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The Open Data Utopia of the Pampas

- January 11, 2016 in Community Stories, OKF Argentina

An Ad Hoc Introduction to Argentine Affairs

This post was written by Andres Snitcofsky an open government / data activist in Argentina. See Andres Medium account for more posts – https://medium.com/@rusosnith

Since a new government took office in Argentina, a party alliance called #Cambiemos (Let’s Change), a lot of things have changed. Less than one month has passed, and a lot of new directives (more than 40, some of them of the Urgent & Necessity kind) have been passed by the new administration.

Since the congress will reopen only in March, and the judiciary system is on leave until February, most of the announcements and deep political changes have been issued as government official orders: Decretos. This implies that these changes are instant, but those directives could be challenged by the legislative branch later this year (and they probably will be).

The Decretos thing may not be so important to foreign readers, but most of the #Cambiemos campaign was based on the premise of being respectful to the Republic Institutions, meaning to go “by the book” and to legislate bills about important topic in a democratic way.

Now, during the warm months of the southern summer, a philosophical debate arises: Form vs content. End goal vs means. Decree vs Debated Law.

This debate crosses the political spectrum that goes from the fanatics of the former government, now turned ‘opposition’, and the ones from the new administration, now ‘officials’. This debate does not discriminate and embraces almost all current political events.

Looking back

The Macri administration presents itself as The One who will bring order and light into the state. With only one month in office, and during the summer recess, they already started revising previous contracts with private enterprises, laws regarding the telecommunication monopolies, and firing lots of employees that were contracted in precarious and almost illegal ways by the state. If the previous administration had had better transparency and openness, we could be controlling how much of this “tidying up the mess” process is real thing, or if it’s just an excuse for lowering the state budget and adding even more precarization of the job market. It is not wise to hand over a state administration with lot’s of hidden numbers and unknown indexes, as it gives free play to the next in office to blame “la pesada herencia” (the heavy legacy) of the last one in charge, and do whatever they want with the excuse of fixing previous mistakes.

Crude example: As the inflation index since 2007 have been untrustworthy, the new government will need some time to build a good one. Till then, we won’t have even a fake one. And it will probably be the highest inflation times of the last two decades.

The Open Data Scene

This debate definitely didn’t skip the vibrant Argentinean open data community that just encountered its living example of the aforementioned dilemma:

Translation: “Today we signed a decree which is the starting point of a National Open Government”

The Modernization Minister announced this week that the new government is willing to move forward in the Open Government agenda, including Open Data portals and policies, open contracting and more open initiatives. How this agenda has been promoted? Of course, with a governmental official order, or Decreto.

Some will say that it’s just espejitos de colores (Spanish expression similar to ‘snake oil’), or that it’s just a gesture to make the open data fans happy. However, we cannot deny former experience of the new national administration: As the City of Buenos Aires government, they created one of the most advanced policies in the country related to open data. They built an egov initiative, they assembled a really innovative GovLab, and developed lots of open data and online citizen participation tools. If we compare Buenos Aires City to the rest of the cities and even the national level, it ranks at the top. However, if we compare the openness of Argentina with the rest of Latin America, we end up in a really bad position. And that’s even if we only compare ourselves to our smaller surrounding countries of Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, usually thought to be behindhand.

Currently, Argentina doesn’t have a Freedom of Information Law, or anything alike. The ruling party for the last 12 years has had plenty of commitments on their hands, but implemented just a few, and with little to no real empowerment. The only decree, signed in 2003 by Nestor Kirchner, lacked of political support and ended up being a bureaucratic path for those willing to question our government for access to public information. Most of those who tried filling a Information Request were even turned down. We are talking about asking basic information about your own country, through the channels built to do so, and not receiving a reply back. Or even worst, receiving one that’s almost satirical:

The President office in 2013, replying La Nacion’s Journalist @colmanromi that “the President’s salary datasheet wasn’t updated yet” when they erased one column of it to hide the actual salary.

For the last few years we didn’t even knew the poverty level.

We also signed up the Open Government Partnership, and tried to comply with a first action plan that was never fulfilled. In 2015 a new action plan was written, but it was not an action plan that was approved by the local CSOs. This has also been reflected in Global Open Data Index built by OKI and we can also (proudly for Mor Rubinstein) guess that the Minister is also looking at it:

“Argentina is in the 54 position in the open public data ranking. Our objective is to be in the top ten of the world”
 
Andres Ibarra, the Modernisation Minister, expresses his wishes to get into the top ten open countries in the world, at least in the Global Open Data Index. Even though this is not a vanity contest, we all share his wish to overcome years of delays and obscurantism. We know that the new government has lots of good, talented people pushing into the Open Side of the Force, not only in the technical but also in the political levels. However, we also know that the main party leading the #Cambiemos alliance has lots of politicians relying their power in non-open contracts, opaque ways of working and occluded information. That’s why we are happy with these announcements about moving into the openness, mostly because it demonstrates the political will of pushing forward an Open Government agenda, and because they are putting it out in the open, for everyone to learn about it (not only the NGO’s, CSO’s and nerds). But we are still suspicious about how much will actually change

a badge worn by CSO’s activists in OGP Summit 2015 in Mexico

 
 
That is also why we should keep pushing for a Free Access to Information Law to be discussed and legislated in the congress. Because a government order may be a good starting point, but we need something that makes transparency and openness a must, in all levels of the state and territory as well as something valued not just by the Presidency and his decrees but valued by the Argentine government as a whole. That’s why we should use this new momentum to show to the rest of our society how important this is. How it can help to fight corruption, improve participation, discover and implement best practices and even build jobs around opened data. Happily, inside the recently elected new congress, we have new voices pushing for a FOIA law, which will join the former ones and maybe bill it this year.  
 

Looking forward

We should support the sectors of the new administration that are willing to push forward the Open Data and OpenGov movement. We should also keep an eye on them, using the same tools they are giving us. We should keep fighting for a real Access to Information Law , and when the discussion gets into the law making machinery, we as civil society must continue to participate and make our voices be heard.

But most of all, we should keep spreading the word with our colleague citizens, sharing the pros and cons of this Open movements, teaching about privacy concerns and limits, helping them not to be afraid, and willing to use all of this openness to let the government know that we will be watching them!

Here is where I start thanking Mor Rubinstein and for Anca Matioc being my editors in this post and end up inviting all of you to share your opinion on the subject, my point of view, or both.


All-star wrap-up of a month of Open Knowledge events all around the world – May 2014

- June 5, 2014 in Events, OKF Argentina, OKF Greece, OKF Italy, OKF Scotland, OKF Switzerland, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Knowledge Foundation Local Groups, Sprint / Hackday, Working Groups, Workshop

Last month flew by! It’s already June and time to turn the spotlight on the Open Knowledge community’s events which rocked the month of May! Bikestorming is a mobile app to grow urban cycling in cities around the world, developed by members of Open Knowledge Argentina’s community. Matías Kalwill gave a Pecha Kucha talk in Buenos Aires, and was invited to record an English version for Pecha Kucha’s international website. Check it out to learn about this exciting project featuring a strong open knowledge ecosystem, including open data, open web technologies and community-powered events inspired by School of Data’s Data Expeditions started on the International Open Data Day at Buenos Aires. Must watch! Rob Edwards, Ally Tibbitt, Sarah Hutchinson, Jackie McKenzie and Jennifer Jones co-facilitated a one-day workshop, bringing together people working on FOI, on journalism, and on open data. Many were the discussion items: is the information disclosed under FOIA accessible as it could be? How can Open Government Data policies best be integrated with FOI disclosure? Can FOI disclosure logs help us understand what types of data are most in demand? Is greater ‘data literacy’ necessary for both the media and the public to understand the potential and limitations of data? Read more about it here.
  • Busy month for Open Knowledge Greece!
The month kicked off with the final celebration and presentations of the first Greek Data Expedition, ended on May 7. The data expedition was as an initiative by the Open Knowledge Foundation Chapter in Greece, working in collaboration with the IT Applications laboratory in Media (AUTH Department of Journalism), and Postgraduate WebScience (AUTH Department of Mathematics) in Thessaloniki. The data journalism issues analysed focused on air quality in Greece, new technologies in business, student Mobility in Europe and Greece and e-Government. The articles presenting the expeditions’ results will be posted on the Greek School of Data website. European-Student-Mobility Then on May 27 Open Knowledge Greece invited community members and curious citizens to an open workshop to develop together the statements and propositions in regards to the Greek Action Plan 2014 – 2016 for the Open Government Partnership Initiative. Keep up the good work, Greece! DNAdigest, a non-profit organisation aiming to educate, facilitate and engage on issues regarding access to genomic data, hosted an editathon with the goal to make it easier to find new resources, online tools and recent content for genetics research when searching Wikipedia. The editathon was open to participants in London as well as online contributors. Offline meets online collaboration – well done! tumblr_inline_n5j63gAD791suuv9r Sport is fun, sport is healthy, sport is a business – and sport is increasingly data, too. There are huge amounts of data collected by fans, on global spectator sport and local junior leagues, on big matches and tiny niches. And personal data, too: bike routes, running trails and more. The Sports hackdays explored and celebrated open sports data and also represented the first project aiming to kick-off a new Open Knowledge Working Group dedicated to all things sports and open data. We’re sure that with the World Cup approaching we’ll hear more about it very soon! Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 11.23.50 AM What a month! Are you running an Open Knowledge event? We want to hear from you – share your event stories for next months’ global roundup! Please submit your blogposts about your June events to the Community Tumblr (details about how/where here) by July 6 in order to be featured in our all-star monthly wrap-up to be published in July on the main Open Knowledge blog and channels!