A week in Kyrgyzstan on Open Data

I spent a bit more than a week in Kyrgyzstan, at the invitation of the Kyrgyz prime minister and on behalf of the World Bank, to start an open data readiness assessment and present and facilitate at the Kyrgyz Open Data Days.
Kyrgyzstan is a lower middle income country, with a parliamentary democracy. The people I met are frank, straightforward, and action oriented. Anything longer than 6 months seems to be perceived as long term. This meant that with the right introduction it was possible to arrange meetings with high level officials at short notice. Like arranging a meeting with a deputy minister during lunch for later that afternoon. I did not get to see anything really from the city or the country, except from what I could see from the car that brought me from one office building to another, and from hotel to conference center.

In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Press coverage of Prime Minister opening the Kyrgyzstan Open Data Days, and my name tag in cyrillic

Towards the end of my stay the Open Data Days took place, for which many other open data people from Moldova, Georgia, Russia, USA, UK, Germany and France came on behalf of the World Bank. It was good fun to meet them, and together we pulled off a good program to kick start open data (also see World Economic Forum blog) in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz government adopted an e-governance strategy only last week, and open data is part of that new strategy. Our visit was therefore very timely. The first morning was spent explaining open data and sharing experiences with the Kyrgyz prime minister and full cabinet attending, followed by good discussions in the afternoon when we zoomed in on a slightly more practical level. There was quite a bit of press interest, and I had the opportunity to get misquoted in the Kyrgyz press. The second day we did workshops with civil society organizations, and the business community, followed by a developer meet-up in the evening. Two more meetings on the last day completed my program, before the 10 hour flight back home.

In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Mountainview on a clear morning from my hotel room, and a group photo at the end of the Open Data Days

Bishkek is only a short distance from the mountains (the country’s highest peak is over 7000m), and on clear mornings form a great backdrop for the city. It was a snowy day when I left, so no views of the mountains as the plane took off. Instead I made triple selfies with Victoria from Moldova, and Vitaly from St. Petersburg in departures, as we were on the same flight back. Odd, spending a week 6000km away from home, and more or less no idea where you’ve been. I may return however in January and late spring, both for completing the assessment as well as providing ealry implementation support.

Edible Growth

3D Printed Food II: Edible Growth

While at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven I came across ‘Edible Growth‘: 3d printed edible pastries.

The interesting part it is that spores of mushrooms and seeds of small plants are printed within a little ‘basket’ of pastry, on the basis of your design. The spores and seeds sprout and grow over a period of five days, and then your little starter is finished. If you let it grow longer it will get richer in taste (more mature mushroom, bigger green plants), allowing for your personal preference. The pastry serves as food source and packaging for the seeds and spores.
What you end up with is an edible item that comes without waste products (no packaging, no left-over material etc.)

The project was conceived by Chloe Rutzerveld. She did it as her graduation project for a bachelor in industrial design at TUe, and in cooperation with TNO, a Dutch research firm. In the past she has worked on other food related projects. Reducing agricultural foodprint, waste streams, and food miles are part of the values she incorporates in her designs.

Edible Growth
Three stages of growth after printing.

Falscher Hase

3D Printed Food I: Bugs Bunny

During the Dutch Design Week I came across Carolin Schulze’s “Bugs Bunny” (Falscher Hase in German), a project 3D printing foodstuffs using mealworms as material. She sought to work on both the general western aversion against eating insects, and the reduction of resource use to provide proteins. With a home built 3D printer she printed bunny (and grashopper) shaped snacks made of mealworms.

On 14 October she both won the public design award and the design award for most interesting experiment of the Burg Giebichenstein art academy in Halle, Germany where she is in her 2nd semester of an MA in industrial design.

Starting from ‘raising’ your own crop of mealworms, which you then shred into a past for your 3D printer, you can create various shapes that no longer generate the aversive reactions insect shapes normally create in western Europe.

Bugs Bunny / Falscher Hase Bugs Bunny / Falscher Hase
Start with mealworm raising, end up with bunny shaped 3d printed snack

Bugs Bunny / Falscher Hase
The 3d printer (working on compressed air) and some printed mealworm based edible objects

A short video showing various steps in the project was posted by Carolin Schulze

Falscher Hase / Bugs´Bunny von Carolin Schulze from Carolin Schulze on Vimeo.

Schermafbeelding 2014-10-25 om 12.56.07

40 Kids on Minecraft for 3D Printing

Today 40 kids are gathering in the coworking place Zpot in Utrecht, to build in Minecraft and then print their creations with 3D printers.

The event is organized by my colleague Frank (also initiator of the coworking space itself). He and his son Floris participated in our Make Stuff That Matters unconference & bbq where Peter and Oliver Rukavina demo’d how to 3D print from Minecraft. Floris used it right then to print a castle he built. Earlier Frank already had hosted a Minecraft party for kids in the neighbourhood. His son’s continued enthusiasm for printcrafting, in combination with the earlier event has turned into “Meet2Minecraft” today.

Minecraft / Printcraft Minecraft / Printcraft
Minecraft lan party!

Seven 3D printers (including our own trusty Ultimaker Classic, and 6 Felix printers) are lined up to print the creations of 40 children today. Pizza, soda, Minecraft and 3D printers == Perfect Saturday!

Minecraft / Printcraft Minecraft / Printcraft
Prepping 7 3D-printers for printing Minecraft designs


Minecraft / Printcraft Minecraft / Printcraft
More printcrafting kids

[update]
Comparing some of the printed results

Minecraft 3D Printing Minecraft 3D Printing

See more pictures

Audit Authorities and Open Data

Last Friday I participated in a study day of the Dutch and Belgian audit authorities (the Algemene Rekenkamer and the Rekenhof). Topic of discussion was how open data can play a role in audit work.

Noël van Herreweghe, the open data program manager of the Flemish government, first sketched the situation of open data in Flanders. Afterwards I talked about the current status of open data in the Netherlands, and the lessons learned about doing open data well from the past years. (see my slides embedded below)

A few elements that I think are relevant in the context of the work of audit authorities are:

  • current open data is mostly about what government knows, not about what government does. The latter is what matters to auditors however. More transactional data is needed, maybe from the back-end of e-government services.
  • open data can be a pre-hypothesis tool, showing patterns that generate questions or give direction to/ help focus audits on areas where it matters most.
  • open data can be used to assess impact of policies, also/specifically/even when the data is not directly describing a certain policy area, but serves as a proxy from further down the chain of causality.

  • And then there is the many-eyes aspect of open data of course: if there is a ‘scandal’ hiding in the data, it may be found more easily through increased eyeballs (although there might be more false positives/noise as well).

    We split up in groups and rotated through three short workshops exploring these notions. One session where specific audit questions were connected (or attempted) to open data sources which could contain pointers, and stakeholders involved. One session showing how free open source online tools can help clean up and explore data and show first patterns. One session with a quick routine to brainstorm indicators that can be proxies for a certain question. In this case we looked at proxy indicators for the quality of school buildings. The Dutch court of audit is currently doing a pilot involving the collection of opinions as well as pictures as part of an audit, concerning the quality of school buildings.

    Open Data Roundtable in Kazachstan

    After arriving in Kazachstan at 4AM, and a bit of rest, my first item on the schedule was key-noting at a roundtable of CIO and CTO level representatives of about a dozen CIS countries. The session was hosted at NITEC in the House of Ministries. The aim was to convey how open government data can be of value, and to provide a few starting points that the participants see possibilities to act on.

    Dashboard
    Dashboard of e-government metrics, in the hall of the House of Ministries

    My World Bank colleagues Oleg Petrov and Mikhail Bunchuk presented the World Bank work, and the ways and instruments with which it can support open data efforts of the nations present.

    Tair Sabyrgaliyev and Cornelia Amihalachioae presented the open data program of Kazachstan and the impressive e-government and open data work of Moldova (which I had opportunity to work on and experience first hand in 2012).

    My own contribution was basically a compressed Open Data course, addressing the what, why and how. My slides are embedded below in both English and Russian. (During the session I used Russian slides.)

    Also Cornelia Amihalachioae’s slides are shown below, that are well worth a read.

    At the Global e-Gov Forum with the World Bank, in Kazachstan

    These past days I was in Astana, Kazachstan. Next to enjoying the tremendous hospitality of the Kazachs, and being impressed with their sense of pride and urge to succeed, I spent my time sharing my open government data experiences of the past 6 years.

    The World Bank asked me to keynote at a roundtable with CIO and CTO level officials of a dozen or so CIS countries, at the Kazakh national information technology unit (NITEC) in the House of Ministries (a gigantic building).

    The Kazakh holodeck
    At the CIO/CTO of CIS countries roundtable in what seemed the Star Trek Enterprise command deck

    In the two days after that, at the invitation of the Kazakh government and the ICT Development Fund, I contributed to the Global e-Gov Forum 2014. It is the third event of its kind, the first two having taken place in Korea (the next ones will be in Kazachstan and Singapore). At the conference I contributed to two workshops, one for UNDESA, presenting how our current project with the Province of North Holland on open data is a catalyst voor civic engagement and (e-)participation. The key message being that publishing data is an intervention in your policy area, that not just addresses the information assymetry between me and my government, but als provides me with a tool to act differently on my own behalf. Both these elements are ultimately impacting government policy goals which is a basis for a governments intrinsic motivation to do open data well. Transparency builds trust and putting data on the table enables frank conversations that would otherwise not be possible. The other was basically the same message, this time in a panel discussion that also contained the CIO of the Dutch Ministry for Interior Affairs, the department in charge of e-government and open government. That made for a nice combination with both overlap and contrasts, juxtaposing national policy with the perspective from individual civil servants trying to do things in practice.

    Me speaking
    Discussing the operational aspects and impact of using open data for civic engagement

    I also chaired the final panel discussion on open government and open data, which contributions from the UN, the French and Kazakh national open data units (ETALAB & NITEC), and a research firm. With a thousand people from almost 80 countries this was a great event to exchange experiences, and I heard a range of great stories from Uruguay to Kenya, from Barbados to Bangladesh, from Estonia to Vietnam.

    In panel on civic engagement the UNDESA workshop
    In panel discussion, and the UNDESA workshop room

    Being a VIP guest of the Kazakh government took a bit of getting used to, as I am usually one to arrange my own things. Having a personal assistant plus a dedicated driver with a very luxurious car at my disposal for three days full time does however have its advantages. As does being whisked through airport and border security in under 5 minutes both ways. It meant being able to fully focus on delivering value to the various sessions and audiences, and engage in meaningful conversations, without having to worry about any of the logistics.

    At the conf, my asst Ilyas on left Expert on open data
    Registration desk, and my front row seat

    No Place to Hide and Our Apathy

    A number of weeks ago I read Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide in which he describes his and Edward Snowden’s personal experiences around, as well as the scope and depth of government surveillance disclosed by, the major NSA leak that has been rightly on our front pages for a full year now. What struck me after reading it is the curious gap between the personal impact and sense of enormousness of it all that Greenwald describes, and the blandness with which a lot of the factual material struck me personally. Somehow the emotional response to ‘they see everything’ is missing when you have no real clue as to who ‘they’ are, or what ‘everything’ really means, until e.g. your partner gets stopped at an airport because of it. Which in turn means that it will not trigger a lot of action for lack of short enough feedback loops. Yet, the precise point of leaking actual material and not just describing what is going on, is to trigger such a response.

    Witchhunt Snowden
    Witch hunt Snowden, part of a ‘walk‘ in Berlin I came across last May

    The shocking bits of the NSA story to me are 1) the generic nature of capturing any and all data, 2) that it is mostly about economic advantage and only notionally about national security, 3) the callousness with which the overall internet infrastructure is purposefully weakened for all to gain what can only be a temporary information advantage, 4) the systemic lack of oversight in an opaque-by-design legal framework and a complicit tech-industry. They are shocking however on non-emotional abstract levels.

    I can emphatize with the growing sense of excitement, anger and dismay that Snowden and Greenwald describe, but the factual material does not have that same emotional impact on me when it is presented to me, not having made that journey. Mostly because the really important part is of a statistical nature: the NSA is tapping into everything all the time, but that is hard to grasp or translate to my personally felt context. Whereas the singular stories on the NSA’s capabilities that do trigger emotions if I project them on my own situation, are predominantly about situations where someone is specifically targeted, which I’d say is the regular description of espionage and not the thing to be concerned about.

    I had the same with several Wikileaks stories, and reading accounts from those that were part of it: if you’re in it, discovering it, building the narrative, it is emotionally way more important and exciting than when you only see the finished result, regardless of the injustice exposed. My wife gets bored easily with my university fraternity stories for much the same reason (as they can’t really be boring, can they?). It is also why the German Chancellor is livid about her own phone being tapped, but not about 85 million German citizens being tapped: the small and personal trumps the enormous but general.

    This is not to say I haven’t responded in practice: I have changed my on-line toolset and processes, and stopped using various US based data services such as Dropbox and Amazon’s Elastic Cloud where I was a paying customer, in favor of using European based and owned, alternatives. Those are all rational responses though, and are actually saving me money as well as making me generally safer online even disregarding the surveillance question. While the NSA leaks fed my existing unarticulated uneasiness concerning online security, it was spotting specific steps within my own sphere of influence that led me to act this spring, unrelated to the NSA leaks.

    How do you make the abstract a personal emotion that triggers responses? Because responses to the NSA-leaks are certainly needed. How do you make systemic absurdity emotionally tangible? Vonnegut, Kafka, and Orwell come to mind but that type of literary processing is far removed from acting or working change in the here and now. Art can be a powerful way to tap into emotional responses though, and there are likely other ways. More on that in a next posting.

    indie conf handbook

    The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook

    Peter Bihr and Max Krüger have written a 43 page handbook on how to organize your own independent conference: The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook.

    You can download it for free as PDF, or an e-reader friendly version for a small fee.

    It’s great Peter and Max wrote down their experiences. This May when I visited their ThingsCon conference, and later that week Re:Publica, both in Berlin, I realised how long it had been that I went to a conference where I was a mere participant (which I was at these 2 events), and not somehow involved in organizing it or speaking at it. I also realized how long it has been since I visited a ‘proper’ conference.

    Independent events have been the mainstay of my curriculum of professional learning. Visiting Reboot conferences in Copenhagen, SHiFT in Lisbon, the BlogTalk conferences in Vienna, a range of community initiated open data conferences across Europe (over 50 in 2011 and 2012 alone), more BarCamps than I can list, Cognitive Cities and ThingsCon by a.o. the aforementioned Peter Bihr, State of the Net in Trieste, all had one thing in common: there was no real difference between my speaking and my participating and there was no difference between the organizers and the community present.

    Usually this happens,in Peter’s words, “for a simple reason: each time we were looking for an event — a focal point where we could meet like-minded people or those with shared interests — we could not find one“. Because quite often the right setting simply isn’t there, or the organizers actually don’t have your learning or interaction as a goal. Because you’re interested in emergent themes around which there isn’t enough going on yet for established conference organizers to see an opportunity. The last ‘proper’ conferences I went to on my own accord were in 2004 and 2005, when I and others proferred it is “cheaper to host your own event than visit one“. Conference and event organizing turned into just one of those things you do in your community, and for me now really requires of the organizers to have a role and be part of that community. I haven’t looked back, and all the events I visit voluntarily are indie events.


    During my opening remarks at Make Stuff That Matters, birthday unconference 2014 in our home, by Paolo Valdemarin

    Over the years, with others I have organized a lot of indie events as well. Examples are many workshops, the first open data barcamps in the Netherlands (which over time became the Open State Foundation), Data Drinks (now bringing together some 250 people in Copenhagen), international conferences for some 350 people in Rotterdam and Warsaw (because doing it in a city or country where you don’t reside and have no contacts gives it that little extra edge ;) ), the global FabLab Conference in 2009 (where as additional obstacle course we opted to spread the event over 4 Dutch cities with buses transporting participants and on-board workshops), the BlogWalk series of 2004-2008 in 11 cities on 3 continents, and of course the three Birthday Unconferences Elmine and I organized right in our own home (2008, 2010, 2014).

    Elmine and I were so energized from doing those birthday unconferences we created an e-book (download PDF) on how to do it. Mostly to find an outlet for that energy we felt, and as a gift to all who had been there. Even then we saw it was a welcome document although focussing on a very specific type of indie event.


    How to Unconference Your Birthday e-book, properly printed and bound

    And now Peter and Max have written down their experiences in the Indie Conference Organizer Handbook. This is a great gift to all of us out there visiting, participating and trying our hand at our own events. Let’s make good use of it!

    Making Makers, Danish Edition

    Our friends Henriette and Thomas who live in Denmark, could not make it to MSTM14. So when we decided to head up to Copenhagen for a few days, we resolved to bring Make Stuff That Matters to their home. We added our 3D-printer to our luggage and set out to Denmark.

    Last Friday we spent the afternoon and evening with Henriette, Thomas and their 10yr old daughter Penny. Coffee and home made (by Penny) chocolate cupcakes on their sunny deck, hanging out in the harbour / beach of Elsinore, and eating pizza and calamares was mixed with some fun 3D-printing.

    We started with the Doodle3D.com add-on to the printer, as it is a fast way to quickly get a feeling for what you can do. Doodle3d.com provides a drawing tool in your browser, and hitting the print button makes it send your drawing to the 3d-printer directly. That way doodles, and word-art are immediately turned into tangible objects. A name tag for the door to your room for instance:

    Having demonstrated the basics, it was time to print some more. Penny already had an orange Ultimaker-robot, from when Henriette us and Siert (Ultimaker’s founder) met-up at SHiFT Relays in Dusseldorf last fall. Her favourite color is blue, and we brought some, so logically a blue robot needed to be printed. And then later a red one. Hitting the select and print button on the printer was a bit scary at first, but every new printed plastic layer was greeted with a widening smile and fascination.

    We showed some pictures from the event, and talked about Peter and Oliver Rukavina’s work in using Printcraft to 3d-print designs that were built in Minecraft. Showing Peter’s blog post with the Minecraft screenshot and the resulting 3d printed castle (that my colleague Frank’s son made after being shown Printcraft by Oliver and Peter) drew a direct response from Penny “Wow!”. Immediately the laptop and a mouse were brought out, and Thomas pointed her machine to the Minecraft server run by Printcraft. Penny constructed a pyramid that we then downloaded to our printer. Layer by layer her creation materialized in front of us.

    The design was shared by Penny at the Printcraft site immediately.
    As Peter said when we posted some pics to Facebook from Henriette’s living room it is beautiful to see the knowledge and inspiration spread. From Oliver, to our living room, to Frank’s son Floris, to Elmine and me, to a Danish living room, to Penny, and being turned into a pyramid.