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Our Open Future

- August 19, 2020 in Featured, Join us, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

  Our world has been turned upside down. We stand at a crossroads with a choice between two futures. A closed future where knowledge belongs to the few; or an open future where knowledge is shared and used by everyone so that we can live happier and healthier lives. Our work has never been more important. And we’d like you to join us. The Open Knowledge Foundation has launched a new campaign for Our Open Future.  You can join the campaign here.  We will email you regular updates explaining why an open future has never been more important and how you can learn more about the key issues.  Watch our new campaign video:

Click here

   At the Open Knowledge Foundation, we want to build a fair, free and open future. To embrace an open future, we believe that more information should be open including information which can be released as open data. Open data is data which can be “freely used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose”. But data on its own is often not enough to generate understanding. So open knowledge is what open data becomes when it’s useful, usable and used. This language is from the Open Definition which we created in 2005 and which is now translated into dozens of languages. In the years since the term was first used in 1995 and a decade since it broke onto the global stage, the idea of open data has spread around the world. Some countries have embraced it, some have balked at it and others have yet to embrace its true potential. We hope that this campaign will help more people understand why we believe in the idea of an open future. If you want to open up your data, visit our website to read a brief how-to guide or consult the Open Data Handbook for more in-depth advice. If you want to publish information under an open license for anyone to use, visit Creative Commons or our own Open Data Commons website to learn more about available open licenses. Our open-source technical tools like CKAN or DataHub can also be used to publish open data.   Sign up to Our Open Future to learn more about why we are running the campaign now and how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the future of openness. 

The UK must not be left behind on the road to a more open society

- August 3, 2020 in Open Data, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Legislation, Policy

The United Kingdom still doesn’t have a National Data Strategy. The idea has been stuck in development hell for years, and the delay has already had an impact. Had a strategy been in place before the coronavirus pandemic, there would have been rules and guidelines in place to help the sharing of data and information between organisations like, for example the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. A recent opinion poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of people in the UK believe a government data strategy would have helped in the fight against COVID-19. Just over a year ago, we submitted a written submission to the UK Government’s consultation on the National Data Strategy, which can be read here. We stressed that the UK National Data Strategy must emphasise the importance and value of sharing more, better quality information and data openly in order to make the most of the world-class knowledge created by our institutions and citizens. Without this, we warned, businesses, individuals and public bodies would not be able to play a full role in the interconnected world of today and tomorrow. Allowing people to make better decisions and choices informed by data will boost the UK’s economy through greater productivity, but not without the necessary investment in skills. Our proposals included:
  • A data literacy training programme open to local communities to ensure UK workers have the skills for the technological jobs of the future.
  • Greater use of open licences, granting the general public rights to reuse, distribute, combine or modify works that would otherwise be restricted under intellectual property laws.
With a clear commitment from the Government, the UK has an opportunity to be at the forefront of a global future that is fair, free and open. Inevitably, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the work of government. But a parliamentary question from Labour MP Ian Murray, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, has revealed the government still ‘aims’ to publish the strategy in 2020. It’s disappointing that this is not a cast-iron commitment, although it is certainly a target that we hope will be achieved, not least because at the end of this year the Brexit transition period comes to an end and there are serious question to be addressed about the post-Brexit landscape in the UK. Last year, an updated directive on open data and the re-use of public sector information was entered into force by the European Commission. As part of this directive, EU member states – which at the time included the UK – agreed that a list of ‘high-value’ datasets would be drawn up to be provided free of charge. These high-value datasets will fit into the following categories:
  • Geospatial
  • Earth observation and environment
  • Meteorological
  • Statistics
  • Companies and company ownership
  • Mobility
A research team is currently working to create this list of high-value datasets, with the aim of publishing a draft report by September 2020. An Implementing Act is due to be placed before the European Commission for approval in 2021 and EU Member States have until July 2021 to make sure that these datasets are available as open data and published via APIs. What we don’t know is if the UK Government will adopt these same datasets to help business and civil society create new opportunities post-Brexit, and in a COVID-19 landscape. Another parliamentary question from Ian Murray asked this, but the answer doesn’t commit the government to following suit. The question was answered by the Minister of State for Media and Data, but it was announced earlier this month that the Prime Minister has taken away responsibility for the government use of data from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and handed it to the Cabinet Office. What happens next will therefore be of huge interest to all of us who work to promote open data. This week the European Commission published a roadmap on the digital economy and society. It is vital the UK is not left behind on the road to a more open society.

WANTED: Open Knowledge Foundation seeks visionary leader to steer the world towards a free, fair, and open society

- July 9, 2020 in Featured, Join us, News, Open Knowledge Foundation, Our Work

You are a charismatic, innovative champion of openness, and a strategist with leadership skills and experience of engaging highly motivated teams and funders. We are the Open Knowledge Foundation, building a better future where knowledge is shared so all can live happier and healthier lives. Together, we will spread the global message of openness and establish new rules to counter the unaccountable tech companies monopolising the digital age. We will tear down the artificial constructs built between communities that stem the tide of progress and create greater inequality. And we will address the future of AI and algorithms, intensify our work on frictionless data, and create fruitful, exciting partnerships with a growing list of global organisations. We will achieve all of this as the world struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and faces a new global recession and an ongoing climate emergency. There is a crossroad ahead, with a choice between two paths – open or closed. We must be the inspiration for others to follow and ensure society takes the most equitable route. It is an exciting time for our organisation. As we say a warm goodbye to our current CEO Catherine Stihler, we are all reflecting on what we have achieved and where we can go next. Catherine moves on to pursue an open world in her new role as CEO of Creative Commons in August, while OKF seeks an inspirational individual to lead us on our ongoing journey. The process of recruiting a new CEO will commence over the next few weeks. An open future has never been more important – will you join us to create it?

Catherine Stihler to leave Open Knowledge Foundation to lead Creative Commons

- July 9, 2020 in Featured, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

Catherine Stihler OBE

Catherine Stihler. Photo: David Iliff / CC BY-SA.

Our Chief Executive Catherine Stihler OBE has accepted a new opportunity and will soon be leaving the Open Knowledge Foundation.

She goes with our very warmest wishes and we hope to continue a strong relationship with her in her new role as CEO of Creative Commons.

Catherine joined the Open Knowledge Foundation in February 2019 and has overseen a new chapter for the organisation to celebrate our 15th anniversary.

Under her leadership we have redefined our campaign for a fair, free and open future with a renewed mission to create an open world, where all non-personal information is open, free for everyone to use, build on and share; and creators and innovators are fairly recognised and rewarded.

As we work to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we face a new global recession and an ongoing climate emergency.

Our vision of a fair, free and open future has never been so important.

Vanessa Barnett, Chair of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “On behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation board, I’d like to thank Catherine for her work overseeing a positive new chapter for our organisation.

“She leaves with our best wishes and we look forward to collaborating with her in the future through our partnerships with organisations across the world which champion openness. “The strong team at Open Knowledge Foundation will continue to campaign and help deliver programmes for an open future: our work and distinct skill sets have never been more important than they are today.” Catherine Stihler said: “It was a huge privilege to join the incredible team at the Open Knowledge Foundation. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with so many talented people who campaign tirelessly for a more open world. “I wish the Open Knowledge Foundation every success in the future and look forward to watching the organisation continue to grow.” The process of recruiting a new CEO will commence immediately.

OpenSpending stewardship moving to Datopian

- July 9, 2020 in Datopian, News, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Spending, OpenSpending

  OpenSpending is one of the longest running projects both at Open Knowledge Foundation and within the open data ecosystem in its entirety. Starting life in 2009 as Where Does my Money Go?, OpenSpending has played a vital role in the publication of open budget and spending data by governments world over.  Over the past five years, much of the work around OpenSpending has been in collaboration with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT). Via this collaboration, the Fiscal Data Package – a data standard for a wide range of public financial data – has been adopted by multiple countries, which use OpenSpending as a platform for publishing data in the Fiscal Data Package format. Given Datopian’s long-standing association with OpenSpending and Fiscal Data Package, it was agreed that Datopian would take on the stewardship of OpenSpending going forward with Rufus Pollock, the original creator of OpenSpending, in the lead. Datopian will be consulting with the community to plan the evolution of the platform over the next few weeks and will also continue to provide updates on progress with GIFT, including they ways in which they plan to increase the adoption of Fiscal Data Package and aid governments to publish timely financial data.  For now, existing users and community members can reach out to the Datopian team via a new discord channel,  where they will be happy to chat and answer any questions.This post has been republished from datopian.com.

The Open Human Genome, twenty years on

- June 26, 2020 in Open Data, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Science

On 26th June 2000, the “working draft” of the human genome sequence was announced to great fanfare. Its availability has gone on to revolutionise biomedical research. But this iconic event, twenty years ago today, is also a reference point for the value and power of openness and its evolution.

Biology’s first mega project

Back in 1953, it was discovered that DNA was the genetic material of life. Every cell of every organism contains a copy of its genome, a long sequence of DNA letters, containing a complete set of instructions for that organism. The first genome of a free-living organism – a bacteria – was only determined in 1995 and contained just over half a million letters. At the time sequencing machines determined 500 letter fragments, 100 at a time, with each run taking hours. Since the human genome contains about three billion letters, sequencing it was an altogether different proposition, going on to cost of the order of three billion dollars.

A collective international endeavour, and a fight for openness

It was sequenced through a huge collective effort by thousands of scientists across the world in many stages, over many years. The announcement on 26th June 2000 was only of a draft – but still sufficiently complete to be analysed as a whole. Academic articles describing it wouldn’t be published for another year, but the raw data was completely open, freely available to all.

It might not have been so, as some commercial forces, seeing the value of the genome, tried to shut down government funding in the US and privatise access. However openness won out, thanks largely to the independence and financial muscle of Wellcome (which paid for a third of the sequencing at the Wellcome Sanger Institute) and the commitment of the US National Institutes of Health. Data for each fragment of DNA was released onto the internet just 24hrs after it had been sequenced, with the whole genome accessible through websites such as Ensembl.

Openness for data, openness for publications

Scientists publish. Other scientists try to build on their work. However, as science has become increasingly data rich, access to the data has become as important as publication. In biology, long before genomes, there were efforts by scientists, funders and publishers to link publication with data deposition in public databases hosted by organisations such as EBI and NCBI. However, publication can take years and if a funder has made a large grant for data generation, should the research community have to wait until then?

The Human Genome Sequence, with its 24-hour data release model was at the vanguard of “pre-publication” data release in biology. Initially the human genome was seen as a special case – scientists worried about raw unchecked data being released to all or that others might beat them to publication if such data release became general – but gradually the idea took hold. Dataset generators have found that transparency has generally been beneficial to them and that community review of raw data has allowed errors to be spotted and corrected earlier. Pre-publication data release is now well established where funders are paying for data generation that has value as a community resource, including most genome related projects. And once you have open access data, you can’t help thinking about open access publication too. The movement to change the academic publishing business model to open access dates back to the 1990s, but long before open access became mandated by funders and governments it became the norm for genome related papers.

Big data comes to biology, forcing it to grow up fast

Few expected the human genome to be sequenced so quickly. Even fewer expected the price to sequence one to have dropped to less than $1000 today, or to only take 24 hours on a single machine. “Next Generation” sequencing technology has led to million-fold reductions in price and similar gains in output per machine in less than 20 years. This is the most rapid improvement in any technology, far exceeding the improvements in computing in the same period. The genomes of tens of thousands of different organisms have been sequenced as a result.  Furthermore, the change in output and price has made sequencing a workhorse technology throughout biological and biomedical research – every cell of an organism has an identical copy of its genome, but each cell (37 trillion in each human) is potentially doing something different, which can also be captured by sequencing. Public databases have therefore been filling up with sequence data, doubling in size as much as every six months, as scientists probe how organisms function. Sequence is not the only biological data type being collected on a large scale, but it has been the driver to making biology a big data science.

Genomics and medicine, openness and privacy

Every individual’s genome is slightly different and some of those difference may cause disease. Clinical geneticists have been testing Individual genes of patients to find for cause of rare diseases for more than twenty years, but sequencing the whole genome to simplify the hunt is now affordable and practical. Right now our understanding of the genome is only sufficient to inform clinical care for a small number of conditions, but it’s already enough for the UK NHS to roll out whole genome sequencing as part of the new Genome Medicine Service, after testing this in the 100,000 genomes project. It is the first national healthcare system in the world to do this.

How much could your healthcare be personalised and improved through analysis of your genome? Right now, an urgent focus is on whether genome differences affects the severity of COVID-19 infections. Ultimately, understanding how the human genome works and how DNA differences affect health will depend on research on the genomes of large numbers of individuals alongside their medical records. Unlike the original reference human genome, this is not open data but highly sensitive, private, personal data. 

The challenge has become to build systems that can allow research but are trusted by individuals sufficiently for them to consent to their data being used. What was developed for the 100,000 genomes project, in consultation with participants, was a research environment that functions as a reading library – researchers can run complex analysis on de-identified data within a secure environment but cannot take individual data out. They are restricted to just the statistical summaries of their research results. This Trusted Research Environment model is now being looked at for other sources of sensitive health data.

The open data movement has come a long way in twenty years, showing the benefits to society of organisational transparency that results from data sharing and the opportunities that come from data reuse. The Reference Human Genome Sequence as a public good has been part of that journey. However, not all data can be open, even if the ability to analyse it has great value to society. If we want to benefit from the analysis of private data, we have to find a middle ground which preserves some of strengths of openness, such as sharing analytical tools and summary results, while adapting to constrained analysis environments designed to protect privacy sufficiently to satisfy the individuals whose data it is.

Professor Tim Hubbard is a board member of the Open Knowledge Foundation and was one of the organisers of the sequencing of the human genome.

Lessons learned from organising the first ever virtual csv,conf

- June 17, 2020 in #CSVconf, Events, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

This blogpost was collaboratively written by the csv,conf organising team which includes Lilly Winfree and Jo Barratt from the Open Knowledge Foundation. csv,conf is supported by the Sloan Foundation as part of our Frictionless Data for Reproducible Research grant.

A brief history

csv,conf is a community conference that brings diverse groups together to discuss data topics, and features stories about data sharing and data analysis from science, journalism, government, and open source. Over the years we have had over a hundred different talks from a huge range of speakers, most of which you can still watch back on our YouTube Channel.

csv,conf,v1 took place in Berlin in 2014 and we were there again for v2 in 2016 before we moved across the Atlantic for v3 and v4 which were held in Portland, Oregon in the United States in 2017 and 2019. For csv,conf,v5, we were looking forward to our first conference in Washington DC, but unfortunately, like many other in-person events, this was not going to be possible in 2020. People have asked us about our experience moving from a planned in-person event to one online, in a very short space of time, so we are sharing our story with the hope that it will be helpful to others, as we move into a world where online events and conferences are going to be more prevalent than ever. The decision to take the conference online was not an easy one. Until quite late on, the question csv,conf organisers kept asking each other was not “how will we run the conference virtually?” but “will we need to cancel?“. As the pandemic intensified, this decision was taken out of our hands and it became quickly clear that cancelling our event in Washington D.C. was not only the responsible thing to do, but the only thing we could do.

Weighing the decision to hold csv,conf,v5 online

Once it was clear that we would not hold an in-person event, we deliberated on whether we would hold an online event, postpone, or cancel.

Moving online – The challenge

One of our main concerns was whether we would be able to encapsulate everything good about csv,conf in a virtual setting – the warmth you feel when you walk into the room, the interesting side conversations, and the feeling of being reunited with old friends, and naturally meeting new ones were things that we didn’t know whether we could pull off. And if we couldn’t, did we want to do this at all?

We were worried about keeping a commitment to speakers who had made a commitment themselves. But at the same time we were worried speakers may not be interested in delivering something virtually, or that it would not have the same appeal. It was important to us that there was value to the speakers, and at the start of this process we were committed to making this happen. Many of us have experience running events both in person and online, but this was bigger. We had some great advice and drew heavily on the experience of others in similar positions to us. But it still felt like this was different. We were starting from scratch and for all of our preparation, right up to the moment we pressed ‘go live’ inside Crowdcast, we simply didn’t know whether it was going to work. But what we found was that hard work, lots of planning and support of the community made it work. There were so many great things about the format that surprised and delighted us. We now find ourselves asking whether an online format is in fact a better fit for our community, and exploring what a hybrid conference might look like in the future.

Moving online – The opportunity

There were a great many reasons to embrace a virtual conference. Once we made the decision and started to plan, this became ever clearer. Not least was the fact that an online conference would give many more people the opportunity to attend. We work hard every year to reduce the barriers to attendance where possible and we’re grateful to our supporters here, but our ability to support conference speakers is limited and it is also probably the biggest cost year-on-year. We are conscious that barriers to entry still apply to a virtual conference, but they are different and it is clear that for csv,conf,v5 more people who wanted to join could be part of it. Csv,conf is normally attended by around 250 people. The in-person conferences usually fill up with just a few attendees under capacity. It feels the right size for our community. But this year we had over 1,000 registrations. More new people could attend and there were also more returning faces.


Attendees joined csv,conf,v5’s opening session from around the world

Planning an online conference

Despite the obvious differences, much about organising a conference remains the same whether virtual or not. Indeed, by the time we by the time we made the shift to an online conference, much of this work had been done.

Organising team

From about September 2019, the organising team met up regularly every few weeks on a virtual call. We reviewed our list of things and assigned actions. We used a private channel on Slack for core organisers to keep updated during the week.

We had a good mix of skills and interests on the organising team from community wranglers to writers and social media aces. We would like to give a shout out to the team of local volunteers we had on board to help with DC-specific things. In the end this knowledge just wasn’t needed for the virtual conf. We recruited a group of people from the organising team to act as the programme committee. This group would be responsible for running the call for proposals (CFP) and selecting the talks. We relied on our committed team of organisers for the conference and we found it helpful to have very clear roles/responsibilities to help manage the different aspects of the ‘live’ conference. We had a host who introduced speakers, a Q&A/chat monitor, a technical helper and a Safety Officer/Code of Conduct enforcer at all times. It was also helpful to have “floaters” who were unassigned to a specific task, but could help with urgent needs.

Selecting talks

We were keen on making it easy for people to complete the call for proposals. We set up a Google form and asked just a few simple questions. All talks were independently reviewed and scored by members of the committee and we had a final meeting to review our scores and come up with a final list. We were true to the scoring system, but there were other things to consider. Some speakers had submitted several talks and we had decided that even if several talks by the same person scored highly, only one could go into the final schedule. We value diversity of speakers, and reached out to diverse communities to advertise the call for proposals and also considered diversity when selecting talks. Also, where talks were scoring equally, we wanted to ensure we we’re giving priority to speakers who were new to the conference. We asked all speakers to post their slides onto the csv,conf Zenodo repository. This was really nice to have because attendees asked multiple times for links to slides, so we could simply send them to the Zenodo collection. Though it proved to not be relevant for 2020 virtual event, it’s worth mentioning that the process of granting travel or accommodation support to speakers was entirely separate from the selection criteria. Although we asked people to flag a request for support, this did not factor into the decision making process.

Creating a schedule

Before we could decide on a schedule, we needed to decide on the hours and timezones we would hold the conference. csv,conf is usually a two-day event with three concurrently run sessions, and we eventually decided to have the virtual event remain two days, but have one main talk session with limited concurrent talks.

Since the in-person conference was supposed to occur in Washington, D.C., many of our speakers were people in US timezones so we focused on timezones that would work best for those speakers. We also wanted to ensure that our conference organisers would be awake during the conference. We started at 10am Eastern, which was very early for West Coast (7am) and late afternoon for non-US attendees (3pm UK; 5pm Eastern Europe). We decided on seven hours of programming each day, meaning the conference ended in late afternoon for US attendees and late evening for Europe. Unfortunately, these timezones did not work for everyone (notably the Asia-Pacific region) and we recommend that you pick timezones that work for your speakers and your conference organisers whilst stretching things as far as possible if equal accessibility is important to you. We also found it was important to clearly list the conference times in multiple timezones on our schedule so that it was easier for attendees to know what time the talks were happening.

Tickets and registration

Although most of what makes csv,conf successful is human passion and attention (and time!), we also found that the costs involved in running a virtual conference are minimal. Except for some extra costs for upgrading our communication platforms, and making funds available to support speakers in getting online, running the conference remotely saved us several thousand dollars.

We have always used an honour system for ticket pricing. We ask people pay what they can afford, with some suggested amounts depending on the attendees situation. But we needed to make some subtle changes for the online event, as it was a different proposition. We first made it clear that tickets were free, and refunded those who had already purchased tickets. Eventbrite is the platform we have always used for registering attendees for the conference, and it does the job. It’s easy to use and straightforward. We kept it running this year for consistency and to ensure we’re keeping our data organised, even though it involved importing the data into another platform. We were able to make the conference donation based thanks to the support of the Sloan Foundation and individual contributors and donations. Perhaps because the overall registrations also went up, we found that the donations also went up. In future – and with more planning and promotion – it would be feasible to consider a virtual event of the scale of csv,conf funded entirely by contributions from the community it serves.

Code of Conduct

We spent significant time enhancing our Code of Conduct for the virtual conference. We took in feedback from last year’s conference and reviewed other organisations’ Code of Conduct. The main changes were to consider how a Code of Conduct needed to relate to the specifics of something happening online. We also wanted to create more transparency in the enforcement and decision-making processes.

One new aspect was the ability to report incidents via Slack. We designated two event organisers as “Safety Officers”, and they were responsible for responding to any incident reports and were available for direct messaging via Slack (see the Code of Conduct for full details). We also provided a neutral party to receive incident reports if there were any conflicts of interest.

Communication via Slack

We used Slack for communication during the conference, and received positive feedback about this choice. We added everyone that registered to the Slack channel to ensure that everyone would receive important messages.

We had a Slack session bot that would announce the beginning of each session with the link to the session and we received a lot of positive feedback about the session-bot. For people not on Slack, we also had the schedule in a Google spreadsheet and on the website, and everyone that registered with an email received the talk links via email too. For the session bot, we used the Google Calendar for Team Events app on Slack. Another popular Slack channel that was created for this conference was a dedicated Q&A channel allowing speakers to interact with session attendees, providing more context around their talks, linking to resources, and chatting about possible collaborations. At the end of each talk, one organiser would copy all of the questions and post them into this Q&A channel so that the conversations could continue. We received a lot of positive feedback about this and it was pleasing to see the conversations continue. We also had a dedicated speakers channel, where speakers could ask questions and offer mutual support and encouragement both before and during the event. Another important channel was a backchannel for organisers, which we used mainly to coordinate and cheer each other on during the conf. We also used this to ask for technical help behind the scenes to ensure everything ran as smoothly as possible. After talks, one organiser would use Slack private messaging to collate and send positive feedback for speakers, as articulated by attendees during the session. This was absolutely worth it and we were really pleased to see the effort was appreciated. Slack is of course free, but its premium service does offer upgrades for charities and we were lucky enough to make use of this. The application process is very easy and takes less that 10 mins so this is worth considering. We made good use of Twitter throughout the conference and there were active #commallama and #csvconf hashtags going throughout the event. The organisers had joint responsibility for this and this seemed to work. We simply announced the hashtags at the beginning of the day and people picked them up easily. We had a philosophy of ‘over-communicating’ – offering updates as soon as we had them, and candidly. We used it to to share updates, calls-to-action, and to amplify people’s thoughts, questions and feedback

Picking a video conference platform

Zoom concerns

One of the biggest decisions we had to make was picking a video conferencing platform for the conference. We originally considered using Zoom, but were concerned about a few things. The first was reports of rampant “zoombombing”, where trolls join Zoom meetings with the intent to disrupt the meeting. The second concern was that we are a small team of organisers and there would be great overhead in moderating a Zoom room with hundreds of attendees – muting, unmuting, etc. We also worried that a giant Zoom room would feel very impersonal. Many of us now spend what is probably an unnecessary amount of our daily lives on Zoom and we also felt that stepping away from this would help mark the occasion as something special, so we made the decision to move away from Zoom and we looked to options that we’re more of a broadcast tool than meeting tool.

Crowdcast benefits

We saw another virtual conference that used Crowdcast and were impressed with how it felt to participate, so we started to investigate it as a platform before enthusiastically committing to it, with some reservations.

The best parts of Crowdcast to us were the friendly user interface, which includes a speaker video screen, a dedicated chat section with a prompt bar reading “say something nice”, and a separate box for questions. It felt really intuitive and the features were considered, useful and we incorporated most of them. From the speaker, participant and host side, the experience felt good and appropriate. The consideration on the different user types was clear in the design and appreciated. One great function was that of a green room, which is akin to a speakers’ couch at the backstage of an in-person conference, helping to calm speakers’ nerves, check their audio and visual settings, discuss cues, etc. before stepping out onto the stage. Another benefit of Crowdcast is that the talks are immediately available for viewing, complete with chat messages for people to revisit after the conference. This was great as it allowed people to catch up in almost real time and so catch up quickly if they missed something on the day and feel part of the conference discussions as the developed. We also released all talk videos on YouTube and tweeted the links to each talk.

Crowdcast challenges

But Crowdcast was not without its limitations. Everything went very well, and the following issues were not deal breakers, but acknowledging them can help future organisers plan and manage expectations.

Top of the list of concerns was our complete inexperience with it and the likely inexperience of our speakers. To ensure that our speakers were comfortable using Crowdcast, we held many practice sessions with speakers before the conference, and also had an attendee AMA before the conference to get attendees acquainted with the platform. These sessions were vital for us to practice all together and this time and effort absolutely paid off! If there is one piece of advice you should take away from reading this guide it is this: practice practice practice, and give others the opportunity and space to practice as well. One challenge we faced was hosting – only one account has host privileges, but we learned that many people can log into that account at the same time to share host privileges. Hosts can allow other people to share their screen and unmute, and they can also elevate questions from the chat to the questions box. They can also kick people out if they are being disruptive (which didn’t happen for us, but we wanted to be prepared). This felt a bit weird, honestly, and we had to be careful to be aware of the power we had when in the hosts position. Weird, but also incredibly useful and a key control feature which was essential for an event run by a group rather than an individual. With Crowdcast, you can only share four screens at a time (so that would be two people sharing two screens). Our usual setup was a host, with one speaker sharing their screen at a time. We could add a speaker for the talks that only had a single other speaker but any more that this we would have had problems. It was easy enough for the host to chop and change who is on screen at any time, and there’s no limit on the total number of speakers in a session. So there is some flexibility, and ultimately, we were OK. But this should be a big consideration if you are running an event with different forms of presentation. Crowdcast was also not without its technical hiccups and frustrations. Speakers sometimes fell off the call or had mysterious problems sharing their screens. We received multiple comments/questions on the day about the video lagging/buffering. We often had to resort to the ol’ refresh refresh refresh approach which, to be fair, mostly worked. And on the few occasions we were stumped, there’s quite a lot of support available online and directly from Crowdcast. But honestly, there were very few technical issues for a two-day online conference. Some attendees wanted info on the speakers (ex: name, twitter handle) during the presentation and we agree it would have been a nice touch to have a button or link in Crowdcast. There is the “call to action” feature, but we were using that to link to the code of conduct. Crowdcast was new to us, and new to many people in the conference community. As well as these practices we found it helpful to set up an FAQ page with content about how to use Crowdcast and what to expect from an online conference in general. Overall, it was a good decision and a platform we would recommend for consideration.

#Commallama

Finally, it would not be csv,conf if it had not been for the #commallama. The comma llama first joined us for csv,conf,v3 in Portland and joined us again for csv,conf,v4. The experience of being around a llama is both relaxing and energising at the same time, and a good way to get people mixing.

Taking the llama online was something we had to do and we were very pleased with how it worked. It was amazing to see how much joy people go out of the experience and also interesting to notice how well people naturally adapted to the online environment. People naturally organised into a virtual queue and took turns coming on to the screen to screengrab a selfie. Thanks to our friends at Mtn Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas for being so accommodating and helping us to make this possible.

A big thank you to our community and supporters

As we reflect on the experience this year, one thing is very clear to us: The conference was only possible because of the community to speak, attend and supported us. It was a success because the community showed up, was kind, welcoming and extremely generous with their knowledge, ideas and time. The local people in D.C. who stepped up to offer knowledge and support on the ground in D.C. was a great example of this and we are incredibly grateful or the support, though this turned out not to be needed.

We were lucky to have a community of developers, journalists, scientists and civic activists who intrinsically know how to interact and support one another online, and who adapted to the realities of an online conference well. From the moment speakers attended our practice sessions on the platform and started to support one another, we knew that things we’re going to work out. We knew things would not all run to plan, but we trusted that the community would be understanding and actively support us in solving problems. It’s something we are grateful for. We were also thankful to Alfred P. SLOAN Foundation and our 100+ individual supporters for making the decision to support us financially. It is worth noting that none of this would have been possible without our planned venue, hotel and catering contracts being very understanding in letting us void our contracts without any penalties.

Looking ahead – the future of csv,conf

Many people have been asking us about the future of csv,conf. Firstly it’s clear that the csv,conf,v5 has given us renewed love for the conference and made it abundantly clear to us of the need for a conference like this in the world. It’s also probably the case that the momentum generated by running the conference this year will secure enthusiasm amongst organisers for putting something together next year.

So the questions will be “what should a future csv,conf look like?”. We will certainly be considering our experience of running this years event online. It was such a success that there is an argument for keeping it online going forward, or putting together something of a hybrid. Time will tell. We hope that this has been useful for others. If you are organising an event and have suggestions or further questions that could improve this resource, please let us know. Our Slack remains open and is the best place to get in touch with us. • The original version of this blogpost was published on csvconf.com and republished here with kind permission.

Enough is enough: solidarity with the Black community and Black Lives Matter

- June 4, 2020 in Open Knowledge Foundation

The mission of the Open Knowledge Foundation is to work for a fair, free and open future for all, not just some. We stand against the racism, injustices, and inequalities plaguing our world today. It is our responsibility to use our platform to elevate marginalised voices and take action against racism. We ask that the Open Knowledge Foundation community comes together to support the Black community. Black lives matter. It is important to me that we acknowledge the ongoing violence against the Black community, including the recent murder of George Floyd, and work towards ways to dismantle systemic racism. This also means taking a look inward at our work at the Open Knowledge Foundation – how can we better encourage diversity and support marginalised communities? As I sit in Austin, Texas in the USA, which is the traditional territory of the Tonkawa and Comanche Peoples, I won’t pretend to have a good answer right now. I am trying to learn and listen, and since I feel we cannot be silent, I am hoping to encourage dialogue and amplify others’ voices.  I’m also looking towards the work that the Open Knowledge Foundation can do to make the future more fair, free and open for all. Within OKF, I work with open data – teaching people how to manage their data, working on solutions to clean messy data, discussing standards and best practices. Data can be thought of as facts  but data is not neutral. At OKF, we push for all non-personal data to be open, meaning it can be freely (and easily) accessed by anyone for any purpose.  What would the world look like if more data was open? For one thing, government and city policies would be more transparent. We could more easily and dynamically show which communities are being negatively impacted by local policies and then use that information to inform new policies and drive change. Going forward, I’m committing to ask: how can we better use data to empower marginalised communities?  Currently at OKF, we are working to understand bias in machine learning algorithms via our Justice Programme, which investigates topics such as how AI amplify systemic bias in the court system. We are not the only group working on these projects. I recently learned about Data for Black Lives, which is a group working to use data to enact real change for Black people, such as how structural racism is impacting the COVID-19 crisis. Locally in Austin, Measure is a not-for-profit organisation that works to use data to advocate for underserved communities. Here is their timely research and proposal on community policing. I write this in the hope that we can start a conversation with the OKF community and provide a space to amplify minority voices. It is also imperative that we look inward and identify where we are currently failing. For example, historically our Advisory Board has not been diverse, but we are actively working to change this. What does diversity look like for the Open Knowledge Foundation? How can we make practical changes and what framework will underpin this? We are having an all-team meeting next week to discuss these questions and create a plan of action. Here are some actions I am taking that I encourage others to participate in:
  • Donate to anti-white-supremacy organisations
  • Support local Black businesses (here is a list of Black-owned bookstores in the USA: https://aalbc.com/bookstores/list.php)
  • Promote work by Black creators
  • Call your local legislators and ask them to promote and pass police reform policies
  • Proactively educate yourself and learn from your mistakes
Here are some books and resources that others have shared with me: Do you have other resources you would like to share with our community? Please post a comment. Do you have other suggestions for meaningful actions we can take at the Open Knowledge Foundation to support the Black community? Please let us know. We are trying to listen, learn, and create a space for the community to have their voices heard as we aim to create a more fair world for everyone.

Enough is enough: solidarity with the Black community and Black Lives Matter

- June 4, 2020 in Open Knowledge Foundation

The mission of the Open Knowledge Foundation is to work for a fair, free and open future for all, not just some. We stand against the racism, injustices, and inequalities plaguing our world today. It is our responsibility to use our platform to elevate marginalised voices and take action against racism. We ask that the Open Knowledge Foundation community comes together to support the Black community. Black lives matter. It is important to me that we acknowledge the ongoing violence against the Black community, including the recent murder of George Floyd, and work towards ways to dismantle systemic racism. This also means taking a look inward at our work at the Open Knowledge Foundation – how can we better encourage diversity and support marginalised communities? As I sit in Austin, Texas in the USA, which is the traditional territory of the Tonkawa and Comanche Peoples, I won’t pretend to have a good answer right now. I am trying to learn and listen, and since I feel we cannot be silent, I am hoping to encourage dialogue and amplify others’ voices.  I’m also looking towards the work that the Open Knowledge Foundation can do to make the future more fair, free and open for all. Within OKF, I work with open data – teaching people how to manage their data, working on solutions to clean messy data, discussing standards and best practices. Data can be thought of as facts  but data is not neutral. At OKF, we push for all non-personal data to be open, meaning it can be freely (and easily) accessed by anyone for any purpose.  What would the world look like if more data was open? For one thing, government and city policies would be more transparent. We could more easily and dynamically show which communities are being negatively impacted by local policies and then use that information to inform new policies and drive change. Going forward, I’m committing to ask: how can we better use data to empower marginalised communities?  Currently at OKF, we are working to understand bias in machine learning algorithms via our Justice Programme, which investigates topics such as how AI amplify systemic bias in the court system. We are not the only group working on these projects. I recently learned about Data for Black Lives, which is a group working to use data to enact real change for Black people, such as how structural racism is impacting the COVID-19 crisis. Locally in Austin, Measure is a not-for-profit organisation that works to use data to advocate for underserved communities. Here is their timely research and proposal on community policing. I write this in the hope that we can start a conversation with the OKF community and provide a space to amplify minority voices. It is also imperative that we look inward and identify where we are currently failing. For example, historically our Advisory Board has not been diverse, but we are actively working to change this. What does diversity look like for the Open Knowledge Foundation? How can we make practical changes and what framework will underpin this? We are having an all-team meeting next week to discuss these questions and create a plan of action. Here are some actions I am taking that I encourage others to participate in:
  • Donate to anti-white-supremacy organisations
  • Support local Black businesses (here is a list of Black-owned bookstores in the USA: https://aalbc.com/bookstores/list.php)
  • Promote work by Black creators
  • Call your local legislators and ask them to promote and pass police reform policies
  • Proactively educate yourself and learn from your mistakes
Here are some books and resources that others have shared with me: Do you have other resources you would like to share with our community? Please post a comment. Do you have other suggestions for meaningful actions we can take at the Open Knowledge Foundation to support the Black community? Please let us know. We are trying to listen, learn, and create a space for the community to have their voices heard as we aim to create a more fair world for everyone.

Opinion poll: majority of Brits want government action against online disinformation

- May 7, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

A new opinion poll has revealed that a majority of people in the UK want ministers to take action against disinformation on social media sites. The poll by Survation for the Open Knowledge Foundation found that 55 per cent of people in the UK believe the Government should ‘impose compulsory action on social media sites to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites’. One-third (33 per cent) said social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter should take voluntary action to tackle disinformation, and only 7 per cent said no action should be taken. Over half of people (51 per cent) said they have seen content about COVID-19 they believe to be false or misleading. One of the most common claims which has been discredited by medical experts is a link to 5G phone masts. The poll also asked respondents about micro-targeting – the marketing strategy that uses people’s data to create small groups for targeting through adverts. The results show that 43 per cent of people believe the UK Government should ‘impose compulsory action on internet platforms to restrict micro-targeting’, while 32 per cent believe internet platforms should take voluntary action to restrict micro-targeting. Only 10 per cent said no action should be taken. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “The spread of fake news and disinformation on internet platforms has been ignored for too long, and now it is causing major concern during a global health emergency. “It is sadly not surprising, and yet deeply worrying, that a majority of people in the UK have seen COVID-19 related information they believe to be false. “The best way to tackle disinformation is to make information open, allowing journalists, scientists and researchers to provide facts to the public. “Tech giants have a responsibility to increase transparency and work closely with fact checkers, but voluntary action is never going to be enough by itself. “It’s encouraging that a majority of people in the UK want the UK Government to take action against social media platforms to prevent the spread of fake news. “The UK Government should take account of these results and work towards a future that is fair, free and open.” The Open Knowledge Foundation has been campaigning for greater openness amid concerns about micro-targeting. Recent recommendations from the UK government advisory body on data technology include regulation of the online targeting systems that promote and recommend content like posts, videos and adverts. But Facebook has refused calls for it to change its policies on fact-checking political adverts and limit micro-targeting. Google previously said it is limiting political ads audience targeting to more general categories, and Twitter has banned political ads. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “Restricting micro-targeting and tackling some forms of false information will help rebuild trust in the political process. “But the long-term solution to this does not involve self-regulation. The only way to build a fair, free and open digital future in the UK and across the world is to update analogue laws for the digital age.”
Poll results Opinion poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Fieldwork conducted 27-28th April 2020, all residents aged 18+ living in UK, sample size 1,006 respondents. Download the full report. Tables available here. Q. Disinformation is false information which is intended to mislead, including claims about COVID-19 which have been discredited by medical experts, such as a link to 5G phone masts. Have you seen any content about COVID-19 on social media sites such as Facebook, instagram or Twitter that you believe to be false or misleading?
  • Yes: 51%
  • No: 37%
  • Don’t know: 12%
Q. Thinking about social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which of the following statements best reflects your views?
  • There should be no action taken to prevent the spread of disinformation on social media sites: 7%.
  • Social media sites should take voluntary action to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites: 33%.
  • The UK Government should impose compulsory action on social media sites to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites: 55%.
  • Don’t know: 5%.
Q. Micro-targeting is a marketing strategy that uses people’s data – about what they like, who they’re connected to, what they’ve purchased and more – to create small groups for targeting through adverts. It is commonly used by political parties and campaigns, as well as companies. Which of the following statements best reflects your views?
  • There should be no action taken regarding the use of micro-targeting: 10%.
  • Internet platforms should take voluntary action to restrict micro-targeting: 32%.
  • The UK Government should impose compulsory action on internet platforms to restrict micro-targeting: 43%.
  • Don’t know: 15%.