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Thank you for your feedback about Open Data Day. Here’s what we learned.

- November 17, 2020 in Open Knowledge

Open Data Day is an annual celebration of open data all over the world facilitated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. Each year, groups from around the world create local events on the day where they will use open data in their communities. It is an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society. With Open Data Day 2021 less than four months away, we asked the Open Data community to tell us how you think we can better support Open Data Day. It’s not too late to have your say. Just visit the survey here.   The responses we had were very encouraging. We received lots of feedback – both positive and negative. And many of you offered to help with Open Data Day 2021. Thank you so much! We’ve gone through all the feedback and… Here is a summary of what we learned You told us that Open Data Day 2021 will be better if we …
  • present all the events together in a searchable directory, to show the amazing scale and variety of Open Data Day events
  • focus less on the geographic location of the events because some events are online and can be attended by anyone with an internet connection
  • give more mini-grants to more Open Data Day events 
  • confirm who has won the mini-grants at an earlier date – to help with event planning
  • focus on one data track – not four. Recommendations included climate change data, disaster risk management data, gender data, election data and Covid 19 data
  • give support, advice and opportunities for Covid Safe events and activities 
  • get better press coverage of Open Data Day events, and better connections with data journalists 
  • publish reports on Open Data Day events on the Open Data Day website, with more photos and videos
  • improve the mini-grant methodology to increase the measurable impact of Open Data Day mini-grants 
  • reduce bank changes by using innovative money transfer systems 
  • helped funding partners create better connections with event organisers and attendees
Here at Open Knowledge Foundation we will spend the next few weeks digesting all these great ideas and working out how best to respond to make sure Open Data Day 2021 is better than ever. Thanks again to everyone who already responded to our survey! 

Open Knowledge and MyData – same roots, shared values

- November 10, 2020 in Events, OK Finland, Open Data, Open Knowledge, personal-data, Talks

  The origins of MyData can be traced back to Open Knowledge Festival held in Finland in 2012. There, a small group of people gathered in a breakout session to discuss what ought to be done with the kind of data that cannot be made publicly available and entirely open, namely personal data. Over the years, more and more people who had similar ideas about personal data converged and found each other around the globe. Finally, in 2016, a conference entitled MyData brought together thinkers and doers who shared a vision of a human-centric paradigm for personal data and the community became aware of itself. The MyData movement, which has since gathered momentum and grown into an international community of hundreds of people and organisations, shares many of its most fundamental values with the Open movement from which it has spun off. Openness and transparency in collection, processing, and use of personal data; ethical and socially beneficial use of data; cross-sectoral collaboration; and democratic values are all legacies of the open roots of MyData and hard-wired into the movement itself. The MyData movement was sustained originally through annual conferences held in Helsinki and attended by data professionals in their hundreds. These were made possible by the support of the Finnish chapter of Open Knowledge, who acted as their main organiser. As the years passed and the movement matured, in the autumn of 2018, the movement formalised into its own organisation, MyData Global. Headquartered in Finland, the organisation’s international staff of six, led by General Manager Teemu Ropponen, now facilitate the growing community with local hubs in over 20 locations on six continents, a fourth Helsinki-based conference in September 2019, and the continued efforts of the movement to bring about positive change in the way personal data is used globally. Join MyData 2019 conference with a special discount code! If you want to learn more about MyData, join the MyData 2019 conference on 25-27 September 2019. As we love making friends, we would like to offer you a discount code of 10% for Business and Discounted ticket. Use MyDataFriend and claim your ticket now on mydata2019.org/tickets

Tell us how you think we can better support Open Data Day

- November 4, 2020 in community, Events, Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2021, Open Knowledge

This year has been such an eventful year for all of us. As 2020 nears its end, here at Open Knowledge Foundation we are starting to think about Open Data Day 2021. I checked my calendar this morning – and it’s only 4 months away ! Open Data Day is such a great opportunity for the entire open data community to come together to show the benefits of open data. Last year over 300 Open Data Day events took place over 50 countries. Our (OKF’s) role is facilitation As we start to make plans, we would like you to have your say on how we (OKF) can best support Open Data Day. Do you have any ideas? Or comments? Advice? Tell us how you think we can better support Open Data Day  We want to know 
  • The good stuff. What worked at Open Data Day last year? What did you enjoy most? Which events really stood out? Did you meet someone at Open Data Day 2020 that changed the way you work for the better?
  • The bad stuff. What didn’t work last year? What could we have done differently? How would you like Open Data Day to improve? How can we achieve more impact? Are there other data tracks we should focus on?
  • How can we help each other? Open Data Day brings people together from around the world to celebrate open data. Are you interested in volunteering to help the global event happen? We are thinking of running a live online event and maybe some global competitions. And perhaps doing some fundraising for the whole open data community. Do you want to help ?
We’d love it if you can take 3 minutes to share your thoughts in our survey and tell us how you think we can improve Open Data Day.   We want to make Open Data Day 2021 better than ever, and we can only do that with your help !

Do we trust the plane or the pilot? The problem with ‘trustworthy’ AI

- October 19, 2020 in Open Knowledge

On April 8th 2019, the High-Level Expert Group on AI, a committee set up by the European Commission, presented the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. It defines trustworthy AI through three principles and seven key requirements. Such AI should be: lawful, ethical and robust, and take into account the following principles:
  • Human agency and oversight
  • Technical Robustness and safety
  • Privacy and data governance
  • Transparency
  • Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness
  • Societal and environmental well-being
  • Accountability
The concept has inspired other actors such as the Mozilla Foundation which has built on the concept and wrote a white paper clarifying its vision. Both the ethics guidelines and Mozilla’s white paper are valuable efforts in the fight for a better approach to what we at Open Knowledge call Public Impact Algorithms:
“Public Impact Algorithms are algorithms which are used in a context where they have the potential for causing harm to individuals or communities due to technical and/or non-technical issues in their implementation. Potential harmful outcomes include the reinforcement of systemic discrimination (such as structural racism or sexism), the introduction of bias at scale in public services or the infringement of fundamental rights (such as the right to dignity) »

The problem does not lie in the definition of trustworthiness: the ethical principles and key requirements are sound and comprehensive. Instead, it arises from the aggregation behind a single label of concepts whose implementation presents extremely different challenges. Going back to the seven principles outlined above, two dimensions are mixed in: the technical performance of the AI and the effectiveness of the oversight and accountability ecosystem which surrounds it. The principles fall overwhelmingly under the Oversight and Accountability category.
Technical performance Oversight and Accountability
Technical robustness and safety
Transparency
Human agency and oversight
Privacy and data governance
Transparency
Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness
Societal and environmental well-being
Accountability
Talking about ‘trustworthy AI’ emphasizes the tool while de-emphasizing the accountability ecosystem, which becomes a bullet point; all but ensuring that it will not be given the attention it deserves.

Building a trustworthy plane

The reason why no one uses the expression ’trustworthy’ plane(1) or car (2) is not because trust is not essential to the aviation or automotive industries. It’s because trust is not a useful concept for legislative or technical discussions. Instead, more operational terms such as safety, compliance or suitability are used. Trust exists in the discourse around these industries, but is instead placed in the ecosystem of practices, regulations and actors which drive the industry: for the civil aviation industry this includes the quality of pilot training, the oversight on airplane design, or the standard of safety written in the legislation (3). The concept of ‘trustworthy AI’ displaces the trust from the ecosystem to the tool. This has several potential consequences:
  • Trust could become embedded in the discourse and legislation on the issue, pushing to the side other concepts that are more operational (safety, privacy, explicability) or essential (power, agency(4)).
  • Trustworthy AI could become an all encompassing label —akin to an organic fruit label— which would legitimize AI-enabled tools, cutting off discussions about the suitability of the tool for specific contexts or questions about whether these tools should be deployed at all. Why do the hard work of building accountable processes when a label can be used as a shortcut?
  • Minorities and disenfranchised groups would again be left out of the conversation: the trust that a public official puts into an AI tool will be extended by default to their constituents.
This scenario can already be seen in the European Commission’s white paper on AI(5): their vision occults completely the idea that some AI applications may not be desirable; they outline an ecosystem made of labels, risk levels(6) and testing centers, which would presumably give a definitive assessment on AI tools before their deployment; they use the concept of ’trust’ as a tool for accelerating the development of AI rather than as a way to examine the technology on its merits. Trust as the oil in the AI industry’s engine.

We should not trust AI

Behind Open Knowledge’s Open AI and Algorithms programme is the core belief that we can’t and shouldn’t trust Public Impact Algorithms by default. Instead, we need to build an ecosystem of regulation, practices and actors in which we can place our trust. The principles behind this ecosystem will resonate with the definition given above of ’trustworthy’ AI: human agency and oversight, privacy, transparency, accountability… But while a team of computer science researchers may discover a breakthrough in explainable deep learning, the work needed to set up and maintain this ecosystem will not come through a breakthrough: it will be a years-long, multi-stakeholder driven and cross-sector effort that will face its share of opponents and headwinds. This work can not, and should not, simply be a bullet point under a meaningless label. Concretely, this ecosystem would emphasize:
  • Meaningful transparency: at the design level (explainable statistical model vs black box algorithms)(7), before deployment (clarifying goals, indicators, risks and remediations)(8) and during the tool’s lifecycle (open performance data, audit reports)
  • Mandatory auditing: although algorithms deployed in public services should be open source, Intellectual Property Laws dictate that some of them will not. The second best option should consequently be to mandate auditing by regulators (who would have access to source code) and external auditors using API designed to monitor key indicators (some of them mandated by law, others defined with stakeholders)(9).
  • Clear redress and accountability processes: multiple actors intervene between the design and the deployment of an AI-enabled tool. Who is accountable for what will have to be clarified.
  • Stakeholder engagement: algorithms used in public services should be proactively discussed with the people they will affect, and the possibility of not deploying the tool should be on the table
  • Privacy by design: the implementation of algorithms in the public sector often leads to more data centralisation and sharing, with little oversight or even impact assessment.
These and other aspects of this ecosystem will be refined and extended as the public debate continues. But we need to make sure that the ethical debates and the ecosystem issue are not sidelined by an all-encompassing label which will hide the complexity and nuance of the issue. An algorithm may well be trustworthy in a certain context (clean structured data, stable variables, competent administrators, suitable assumptions) while being harmful in others, however similar they might be.

(1) The aviation industry talks about ‘airworthiness’ which is technical jargon for safety and legal compliance https://www.easa.europa.eu/regulations#regulations-basic-regulation
(2) The automotive industry mainly talks about safety https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/automotive/legislation/motor-vehicles-trailers_en
(3) which is why federal aviation agencies (FAA) generally do not re-certify a plane validated by the USA’s FAA: they trust their oversight. The Boeing scandal led to a breach of trust and certification agencies around the world asked to re-certify the plane themselves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737_MAX_groundings
(4) I purposefully did not mention fairness here. See this paper discussing the problems with using fairness in the AI debate: https://www.cs.cornell.edu/~red/fairness_equality_power.pdf
(5) It was published on February 2020, which means that they already had access to the draft version of the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI https://algorithmwatch.org/en/story/ai-white-paper/
(6) See also the report from Data Ethics Commission of the Government which defines 5 risk levels https://algorithmwatch.org/en/germanys-data-ethics-commission-releases-75-recommendations-with-eu-wide-application-in-mind/
(7) Too little scrutiny is put on the relative performance of black box algorithms vs explainable statistical models. This paper discusses this issue: https://hdsr.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/f9kuryi8/release/5
(8) As of October 2020, Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Helsinki (Finland) and Nantes (France) are the only governments having deployed algorithm registers. But in all cases, the algorithms were deployed before being publicized.
(9) oversight through investigation will still be needed. Algorithm Watch has several projects in that direction, including a report on Instagram. This kind of work relies on volunteers sharing data about their social media feeds. Mozilla is also involved in helping them structure this kind of ‘data donation’ project https://algorithmwatch.org/en/story/instagram-algorithm-nudity/

The UK’s National Data Strategy: first impressions and observations

- September 10, 2020 in Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge, Policy, training


National Data Strategy
After years of promises, the UK Government has finally announced the launch of a ‘framework’ National Data Strategy. The aim of the strategy is to “drive the UK in building a world-leading data economy while ensuring public trust in data use” and the government has set out five missions for this work:
  • Unlocking the value of data across the economy
  • Securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime
  • Transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services
  • Ensuring the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which data relies
  • Championing the international flow of data
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has now kicked off a 12-week consultation period. Last year, the Open Knowledge Foundation submitted our thoughts to help shape the National Data Strategy and also signed a joint letter with other UK think tanks, civil and learned societies calling for urgent action from government to overhaul its use of data.  In our evidence, we called for a focus on teaching data skills to the British public so we are glad to see a focus on data skills in the strategy where the government notes that “everyone needs some level of data literacy in order to operate successfully in increasingly data–rich environments”. We said that the UK has a golden opportunity to lead by example and boost its economy, but must invest in skills to make this a reality. Without training and knowledge, large numbers of UK workers will be ill-equipped to take on many jobs of the future. So while there are funding commitments and assigned actions to recruit expert innovation fellows and 500 data science analysts into government, we hope to see future funding set aside to improve data literacy and data skills for all, not just public sector experts. As we noted in 2019, “learning data skills can prove hugely beneficial to individuals seeking employment in a wide range of fields including the public sector, government, media and voluntary sector” so getting this right will be crucial if the government hopes to make the better use of data part of its plan for building a stronger economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also welcome the strategy’s focus on “fixing the plumbing” and ensuring that data is fit for purpose and standardised. As noted in our 2019 submission, there is often a “huge amount of work required to clean up data in order to make it usable before insights or stories can be gleaned from it” so further efforts to improve data quality and standardisation are sorely needed. On the availability of data and open data, it is encouraging to see a recognition of issues relating to the government’s consistency in open data publication with a promise to review and better measure the impact of existing processes and published data. Our mission is a fair, free and open future so we also welcome the acknowledgement in the strategy of the overarching importance of harnessing data for the purpose of creating a fairer society for all. The consultation on the National Data Strategy is now open and runs for the next 12 weeks to 2nd December 2020.  We will be examining the ‘framework’ strategy documents further and look forward to engaging more with the process of refining and improving the strategy. The UK must not miss this opportunity to be at the forefront of a global future that is fair, free and open.

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.

Mapping HIV facilities and LGBT-friendly spaces in the Philippines: Open Data Day 2020 report

- June 8, 2020 in Open Data Day, Open Data Day 2020, Open Knowledge, philippines

On Saturday 7th March 2020, the tenth Open Data Day took place with people around the world organising over 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Thanks to generous support from key funders, the Open Knowledge Foundation was able to support the running of more than 60 of these events via our mini-grants scheme This blogpost is a report by Mikko Tamura from MapBeks in the Philippines who received funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to organise a mapping party to highlight HIV facilities and LGBT-friendly spaces on OpenStreetMap. The first Open Data Day celebration of Pilipinas Chubs X Chasers (PCC) was done at the Fahrenheit Club on 7th March 2020. The event started at 9pm and 16 participants joined the datathon to improve on the largest open HIV database in the country. PCC, the largest online community of LGBTQIA+ chubs, chasers and bears in the Philippines has dedicated its celebration of Open Data Day to teach fellow community (bear, chubs, chasers, supporters) members the importance of emancipating the data and making it more accessible to everyone who needs it. Mr Papu Torres, chairperson of PCC, and Mr Mikko Tamura, lead advocate of MapBeks, spearheaded the event as they believe that as members of their growing community can make a bigger impact by encouraging people to contribute by simply researching and validating information. Currently, MapBeks with the full support of PCC, has been developing maps and databases highlighting and representing the LGBTQ community. You may contribute to their working HIV database and maps here:  HIV Facilities Email/Website working database https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1jdlDJw3eue0e6YK9mKgYfaTw5962e2H1g_tWZQscbcE/ edit?usp=sharing  HIV Facilities map http://tinyurl.com/mapbekshivmap  PCC’s objective of the ODD event was to collect/complete as much information on websites and email addresses of all HIV facilities in the country and contribute the information on OpenStreetMap for everyone to access.  Figure 1 Papu Torres, chairperson of Pilipinas Chubs X Chasers, teaching how to contribute and research on websites and emails for the open database of HIV Facilities. According to MapBeks, there are a total of 659 identified HIV facilities in the country, but the data varies from one organisation to another. It is part of the group’s advocacy to make such information more accessible, downloadable, and useable to the crowd specially for people living with HIV (PLHIV).
The SlumBEAR Datathon was able to contribute 250 email addresses and 383 websites to the database. This constitutes more than 20% of the needed information that will be added on geotagged locations of clinics, hospitals, and health centres in the country. Lastly, Mr Leonard Kodie Macayan III, Mr. Fahrenheit 2020 and our country’s representative to the Mr Gay World competition, visited the crowd and showed support for our open data movement. Mr Fahrenheit is an annual male pageant, exclusive only for gay men and bisexuals. It is the first and the longest running of its kind, having been set up in 2003. Its mission is to support the advocacy towards mental health and tackling various issues like clinical depression, suicidal tendencies and the stigma of HIV/AIDS.  We would like to specially thank the Open Knowledge Foundation for the support and trust for our small community, and to Papu Torres, John Mojica, Ryan Sotto for making things possible. The Pilipinas Chubs X Chasers community will continue to support activities such as this in the future as it deems it necessary and empowering for smaller communities to be part of something bigger. See you next Open Data Day! For more information and partnerships, contact Mikko Tamura at mikko.tamura@gmail.com.

Exceptional times call for new and open solutions: #osoc20 will be fully remote

- May 5, 2020 in Featured, Open Data, Open Innovation, Open Knowledge, Open Source, open Summer of code, osoc20, projects, remote

A virus is throwing a spanner in the works for businesses and organisations around the globe. At the same time, we are witnessing a surge in innovation, creativity and flexibility from all parts of society. Open Knowledge Belgium wants to take on the challenge and be part of the solution. How? With Open Summer of Code, we provide both private and public organisations with the opportunity to tap into the creativity of digital natives and build a prototype for digital projects in only 4 weeks time. Changing times call for thinking out of the box Open Summer of Code will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this summer. This unique summer program – where student teams devise and develop innovative digital solutions for societal and other challenges – has become an institution. Throughout the years, we have managed to make Open Summer of Code grow with more students, partners and impact. As a result of the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, we’re ready to take on a new challenge: organising #osoc20 as a fully remote edition. Thanks to our experience and solid supporting network of coaches and partners, we are confident and excited to turn this fully remote aspect into an opportunity for more and faster digital transformation. We are currently adapting our program in such a way that we make it work remotely. Here are a few changes that you can expect for this remote edition:
  • Set-up of the infrastructure for effective remote collaboration
  • Review of our code of conduct so it works remotely
  • Documentation will take precedence over explanation
  • Supporting coaches with tutorials & an online skill board
  • Demo day: live-streaming all project presentations to a broad audience.
Does this imply that we’ll never meet each other face-to-face? Not necessarily! We want to keep the door open for small physical meetings. If governmental measures allow, we might organise smaller team gatherings, but remote work will be the norm. In case it’s difficult for students to work from home, we will provide them with a desk. Open is the key to innovation The pandemic has forced many of us to isolate but this hasn’t stopped the world from coming together to fight the corona virus. Traditional silos are being demolished while new ways of collaboration are popping up everywhere. From researchers to makers, from app developers to citizens with a sewing machine, … Magic happens when all noses point in the same direction. As an umbrella organisation for the open community in Belgium, we are proud that Open Knowledge, Open Data and Open Source have played a significant part in these developments. We strongly believe in the power of open as a motor for innovation. All applications and solutions that are developed during Open Summer of Code are Open Source, and often based on Open Data. This way we can introduce the projects and partners to the (Belgian) open community while training a next generation of open advocates. Of course we ourselves try to practice what we preach by using as many open alternatives when organising Open Summer of Code. Even more so now that we are preparing for a fully remote edition. Together with you, we want to develop the world of tomorrow This year’s edition of Open Summer of Code provides a unique opportunity: it combines the societal need for more digital transformation and the strong motivation of talented students in a remote setting. 171 students have already submitted their application to be part of #osoc20. Today, we’re still looking for more partners who want to build a prototype for their digital project and give a team of students the chance to put their skills into practice. In previous editions of Open Summer of Code, teams of students have built prototypes for many different kind of projects – to highlight a few: In short, what can you as a project partner expect to get out of Open Summer of Code?
  • The opportunity to turn your project idea into a prototype in only 1 month thanks to the digital creativity and dedication of a talented team of students and coaches.
  • Joining a network of organisations, coaches and nearly graduated students who are eager to make a difference.
  • Social impact, as thanks to you students get the chance to work on an impactful digital project.
  • Becoming a digital pioneer and gain visibility before, during and after the program with your next digital project.
  • Being a part of a larger innovative hub where synergies arise spontaneously.
Do you recognize yourself or your organization in the description above? Then osoc is what you’re looking for! You can become a partner by contacting us directly via info@osoc.be. For more info, take a look at: summerofcode.be.

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%

Making remote working work for you and your organisation

- March 19, 2020 in Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

The coronavirus outbreak means that up to 20 per cent of the UK workforce could be off sick or self-isolating during the peak of an epidemic.

Millions of people may not be ill, but they will be following expert advice to stay away from their workplace to help prevent the spread of the virus.

There are clearly hundreds of roles where working from home simply isn’t possible, and questions are rightly being asked about ensuring people’s entitlement to sick pay.

But for a huge number of workers who are usually based in an office environment, remote working is a possibility – and is therefore likely to become the norm for millions.

With the economy in major trouble as evidenced by yesterday’s stock market falls, ensuring those who are fit and able can continue to work is important.

So employers should start today to prepare for efficient remote working as part of their coronavirus contingency planning.

Giant companies such as Twitter are already prepared. But this may be an entirely new concept for some firms.

The Open Knowledge Foundation which I lead has been successfully operating remote working for several years.

Our staff are based in their homes in countries across the world, including the UK, Portugal, Zimbabwe and Australia.

Remote working was new to me a year ago when I joined the organisation.

I had been based in the European Parliament for 20 years as an MEP for Scotland. I had a large office on the 13th floor of the Parliament in Brussels, with space for my staff, as well as an office in Strasbourg when we were based there. For most of my time as a politician, I also had an office in Fife where my team would deal with constituents’ queries.

Things couldn’t be more different today. I work from my home in Dunfermline, in front of my desktop computer, with two screens so that I can type on one and keep an eye on real-time alerts on another.

The most obvious advantage is being able to see more of my family. Being a politician meant a lot of time away from my husband and children, and I very much sympathise with MSPs such as Gail Ross and Aileen Campbell who have decided to stand down from Holyrood to see more of their loved ones. If we want our parliaments to reflect society, we need to address the existing barriers to public office.

Now in charge of a team spread around the world, using a number of technology tools to communicate with them, remote working has been a revelation for me.

Why couldn’t I have used those tools in the European Parliament and even voted remotely?

In the same way that Gail Ross has questioned why there wasn’t a way for her to vote remotely from Wick, hundreds of miles from Edinburgh, the same question must be asked of the European Parliament.

But for companies now planning remote working, it is vital to adopt effective methods.

Access to reliable Wi-Fi is key, but effective communication is critical. Without physical interaction, a virtual space with video calling is essential.

It is important to see the person when remote working and be able to interact as close as it would be face-to-face. This also avoids distraction and allows people to check in with each other.

We tend to do staff calls through our Slack channel and our weekly all-staff call is through Google Hangout.

All-staff calls – or all-hands call as we call them – are important if people are forced to work remotely. We do this once a week, but for some organisations morning calls will also become an essential part of the day.

Our monthly global network call is on an open source tool called Jitsi and I use Zoom for diary meetings.

If all else fails, we resort to Skype and WhatsApp.

In terms of how we share documents between the team, we use Google Drive. That means participants in conference calls can see and update an agenda and add action points in real-time, and make alterations or comments on documents such as letters which need to be checked by multiple people.

In the same way that our staff work and collaborate remotely, using technology to co-operate on a wider scale also goes to the heart of our vision for a future that is fair, free and open.

We live in a time when technological advances offer incredible opportunities for us all.

Open knowledge will lead to enlightened societies around the world, where everyone has access to key information and the ability to use it to understand and shape their lives; where powerful institutions are comprehensible and accountable; and where vital research information that can help us tackle challenges such as poverty and climate change is available to all.

Campaigning for this openness in society is what our day job entails.

But to achieve that we have first worked hard to bring our own people together using various technological options.

Different organisations will find different ways of making it work.

But what is important is to have a plan in place today.

This post was originally published by the Herald newspaper