Launching the Malaysia Open Data User Group

I spent the last week in Kuala Lumpur to support the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU) with their open data implementation efforts (such as the Malaysian open data portal). Specifically this trip was about the launch of the Malaysia Open Data User Group (MODUG), as well as discussions with MAMPU on how we can help support their 2018 and 2019 open data plans. I was there together with my World Bank colleague Carolina Vaira, and with Baden Appleyard, a long time long distance friend of my company The Green Land. As he is from Australia, working together in Malaysia means meeting sort-of half way.

The MODUG comes from the action plan presented last May, after our Open Data Readiness Assessment last year, which I helped bring about when I first visited in spring 2015 as part of the Malaysian big data advisory board. In the action plan we suggested creating an informal and trusted place for government organisations to discuss their practical issues and concerns in creating more open data, learn from each other, and collaborate on specific actions as well as formulating government good practice. Similarly it called for creating a similar space for potential users of government open data, for individuals, coding community, NGO’s and civil society, academia and the business community. Next to having these two places where both government and non-government can discuss their questions and issues amongst themselves, regular interaction was proposed between the two, so that data custodians and users can collaborate on creating social and economic value with open data in Malaysia. The MODUG brings these three elements under one umbrella.

Last Tuesday MAMPU held an event to launch the MODUG, largely moderated by Carolina and me. MAMPU is within the remit of General Affairs Minister within the Prime Minister’s office, Joseph Entulu Belaun. The Minister officially opened the event and inaugurated the MODUG (by cutting a ribbon hanging from a drone hovering in front of him).

Malaysian Open Data User Group (MODUG) 2017 Malaysian Open Data User Group (MODUG) 2017
Minister Joseph Entulu Belaun cutting a ribbon from a drone, and Dr Yusminar of MAMPU presenting the current status of Malaysian open data efforts. (both images (c) MAMPU)

Dr Yusminar, who is the team lead with MAMPU for open data, and our direct counter part in our work with MAMPU, provided a frank overview of efforts so far, and things that still need to be tackled. This helped set the scene for the rest of the day by providing a shared understanding of where things currently stand.

Then we got to work with the participants, in two rounds of a plenary panel followed by roundtable discussions. The first round, after data holders and users in a panel discussed the current general situation, government and non-government groups discussed separately, looking at which data they see demand for, the challenges they encounter in publishing or using the data, and the suggestions they have overcoming those. The second round started with a panel bringing some international experiences and good practice examples, during which I got a new title, that of ‘open data psychologist’ because of stressing the importance of the social aspects, behaviour and attitude involved in making open data work. The panel was followed with round table conversations that mixed both data custodians and users. Conversations centered on finding a collective agenda to move open data forward. After each round the results from each table were briefly presented, and the output attached to the walls. Participants clearly appreciated having the time and space to thoroughly discuss the open data aspects they find important, and be heard by their colleagues and peers. They indicated wanting to do this more often, which is great to hear as creating the room for such conversations is exactly what the MODUG is meant for!

Malaysia Open Data User Group Malaysia Open Data User Group
Malaysia Open Data User Group Malaysia Open Data User Group
Roundtable discussions on a shared open data agenda for MODUG

The day(s) after the event we discussed the output and how moving forward into 2018 and 2019 we can further support MAMPU and the Malaysian open data efforts. This meant diving much deeper into the detailed actions that need to be taken. I’m very much looking forward to staying involved.

Malaysia Open Data User Group
Working with the MAMPU team on next steps

Kuala Lumpur Kuala Lumpur
After work catching up with Baden and enjoying the sights

15 Years of Blogging

Fifteen years ago (on 4 November) I started blogging. This as a result of a discussion with and encouragement from David Gurteen, Lilia Efimova and Seb Paquet. First using Blogger, but quickly self-hosted on my own domain, using Movable Type for a long time before switching to WordPress.
My blogging frequency has been much lower in recent years, than at the start, also because of additional channels that became available, such as Facebook and Twitter in 2006.

The web has changed mightily in those 15 years, as is clearly visible to those who were away for a number of years, such as Hoder in an Iranian jail. It hasn’t changed for the better in my view. By design and definition the internet is distributed, but for most everyday usage it is anything but. It could be, but it would mean many more people taking the tools into their own hands. Until then ease of use has huge silos and you and your data being the product as a consequence.

Every now and then there’s been a call to go ‘back to the blog’, e.g. in discussion with Stephanie Booth and others. Fact is I never stopped blogging, just that over time more and more postings became longer texts, and that meant the frequency of postings diminished as writing time increased. Now that my own unease with what Facebook et al are doing to my information diet has become increasingly unbearable, I started following the example of Peter Rukavina and Elmine to bring back more of the casual sharing of small observations to this site, foregoing the likes of Facebook as primary channel. Peter has left Facebook entirely, I’m not nearly at that point.

When I started blogging it was the source of a tremendous proliferation of new connections, a whole new peer network emerged practically overnight. Distributed conversations became face to face meetings and brought us to places like the Blogtalk and Reboot conferences. Many of the people I regard as a major source of learning, inspiration I met because of this blog. Many over time have become dear friends. That alone is enough to keep blogging.

Mailchimp Meets GDPR

Last week I received an e-mail from Mailchimp saying

Starting October 31, single opt-in will become the default setting for all MailChimp hosted, embedded, and pop-up signup forms. This change will impact all MailChimp users

When I read it, I thought it odd, as in the EU the double opt-in is needed, especially with the new General Data Protection Regulation coming next year.

Today I received another e-mail from Mailchimp that they were rolling their plans back for EU customers.

…because your primary contact address is in the EU, your existing forms will remain double opt-in. We made this decision after receiving a lot of feedback from EU customers who told us that single opt-in does not align with their business needs in light of the upcoming GDPR and other local requirements. We heard you, and we’re sorry that we caused confusion.

Now I am curious to see if they will send out another e-mail in the coming week also reinstating double opt-in for everyone else. Because as they already say in their own e-mail:

Double opt-in provides additional proof of consent, and we suggest you continue using double opt-in if your business will be subject to the GDPR.

That includes any non-EU business that has clients or indeed mailing list subscribers in the EU, as the rules follow the personal data of EU citizens. All those companies are subject to the GDPR as well.

Dutch Design Week Inspiration

Last week was the annual Dutch Design Week. A good reason to visit Eindhoven in the south, which over the past years has turned into a innovation and creativity hub as well as a city renewal hotspot. I’ve visited regularly in the past years and every time you find new endeavours on the crossroads of high-tech, design, art and science, business, and citizen activism. When we were looking for a new place to live we considered Eindhoven because of this palpable elan (we ultimately decided against it due to travel times to other areas). Instead we visit every now and then, e.g. for Dutch Design Week.

We had a pleasant day browsing through various exhibits and expositions, and enjoyed talking to the designers, engineers and craftsmen who created the things on display. For lunch we had pizza from a mobile wood fired oven, outside on a surprisingly mild day.

One of the designers showing their products is Bas Froon, whom we know since our university days. In the past few years, after a decade and a half of business consulting, he went to art academy, and now exhibited a machine he built to create products from a single material (a fiber enhanced plastic fabric) The material is soft and flexible but can become hard and very strong when heated and under pressure. It is for instance used in the automotive industry to make car bumpers. Bas built a cross between a 3d printer and a clothing iron to be able to selectively heat and harden parts of a piece of this fabric, from a digital design. That way you can make a baby carrying sling for instance from a single piece of fabric including all the clasps and fasteners and the cushions for the infant.

Dutch Design Week 2017
Bas Froon’s machine

I got some ideas about temporary furniture for a possible next unconference at home, from a project by a local packaging company challenging designers to come up with other uses for their cardboard.

Dutch Design Week 2017

Also fun to see plenty of Ultimakers in use.

Dutch Design Week 2017 Dutch Design Week 2017
Brabant Living Lab printing soundscapes, 3d representations of noise levels in the exhibition hall.

Dutch Design Week 2017Dutch Design Week 2017
local government involvement, and LoRa enable trashbins

Spotted on a t-shirt:
Dutch Design Week 2017

The blockchain links I read this week

Cryptocurrency Art Gallery
Cryptocurrency Art Gallery

I am interested in blockchain as a distributed way of organizing things through software. I have questions that center around in which situations that distributedness, having a public ledger, and having a permanent ledger is actually useful. Also in general for any defined user group, available blockchains are all global by nature. This takes away any agency that group has concerning ensuring the availability and soundness of the technology they use. This is a threat to a group’s resilience basically (e.g. when a group in northern Poland runs their transactions on something that is dominated by opaque Chinese computing clusters). So I am interested in how to deploy blockchain for a specific group (that can then run their own nodes for the needed calculations.) The potential to subvert a blockchain in such a situation is theoretically bigger, but at the same time it is also more strongly embedded in existing social relationships which provides its own robustness.

Here’s a number of links concerning blockchain I came across and read the past few days:

Explaining blockchain

  • A good read, ‘A Letter to Jamie Dimon‘, which takes as perspective that the distributedness is less effective than centralized solutions but also the key aspect for the intended user groups, as this is the only way to avail themselves of specific affordances. Distributedness is a tool to increase resistance to censorship (also read as ‘access’), and blockchain allows creating fully distributed applications.
  • A talk by Richard Bartlett at Re:Publica Dublin, on whether a blockchain is decentralizing power or not.

The ICO hype is unfolding
ICO, initial coin offerings are campaigns to sell tokens for your specific blockchain application. You can buy them usually only with Bitcoin or Ethereum. What amazes me is how much money (millions) are getting invested in short times (the term vaporware comes to mind), and that minimum investments are often in the 5.000 or 10.000 Euro range.

Examples

New Dutch Government Agreement: What It Says About Open Data

A new government has formed in the Netherlands, after a record 7 months of negotiations following elections last spring. I read the coalition agreement (pdf in Dutch) between the four parties involved to see what, if any, it means for digitisation, transparency, and the use and availability of data in the coming years.

Starting from the principle that openness and transparency in the public sector are important, the agreement states that digitisation is more than a necessity for that, and an opportunity for better public services as well. (p9 Public governance) This translates into plans to further digitise public services, an ‘ambitious’ national digital agenda also for lower level public entities, more findable and accessible open data, and a new look at the stalled Open Government Law with the aim to balance mandatory openness against implementation costs. In addition the agreement calls for more digital access to the collections of museums and archives (p21, Culture), and promises to publish all transport and mobility related government data so it can be reused by vehicles, apps and planners (p41 Transport and Mobility).

It’s good to see that data governance is getting attention, and that it seems to look at data governance from a holistic perspective, taking into account openness, privacy and information security together.
Citizens will have more control over their own personal data that government holds. (p9, Public governance)
The usage and ownership of travel data (think of GPS trackers, RFID travel cards, (autonomous) car sensor data) will be regulated to maintain privacy while also allowing (general) re-use of that data (p41 Transport and Mobility)
Internet of Things is getting attention in terms of aiming for standards, as part of an ‘ambitious’ national cyber-security agenda (p5 Justice and security)

This means a first few steps towards PDM will be taken, and that the ethics of Internet of Things and the role of regulation in acquiring and using sensor data in the public space are on the radar of this government both in maintaining safeguards and enabling new socio-economic value. That is a welcome development.

That socio-economic value however only becomes reality if citizens and companies are able to use the opportunities that open data and digital infrastructure provide. The government agreement promises money in this regard to enable a conducive investment climate as well as a European digital market (p4, p35 Economy). It also allocates funding to increase digital literacy (p11, Education), including for cyber-security awareness (p5 Justice and security), and to stimulate more investigative journalism (p22, Media). The agreement also proposes a new task for the Competition Authority in digital markets, to prevent dominant internet companies blocking new entrants.

Interestingly the agreement makes several references to competition law, or more precisely to strengthening the regulation against government activities competing with private enterprise in areas that are not deemed ‘public interest’. (p9. Public Governance and p36, Economy). This may have consequences for data holding agencies like the Cadastral Office (real estate ownership and transaction data) and Chamber of Commerce (companies register, beneficial ownership data) that currently provide paid for services on top of data they have free access to themselves but charge others for. For a long time already there’s been debate on opening that data up, but maintaining revenue streams for these public bodies has proven more important until now. Should competition law change, that may indeed tip the balance. Until now political will was lacking here.

In summary it looks like this government agreement will result in more open data, and more pressure on local and regional government entities to play their part. It also seems that openness, privacy and security are more seen as one issue of data governance, not as separate or mutually exclusive issues. Thirdly the agreement shows will to also help create the conditions in which that can result in societal value.

Binnenhof
The prime minister’s office, called ‘the little tower’, by Inyucho

Edgeryders OpenVillage: Infrastructure for Autonomy

This week the Edgeryders OpenVillage Festival took place in Brussels, and I attended the first day. An inspiring day submerged in a diverse group of smart people, happy to engage in conversation. Some notes from a panel on infrastructures for autonomy and dynamic equilibrium of community.

The program described it as “Collaboration is more needed than ever to solve complex problems in care. Yet it can be expensive in time and energy when working outside formal grids, or on a voluntary basis, or in emotionally demanding environments. This kind of work calls for new governance structures and ways of making decisions together based on values that sometimes seem at odds – like self-management and autonomy. This session brings together people who have experience of wrestling with these issues to find an equilibrium which makes it possible for us to work together well.”

Panel members included Cindy Regalado (extreme citizen science at UCL), John Coate (of The Well fame) and Gehan Macleod (GalGael Trust, Glasgow).

Cindy Regalado talked about infrastructure maintenance for communities, and spotting when certain ingrained behaviors become a hindrance (as part of nurturing a community to autonomy). She also called attention on how different roles in a community can have different speeds (roles that are about trust building versus roles about creating tools for instance), which need to be balanced and mutually acknowledged. A specific example she mentioned were fisher villages suffering from the Mexican Gulf oil spill, and how they built their own tools to document and track the damage to their environment, e.g. with DIY aerial photography. This has turned into a larger stack of open source tools for citizen science at PublicLab.

John Coate described his early experiences in building group cohesion, and later as part of The Well. He said to put values first (also because in his first group living in a bus, ‘we didn’t have many skills’ so ‘all we could do was sit down and talk’). From a group’s values you can then engage, being clear on those values, without preaching them. When starting to work with people don’t set too many preconditions, other than what are real deal breakers for you, such as resorting to violence.

Gehan Macleod added a notion, that stuck with me, that in networks/group having a power literacy is more important than leadership. The term literacy is a ‘hook’ for me, as it is also how e.g. Howard Rheingold talks about online interaction, and how I adapted that to how I think about Making as well, and agency in general. Literacy is a sum of a skill and a community, where the skill itself is not of much use on its own. Reading/writing is somewhat useful on if you’re the only one with that skill, but comes into its own when a community has those skills. For me agency is also located not just in the individual but in the set of relationships of an individual and the groups an individual is part of. Gehan Macleod with her remark put thinking about power in that same context, and thus adds it to the list of things I can think of in terms of how to encourage agency.

Unexpected consequences of good intentions: the great tit edition

One of the things we inherited from the previous owners when we moved into our new home this year was an ‘insect hotel‘ in the garden, mounted on the wall of the shed. The idea is it provides a safe haven for useful insects. I’ve seen bees using it early this year. Our insect hotel is a small thing with a number of bamboo stems lodged into it. In the past months, I frequently found several of those bamboo stems on the ground beneath it, but didn’t know why. Was it wind? Were larger insects pushing the stems out?
Today I finally spotted the reason from my home office window. A great tit pulls out the bamboo stems and sitting on the roof edge of the shed probes the other end of it for resident insects to snack on. Once done, it drops the bamboo stem, for me to find later and wonder how it got there. It’s not an insect hotel, it’s a buffet!

Solving the “You’re not the Olympics” conundrum

Every now and then Elmine and I organize (un)conferences for our birthday party, in our home. We did one in 2008, 2010 and 2014 (with a BBQ party of similar effort in 2012). Each one brings 40-50 participants together, and double that for the BBQ the day after. (The whole thing started as a biannual BBQ in 2004, and we added the conference part to make it easier for friends and peers from abroad and clients to join).

We love the events, and we love the way it brings many from our international network together in an atmosphere that creates lasting connections between participants, as well as the inspiration and energy it gives us. (I think of it as invoking the ghost of Reboot)

But as you see several years can pass between two editions.
They involve a lot of work and energy, cost a considerable amount of money. After each one it takes a while before the itch to do it again plays up, and sometimes major life events get in the way.

After the last one in 2014, Paolo suggested doing these events on a yearly, or at least more frequent basis. I replied in similar lines as above. To which Paolo replied “What do you think you are? The Olympics?” As he’s putting on a yearly conference in Italy himself, simply ignoring his remark does not play. He knows the reality of putting on a proper event every year, let alone our smaller scale lower-key ones. Paolo’s question stuck with me, and has been deserving of a proper answer for the past three years.

I know I’m not the Olympics. I also know the ‘lot of work, and oh the costs!’ line of reasoning isn’t fully true. We started doing the events in our home as a way to cut costs after all (the first edition was in the local university’s conference center). And I organized similarly international meet-ups in my spare time every 2 to 3 months with 20-30 participants, which each event taking place in a different European city, all with zero budget, years earlier.

To me the important aspects that create the type of flow, quality of conversations and energy that make the events such fun are:

  • Picking a topic that fits all backgrounds, so it doesn’t put people off and can attract friends, peers, clients and family alike, of all ages
  • Picking a topic that is challenging as well, as that creates the energy
  • Having participants of diverse backgrounds and nationalities, with most (but never all) having a direct connection to either me or Elmine, but less connections to the other participants
  • Doing it in our home, as it creates an informal atmosphere for serious exchanges, and I think the distinctive flavour of it all
  • Providing excellent food and drinks, for all diets, and plenty of it

The reason it takes so much time to organize is mainly that I try to do it all myself. I’m not very skilled at delegating or asking for help (as anyone who’s ever tried to help me out in the kitchen can attest). Finding a topic on a yearly basis that is at the same time broad enough to potentially include anyone and provoking enough for people to start imagining contributing to it, can be challenging
There is also the suspicion that if we’d do it say yearly, it would attract fewer friends from our international peer network (there’s always next year after all), and overall less sense of uniqueness of opportunity or urgency to attend for anyone. Whereas it’s the mix of people that is a key ingredient.

The time since the last edition 2014, really was a matter of life events getting in the way (2015 a year of multiple losses, 2016 of welcoming a new life, this year of moving to a new city). Now the dust has started to settle, and in the coming month we can look forward to spending a few weeks camping and being away from it all. I am also trying to grow roots in our new city and having conversations with people to better understand the events, spaces and things the city has to offer. Maybe the time has come to use this as an opportunity to solve the “You’re not the Olympics” conundrum.

Asking for help, the location, the scale of it, maybe a bit of funding, setting topics, are all dimensions to play with and to reflect on.

I’d like to do a new event in 2018, I’ve already been imagining it in our new home since we started unpacking boxes (or rather from the moment we were viewing the house already). What will it take to have the one after that not in 2022 but in 2019? Especially if you’ve attended in 2008, 2010 or 2014, what would entice you to join the event in 2018 as well as 2019, what would make you come back?

Delivering the Open Data Readiness Assessment to Malaysia

Last year November and in the months afterwards, me and my team did an Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA) for the Malaysian Government. It’s the third such national ODRA I’ve done for the World Bank. This week I returned to Malaysia together with my colleague Carolina Vaira to officially deliver our report to the general affairs Minister responsible for the administration modernisation planning unit (MAMPU). MAMPU is the lead agency for open data efforts in Malaysia.

The report is the culmination of a lot of work, amongst others interviewing some 45 government agencies and a few dozen non-government entities (we spoke to almost 200 people in total in a 2 week interviewing frenzy), in which we provide an overview of the current situation in Malaysia, and how conducive it is for more open data efforts. At the same time the delivery of the report is not an end-point but in itself a starting point and source of energy to decide on the next steps. An ODRA is not meant as a scorecard, but is a diagnostic tool, and its most important part isn’t the assessment itself (although it is very useful to get a good insight into the role of data inside government and in society), but the resulting list of recommendations and suggested actions.

18622422_10154638415937957_2512170809972614048_n 18740365_10154638415877957_2811355309819750974_n
The printed report, and its presentation to the general affairs Minister

In that sense a critical phase now starts: working with MAMPU to select from our recommendations the steps that are opportune to do now, and finding the right willing data holding government agencies and external stakeholders to involve. That I think is also the key message of the report: most essential building blocks for open data are in place, and Malaysia is very well positioned to derive societal value from open data, but it needs more effort in weaving the relationships between government and non-government entities to ensure those building blocks are cemented together and form a whole that can indeed deliver that value.

The formal delivery of the report to the Minister took place at the University of Malaysia, as part of Malaysia Open Data Day 2017, after which I presented some of the key findings and my colleague presented some good practice examples to illustrate some of the actions we suggested.

18740389_10154638416092957_8029049596554873709_n IMG_0665
Data Terbuka (open data) banner, and Carolina and I on stage during Q&A

The Malaysia ODRA report is online from the World Bank website, as is a press release, and video of the entire event. My slides are embedded below.

Jom Kongsi Data! Let’s share data!