenCorporates) chaired the session which introduced different ways of participating and using data, different audiences and contributors. He stressed that data is being collected in new ways and by different communities, that access to data can be an enormous privilege and can generate data gravities with very unequal access and power to make use of and to generate more data and sometimes analysis is being done in new and unexpected ways and by unexpected contributors. Michael McDonald (George Mason University) related how the highly politicised process of drawing up district lines in the U.S. (also called Gerrymandering) could be done in a much more transparent way through an open-source re-districting process with meaningful participation allowing for an open conversation about public policy. Michael also underlined the importance of common data formats and told a cautionary tale about a group of academics misusing open data with a political agenda to encourage a storyline that a candidate would win a particular state. Hans-Peter Brunner (Asian Development Bank) shared a vision about how open data and open analysis can aid in decision-making about investments in infrastructure, connectivity and policy. Simulated models about investments can demonstrate different scenarios according to investment priorities and crowd-sourced ideas. Hans-Peter asked for feedback and input on how to make data and code available. Perry Walker (new economics foundation) spoke about the conversation and that a good conversation has to be designed as it usually doesn’t happen by accident. Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge Foundation) concluded with examples about citizen economics and the growth of contributions from the wider public, particularly through volunteering computing and volunteer thinking as a way of getting engaged in research. During two sessions, the workshop participants also worked on Statement on the Open Economics principles will be revised with further input from the community and will be made public on the second Open Economics workshop taking place on 11-12 June in Cambridge, MA.