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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of #OGP16 Summit

- December 15, 2016 in Civic Space, civil society, Events, Inclusive Society, Open Data, Open Government Data, open-government

This blog originally appeared on Medium and is reposted with permission. This post is a reflection of a long and intense week in Paris for the Open Government Partnership summit. I feel after this week like I have seen so much, but missed out on a lot of things (including a couple of meals!). All in all, it was wonderful, once again, to see the Open Government community gathering around for good conversation, and maybe some follow-up actions. However, since this post is written by me, I have also some concerns that I would like to share with the rest of the community, so hold on — this is going to be a fun ride.

The Good

It is not secret that I care about the topic of gender in the open gov and the open data space. It was good to see that since my post from 11 months ago, things are starting to change in the field. More conversations about gender and open gov are starting to happen — from the workshops of The Web Foundation and Avina on OGP commitments to open gov, to the session that ran on behalf of Open Heroines, where we read Open Gender monologues. Indeed, the gender (and maybe even diversity) is on the table, and there is no way back now. Nevertheless, Manels (All-male panels), were still spotted during the conference, and I think that we can do SO much better by abolishing them altogether in the next OGP in 2018.

I think that the next rational step for OGP would be to have a working group on social inclusion ,  so we can make sure that everyone —women, youth, LGBTQ, indigenous people and minorities —are joining the table to discuss open government. I was happy to hear that many agree that open government is a process to everyone, not just a few — so now it’s the time to act on it!

However, more than my worries about the fact that the government didn’t send any minister, I am more concerned about the fact that the UK civil society didn’t make any fuss of this. That there is somewhat silence on the topic. It reminded me the article about over politeness in the open data movement by Tom Steinberg , and it makes me ponder what is next for civil society in the UK.

The Ugly

In short — the schedule of the whole summit was crazy. There is an old Hebrew proverb that says that there are so many trees that you can not see the forest anymore. This reflects how I felt at this conference — there were so many topics and sessions that I felt lost. So lost, that I sometimes gave up and just set in the main coffee space.

Also, I felt that an important event that should have run longer was cut short. This whole conference we have been bringing up the closing of civic space, but when the moment of truth comes, we cut our own civil society day in 4 hours, so now we are left with a civil society morning. In my eyes, this is, de facto, a closer of civic space, or at least an attempt to minimise it. The civil society day is an important event to the community that allows us to get in touch together in an informal way. Even though I think the OGP team organised a great morning, I believe that adding more hours to it would be more efficient in the long run.

Some of the ideas from my session on the civil society morning about the future of the open government.

Here is some of my feedback for the next OGP summit — 

  1. Mark the number of people who can join a session. Lots of sessions were closed after 5 minutes because there was not availaible sitting spaces in the room. Knowing the capacity of the room can help for early planing
  2. Allow specific time for lunch — both IODC and the OGP summit scheduled sessions on lunch. Lunch is not only a good methodic break, but also a network place, so it needs to get a generous amount of time just for the action of lunch.
  3. Make sure sessions start and end at the same time. When sessions are starting at different times it is really hard to move between them or to remember when they start and end.
  4. Quality, not quantity — This on is my personal preference, and I know that other people think differently. I think we should have fewer sessions, but more time to each session, than a lot of small sessions on so many different topics. Focus can help us as a movement to get better results.
  5. Civil society day, not a morning — and maybe bring back the government day too. This is important to give both group support and networking that they need.

The hope

You didn’t think I will let you leave with a negative feeling, right? So my hope in this movement is the people in it. During this week I had wonderful open and honest conversations with many people, some of them were old friends, some of them were new. I felt great about those conversations because even though stuff are not perfect, we can be honest about our imperfections and try to move past by them and try to make this movement better, so we can make democracy better.
So even in these days when it looks like the world is going away from open government, remember that this is a movement with great people in it. As much as it sounds like a big cliché, we, the people who work in it, can shape its future, so it’s time to act. Time to work together.

See you in the next OGP summit, and in the meanwhile, keep the discussion on the web!

New Report: “Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?”

- March 3, 2016 in advocacy, citizen data, citizen generated data, civil society, civil society data, Data Journalism, Data Revolution, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, public information, research

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 09.42.12 copy Following on from our discussion paper on “Democratising the Data Revolution”, today we’re pleased to announce the release of a new report titled “Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?”. Undertaken as a collaboration between Open Knowledge and the CIVICUS DataShift, the report contains seven case studies accompanied by a series of recommendations for civil society groups, public institutions and policy-makers. The case studies cover data collection initiatives around a wide variety of different topics – from literacy rates in East Africa to water access in Malawi, migration deaths in Europe to fracking pollution in the US. It was researched and written by myself, Danny Lämmerhirt and Liliana Bounegru. We hope that it will contribute to advancing policies and practices to make public information systems more responsive to the interests and concerns of civil society. You can download the full report here. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
The information systems of public institutions play a crucial role in how we collectively look at and act in the world. They shape the way decisions are made, progress is evaluated, resources are allocated, issues are flagged, debates are framed and action is taken. As a United Nations (UN) report recently put it, “Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability.”1 Every information system renders certain aspects of the world visible and lets others recede into the background. Datasets highlight some things and not others. They make the world comprehensible and navigable in their own way – whether for the purposes of policy evaluation, public service delivery, administration or governance. Given the critical role of public information systems, what happens when they leave out parts of the picture that civil society groups consider vital? What can civil society actors do to shape or influence these systems so they can be used to advance progress around social, democratic and environmental issues? This report looks at how citizens and civil society groups can generate data as a means to influence institutional data collection. In the following pages, we profile citizen generated and civil society data projects and how they have been used as advocacy instruments to change institutional data collection – including looking at the strategies, methods, technologies and resources that have been mobilised to this end. We conclude with a series of recommendations for civil society groups, public institutions, policy-makers and funders. The report was commissioned as part of a research series by DataShift, an initiative that builds the capacity and confidence of civil society organisations to produce and use citizen-generated data. It follows on from another recent discussion paper from Open Knowledge on what can be done to make the “data revolution” more responsive to the interests and concerns of civil society,2 as well as a briefing note by DataShift on how institutions can support sustainability of citizen-generated data initiatives.3

New Discussion Paper: “Democratising the Data Revolution”

- July 9, 2015 in Campaigning, civil society, data infrastructures, Data Journalism, Data Revolution, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge, Policy, research

Democratising the Data Revolution
“New technologies are leading to an exponential increase in the volume and types of data available, creating unprecedented possibilities for informing and transforming society and protecting the environment. Governments, companies, researchers and citizen groups are in a ferment of experimentation, innovation and adaptation to the new world of data, a world in which data are bigger, faster and more detailed than ever before. This is the data revolution.” – UN Data Revolution Group, 2014
What will the “data revolution” do? What will it be about? What will it count? What kinds of risks and harms might it bring? Whom and what will it serve? And who will get to decide? Today we are launching a new discussion paper on “Democratising the Data Revolution”, which is intended to advance thinking and action around civil society engagement with the data revolution. It looks beyond the disclosure of existing information, towards more ambitious and substantive forms of democratic engagement with data infrastructures.1 It concludes with a series of questions about what practical steps institutions and civil society organisations might take to change what is measured and how, and how these measurements are put to work. You can download the full PDF report here, or continue to read on in this blog post.

What Counts?

How might civil society actors shape the data revolution? In particular, how might they go beyond the question of what data is disclosed towards looking at what is measured in the first place? To kickstart discussion around this topic, we will look at three kinds of intervention: changing existing forms of measurement, advocating new forms of measurement and undertaking new forms of measurement.
Changing Existing Forms of Measurement
Rather than just focusing on the transparency, disclosure and openness of public information, civil society groups can argue for changing what is measured with existing data infrastructures. One example of this is recent campaigning around company ownership in the UK. Advocacy groups wanted to unpick networks of corporate ownership and control in order to support their campaigning and investigations around tax avoidance, tax evasion and illicit financial flows. While the UK company register recorded information about “nominal ownership”, it did not include information about so-called “beneficial ownership”, or who ultimately benefits from the ownership and control of companies. Campaigners undertook an extensive programme of activities to advocate for changes and extensions to existing data infrastructures – including via legislation, software systems, and administrative protocols.2
Advocating New Forms of Measurement
As well as changing or recalibrating existing forms of measurement, campaigners and civil society organisations can make the case for the measurement of things which were not previously measured. For example, over the past several decades social and political campaigning has resulted in new indicators about many different issues – such as gender inequality, health, work, disability, pollution or education.3 In such cases activists aimed to establish a given indicator as important and relevant for public institutions, decision makers, and broader publics – in order to, for example, inform policy development or resource allocation.
Undertaking New Forms of Measurement
Historically, many civil society organisations and advocacy groups have collected their own data to make the case for action on issues that they work on – from human rights abuses to endangered species. Recently there have been several data journalism projects which highlight gaps in what is officially counted. The Migrant Files is an open database containing information about over 29,000 people who died on their way to Europe since 2000, collated from publicly available sources. It was created by a network of journalists who were concerned that this data was not being systematically collected by European institutions. In a similar vein The Counted project from The Guardian records information about deaths in police custody in the US, explicitly in response to the lack of official data collection on this topic. The Migrant Files

The Role of the Open Data Movement

The nascent open data movement has often focused on the release of pre-existing information about things which are already routinely measured by public institutions. Advocates have pushed for the release of datasets under open licenses in machine-readable formats to facilitate widespread re-use – whether to develop new applications and services, or to facilitate new forms of journalism and advocacy. Datasets are often published via data portals, of which there are now hundreds around the world at local, regional, national and supranational levels. As well as opening up new datasets, some public institutions have implemented mechanisms to gather input and feedback on open data release priorities, such as:
  • Advisory panels and user groups – e.g. as the UK’s Open Data User Group (ODUG);
  • Dedicated staff – e.g. community management or “Chief Data Officer” positions;
  • User engagement channels – e.g. social media accounts, forums and mailing lists;
  • Data request mechanisms – e.g. Data.gov.uk’s dataset request service or the EU Open Data Portal’s “Suggest a Dataset” form;
  • Consultation processes – e.g. Open Government Partnership National Action Plans;
  • Solicitation for input around data standards – e.g. the US’s Federal Spending Transparency issue tracker on GitHub.
In principle these kinds of mechanisms could be used not just to inform priorities for the release of existing datasets – but also in order to facilitate engagement between institutions and civil society actors around what should be measured by the public sector and how. To use a metaphor, if data can be compared to photography, then might the open data movement play a role in intervening not just around access and circulation of snapshots taken by public institutions, but also around what is depicted and how it is shot?

Questions for Discussion

We would like to catalyse discussion and gather input about how to increase civil society engagement around the data revolution and questions about what should be measured and how. To this end, we invite advocacy groups, journalists, public institutions, data users, researchers and others to respond to the following questions.
What Can Civil Society Groups Do?
  • What can civil society organisations do to engage with the data revolution?
  • What role might the nascent open data movement play in mediating between civil society organisations and public institutions around what should be measured?
  • What opportunities does the data revolution present for civil society organisations?
  • What are the best examples of democratic interventions to change, advocate or create new forms of measurement (both present and past)?
  • What are the biggest obstacles to greater civil society engagement with the data revolution? How might these be addressed?
  • Which kinds of transnational challenges and issues (e.g. climate change, tax base erosion) are currently inadequately dealt with by national data infrastructures?
  • What areas might new kinds of measurement make the biggest difference, and how?
  • What factors are most important in ensuring that data leads to action?
  • What might civil society groups do to flag potential risks and unwanted consequences of data infrastructures as well as their benefits?
What Can Public Institutions Do?
  • What can public institutions do to better understand the interests and priorities of civil society organisations around what should be measured?
  • Are there examples of where open data initiatives have facilitated significant changes to existing datasets, or the creation of new kinds of datasets?
  • Which kinds of mechanisms might be most effective in understanding and responding to the interests of civil society organisations around what is measured and how?
  • What are the biggest obstacles to public institutions responding more effectively to the data needs and interests of civil society groups? How might these be addressed?

How to Respond

We welcome responses on these and other topics via the channels below:

  1. In this context we understand data infrastructures as composites of technical, legal and social systems (e.g. software, laws, policies, practices, standards) involved in the creation and management of data. 
  2. See: Gray, J. & Davies, T (2015) “Fighting Phantom Firms in the UK: From Opening Up Datasets to Reshaping Data Infrastructures?”. Working paper available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2610937 
  3. See: Bruno, I., Didier, E., and Vitale, T. (eds) (2014) Statistics and Activism. Special issue of Partecipazione e conflitto. The Open Journal of Sociopolitical Studies. Available at: http://siba-ese.unisalento.it/index.php/paco/issue/view/1248