Author Archives: Ton Zijlstra

Moved Blog Engine, Please Change RSS Feed Address!

After 10 years of using Movable Type as my blogging engine, it suddenly died on me this week. So with the help of Elmine, I’ve changed over to WordPress for my blogging. Something that was already on my mind for some time. The MT back-end dying on me, right when I had something to blog, was the trigger.

My blog’s address has NOT changed:

My RSS feed address HAS CHANGED:

So please change your subscriptions to my RSS to keep on reading!

(oh, and there is a great invitation waiting for you on the new blog, so head on over!)

Open Data Challenges

I have been visiting the World Bank the past days to discuss various open data projects, e.g. in Kenya, Moldova and Tunisia.
During one of the meetings, an informal one during lunch, we discussed the challenges we see for open data in the coming time.
These are the challenges I mentioned as seeing become (more) relevant at the moment, looking forward.

  1. Turning open data into a policy instrument for government bodies, so that government needs open data for their own policy efforts. This is putting open data forward to:
    • cut budgets
    • measure impact
    • stimulate participaton
    • have others through app building contribute to policy aims
    • re-use data of other PSB’s
  2. Increasing the skills and ‘literacy’ of citizens and re-users around open data. The original open data activists have the data they wanted, so we need to grow the group of people who wants data. That means also increasing the number of people who can (or see how they can) work with data.
  3. Getting government bodies to work together across borders the way citizens already do. Coders are networked across the EU, and work together. Public sector bodies are bound to jurisdictions, and connections are routed through higher hierarchical levels, not at operational level, where practical matters are at hand, and where open data could be brought forward.
  4. Stimulating corporations to open data, in contrast or complementary to published government data. Stimulating citizen generated or citizen shared data.
  5. Measuring policy impact in two ways: by making impact visible in connected data sets, that exist before, during and after policy implementation for non-open data policies, and by collecting stories plus their metadata around open data related policies to measure the non-economical impact of open data.
  6. Making sure that the notion of what ‘real’ open data is remains intact when the technology becomes less visible as it disappears under the hood of the applications that use open data and where users of those applications may not realize it is based on open government data. (much in the same way it is necessary to keep the importance of an open and free, dumb at the core, smart at the edges, internet in the awareness of people, because that is what drives the affordances we value in much of the things we do over the internet)

Looking Back On 2011: Quite A Ride (again…)!

Last year following my client-turned-friend Ernst Phaff’s lead, I posted a list of things that in 2010 gave me a sense of accomplishment, the Tadaa!-list. As I wrote then “As a ‘knowledge worker’ the boundaries of work have become all but invisible, and over the course of a year I work on so many different things that it is easy to forget I what I actually did. The “TaDaa!”-list is a way of resurfacing the things that happened [..]” and listing for myself what was accomplished, what I enjoyed doing.
Doing this, going through my calendar looking at what happened in the past year, already last year struck me as very useful: you simply forget so much along the way, as you respond to new things, and get inundated with new stuff. In 2011 I worked 2372 hours, way too much to my liking, a number that guarantees I loose track of the details of the things I did, obscuring the accomplishments behind a list of still-to-do’s and things to improve.
I decided then to do this again for 2011 and put it on my ‘yearly review’ task list. So, in no particular order, and sticking to professional things mostly……. Here’s my Tadaa!-list for 2011.

  • The Dutch national government data portal I wrote the plans for in 2010 got formally launched in September 2011, after being in beta since January 2011.
  • I helped write an Open Data Motion for my home town, and saw it adopted by the City Council nearly unanimously.
  • I helped bring a FabLab to my home town, and had the honour to speak on behalf of the Dutch FabLab Foundation at its official opening. (I must admit to not having used their facilities yet to make something myself, but Elmine sure has)
  • Spent a week working from and sightseeing in Berlin with Elmine, where I also gave a well received talk at the Cognitive Cities Conference, on Spicing Up Your City With Open Government.. It was an inspiring event bringing many new sparks.

    Ton Zijlstra at Cognitive Cities Conference from Cognitive Cities on Vimeo.

  • Edited and published the second edition of the FabYearBook.
  • Made a living for the fourth year being self-employed, while working in what is basically a new market (open data consultancy). Studiously ignored the sensationalist headlines of impending global economic doom, spending energy instead on helping build the structures, scaffolding and systems creating new and alternative ways forward. Sphere of influence and all that Jazz….
    Flow is to be found in your sphere of influence

  • Started working as Community Steward of the ePSIplatform, creating awareness for open government data around Europe
  • Gave presentations in Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, and of course in the Netherlands, on open data mostly
  • Worked a week out of Helsingør and Copenhagen with Elmine, visiting our rockstar-consultant friend Henriette and Thomas, having meetings with various organisations and inspiring people on open data, social media, complexity management, and FabLab
  • Presented at a great Spanish conference on digital citizenship in beautiful Donostia (San Sebastian), where I further explored a train of thought I started at Reboot in 2008 on attitudes and skills in dealing with digital disruption, this time in order for our public institutions to survive, as survive they must albeit changed.
  • Created the OurServices website, showcasing examples of collaborative e-government services, from around Europe
  • Visited our friends Paolo (who turned 40) and Monica in Italy with Elmine, this time without just using their office to write a project proposal like the time before, but simply enjoying hanging out with great people and enjoying the countryside
  • Gave input to a Dutch guide on how to ‘do’ open government data for local governments
  • Did a project together with Elmine for the European Commission, running a video competition for the Digital Agenda Assembly.
  • Enjoyed working for a client in my home town, in the midst of all the travel around Europe. A rare but pleasant treat to be able to cycle to a workshop session, and not taking a plane or train.
  • Did most of the work in putting together the new ePSIplatform portal
  • Took the time to attend Brigitte’s opening of her new osteopathy practice in Switzerland
  • Got to be there for friends in times of need. Thankful they let me be there for them.
  • Sat on the jury of the, that saw 430 entries.
  • Mused about speeding up my actions, extending my range, while taking it very slow for three weeks in the French Alps.
  • Enjoyed the heck out of the e-reader Elmine gave me for my birthday. I lost the life long habit of avid reading for a while in 2010, this got me back into it. Thanks dear.
  • Started to work with Paul, Marc, Frank as a network to land Open Data projects together, and immediately saw it result in collaborating on project proposals
  • Spoke at the EU Ministerial Conference on e-Government in Poznan Poland, on ‘making open data work‘ for government itself.
  • Started working in earnest with Harold, Niels, Erwin, Tony and others, on projects around making sense of complexity.
  • Brought together a dozen Dutch city governments to exchange their experiences on opening up government data, and experimenting together in bringing it forward.
  • Did three sessions at the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw, one on how open data is an opportunity for local government to reinvent itself, save money and crack complex issues.
  • Got to work with long-time fellow Reboot-friend and co-shareholder of the Coworking Boat PAN, Peter Rukavina on a project for a client. It’s great to work with people like that.
  • I lost 15kg, bringing me back to a weight I haven’t had in 20 years
  • Elmine and I published an e-book “How to Unconference Your Birthday” and sent out special cards to all that attended my Birthday Unconference the year before. We asked the cool people at BuroPony in Rotterdam to do the design. Find the download link in the book’s Facebook page.

    Creating the book and having it in our hands, giving it to all the awesome people who were there in 2010, was so much fun and rewarding. An Epic Sh*t Multiplier, as we called it on my birthday then, and in the book now.

That’s the list. I got to work on cool projects, travelled to new places before returning home, and above all got to work with the people I want to work with. More importantly, 2011 was a year that reinforced the notion that it’s your relationships that count, and that the journey is its own goal. Whether it’s grieving together, celebrating together, or even both at the same time, those are the moments I find intense beauty in being with friends. Onwards!

Going Dutch with the Digital Agenda for Europe

The Digital Agenda for Europe is going local across Europe. To translate the high level goals and actions to tangible steps and projects locally, connecting to, interacting with and getting feedback of citizens and stakeholder groups ‘on the ground’ is needed.
Therefore the DAE is also going local in the Netherlands.
With three events and on-line interaction a bridge is being build to groups and sectors: youth, the ICT sector, partners in the information society, and the local public sector.
Youth on the Move
The first event ‘Youth on the Move’ already took place, and centered on what Europe means for young people who are growing up in the digital age.
ICT Delta: research and innovation
ICT Delta, a large scale conference on ICT research and innovation, takes place on November 16th. The Going Local team will be hosting a session titled “The future of ICT research in Europe” to collect suggestions and improvements for the Horizon 2020 programme, the EU funding programme for ICT research. In parallel many other topics will be discussed, ranging from ICT in healthcare, ICT in energy, to ICT for the creative industry and open government data. An excellent place to encounter many different perspectives!
ECP-EPN: information society
The very next day, November 17th, the ECP-EPN yearly conference takes place. ECP-EPN is a ‘platform for the information society’, and the conference has three broad themes, ‘the future’, ‘society’ and ‘application’. Going Local 2011 is one of four side events on the program. The Ministry for Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, together with the European Commission are hosting an interactive session about the Digital Agenda and its connection to the Dutch Digital Agenda, and the Digital Cities Agenda. One year down the road of implementing the DAE, the question is if you have felt positive impact, what can be improved, and how the DAE can contribute to a better social and economic climate in both the Netherlands and the EU. Are we together succeeding in making the DAE practical on a local level?
Add your thoughts! Ask your questions!
You can ask questions or add your suggestions to the November 17th session by sending them in now! Ask your questions about the Digital Agenda for Europe, the Netherlands and your own city. Use this form, and your input will be part of the Going Local event at the ECP-EPN conference.
Add your thoughts and follow the discussion on-line as well, using the #daelocal_nl tag.
(full disclosure: I have been asked to support the on-line visibility of the DAE ‘going local’ by blogging and tweeting about it, and am getting a small payment for it. Doing this fits with my personal activities around open government data, and allows me to try and align the Dutch open government data discussion better with other policy initiatives of the Dutch (local) public sector: making open data relevant to government itself.)

Making Local Open Data Work for Local Government

At the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw on 20 and 21 October I hosted a workshop on ‘making open government data work for local government’.

If open government data is here to stay then only because it has become an instrument to government bodies themselves, and not because government are releasing data only because of compliance with transparency and re-use demands from others (central government or citizens).

This workshop started from the premise that there is opportunity in local governments treating open data as a policy instrument to find new solutions to the issues local communities face, amongst others in coming up with new ways of working in light of budget cuts.

Contributions were made by the local open government data initiatives of the cities of Berlin, Munich (Germany), Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Enschede (Netherlands), Linz and Vienna (Austria), who all shortly presented the current status of their initiatives. It was great to be able to have seven cities take the stage after each other to explain their work in and with local government on open data, and it shows how much things have changed in the past year alone.
Slides of the introductory presentation I gave are available, and are embedded below.

After the introductions, the workshop participants worked in little groups on identifying local issues where open government data could be used towards new approaches by local government and citizens.

This was done in three steps:

  • Identify issues that are currently relevant to your local community.
  • Try to define which datasets might be connected to these issues.
  • Discuss what new steps are possible, using the datasets mentioned.

The collective output of the workshop has been made available as a document I wrote for the (download PDF), and is embedded below.

Making Local Open Data Work

Data Is A Social Object

In the Open Data arena people often ask if ‘the people’ are actually ‘ready’ to deal with the availability of data. Do we have the statistical skills, the coding skills, to make data useful?
In my presentations over the past 8 months I’ve positioned data as an object of sociality: it becomes the trigger for interaction, a trigger for the forming of connections between people. Much like photos are the social object of a site like, and videos are the social object of YouTube, or your daily activities are for Twitter.
The current best example of how data can be a social object is something John Sheridan showed at the Vienna Open Data Conference last June. All legislation information in the UK has been made available as linked open data. This makes it possible to reference specific paragraphs in laws.
In general law is generally regarded as boring and decidedly un-hip, but the availability of all this legal data as linked open data has a surprising effect: people are referencing specific paragraphs in their on-line conversations, for instance on Twitter. This is what you see in the screenshot below, where people link to specific parts of UK legal texts in the course of their conversation. From boring and useless texts (other than to legal minds that is), to the social object around which everyday conversation can revolve.
Data As Social Object
Data is a social object. It is a trigger for citizen participation that way, a new way for people to engage with their community. And, the other way around, participation (e.g. existing participatory processes, existing conversations) is a path to data use. From this basic starting point any newly needed skills will grow.

How To Unconference Your Birthday, The Book

Pedro's Play Session
Last year, when I turned 40, Elmine and I organized an unconference to celebrate (of course we also had a bbq party!), and we invited people from our various circles. The topic was ‘Working on Stuff that Matters‘, ‘WSTM’. Some 40 people participated in the unconference, some 20 workshops were held, and it was an event that is still giving us energy almost 18 months later.

We always wanted to create something tangible as an outcome of the event, to create an ‘Epic Sh*t Multiplier’ as we called it on the day. We created an e-book, explaining ‘how to unconference your birthday’. The text was written during the summer of 2010. A professional designer (BUROPONY in Rotterdam, hire them, they’re great!) created the book itself in May/June this year. In the past days we sent out cards to all participants of the unconference to allow them to download the book. We’ll publish the e-book itself on-line later. Right now it’s a gift for those who attended [UPDATE Pdf available for download]. A small token of our appreciation for the big gift they gave us by attending the unconference, and the energy and inspiration that is still generating for us. Thank you.

Below are some pictures giving you a sneak preview.

During the design process
Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book Sneak Preview of Ton40-WSTM book

First edition
e-Book printing e-Book printing e-Book printing

Sending out cards to participants
E-book shipping

Open Government Data, What Is It Good For?

This video has been created by the Open Knowledge Foundation, based on interviews taped during the Open Government Data Camp in London, November 2010. It has been released for a while already, but I had not mentioned it here.
So here it is, with two contributions from me:

#opendata from Open Knowledge Foundation on Vimeo.

Your Input Needed: Survey on Collaborative e-Government

In the context of the collaborative production in eGovernment study (more information on that a consortium I am part of is carrying out for the European Commission, we have prepared an online survey that is focused on innovators – initiators and evangelists of collaborative online services delivery, people who are improving public services “from the outside”. By collaborative production we mean services that engage citizens/civic associations/businesses in the design, delivery and evaluation of public services, irrespective of the service provider (government, civil society or business).
We are very interested in your views on drivers, barriers and impact of collaborative production, and hope you are willing to take part in our survey.
We would also appreciate if you could spread the information about the survey in your networks.
At I have been collecting examples of collaborative e-government services, and am still adding more. I will also publish there descriptions for each EU Member State concerning these services. You are most welcome to also add your own examples. Please use the form on the website for that.
Below is a map of the over 100 examples of collaborative e-gov services collected so far.

OGD Austria 2011

Last week I visited the Open Government Data Austria 2011 conference in Vienna. It was a great meet-up of the very active and lively Austrian open government data community. I spoke at the conference on the change management aspects and societal impact of open government data, and not about the operational aspects of technology or things like licenses. I gave my presentation in German, but the slides below are in English.
I also did a few interviews with Austrian press, a video of which is embedded below (in German). There has also been an interview in the webmagazine.
Other presentations of the conference can be found on Slideshare.