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OKCon 2013 Guest Post: #SaveBagega: The winding road to tracking government spending

- September 14, 2013 in Invited Speakers, OKCon

This post is brought to you by Oludotun Babayemi and Hamzat Lawal, co-creators of Follow the Money, Nigeria. Oludotun was planning to speak in the Open Government Data: New Territories session, but sadly due to bureaucratic reasons, he will be unable to join us in Geneva. Instead, he and Hamzat have kindly sent through their thoughts on the planned talk. Look out for both of them participating virtually on Twitter! (@dotunbabayemi and @hamzy12)
#SaveBagega: The winding road to tracking government spending If government spending reached communities for which it is intended, there would not be much need for foreign aid in some developing countries. Children would receive vaccinations, disease might be eradicated, there would be an increase in yield on crops, entrepreneurs would have “direct access” to funds. Trade would go up while aid would go down! In Nigeria alone, about $6.5 trillion worth of foreign aid has been received between 2000 and 2012, while the government of the country itself, both federal and state, by the end of 2013 will have spent about $500 million [80 trillion Naira] since 2005. So what? The country still ranks 153 amongst 170 countries in the recent Human Development Index and 139 in about 160 countries on the Transparency Corruption Index. Where did all the money go? Save Bagega In the dry season of 2010, an unprecedented epidemic of lead poisoning was discovered in Zamfara State, northern Nigeria. More than 2,000 children were severely poisoned and an estimated 400 children died as a result of lead absorption associated with artisanal gold mining/processing in residential compounds in a number of remote villages. Several international organizations intervened including the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Doctors Without Borders (MSF), UNICEF, in providing emergency medical, environmental, technical and public health responses. There was one village left out in the intervention in 2010 – Bagega. The total population of Bagega was about 7,323 according to the last census in Nigeria, which was about the size of the other seven villages affected, thus there was no reason why funds weren’t available then. Consequently, about 1,500 children in Bagega have to wait! Since 2010, children were dying in Bagega, because the community could not be cleaned up from lead contamination. “ So many times we have heard funds have been made available but we didn’t see anyone to come clean up our village or treat our dying children” Said Amina. Every time the government says they have made funds available for the clean up, it would not reach Bagega! Thus the Follow the Money team intervened in mid 2012. In particular to our success was the availability of a champion within Zamfara state government. A champion in the government is critical to the success and stability of advocacy and tracking of government funding. A champion who is highly placed in the government can give a strong support to your work, and also to the need for better informed decision making, and can help diffuse the attacks of counter reformers who have vested interests in not seeing this kind of innovation to work. Look for them, for at times they are hidden! Own your strategy, not the champion or the government! We went into Bagega to capture the voice of the people and take it global, which never happened in 2010. We used the traditional and new media to help amplify the voice of the people of Bagega and Zamfara State. In most developing countries, the online compliments the offline. Do not rely only on online communications and advocacy. Within local stakeholders, we had to share information such as budget, data and maps and give feedback. Proposed budget for the cleanup of Bagega were shared with the local community member and focus groups, especially in the language they can understand. In January 2013, the voices of the people of Bagega had reached about 1 million people, and the story had been told by about 50 media organizations. The media is a great mouth piece for the people, especially where ethics is upheld. By the end of January, 2013 the federal government of Nigeria released about $5.3 million for the cleanup of Bagega from the Ecological Funds through the Ministry of Finance. So what? The release of funds has happened several times, but this time it must work. We created partnerships within a stakeholders meeting that lasted for a year, with the whole essence of getting updates on how funds are been used, corroborating the stories with what we see in the community. Also helpful, was the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 in Nigeria, which we had to refer to several times to request for information from government ministries concerned. By March, 2013, the cleanup of Bagega started, and simultaneously, the screening and treatment of hundreds of children commenced. In July 2013, the remediation of Bagega ended, and about 981 children in Bagega have been screened since April 22, with 941 on track for admission into the treatment program and another 181 already undergoing chelation therapy.
Oludotun Babayemi (@dotunbabayemi) is the co-creator of Follow the Money, Nigeria; a CrisisMapper and Sprout Pearson Fellow working on monitoring and evaluation systems [such as the Education Budget Tracker and Oil Spill Monitor] that could be used in putting pressure on governments and organizations in developing countries to be more responsive to demands from internal and external stakeholders for good governance, accountability and transparency, greater development effectiveness and delivery of tangible results. Hamzat Lawal (@hamzy12) is the co-creator of Follow the Money, Nigeria, an executive with the International Center for Energy, Environment and Development. He is the Founder of the Nigeria Youth Climate Action Network and the Communications Officer with the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change.  

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Opening up the United Nations

- September 12, 2013 in Invited Speakers, OKCon, OKCon 2013, Open Knowledge Foundation, UN

This post is written by Mark Cardwell. Together with Anders Pedersen, he will be coordinating the event ‘Opening up the United Nations, to be held on Thursday 19 September, 10:00 – 13:00 @ International Environment House 2 as part of the Open Data, Government and Governance track. Please use the form at the bottom of this page to sign up for the event, and please note that this event is not at the main venue of OKCon. 
How can we better understand the way governments and the UN spend funds? How do we really measure the impact of, say, poverty reduction programmes? Could relevant financial, procurement and operational data be used for more effective risk management or to identify potential cases of corruption?United Nations in Geneva These questions and the work that is currently underway to operate in a more transparent way, using a data-driven, results oriented approach, will be tackled at a special event in conjunction with the Open Knowledge Foundation on 19th September as part of OKCon. In this environment of austerity, it has never been more important to demonstrate transparency and accountability. The goal of the event is to show the issues and opportunities in driving towards an open, inclusive way of working. We’ll focus on the three following questions:
  • How to free data from large, complex organizations and legacy reporting systems?
  • What needs to happen to make this data understandable – and actionable?
  • What long-term policy and processes need to change to make this part of our thinking?
We’ll examine case studies of how to publish meaningful information and how to analyse the implications of opening up organizations. Oluseun Onigbinde from BudgIT, will discuss the impact of making Nigerian government data understandable to public and Federico Ramírez will share the experiences from Fundar, Mexico cleaning and visualising open data. Milica Begovic from the United Nations Development Programme will lead a conversation on the often controversial process of government contracting, and representatives from UN-Habitat, UNICEF and other agencies will show their work in driving towards an open, accessible culture. Representatives from open government community and open data users across will discuss how data should be released and most importantly, which type of data should be released. Open data users will also be able to share their stories in an informal show-and-tell forum, where individual projects can be displayed. The event is part of the Open Knowledge Conference (OKCon) 2013 organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation in partnership with UNDP, UN-Habitat, UNOPS and UN-OCHA. As with all events at OKCon, we’ll make it participatory and insist on an open and frank exchange of ideas. Attendance for this event is open to everyone registered for OKCon. If you are interested in presenting at our show-and-tell forum, please get in touch with us.
Mark Cardwell is the transparency lead and the head of online communications at the United Nations Development Programme. Photo credit

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: PeerLibrary – Open scientific knowledge

- September 12, 2013 in hackspace, Invited Speakers, OKCon, OKCon 2013, Open Knowledge Foundation

This post is written by Mitar Milutinovic, Rodrigo Ochigame, Tony Chen, Xuan An Thi Ho, and Dawn Song. They’ll be talking about their project at the Hackspace at OKCon (times to be decided on Monday 16th), and you can reach them via Twitter or email if you’d like to meet up – they’d love to hear from you!

mitarPeerLibrary is an open access project developing a collaborative online community where scholars and researchers can read, discover, and discuss various open access literature all within one site. The project is a response to the question as to what comes after open access. Although open access publications will be opened to the public for gratis access, licensing terms often still restrict the reuse and redistribution of the texts. Scholars and researchers, however, need access to the discussion and discovery surrounding a paper to enhance understanding. PeerLibrary will be a one-stop site where users will not only have access to the original publications but also access to a collaboratively edited layer of knowledge surrounding the publications. Through this integration of multiple sources of knowledge, PeerLibrary will simultaneously enrich the experience of reading research by making it more interactive and open up the possibility for improving publications through peer feedback. Furthermore, by encouraging more community interaction and involvement, PeerLibrary hopes to stimulate discussion on how we can build better open access resources and tools for the general public, not just scholars and researchers. This will enable us to better understand the breadth of usage for all communities that the open access movement seeks to empower. Ultimately, by analyzing which resources and tools open access enables, we will be able to supply the open access movement with more compelling and unique reasons for the immediate investment in its development, which we believe will improve scientific research and its results. We believe that PeerLibrary will play a vital role in fulfilling the potential of open access to enrich and energize the scientific community, and we will pursue these goals through three specific steps: expediting access to publications, enabling public recordings of analysis and insights on said publications, and encouraging collaboration and openness in the development of science. First, PeerLibrary simplifies and accelerates access to scholarly literature. Our search engine allows users to look up and explore millions of publications in an instant. Crucially, with no subscription or registration needed, anybody can easily access the information in PeerLibrary. After locating the specific work, users can open up the full text, including charts and images, directly in PeerLibrary in the browser. Users are no longer redirected to another site or forced to download files. Additionally, each publication has an easily recognizable URL, so readers can share the publication and increase access to the information that would otherwise be obscure and difficult to discover. By providing all the works in-browser and with no redirection to other sites or applications, PeerLibrary aids in creating simpler and cleaner steps in research. Next, PeerLibrary encourages critical reading and engaging in the text by providing tools to annotate and comment directly on the works. Users can highlight important information and take notes in the margins online, just as how one would mark up a physical research paper. By eliminating the need to print files, the research process is contained in one online medium, creating a greater sense of organization. Furthermore, note-taking tools encourage active analysis, a recording of insights and questions while reading. Users can choose to keep their highlights and annotations private, or they can make them public, which leads into PeerLibrary’s key step in creating a more collaborative and open scientific community. To make science truly open, readers not only need access to publications, they also need access to the additional knowledge layer and general discourse surrounding the publications. The annotations tool allows for real-time collaborative discourse and investigation of a text, not just individual reflection. When a user opens up a publication, he/she will not only be able to make personal annotations but will also be able to compare and contrast his/her comments to others. Public annotations from users will appear on the side of the text, and users can provide feedback about which are the most valuable or interesting ones. By sharing notes, users can see what others think about a work, look for common problems, consider diverging opinions, and ask questions. Often, when scholars and researchers discuss publications, they discover issues or introduce provocative suggestions offline. By moving these thought processes and discussion online, the experience of scientific reading will become more interactive and engaging, which will hopefully produce more thoughtful and innovative academic results. Above all, PeerLibrary believes that by providing the tools to demystify science, specifically annotations that elucidate issues in publications, the experience of learning science will become more inclusive. Annotations to texts will not only speed up the time scholars and researchers spend reading, they will also clarify scientific language, making publications more comprehensible and meaningful to the general public. We hope that if we promote collaboration and intellectual diversity within the scientific process and discussion, science will produce improved results and better serve the community.
Mitar Milutinovic (@mitar_m) is a computer science PhD student at UC Berkeley working on various forms of tools for improving how people collaborate: the above mentioned PeerLibrarynodewatcher, for empowering general population to share and build their Internet connectivity, and an as-yet unreleased project for community decision making.

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Which bar to raise?

- September 11, 2013 in Geneva, Invited Speakers, OKCon, OKCon 2013, open-government

Next up, we have Paul Maassen, who together with Daniel Dietrich and Anders Pedersen will be coordinating the workshop ‘Raising the bar for ambition and quality in OGP: workshop to develop a ‘Civil Society National OGP Review’, to be held on Tuesday 17 September, 14:45 – 16:00 @ Room 5, Floor 3, as part of the Open Data, Government and Governance track. Get in touch with them to book your place!
When asked what makes the Open Government Partnership model different I always mention 3 elements: the guaranteed seat at the table for civil society; the concrete, ambitious commitments made, and the independent monitoring of the process and promises. Two years after the OGP was launched at the UN General Assembly the first set of independent reports are being released. That brings the first cycle for the founding countries to a close. The last 12 months reformers in close to 60 countries have experimented with the OGP process, testing it out as a new tool to deliver change and get more transparency, more accountability and more participation.
Image: Open Development Technology Alliance

Image: Open Development Technology Alliance

Not surprisingly civil society across the globe has been watching OGP closely. Embracing the idea of creating space for reformers, but critically vocal on all three key elements, as well as the criteria to get into the partnership. In ultra short summary: the eligibility threshold is too low with too little criteria; the commitments are not ambitious and the consultations not inclusive and ‘real’ enough. All okay to an extent for the ‘test drive’ of the first action plan cycle, but not for the second round. The team working on the independent reports (IRM team) have worked hard the last couple of months to get their methodology right, find the best researchers, balance the interest of government and civil society. This week the very first report – on South Africa – will be published and the coming weeks 7 more will follow. Hopefully the reports will bring about a dialogue on key learnings, rather than serve as a simple scorecard to praise or denounce national efforts. Solid thinking and resources have been put into this exercise and the reports should push the reviewed countries in the right direction and create fresh energy. Being a critical watchdog is in the DNA of civil society, and holding government to account is one of our ‘raisons d’être’. Does our critical lens prevent us from seeing the upside? If you read the 15 country articles the OGP Civil Society Coordination team produced you will see that there are a lot of positive seedlings. We have heard from colleagues in Georgia, Mexico and Croatia – to name a few – that OGP helped deliver things they had pushed for for a long time. Still, improving the basics and raising the bar seems the right priority at this point, exactly at the moment that the first and second groups of members get evaluated and prepare for their second action plan. Who and how? OGP itself recently approved new rules to define and measure ambitious commitments and will also strengthen the guidance around the civil society-government dialogue. That’s one. Two, the coming months both the OGP itself as well as the Civil Society Coordination Team will create some additional capacity for guidance and support at the national level. Three, the IRM will review its methodology and revise it to collect information early on, to measure ambition and to see where real-time monitoring is feasible. Those improvements are all closely linked to OGP. What can civil society do additionally to monitoring success at the national level? Actors like Access Info Europe and Transparency International are already working on projects to define standards and measurements around open government. Building on that work and that of others civil society could create a new global ‘open government index’ that rates and ranks countries on a wide range of open government aspects. Such an index could be a blend of (elements of) existing indices (i.e. Global Integrity report, Civicus index and rapid assessment on civil society, Web Foundation’s open data index, Open Budget Index, Resource Governance Index), or be build from scratch. A macro approach, setting new levels of ambition for the broader concept of open government, triggering a race to the top by explicitly ranking countries and thus triggering their vanity and competitiveness. A great tool for (media) advocacy, yet time and resource intensive to create. A smaller idea is to create a simple and transparent review methodology to be used by civil society in OGP member countries to assess the quality and the ambition of both the consultation process and the resulting action plan. For each quadrant thus defined a limited set of weighted indicators could be developed that national civil society would assess against. A round of comments by both government and civil society could calibrate the scores. The end result would be a Civil Society National OGP Review simple stating ‘country x gets 4 out of 5 stars for quality of the action plan, 3 out of 5 for the quality of the process.’ If chosen smartly the indicators could be a positive stimulus for responsible government actors to makes changes, improving the national OGP plan and process each iterative round. Personally I feel we might need both – and even more – the coming years to reach the scale of change we all hope for. But we need the second idea as soon as possible. Having a simple review methodology would give a comparable basis across countries for our critique of OGP and the actions of our governments. It would strengthen the case we make. It would help the second round of OGP plans. Let’s use OKCon to start developing the Review Methodology.
Paul Maassen is the civil society coordinator for the Open Government Partnership and in that role supports independent engagement with the OGP in all member countries. He previously worked as Head of Finance and Partnerships for WWF International’ Global Climate & Energy Initiative and with Dutch development organisation Hivos as programme manager for the ICT & Media programme. He was involved in the establishment of the East African citizen agency initiative Twaweza, and attained private sector experience with Dutch telcom company KPN. He holds an MSC in industrial engineering and management.

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Open governance groups around the world compare local authority finances

- September 9, 2013 in Geneva, Invited Speakers, OKCon, OKCon 2013, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Spending

This article originally appeared on the Guardian website on 01 August 2013. Marc Joffe will be speaking in the Open Finance and OpenSpending – Workshop on Wednesday 18 September, 14:45 – 16:00 @ Room 7, Floor 2.
Open governance groups around the world compare local authority finances
Council finances are being compared for greater transparency, but a lack of standardised data is holdings things back. We built a website in the US that maps the finances and credit scores of 260 Californian cities. You can click on a town and find out about their revenues and expenditure, debt levels and even retirement plans for staff. California City Credit Scoring The California fiscal transparency project is one example of how open governance initiatives are increasingly being used to compare local authorities, accessing their spending priorities and financial conditions. A similar site exists in Denmark and one will launch in Israel shortly using a new open source software platform. However, projects like this that compare authorities finances face a number of challenges – many of which arise from a lack of standardised, machine-readable data. While corporate financial data analysis is aided by the XBRL standard, there is no analogous standard in the realm of government financial reporting. Our work on California required us to locate and extract data from audited financial reports filed by each city. In virtually all cases, these reports were stored in pdf files, and completing this project required a lot of manual inputting. We got the best results by selecting portions of the pdf to convert within the software. So, would something like this be possible in England? The raw material for such a project is available in abundance. Local councils in England are required to publish audited financial accounts, and typically do so in pdf form. Tax receipts, investments and borrowing data for all councils are published in Excel format by the Department for Communities and Local Government. But it is not certain whether these statistics tie out to the audited financial reports. In California, we found widespread inconsistencies between audited financial reports and standardised data collected by the state controller’s office. The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accounts also collects and standardises council financial data, but they sell their compilations for several hundred pounds. The UK is significantly ahead of the US in the area of reporting transactions. In the UK, councils are required to publish all transactions above £500; some voluntarily report smaller transactions. The only problem is that there are varying interpretations of what data is being completed in each field and inconsistency in data formats and field headers. Although transaction reports are supposed to be issued monthly, some councils publish them less frequently. While most councils provide their spending data in machine readable formats, others only provide pdfs. We sent a freedom of information request to East Riding council, asking them to publish their data in comma separated variable (CSV) format instead but the council refused on the basis that the data in the new format might be used fraudulently. Some of the local government transaction data has been aggregated on the Open Knowledge Foundation’s global Open Spending project and at Openly Local. City councils in the US and the UK both publish budgets which include estimates of future spending. In our California project, we initially excluded budgets because budget reporting formats are less consistent than those used in audits (since the latter are governed by accounting standards). However, because budgets are forward looking, citizens find them more interesting. As a result, they have been the focus of the Denmark effort as well as many individual city-level transparency projects such as Open Oakland. In California, the impetus for developing our transparency site was a desire to provide an alternative to credit ratings for assessing the likelihood of municipal bond defaults. In recent years, the state has had a number of high-profile bankruptcies, so investors may require greater transparency before purchasing bonds issued by California cities. We meet this need by running city financial statistics through an open source credit scoring model. UK councils have not accessed the capital markets, but that could be about to change. Before becoming reliant on the credit rating agencies, local leaders may wish to build a transparency platform like the one in California.
Marc Joffe is the principal consultant at Public Sector Credit Solutions and Ian Makgill is the managing director of the Spend Network.

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Connecting Open Resource Flows for Development

- September 5, 2013 in 2013, Geneva, Invited Speakers, OKCon, OKCon 2013, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Spending

To complete the dozen in our guest posts by OKCon speaker we asked Mark Brough to write something about the workshop ‘Connecting Open Resource Flows for Development’ in the Open Development & Sustainability programme, that he will present together with Anders Pedersen, Openspending on Monday 16 September, 17:15 – 18:45 @ Room 20, Floor 3.
Connecting Open Resource Flows for Development ugandabudgetAid, climate finance, extractives, government budgets, humanitarian aid, contracts and organisation identifiers: there are now a large range of initiatives to open up data on developmental resource flows. On 16th September at OKCon, we will be co-hosting a workshop on connecting open resource flows for development. There is a lot of discussion right now about joining up these different flows – in terms of interoperability of different standards at the technical level, as well as improved communication among advocates, publishers, and organisers of this data at the policy level. The workshop will focus more on the policy level; while many of those joining us have been heavily involved in the mechanics of standards for aid data through IATI, wrangling budget data into OpenSpending, and designing new standards for open contracts data, improving communication and learning between different initiatives is an important first step before beginning the work of developing, aligning and implementing standards. As you’d expect at OKCon, the workshop is intended to be open and participatory, and we’re encouraging all organisations to give short (2 minute) presentations at the start about their own area of work and how it might overlap with that of others. We’ll then consider what questions we can begin to answer by connecting data together, and discuss shared challenges and opportunities. Finally, we will begin to discuss how the data could be joined up in practice – through the identification of existing standards, initiatives and opportunities for making it happen. If you’re interested in coming along then please get in touch. You’ll be very welcome, regardless of your area of interest and level of expertise (the conversation is likely to be detailed, but not technical). The more participants we have the more lively the discussion and chances to share experience so we hope you’ll join us. More details: Google Doc
Mark Brough is the Aid Information Advisor at Publish What You Fund, the global campaign for aid transparency. He leads on developing technology and advocacy tools, including the Aid Transparency Tracker, which assesses the quality of donors’ aid data as part of the forthcoming 2013 Index, and a visualisation of aid to Uganda mapped onto Uganda’s budget.

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: How Linked Open Data supports Sustainable Development & Climate Change Development

- September 4, 2013 in 2013, Denise Recheis, Florian Bauer, Geneva, Invited Speakers, Jens Laustsen, OKCon, OKCon 2013, Open Development, Open Knowledge Foundation, Sustainability

Guest post number eleven in the OKCon speaker series is from Florian Bauer, Denise Recheis and Martin Kaltenböck. They have organized and will be holding the workshop ‘How Linked Open Data (LOD) supports Sustainable Development & Climate Change Development’ in the Open Development & Sustainability programme, on Wednesday 18 September, 11:45 – 13:15 @ Room 8, Floor 2. Get in touch with them now to register your place! 
How Linked Open Data (LOD) supports Sustainable Development & Climate Change Development The idea of using LOD first emerged as a useful technology for data and information management in the health sector as an area where many different aspects need to be combined to create a bigger picture. Sustainable development is another such complex area where many factors are needed to make informed decisions. For both, LOD brings better decision making as well as awareness building. reegle-lod-cloudOften these snippets of information are retrieved across different research fields and later stored in hundreds of different information silos that are not connected to each other. The same can be said about modern energy systems that combine new and conventional sources of energy, centralized and on-site generation and a complex distribution infrastructure. Again, a lot of data is needed to smooth the way for the transition towards clean energy. Ambitious targets are already in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase access to sustainable energy for more people at the same time. We seriously lag behind in reaching these goals and often find that what’s missing is often proper access to essential information. Such information arrives too late, has not been processed to a useful format or is simply not available for open use and re-use. We believe that the LOD principles are the right mechanism & technology that can support our efforts to tackle these global issues. Today networking is being accepted as a crucial part of development, and that can also be said about networked, linked information/data. Linked Open Data is often described as Open Data interlinked with other datasets. Going from link to link, connections that may not be obvious instantly are drawn together – a bit like the introduction of hyperlinks now connects many pages on the web across different websites and allows the user to dive deeply into a subject. Only in the case with LOD, it’s the machine that can dive into this knowledge and provide the user with tailored results to tackle problems. Right now, many of those who need data to make informed decisions have caught on to the logical benefits of (linked) open data. More convincing needs to be done to see more relevant data being released in a way (format, license, links) that makes it valuable in the quest to tackle global, complex problems. “Concerns about opening up data, and responses which have proved effective” by Christopher Gutteridge, University of Southampton and Alexander Dutton, University of Oxford has put together all the usual thick-as-a-brick arguments and proposed solutions and answers. Classics include being worried about misinterpretation of the data, data not being very interesting, and possible future use in a research paper, as well as technical, legal and financial concerns. The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and the Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN) are two organizations active in the promotion of clean energy and energy efficiency and have embraced LOD as a means to accelerate their work and strengthen their networks. GBPN provides its building efficiency data in this format to ensure that the information can be used in relevant contexts as they arise. REEEP is using available open data to draw together country dossiers focusing of clean energy in its information portal and also sees its role as a broker between information providers and users. The Semantic Web Company (SWC) has been working in the field on semantic web technologies for many years and has helped making this state-of-the-art way of working with data accessible to several organizations in the energy and sustainability sector. All three organisations see sustainable development as an excellent way to showcase the benefits of LOD, and therefore have joined forces to organise a workshop at this years Open Knowledge Conference to highlight use-cases of Linked Open Data and discuss lessons learnt.

Florian Bauer, Operations & IT Director, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership
Denise Recheis, Knowledge Manager REEEP
Jens Laustsen, Technical Director, Global Buildings Performance Network, Martin Kaltenböck, Managing Partner, Semantic Web Company

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: New approaches to working with information for advocacy

- September 3, 2013 in 2013, Geneva, Invited Speakers, OKCon, OKCon 2013, Open Knowledge Foundation

Our tenth guest post in the OKCon speaker series is from Maya Indira Ganesh. She will be speaking in the session ‘Data-driven storytelling’, as part of the Evidence and Stories programme, on Wednesday 18 September, 14:45 –16:00 @ Main Stage Room 2.
Evidence & Influence
New approaches to working with information for advocacy
Two years ago I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, a work of non fiction about factory farming, and decided to become a vegetarian (again). Fish
(Image by Maya Ganesh) Foer’s book brings a fiction writer’s touch to what could otherwise be a dense mass of statistics; it is emotive: alongside the numbers it weaves in stories of his grandmother surviving the Holocaust, impending fatherhood and appeals to imagine the silent screaming of little fishies being killed (moos and groans of a cow on a conveyor belt, by comparison, can be heard). It appeals to morality and ethical reasoning: it asks you to consider why you wouldn’t eat the family dog but have no problem eating a cow. It is also knowingly persuasive: Foer lays out, in graphic detail, how cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and fish are reared and raised in industrial farming complexes, and how they are then slaughtered. More than a paean to vegetarianism, the book encourages the reader to think about the political, economic and social contexts and consequences of the act of producing and eating any kind of food. The book changed how I eat and more importantly, how I cook and shop for produce. I refer to this example because it leads me to ask: what does it take to create influence that can change people’s opinions, ideas and even their whole lives? The storyteller Neil Gaiman says this about stories:
“Stories, like people …. are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas-abstract, invisible, gone once they’ve been spoken-and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some of them have outlasted the lands in which they were created.” (Fragile Things – Short Fictions and Wonders)

Activists and advocates attempt to do something similar with their issue: to capture attention and present ideas through the skillful organisation of the right kinds of information into a narrative that is memorable and moving. Finding the story that sticks, knowing how to integrate data and the visual within its narrative and identifying the best platforms to present an issue is often a challenge for campaigners, and is part of what our work at Tactical Tech’s Evidence & Action Programme is about. With the increased opportunities for campaigning and advocacy with data, the challenges of security of data, and in establishing the veracity of and interpretation of data, evidence-based advocacy is poised at an exciting new moment to think about what influence means and how it may be achieved. Tactical Tech’s recent Info-Activism Camp titled ‘Evidence and Influence’ brought together 135 designers, technologists, mappers, hackers, data specialists, activists and advocates to work on what this means. For six days we shared knowledge, ideas, skills, and fostered strong ties for future collaborations. Our morning tracks at the Camp focused on four approaches to working with information for advocacy, which we called Documentation, Investigation, Curation and Intervention. We created these categories as ways to think about, plan for and identify skills and techniques for information as evidence in advocacy. Each one has particular characteristics and features, and yet are not that separate. Each one has a narrative arc that is slightly different from the next one, yet the intrepid information activist often has to lean on these at different moments and depending on the context. One of these, investigation, a longstanding tradition in journalism, is particularly exciting at this moment. We recently profiled the work of Paul Radu who primarily works with journalists to use data, visualisation and investigative techniques to expose organised crime and corruption. Getting to know Paul and his work, we were keen to have him at the Camp and have him share his skills and see how this resonated with activists and advocates who work with very similar tools. What can activists learn from investigative journalism’s techniques? What are the tools available and how may they be applicable to the work of information-activists? My presentation on September 18th at the Open Knowledge Conference will showcase Paul Radu’s work as well as two nascent activist investigations inspired by Paul’s work. The meal that Paul and his newest fans share? Data, of course. *Note: I have flexitarian tendencies; I am not saying no to sushi; sometimes my aunt’s rogan josh will also challenge me.
Maya Indira Ganesh is Programme Director at Tactical Technology Collective. She has worked as a researcher, writer and activist with women’s rights organizations in India, international NGOs and academic institutions, including UNICEF, the Association for Progressive Communications’ Women’s Networking Support Program, Point of View and Tata Institute for Social Sciences. She has worked on projects spanning a range from gender rights, violence against women, sexuality rights, HIV/AIDS prevention with young people and digital media use, policy and communication rights. She has published non-fiction and academic writing about old and new media from trashy pulp magazines to sleek mobile phones. She has Masters degrees in Psychology from Delhi University in India, and in Media and Cultural Studies from the University of Sussex, UK.

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Re:Public Domain Remix + Walk – Workshop

- September 2, 2013 in Geneva, Invited Speakers, OKCon, OKCon 2013, open culture, Open Knowledge Foundation, Robert Musil

The ninth in our series guest post by OKCon 2013 speakers is by Primavera De Filippi, Mario Purkathofer and Daniel Boos. They will be holding the satelite event ‘Re:Public Domain Remix + Walk’, part of the Open Culture programme, on Thursday 19 September, 10:00 – 18:00 @ KulturBüro, Rue de Berne 63, 1201 Genève.
The Re:Public Domain Remix is an event run by Dock18, the Open Knowledge Foundation France, Wikimedia (France & Switzerland) and Migros Kulturprozent aimed at encouraging people to remix public domain works in a creative way. In France a Public Domain Remix partnership challenge was started specifically seeking to promote the use and reuse of public domain works through an interdisciplinary and transmedial approach: rather than following the same medium, we encourage people to shift from one medium to the other (e.g. remixing a literary work into music, a photograph into a sculpture, etc). In Switzerland four Re:Public Domain events will explore the use of public domain works based on tools (eg. serigraphy, 3d printing, apps) build by artists. Overall the goal of all this activities is to promote the public domain by showing what can actually be done with it. 10:00 -13:00 @ Kulturbüro
Invited artists will act as mediator between the artworks and the public, who will be invited to remix these works. Each artist will be responsible for coordinating actions within its own stream or category, encouraging people to remix the works in front of them in new and creative ways. Each artist will be in charge of answering questions and sharing their own skills (e.g. explaining which kind of tools can be used to remix these works, and teaching people how to actually use those tools).
  • Serigraphy by So:ren Berner, Public can print their own t-shirt with Public Domain Materials. Bring your T-Shirts!
  • Track Raid mit Ableton User Group, Sound Remixing with Public Domain Materials. Bring your own laptops with Ableton Live
  • 3d Printer with Fablab Zürich, the sculpture “Neue Badende” will be printed in different colors on a 3D-Printer.
  • App by Christoph Stähli, a mobile audio application to remix Public Domain materials. Bring your mobile phones!
The public will be responsible for bringing joy and creativity. Participants will be invited to either work individually on one work or to collaborate towards the creation of a larger multimedia works. 15:00 -18:00 Monte Salève
robert-musil-der-mann-ohne-eigenschaftenWalk & Book Presentation
Meeting 15:00 at Kulturbüro Geneve
In the afternoon, we will do a walk to the woods of Mont Saleve, where we present the new book by D18 Edition & Typolibre. Reading some fragments, doing field records, presenting some remixes on the wild side together with 15000 fragments by Robert Musil. His unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities is generally considered to be one of the most important modernist novels. However, the novel has not been widely read both because of its delayed publication and intricate, lengthy plot. Musil died on April 14th 1942 in Geneva.
Martha (his wife) wrote to Franz Theodor Csokor that taking off his clothes in the bathroom, maybe when doing gymnastics or just making a hefty movement, he had been hit by a stroke and, when she found him a few minutes later, did not look dead at all but so alive with some mockery and astonishment on his face. He was 61 years old and only eight people were present at his cremation. Martha cast his ashes into the woods of Mont Salève. Musil’s works entered the public domain on January 1st, 2013. Bureau Culture Geneve Monte Salève
Primavera De Filippi
Primavera De Filippi is a researcher at the CERSA / CNRS / Université Paris II. She is currently a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, where is investigating the concept of “governance by design” as it relates to cloud computing and peer-to-peer technologies. Primavera holds a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence, where she explored the legal challenges of copyright law in the digital environment. Primavera is an administrator of the Communia association for the public domain, a coordinator at the Open Knowldege Foundation and legal expert for Creative Commons in France. She is also the co-founder of an artistic collective that produces interactive (digital and mechanical) works released under open licenses. Mario Purkathofer
Living in Zurich in gaps since 1998 (Residence Status C). Studied sculpting, sociology, e-business, German philology, and new media at the ZHDK from 1998–2003. Graduated 2003 in Zurich. Founded the Dock18 Space for Media Cultures of the World in 2005, and has been in charge of Dock18 since then. In his free time he teaches computer science at the free catholic school in Zurich, and supervises the project work. Other than that he does freelance work in the areas of project consultancy and innovation management. He developed the project Public Domain together with Daniel Boos, with continuous events since 2008. Daniel Boos
Daniel Boos lives in Zurich and works in Bern or Zurich. He is active in Digitale Allmend, where he was a member of the board until early 2012. Together with Dock18 he organized the Public Domain Jam. His particular interest is in the question of how works in the public domain can be creatively acquired and used again. He is interested in, and was active in the context of different network policy initiatives. These included groups such as communia,, Creative Commons Switzerland, SIUG. This concerned, among others, topics such as copyright, camera surveillance and the ironic presentation of prizes to surveillance operators. Daniel Boos is a social scientist and has a PHD from the ETH Zurich.

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Using CartoDB to tell stories in open data

- August 30, 2013 in cartoDB, Invited Speakers, OKCon, OKCon 2013, Open Knowledge Foundation, PLUTO

For the eigth guest post by OKCon 2013 speakers we thank Javier de la Torre and Andrew Hill. Javier’s partner at cartoDB Sergio Alvarez will be running the workshop ‘Online Mapping: how to analyze, visualize and build apps with your geospatial data’, as part of the Technology, Tools and Business programme, on Monday 16 September, 17:15 – 18:15 @ Room 19, Floor 3.
Using CartoDB to tell stories in open data In the open data, mapping, and GIS circles of New York City, the PLUTO dataset has been the topic of many conversations over the years. It gained a good amount of its reputation from being one of few datasets apparently exempt from Mayor Bloomberg’s open data initiatives. The reputation was probably helped by the fact that the data was actually available to researchers and businesses, for a price. That all changed back in late July when the Department of Planning revised its policy on the dataset, making it free to all users. It was probably only a matter of hours after the update before our friends were tweeting and emailing us the reports. It isn’t everyday that an important new dataset that you have talked about hundreds of times before, suddenly becomes free to the public. A couple weeks passed before we were able to sit down and dig into what this data really contains. At the request of our friends over at OpenPlans, we started to put together a tour of the PLUTO data. What started as a small project to create a handful of maps, quickly grew into a tour with nearly 30 interesting stops. cartodb-workshop We were not sure what other people would think of the tour, for us it was just exciting to take people along in our own journey to uncover what was inside the dataset. It turns out that quite a few other people also liked the tour. We think this is just a small testament to the impact that open data can have, both on journalism as well as data literacy, communication, and a host of other subjects. We can’t help but think that it must be an exciting time to be an anthropologist. We know that as data come available in easy-to-use formats, exciting new research and reporting projects will come with them. This is where our own open source project, CartoDB, comes in. When we started the PLUTO Data Tour, we really had no idea what we expected to find or show from the data. With CartoDB though, we were able to quickly pull out of this huge dataset a few unique and interesting stories, through the use of SQL and CSS to filter and style our maps. That ability is priceless when building technology around data or even creating visual experiments like those we created for the tour. At this year’s OKCon, we are very excited to be giving a small workshop to those interested in CartoDB, our open source mapping technology. We want to show others how to go from data to maps and visualizations quickly without having to sacrifice usability or beautiful design. If you are interested in those things, consider joining us for the workshop. It will be a great time and you’ll get to work hands on with us to start building the next generation of maps from open data on open source software.
Andrew Hill is the senior scientist at Vizzuality where he explores the future of online mapping to help guide innovation at CartoDB.