You are browsing the archive for Open Knowledge Foundation.

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%.

Why we need public models for public policy

- May 6, 2020 in COVID-19, Open Knowledge Foundation

Corona Time has brought the eery experience of becoming like a pawn on a chess board. Suddenly where we go, what we do, what we wear, who we meet and why are decided by somebody else. Here in Berlin, our youngest son now goes to school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings while his best friend goes on Mondays and Thursdays. As of this week. Maybe next week it will open up more. Maybe it won’t. Meanwhile our three other children, in different schools, are off until August. These decisions need to be dynamic and reactive. We know who makes them, more or less: our leaders are all still in place since the last election they won. We just don’t know what the rules are. The only honest campaign promise if an election were held now, anywhere in the world, would be: “We’ll play it by ear.”

97% of people agreed that it was important to them for COVID-19 data to be openly available, in a recent Open Knowledge Foundation/Survation poll

But there are – or for goodness sake should be! – systems which are suggesting those rules to manage the crisis. And because of the incredible complexity, they are being driven by algorithms in models. In the case of lockdown policy, how much to open up is a function of the interaction between many different variables: how many people have been infected so far, the current transmission rate, the properties of the virus itself, some estimates of compliance with various different social distancing options, even the starting position of how a given population is laid out on the chess board in the first place.  And there are plenty of other decisions being driven by models. Who gets the ventilator? What invasions of privacy are justified at any point in time to enforce social distancing? How many people should be tested?  So where are these models? And why can’t we see them? Since democracy has been suspended, along with normal economic life, the models have all to rule. The only way to snatch back even a modicum of the scrutiny that we have lost is to publish the models online. For three reasons: to make sure that that the models, which are triggering life and death decisions, are sufficiently stress tested; to check that bad stuff isn’t slipping in through the back door, and we don’t end up with a slate of mass surveillance measures that were spuriously justified as saving lives; and to ensure that models are even being used consistently. To deal with this last point first. It has been clear so far that many leaders are “modelling illiterate”. The UK government lurched from a barely articulated idea of herd immunity into stringent lockdown in late March. But is it in danger now of overkill in the other direction now, keeping a general lockdown going too long? Nobody knows. Debates around policy still lack nuance by and large, assuming static positions (it’s even hard to avoid the suspicion that identity politics plays a role – “What’s all the hysterical overreaction?” or “How come some people don’t care and can’t see how serious this is?”) Whereas the reality is policy is going to continue to need to be driven by equations – what is today’s estimate of the number of infections, beds available etc etc.  In the case of the UK, it has been widely reported that the change was driven by the modelling of Professor Neil Ferguson, at Imperial College, London. At least some other scientists, notably Nobel prize winner Michael Levitt, have challenged the assumptions going into that model, defining the spread of COVID-19 as not exponential but “sub-exponential” after an initial phase, regardless of any policy intervention. But we can’t know who’s right, or even if the government drew the right conclusions from the model, because the version of the model used to drive that decision is not accessible. They might be driving blind.  It’s not as though all of us all are about to download the model, spend hours inspecting it, and list its weak points. That’s not the way transparency works. But imagine: the government announced which model it was using, why it drew the conclusions it did from it, and published the model. And Professor Levitt, and a few dozen others, could beat it up, as scientists do, and offer feedback and improvements to policy makers – in real-time. There is a community of scientists able to form an informed view of the dispute between Ferguson and Levitt, updated with new data day by day, and to articulate that view to the media. In the absence of parliament, that’s the nearest we’re going to get to accountability. And then we have encroachment. The Open Knowledge Foundation’s new Justice Programme has already made great strides in defining algorithmic accountability, how the rules in models need to be held to democratic account. In some places in the United States, for example, rules have been introduced to give patients access to emergency medical care according to how many years of life they are expected to live, should they survive. Which sounds reasonable enough – until you consider that poverty has a big impact on medical history, which in turn drives life expectancy. So then, in fact, the algorithm ends up picking more affluent patients, and leaving the poor to die. Or the Taiwanese corporation that is introducing cameras to every work station in all its factories – right now, it says, to catch workers who infringe social distancing rules. But who knows? The coronavirus is dramatic. But in fact it is just one example of a much broader, deeper trend. Although computational modelling has been around for decades – its first significant implementations were in World War Two, to break German military codes and build the nuclear bomb – it has picked up extraordinary pace in the last five to ten years, driven by cheap processing power, big data and other factors. Massive decisions are now being made in every aspect of public life driven by models we never see, whose rules nobody understands. The only way to re-establish democratic equilibrium is for the models themselves to be published. If we’re going to be moved around like pieces on the chess board, we at least need to see what the rules of the game are. And if the people moving us round the board even understood them.Johnny West is director of OpenOil, a Berlin-based consultancy which uses open data and methodologies to build investment-grade financial and commercial analysis for governments and societies of their natural resource assets. He sits on the Advisory Board of FAST, the only open source financial modelling standard, and is an alumnus of the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship. He is also a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Board.

Brits demand openness from government in tackling coronavirus

- May 5, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

  A new opinion poll has revealed that people across the UK want openness from the government as it tackles the coronavirus pandemic. The Survation poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation found that in response to COVID-19, people want data to be openly available for checking, they are more likely to listen to expert advice from scientists and researchers, and they oppose restricting the public’s right to information. The poll found:
  • 97% believe it is important that COVID-19 data is openly available for people to check
  • 67% believe all COVID-19 related research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely
  • 64% are now more likely to listen expert advice from qualified scientists and researchers
  • Only 29% believe restricting the public’s right to information is a necessary emergency measure
  • 63% believe a government data strategy would have helped in the fight against COVID-19
The UK Government has faced calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the coronavirus outbreak. The calls came after The Guardian revealed that the Prime Minister’s top aide, Dominic Cummings, had been attending meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). Ministers have said they are following ‘the best science’, but concerns have been raised about data secrecy with the UK Government accused of acting too slowly, lagging behind on testing, and having insufficient supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Over a number of years the UK government has been developing a National Data Strategy with rules and guidelines on how to share data between organisations like the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. The strategy has not yet been published. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has also been criticised for measures to tighten Freedom of Information legislation. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “At the heart of the response to the pandemic is data, which tells us what is happening in our communities. “Ensuring that data is open is the first stage in the battle against the coronavirus. “This poll shows that people in the UK want COVID-19 data to be openly available for checking, and that research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely. “This is important as removing barriers to the use of intellectual property will ultimately help lead to a vaccine. “The poll shows that measures to restrict the public’s right to information must be avoided, as transparency is more important than ever. “People still trust the government to take the right decisions, but this will be eroded if information is withheld. “One particularly encouraging finding is that people are now more likely to listen to expert advice.  “I am hopeful that the acceptance of basic facts will return after this pandemic and there will be a renewed focus on building a fair, free and open future.”
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. Q1. During the COVID-19 crisis, lots of information provided to the public has been based on data. How important is it to you that this data is openly available for you to check? Very important: 58% Quite important: 28% Somewhat important: 11% Not so important: 2% Not at all important: 0% Don’t know: 1% Q2. Knowledge becomes ‘open’ when any non-personal content, information or data is free to use, re-use and redistribute – without any legal, technological or social restriction. Closed knowledge is when non-personal content, information or data is not shared. How important is it to you that knowledge relating to the COVID-19 crisis is open? Very important: 54% Quite important: 30% Somewhat important: 11% Not so important: 3% Not at all important: 0% Don’t know: 2% Q3. Over a number of years the UK government has been developing a National Data Strategy with rules and guidelines on how to share data between organisations like the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. The strategy has not yet been published. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? A government data strategy would have helped in the fight against COVID-19: 63%. A government data strategy would not have helped in the fight against COVID-19: 20%. Don’t know: 18%. Q4. The UK government has said that it will be guided by scientists when it comes to lifting the national lockdown and planning social measures needed to prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks. Not all of the data provided to politicians has been made public. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? I trust the UK Government to take the right decisions for the country based on confidential evidence and data: 59%. I do not trust the UK Government to take the right decisions for the country based on confidential evidence and data and they should be more transparent: 35%. Don’t know: 6%. Q5. Thinking about the work being done by scientists and drug companies towards creating a COVID-19 vaccine, which of the following statements best reflects your views? All COVID-19 related research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely: 67%. All COVID-19 related research and data should be kept private: 17%. Don’t know: 16%. Q6. Has the COVID-19 pandemic made you more or less likely to listen to expert advice from qualified scientists and researchers? Far more likely: 31% Slightly more likely: 33% Neither more or less likely: 28% Slightly less likely: 4% Far less likely: 1% Don’t know: 3% Q7. Governments across the world are passing new emergency laws to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Many governments have temporarily altered, delayed or suspended the public’s right to information. In the UK, the Scottish Government has granted time extensions for responding to Freedom of Information requests from the public. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? Restricting the public’s right to information is a necessary emergency measure: 29%. Restricting the public’s right to information is an unnecessary emergency measure: 52%. Don’t know: 18%.

New opinion poll – UK contact-tracing app must take account of human rights

- May 4, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

A new opinion poll has revealed that an overwhelming majority of Brits want any coronavirus contact-tracing app to take account of civil liberties and people’s privacy. The Survation poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation comes ahead of today’s evidence session at Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on the human rights implications of COVID-19 tracing apps. The poll has found widespread support for the introduction of a contact-tracing app in the UK at 65 per cent, but 90 per cent of respondents said it is important that any app takes account of civil liberties and protects people’s privacy. A total of 49 per cent of people in the poll of over 1,000 people in the UK said this was ‘very important’. An NHS contact-tracing app designed to alert users when they have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus symptoms and should seek a COVID-19 test will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week. Human rights campaigners have raised questions about how the data will be processed, who will own the information, and how long it will be kept for. The UK is understood to be working towards a centralised model, but this approach has been abandoned in Germany due to privacy concerns. Other countries, including Ireland, are using a decentralised model, where information is only held on individual smartphones, not a server. Today, a series of experts will be giving oral evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, including the UK Information Commissioner. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “Technology will rightly play a key role in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, and there is clear support in the UK for a contact-tracing app in the UK. “But what is even clearer is that people want the app to take account of civil liberties and ensure that people’s privacy is protected. “We must not lose sight of ethical responsibilities in the rush to develop these tools. “It is vital to balance the needs of individuals and the benefit to society, ensuring that human rights are protected to secure public trust and confidence in the system.” 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. Q) Smartphone software called ‘contact-tracing’ is being developed to alert users when someone they were recently close to becomes infected with COVID-19. Contact-tracing apps log every instance a person is close to another smartphone-owner for a significant period of time. It has not been announced how your data will be processed, who will own the information, and how long it will be kept for. To what extent do you support or oppose the introduction of a contact-tracing app in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic? Strongly support: 28%
Somewhat support: 37%
Neither support nor oppose: 18%
Somewhat oppose: 6%
Strongly oppose: 6%
Don’t know: 4% Q) How important is it to you that any contact-tracing app in the UK takes account of civil liberties and protects people’s privacy? Very important: 49%
Quite important: 29%
Somewhat important: 13%
Not so important: 5%
Not at all important: 1%
Don’t know: 4%

Coronavirus: why an open future has never been more important

- April 16, 2020 in Open Knowledge Foundation

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down. 2020 will be remembered as the year when we faced the greatest global crisis since the Second World War, and its impact will be felt for generations to come. Tens of thousands of families have said goodbye to loved ones, taken from them by an invisible killer. Hundreds of thousands are risking their lives as they fight COVID-19, and It has left people feeling lost, scared and overwhelmed. I offer my personal heartfelt gratitude to all those fighting the coronavirus on the frontline. With many countries still in lockdown and struggling with rising numbers of cases, it is hard to look to the future with optimism. For those of us who campaign for openness, our beliefs were already under threat before this outbreak in many different and challenging ways. Now, with disinformation rampant, governments introducing emergency measures, and restrictions being imposed on people, our job is even harder.  But there is hope. Openness is the way we will get through this global crisis. Open research and sharing data and information openly will likely lead to the creation of a vaccine in record time which will save lives. If ever there was an example of the importance of open knowledge to the public, here it is. We will get through this, and we will emerge on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic. When we do, our world will have changed. Our job is to make sure that the future we emerge into is a fair, free and open future.

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s work continues

During the coronavirus pandemic, we continue with our important work. You can read more below about just some of the issues we are addressing. As chief executive, my first priority is the wellbeing of our staff and teams around the world. We are fortunate as we have successfully operated remote working for several years, and you can read more about how we do this here. As you will see from the blog on our recently revamped website, our network has been busy all over the world. On Saturday 7th March, groups from around the world organised more than 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data.  And later this year, look out for our Open Knowledge Justice Programme, which includes work to develop and implement training programmes for lawyers who challenge, defend and advise government agencies on implementing AI and automated decision-making projects. We aim to play a positive and constructive role throughout 2020 and beyond.

COVID-19 open data

At the heart of the global response to the pandemic is data, which tells us what is happening in different countries. DataHub, set up by our own founder Rufus Pollock and maintained by his company Datopian, is being used to collate open data to track the number of people affected by COVID-19 worldwide, including: confirmed tested cases of coronavirus infection; the number of people who have reportedly died while sick with coronavirus; and the number of people who have reportedly recovered from it. Being able to see global trends is vital information which dictates how we respond to the coronavirus – it’s why we see government scientific officers sharing graphs in their daily media briefings on TV each day. Many countries have been open about releasing data, but this wasn’t the case initially in Brazil. As a result, Open Knowledge Brazil launched a successful legal challenge to get the Brazilian government to release more open data to help in the fight against COVID-19. The chapter has since launched a COVID-19 data transparency site for Brazil. Ensuring there is open data is the first stage in the battle against the coronavirus.  That open data can then become open knowledge when it’s useful, usable and used.

Tackling disinformation

While we battle to ensure that data about COVID-19 is openly available, we must also simultaneously fight those using this crisis to spread disinformation – or ‘fake news’. The UK media regulator Ofcom recently found that almost half of online adults in Britain had seen false or misleading information about coronavirus. Last year, the Open Knowledge Foundation campaigned for improved transparency from large social media companies about tackling fake news and disinformation. This was aimed at political adverts, but the same principle applies to COVID-19. There is still not enough transparency about efforts in terms of what is being taken down and why. The tech giants have a responsibility, but so too do governments: international legislation is needed, otherwise the platforms will continue to make up the rules. And there is a job for each and every one of us as well. In the same way that we are all washing our hands and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, so too can we help prevent spreading the virus of fake news by refusing to share it. The best way to tackle disinformation is to make information open, allowing journalists and researchers to provide facts to the public. Newspapers have never been more important; scientists and researchers have never been more important. In America, a new service to ‘ask a scientist’ has been developed by the Federation of American Scientists in collaboration with the New Jersey Office of Innovation and the Governance Lab at New York University. Open initiatives like this are helping to spread facts, not fake news. Read my article for The Scotsman newspaper on the dangers of disinformation at this time, and why openness is so crucial.

Protecting our freedoms

Governments across the world are passing new laws to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. This is inevitable during an emergency on this scale. The public will tolerate necessary restrictions to ensure we can defeat COVID-19. But it is also vital for governments to maintain trust during this crisis, as that is the way to ensure that people follow the guidelines. While attempts to restrict physical movement are required, attempts to restrict access to public information are not. For example, it was disappointing that the government in my home country, Scotland, chose to apply restrictions to the Freedom of Information Act. A list of countries which have suspended or altered Right To Information (RTI) obligations can be found here. There are many organisations which focus on protecting individual expression and fundamental human rights, and we applaud their work. This is not our primary focus given the excellent job they are doing, but we have signed up to a statement on the importance of protecting human rights. As Timo Harakka, the Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications, said: “Only with the consent of the citizens will we be able to move forward in a very difficult situation in society – without compromising privacy and trust.” 

Ethical contact tracing

Technology to alert people if they have recently come into contact with others infected with COVID-19 is coming. Big companies inevitably want a piece of the action, but the scale of the crisis means even Apple and Google are working together on this. Some countries such as Singapore and South Korea are already using people’s mobile phones to issue coronavirus alerts. In the UK, we have called on the NHSX division and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ensure new technologies follow ethical best practice. I have signed this statement on the issue. Our collective call is:
  1. Institute a culture of working in the open, with clear, regular public communication about projects being undertaken and the publication of machine readable data and models — to build trust and minimise speculation
  2. Introduce bold emergency governance measures, including privacy and rights impact assessments and the drafting of an expert governance panel, with public and patient participation, to ensure innovation works and is held to account
  3. Develop collective mechanisms for social licence, to balance the needs of individuals and the benefit to society, ensuring the communities and groups affected by data collection have a say, and publish clear terms and conditions for any new applications, following in the footsteps of the Singapore government app TraceTogether.
Technology will rightly play a key role in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, but we must not lose sight of ethical responsibilities in the rush to develop these tools.

Open solutions

Open Knowledge chapters from around the world are stepping up, lending their knowledge and expertise to efforts to tackle COVID-19. Members of the Open Knowledge Switzerland team joined with other open data experts, public health officials and government workers to generate comprehensive and timely open data on the spread of COVID-19 in all the Swiss cantons that make up the country.  In Germany, Code for Germany – an Open Knowledge Germany project – was one of the partners which initiated the huge WirVsVirus hackathon aimed at solving COVID-19 issues with over 40,000 people taking part. Open Knowledge Belgium partnered for the Hack the Crisis Belgium initiative, bringing together the tech and start-up world to launch a public platform to create dedicated solutions  Several teams worked remotely on various societal problems, all of which are linked to the coronavirus crisis. Developers, innovative companies, tech players, creatives, and others put their minds together to identify innovative solutions to counter this crisis. One of the positives from the pandemic is the way that people have come together to help during this international emergency. I am extremely proud that Open Knowledge groups across the world are playing their part.

Open research: a Coronavirus vaccine

While addressing the ongoing crisis is a vital part of the coronavirus response, so too is how we bring this to an end. And that’s where openness plays its most important role. It is openness that will, ultimately, lead to a COVID-19 vaccine. The Open Knowledge Foundation supports the Open COVID Pledge which calls on organisations to remove barriers to the use of intellectual property which will help in the fight against the pandemic. As the originators of the Open Definition which set out principles that define openness in relation to data and content, we wholeheartedly endorse the aims of this project. It will allow experts to use otherwise inaccessible technology and content, with the potential to help end the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Elsewhere, there are examples such as Nextstrain, an open-source project for tracking and analysing pathogen genomes, with a dashboard of the genomic epidemiology of COVID-19. This can help to trace the origins of the virus.  It is science that will bring this emergency to an end, and it is open science that will ensure this happens sooner rather than later.

An open future

We live in powerful times where the greatest danger is not the chaos but to rest in the past. Our world will forever more be changed by the coronavirus pandemic. We can’t go back to business-as-usual. Open knowledge has been challenged by vested economic interests where the public benefit comes secondary to private profit. No more. Let’s change the way we operate so that we can build a fairer world. And let’s hear it for the experts, too. In recent years, the acceptance of basic facts has disappeared, with expert views dismissed and a culture of ‘anti-intellectualism’ from those on the extremes of politics. I hope the response to this international emergency is that people who should know better stop their anti-expert rhetoric. The work of the Open Knowledge Foundation will be more important than it ever has. A new world order is coming. Join us as we build a fair, free and open future.

Launching the Open Knowledge Justice Programme

- April 14, 2020 in Featured, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Knowledge Justice Programme

Supporting legal professionals in the fight for algorithmic accountability Last month, Open Knowledge Foundation made a commitment to apply our unique skills and network to the emerging issues of AI and algorithms. We can now provide you with more details about the work we are planning to support legal professionals (barristers, solicitors, judges, legal activists and campaigners) in the fight for algorithmic accountability.  Algorithmic accountability has become a key issue of concern over the past decade, following the emergence and spread of technologies embedding mass surveillance, biased processes or racist outcomes into public policies, public service delivery or commercial products.  Despite a growing and diverse community of researchers and activists discussing and publishing on the topic, legal professionals across the world have access to very few resources to equip themselves in understanding algorithms and artificial intelligence, let alone enforce accountability. In order to fill this gap, we are pleased to announce today the launch of the Open Knowledge Justice Programme.  The exact shape of the programme will evolve in response to the feedback of the legal community as well as the contribution from domain experts, but the our initial roadmap includes a mix of interventions across our open algorithm action framework as seen below:
Shared definitions Standard resources Literacy
Accountability Contribution to the public debate through participation to conferences, seminar and outreach to experts

Building a global community of legal professionals and civic organisations to build a common understanding of the issues and needs for actions raised by algorithms and AI from a legal perspective
Participation to the elaboration of the European Union’s AI policy Contribution to current UK working groups around algorithms, AI and data governance Participation to other national and international public policy debates to embed accountability in upcoming regulations, in collaboration with our partners Developing open learning content and guides on existing and potential legal of analysis of algorithms and AI in the context of judicial review or other legal challenge
Monitoring Mapping of relevant legislation, case law and ethics guidelines with the help of the community of experts Delivering trainings for legal professionals on algorithm impact investigation and monitoring
Improvement Curation, diffusion and improvement of existing algorithm assessment checklists such as the EU checklist Training and supporting public administration lawyers on algorithmic risk
  How these plans came about These actions build on our past experience developing the open data movement. But we’ve also spent the last six months consulting with legal professionals across the UK. Our key finding is that algorithms are becoming part of legal practice, yet few resources exist for legal professionals to grapple with the issues that they raise.  This is due in part to the lack of a clear legal framework, but mainly because the spread of algorithm-driven services, either public or private, has accelerated much faster than the public debate and public policies have matured. What is an algorithm? What is the difference between algorithms and artificial intelligence? Which laws govern their use in the police force, in public benefit allocation, in banking? Which algorithms should legal professionals be on the lookout for? What kind of experts can help legal professionals investigate algorithms and what kind of questions should be asked of them?  All these questions, although some are seemingly basic, are what lawyers, including judges, are currently grappling with. The Open Knowledge Justice Programme will answer them.  Stay tuned for more on the topic! For comments, contributions or if you want to collaborate with us, you can email us at contact@okfn.org