He was pardoned late last year and after 6 years of being locked up and not having internet access he returns to find the ‘net changed. When he went behind bars, blogging was a phenomenon, now it’s the FB’s of this world that set the tone.
“Writing online hasn’t changed much per se, but reading, and the process to get to be read has”. Hyperlinking to eachother to weave a conversation has been taken over by an algorithm creating your timeline for you. Hyperlinking as social currency has disappeared, and if you’re not shown in the timeline, your writings don’t exist.
He sees a change to the visual too. “The Internet-book has become the internet-tv.” Facebook “is not the future of the web, it’s the future of the tv.” “A great loss in terms of intellectual potential and diversity.”
All has become entertainment “up to the point where Iran doesn’t even feel the need to block some social networking sites anymore.”
Update: I see the French article I link to at the top derives from a Medium longread by Hoder himself. Read it in full “The Web We Have To Save“
This was our first full week in Lucca, where we are staying the month of July, with a week before it, and some days after in Switzerland.
As ever when you arrive in a new city the week started with finding our bearings.
Setting up camp
An early breakfast run on Monday morning to a neighbourhood supermarket for some fruit was the first exploration into this dense maze that is Lucca within the still fully standing city walls. The inner city is mostly a pedestrian / reduced traffic zone (inhabitants have special permits for their cars), and the streets are narrow and still follow the medieval and even Roman patterns. So we walk a lot to explore the city, 7 to 15km per day. The Lucchesi themselves cycle a lot as well, even to get married.
On the narrow streets of Lucca
Cycling in Lucca, for neighbourhood conversations or getting married
The internet connectivity in our apartment was not up to dealing with the bandwith demands of both of us, so Elmine arranged a 20GB data sim on 4G valid for a month, for her mifi, through a special tourist package by Tre Italia. Providing us with another channel at home, and for the road as well. At 40 Euro that is 0,2 cents per MB. It is a one time package to get tourists on to the pay as you go data plan of Tre Italia, so it cannot be extended against the same rate if we run out. If we do, I’ll get a separate one for my mifi as well. Internet is still spotty though, as it seems the mobile network has trouble coping with all the people visiting the inner city, and we see clear peak-hours in which connectivity slumps to an extremely slow crawl (where it can take minutes to load a webpage).
Parking in the inner city
To avoid daily parking fees, and preferring to have the car in a parking garage out of the sun, I searched online for how to best arrange that. It turns out, unlike in Copenhagen, it is possible to buy a prepaid one month subscription to the parking house nearest to us. So we went to the Metro offices, the municipal service in charge of parking, to arrange that. For 50 Euro we now park a full month, much better than the 13 Euro/day normal rate.
While the city is full of pasticceria, restoranti, trattoria and osteria to find food any time of day we also have a fully equipped kitchen, which has us cooking most of the days and meals. With a great little delicatessen next to our front door and a supermarket in walking distance just outside the city walls, we can eat as Italian as we like by ourselves as well.
Panforte, and one of the countless eating places in Lucca
Over the course of this first week we found our favourite coffee places (one, with the better pastries, conveniently located near our front door), sampled some wine bars for an early evening aperitivo (still undecided as to which we prefer), and tasted local specialties such as Buccellato (sweetbread with raisins and aniseed) and Panforte (sweetbread with lots of nuts & fruits).
We are trying to settle in a daily rhythm of getting up on time, doing something outside in the morning, and then sit out the heat of the day in our apartment (with thick insulating walls and airconditioning to back those up), before another round of activity in the (early) evening.
Ciao Giacomo! Going to see Turandot later this month
One of the mornings we went out to Tore del Lago, where the villa stands where Puccini lived. Next to it, at the shores of a lake, Puccini’s operas are performed every summer. We bought tickets to his last opera, Turandot, for the end of July, before visiting his old house, which is a small museum frozen in time from the moment of his death. On other mornings we succeed much less at getting up early, as we apparantly feel the need to sleep a lot. Next to seeing the local sights, like the Duomo, we also found a great modern art museum is hiding within the city walls, the L.U.C.C.A. Lucca Center for Contemporary Art. They currently have a great exhibit of the work of Magnum photographer Elliot Erwitt, as well as interesting works called ‘Life Codes’ by Rudi Pulcinelli. The subtle irony in Erwitt’s photo’s was a lot of fun. Another good find was the Gio Art Gallery, who have a fine collection of Picasso’s, Liechtenstein’s, and Warhol’s on display as well as beautiful sculptures by Gianmaria Potenza. Do we dare ask for their price list?
Lucca’s contemporary art museum, and Gia Art Gallery
During the heat of the day, most of the afternoon, staying inside allows some time to work, read or write. I worked on completing a first full draft of the open data readiness assessment report for Serbia, based on the findings during our week long mission there in June, and started the research for the Open Data Barometer 2015, on both Austria and Switzerland. While not difficult, as I know how to get the information, in this first attempt coming to grips with the precise and sometimes contradictory details of the method was rather time consuming.
The evenings are for strolls around town mostly. The top of the city walls have been turned into a park (in the past they also used it for car racing!). You can walk around the entire inner city that way in under an hour, something many people of all ages do at night. Mosquitos, but more fun to see, many bats hunting them, will accompany you as well. This evening stroll over the walls or through the shopping streets, il passeggiata, seems the favourite pastime of the locals as well, exchanging gossip and news along the way.
Lucca rooftops, and the Duomo
We heard music the first evening, which turned out was a show by John Legend, as part of the 18th Lucca summer-festival that has several other big names on the program. So on our other strolls we’ve been treated to the sounds of Elton John, Billy Idol and others.
At the end of the week, walking to a wine bar on Saturday, we came across a marching group of drummers, which turned out to be part of one of the four balestra teams in the city. These are cross bow shooting groups, performing yearly shooting matches on 12 July, called the Palio di San Paolino. The teams are organized around neighbourhoods (contrade), and as there are three main ones they are called terziere. The fourth team is a sub-neighbourhood of one of the terziere it seemed.
Crossbowmen getting ready to compete
The tradition originally started in the 12th century and adheres to the oldest shooting competition rules in Europe, that were formalized in 1443. The current event orginates from the early 1970’s, but connects to the old tradition. The drumming parties (there were several) added to the general atmosphere, although it must have been confusing for Elton John and his band to hear them marching past where they were performing. Sunday afternoon canons were fired from the city walls and in the evening we followed the groups of drummers to the square in front of the Duomo. We watched the first few rounds of bolts being fired, and then returned home. Later I learned that at this 41st tournament in the new period, for the first time a female participant won over 40 or so others, from the San Paolino terziere (playing in red). The San Salvatore terziere (in green) provided the 3 next runner-ups, in 2nd to 4th place.
That rounded up the first full week in Lucca. On to the next one!
We’ve packed up the household for a month in Lucca, Tuscany this July with a week in Switzerland before it, and a short stay in Switzerland after it.
More relaxation and sabbatical than working in a different environment this time, so in that sense different from previous month long moves to Copenhagen and Cambridge or other extended working stays in Berlin, Helsinki and Switzerland.
A lot has happened, and is happening, to us and our close relatives on both sides of the family, making it a challenging year. So some extended time to be together with the two of us is something I was looking forward to a lot. At the same time I hope to be able to do some reflection, research and writing as well, in the hours where it’s too hot to venture out anyway. Before heading out to explore and enjoy Tuscany more, as I’ve never visited this area.
Half-way stop: Switzerland
The first week we spent halfway to Lucca, in Switzerland. Staying with dear friends in their home on Lake Zug, Elmine took it easy, while I spent most of my time working.
View on Lake Zug, and welcoming bbq
Swiss open data conference
Monday was spent on creating two presentations, one on open data as an instrument for policy implementation, one on the economic and organizational rationale for a national data infrastructure of ‘core registers’ such as the Netherlands and Denmark have, and others are currently exploring. Tuesday afternoon I took a train to the Swiss capital Bern for an early bird and speaker’s dinner with the organizers of the Opendata.CH conference. A lovely dinner at the bank of the river Aare. We were just underneath the Swiss parliament building perched on the edge of the higher lying old inner city, in a bend of the river. People were swimming in the river, letting the stream transport them before walking back upriver to jump in again.
People swimming in the Aare, Opendata.ch banner
The Opendata.ch conference took place for the 4th time this year (I spoke there in 2012 as well), at the University of Bern. Over 200 people ignored the sweltering summer heat and sat in stuffy lecturing halls to discuss opening Swiss government data together. In the morning I gave a keynote where I asked how come we are still meeting like this, to encourage and convince? Why is the visibility of impact so fragmented? After which I proceeded with how starting from a (policy) goal, mobilizing stakeholders with open data leads to more easily visible impact. At the same time also creating intrinsic government motivation to keep publishing open data, as it becomes a valuable policy instrument. It seems the presentation went over well, getting a mention in the press.
The afternoon was given over to workshops. Together with my Swiss colleague André Golliez and with Alessia Neroni (Bern Univ for Applied Sciences) we hosted a workshop on building a national data infrastructure around core registers. I presented the experiences we made in Denmark (research done by colleague Marc) and Netherlands, as well as touching upon France (link to a opinion piece I wrote) and other countries. The Swiss current situation was very well described by Alain Buogo (Deputy director at Swisstopo) and Bertrand Loison (board member of the Swiss statistical office). This was the first such discussion in Switzerland and one I hope to continue.
After the conference I returned to Walchwil by train, joining three board members of the Swiss open data community until Zurich.
Street art and shipping container shops in Hardbrücke
The next day I traveled to Zurich again to talk more with André Golliez, meeting at the Impact Hub, an international oriented co-working space in one of the spans of a railway viaduct, in the hipster dominated Hardbrücke area. We planned some next steps for our collaboration, which likely will see me return late next month for more meetings. Then we moved next door to pub and music podium Bogen F (viaduct span F), for the 60th birthday party of André, as well as the launch of his new open data consultancy. It was a good opportunity to meet some of his family, friends and professional peers. The relaxed bbq, and some wheat beers, made my German slip into a stronger Austrian accent (where I learned it as a kid), to the amusement of the Swiss.
At Kultur Viadukt Bogen F
Open Data Barometer
Friday was spent mostly in conference calls while gazing out over Lake Zug. In the morning working with Aleksandar in Belgrade on the Serbian open data readiness assessment (see recent posting), and in the afternoon taking a deep dive into the methodology behind the W3C Open Data Barometer. The research for the 2015 edition is starting now, and me and my colleague Frank are doing the research for six countries (Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium and Netherlands). In the evening we had a leisurely dinner at the lakeside, in restaurant Engel.
Off to Lucca, but first…
We had originally planned to drive to Lucca on Saturday but traffic and weather predictions suggested to do otherwise. So instead we met up with our dear friends Hans and Mirjam, who moved to Switzerland 18 months ago, for a nice summer bbq. Much better to spend time in conversation than standing in a traffic jam in tropical temperatures. Sunday we then left relatively early at 8:30, cutting through the Gotthard Tunnel with ease and cruising along mostly empty Italian motorways (except for near Milano), to our destination Lucca, arriving early afternoon.
Here in Lucca, originally an Etruscan city, we were met by our kind host Enrico, who guided us to our apartment located right within the old city walls and gave us some useful tips to help us find our way around. In a renovated former nunnery we now enjoy a quiet home looking out over a garden towards the city wall, with the busiest shopping street Via Fillungo (dating from Roman times), with coffee, wine, shoes, and Italian food right in front of our doorstep. A nice basic meal at Gigi, after unpacking, finished up this first week.
The gate on Via Fillungo to the inner courtyard leading to our apartment
Today is midsummer. The heating system came on this morning, and it has been raining since then. Quite a contrast with last year, when over 40 of you came to brighten our home for the Make Stuff That Matters unconference birthday party, and double that for the BBQ the day after it.
#MSTM14 crowd during my opening remarks, by Paolo
To me it is still a great source of energy to think back to the atmosphere and spirit of MSTM14, and the joy of seeing so many of our colleagues, peers, friends, family and clients interact, having travelled from all over the country, from all over Europe, and even from Canada and spanning 6 decades of age differences. As a bit of sunlight on this day that feels like autumn, some impressions from last year.
We had the Frysklab mobile FabLab parked in front of our home for two days, staffed by Jeroen, Aan, Marleen and Jappie of the incredible Frysklab team. Next to their equipment (multiple 3d-printers, a laser cutter, a CNC mill), we had our own 3D printer and four more on loan through the kind collaboration of Ultimaker. This allowed everyone to get their hands on the machines, guided by the Frysklab team and Elmine.
Frysklab, and the line-up in our living room
Klaas ‘borrowing’ our printer 😉 & at work in the Frysklab truck
People started out creating objects with Doodle3d, and then after encountering its limitations, by themselves moved on to more capable but also more complicated software tools. Guiding each other, searching for tips & tricks online, and through trial and error. The 3D-printers kept going for over 2 days, until the last guests left for the airport! Seeing how well everything went, and how our process delivered above our own expectations, made Elmine’s “Maker Moment“. I remember standing in the Frysklab truck towards the end of the first day, with everyone around me excitedly talking, working and making, and I just felt happy seeing the energy all round me. We set out to show ‘making’ as a communal process, and seeing it succeed is joyous.
Peter and Oliver explaining 3d printing from Minecraft, Tjores proudly writing his name in 3D
Amarens printed a 3d-hug, after a scan of herself. A castle made in Minecraft printed by Floris
The second day was all about the bbq, bringing about double the number of people together compared to the unconference day. And people kept on making, neighbourhood kids got busy in the Frysklab truck, and unconference participants showed newcomers how the machines worked. Fine food, fine wines, and many helping hands, such as Ray’s, in the kitchen, kept everyone around for conversations, making and fun.
Ray and Harold making food, Martin and Paolo making music
Now a year later, the energy is still palpable to me. On this rainy day a year later I am grateful for the inspiration and friendship of last year. And although it will be hard to top, I am slowly starting to think about what we could do in 2016 for a new edition.
If you are entertaining the thought of doing something similar yourself, do read the e-book we wrote after a previous edition (download the PDF), where we describe the basic steps of hosting your very own birthday unconference and bbq. If you do and we’re invited, I promise Elmine and I will try our best to make it possible for us to attend.
Today I am in Brussels, as a guest of the Flemish government. For the fourth time the ‘open data day’ is held in Flanders, bringing together public and private sector to explore possibilities for open data. I gave the opening keynote this morning, on building public services with #opendata in collaboration with other stakeholders.
At the request of Noel van Herreweghe, the organizer and Flanders’ open data program manager, I focussed on public service delivery with open data. My main message elements were to start from where you want to see impact, and then mobilize data and people around in such a way that the data change the opportunities stakeholders have to act.
In my examples I showed how it does take a different perspective on public service, with the citizen at the center of the design, not the internal processes. And that with open data you bring many more new stakeholders to the table, which makes collaborative services possible that become better as more people use them. In practice we see that in many cases civil society organizations or businesses create front-ends to what essentially are public services. At the same time, also data collection can be collaborative (such as BANO in France).
To turn government into a platform, a system of connected core reference data sets is a fundamental element. Denmark and the Netherlands have such systems, which are largely open data as well. France and others are discussing this, and Belgium and Flanders have identified some what they call ‘authentic data sources’. This allows others to build on this fundament, creating value that way. The end game for government itself is to be open by default and by design, as well as providing performance data on dashboards generated from live open data streams. This allows the public to simultaneously see, interact with and use the data for service provision and provide feedback.
The week before last I worked on an Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA) for Serbia during a week long mission to Belgrade. It is part of my work for the World Bank and done in close collaboration with the local UNDP team, at the request of the Serbian directorate for e-government (part of the ministry for administration (reform) and local authorities).
Next to me visiting a wide range of agencies with local colleagues Irena and Aleksandar, my colleague Rayna did a roundtable with civil society organisations, and my colleague Laura a roundtable and a number of conversations with the business community. We also had a session with UN representatives, and WB project managers, to mainstream open data in their project portfolio.
Throughout the week we invited everyone we met inside government who seemed to be interested or have energy/enthusiasm for open data for a meeting on the last day of the mission. There we presented our first results, but also made sure that everyone could see who the other change agents across government are, as a first step of building connections between them.
The final day we also had a session with various donor organisations, chaired by the UNDP representative, to explain the potential of open data and present the first ODRA results.
In the coming few weeks the remaining desk research (such as on the legal framework) will be done, and the draft ODRA report and action plan will be prepared. A delivery mission is foreseen for September. In the meantime I will aim to also spend time helping to strengthen local community building around open data.
In Serbia, the dissolution of Yugoslavia and ensuing wars (Bosnia, Croatia), the Milosevic era, international sanctions, and NATO bombardments during the Kosovo conflict (1999), have left deep marks on the structures and functioning of government and other institutions (as elsewhere in the region).
I had always more or less assumed that in the early nineties the former Yugoslavian federal institutions had morphed into what are now the Serbian national institutions. Instead these federal structures largely dissolved, leaving gaps in terms of compentencies and structures, which are not helped by (legacies of) corruption and political cronyism. Serbia is a candidate for EU Membership, meaning a path of slow convergence to EU policies and regulations.
Reboot 7 in 2005 was a turning point for me and many others. How a large part of my professional as well as personal network looks today, that digital disruption now fully underpins most of my work, and that I took the freedom to operate on my own, all have Reboot 7 (and the editions after it) at its core.
10 years ago this week, Elmine and I were at our first Reboot conference in Copenhagen. It was the 7th such conference, and the first one that was more internationally oriented (the previous ones focussed more on the Nordic countries AFAIK). It was organized by Thomas Madsen-Mygdal with a team of volunteers including Nikolaj Nyholm. From the fact that you will see more ’10 years after Reboot’ postings you can gather it was inspiring, and fun, and that we have much to thank Thomas and his team for.
I went to Reboot as sort of the end point of a process. I started blogging about knowledge management and social media in 2002, and as a result of it my international professional network had exploded. I felt the growing need to meet some of them. So when BlogTalk was organized in 2003 in Vienna, I and many other bloggers used it as an opportunity to meet face to face for the first time. The next year, 2004, I returned, this time with Elmine, for the 2nd BlogTalk. I came away with two key things. One, I met a wide range of inspiring people, like Lee Bryant, Paolo Valdemarin, whom I definitely wanted to stay in touch with. Two, I felt the need for much stronger actual conversations and experience sharing.
In response to the first item, Elmine and I started looking for a conference to go to together in 2005 (as there would be no BlogTalk that year) where we could meet those people.
In response to the second thing, I wanted to organize something where the conversation was the actual program, cutting away the powerpoints. These were the BlogWalks, organized with Lilia Efimova and Sebastian Fiedler, originally thought to be in support of the BlogTalk conferences. There we used Open Space formats just before unconferences became more visible through the BarCamps.
Reboot promised to combine the two: a conference where I could meet inspiring people, that I already partly knew, and where the participants were the same people as on stage.
The iconic Doug Engelbart demo and video conversation at Reboot 7
I came away from Reboot feeling having turned a corner, and from now in 2015 it looks more like a starting point.
Reboot delivered upon my expectations, and so much more. It was a heady mix of inspiring people I knew, and many new faces and inspiring minds. It was in a venue (Kedelhallen) that made space for plenty informal interaction, where you could be human (people started bringing their kids!), and everyone on stage was also a participant. The program was fixed upfront but curated by the people who wanted to come. Good food and drinks. All that created an atmosphere where you were allowed to ask the awkward questions, dream the big ideas, build prototypes, and have them met with curious and critical questions and exchanges. Many times we saw someone suggest something, or try something at Reboot, that later turned into a book, an application, a start-up or a Google buy-out. And there was lots of fun. It was also a very European conference, where you could see that Europe, the idea, works beautifully.
Reboot’s iconic lawn chairs. We brought some home.
I think that meeting all those great people (e.g. how I met Peter Rukavina using the Foursquare precursor Plazes) at Reboot allowed me to incorporate a number of things, that normally made me feel like the village idiot, into my work and everyday routine. Asking the big questions, while doing the small things to bring it forward. To be a fish that works to notice the water, and to question the water. To bring a more entrepreneurial attitude to everything I do. To be ok with that I don’t really have a job description, but do the things I think are worth doing. To more purposefully enable others to do the same. The type of spirit Reboot conveyed, is something I and many others have been seeking to turn into our normal mode of operation.
Doing a session with Danish government in the locker room of Kedelhallen
We kept returning to Reboot every year, until the last one in 2009, creating many memories. By that last one I was working on my own, and had had a very good year. I became one of the main sponsors of that last Reboot conference, which I saw as a good way of making something possible that had been a source of so much learning for me. A tuition fee for what was my greatest source of learning for a number of years. Being a sponsor allowed me to bring a few others to the conference as well, providing free tickets. So I brought students who would not otherwise be able to afford to go.
Elmine and I did a workshop on ‘owning your learning path’ at one Reboot, and took it outside because of the beautiful weather
One of them I met last year, and he explained one of the large negative side effects of Reboot.
I met him at a different conference in Berlin, and he was sitting in the central space of the venue, sipping coffee and not going to any session. He looked a bit bored. So I asked him if he enjoyed the conference. “Not really” he said. Why not, I asked. “You spoilt me when you brought me to Reboot in 2009 as a student, now I cannot stand other conferences anymore.”
The same is true for me too. I can’t really stomach the blandness and pace of most other events.
Bring your kids to conferences! Reboot had a kindergarten
And we keep searching for and visiting events that try to bring the same spirit: SHiFT, Lift, SOTN, ThingsCon and others. Or try to organize events ourselves, like our Birthday Unconferences, Data Drinks and other. And every now and then my colleagues and I succeed in taking groups of clients through an event where everybody leaves on a similar natural high as Reboot created for me.
The lasting value of Reboot is of course in how it changed my attitude and showed me new pathways. And how it created a lasting network of relationships that are my core professional peer network, and in fact many of whom have become dear friends. If you ever wondered about the weirdly distributed social life Elmine and I have, I blame Reboot.
Lee proposing a new mythology (underneath the banner listing me as sponsor)
Will there ever be another Reboot? Not likely, at least not in this shape. Lee Bryant called for a new mythology at the last Reboot, a new narrative for meeting the global challenges. By now Reboot is part of that mythology, and a new conference might just spoil that. The Reboot spirit however very much deserves more channels of distribution. If Thomas ever plans to do something along those lines, I’d be happy to help. Because everyone deserves a regular reboot.
A key piece of advice and unofficial Reboot slogan
Sometimes it is ok if your government wants to store your fingerprints. Like, when they use them as artwork on city hall.
Last weekend Elmine and I strolled an afternoon through Deventer an old Hanseatic city in the eastern part of the Netherlands. We came across a shop window where a group of people were busy making clay moulds, which had us intrigued.
The clay moulds, it turned out, were made from finger prints, to be cast in metal and then used on the facade of the new city hall as window covers/decorations. A project by local artist Loes ten Anscher.
The finger prints are from citizens in Deventer themselves. One in every forty-three, from the city and surrounding villages, from every age, has been asked to provide a finger or toe print, to be cast in metal. The 2.300 prints are cast in metal and used on the newly built city hall. Every metal cast has a number, and the person providing the finger print gets a pendant with that number. They will know where their finger print is on the building, but noone else.
I really love this project, making citizens part of the building where those that provide public service work, and involving them up to the level where they have their fingerprints all over local government. One example where I think government storing my finger prints is actually not so bad!
This week I was invited to Malaysia as one of 8 members of the advisory panel on big data to the Malaysian government. The meeting was part of the Big Data Week taking place in Kuala Lumpur where I gave two presentations and was part of a panel discussion. Malaysia intends to become a big data hub for ASEAN countries. To that end it brought well over 2000 people together to discuss big data, and as part of that Richard Stirling (of the ODI) and I were there to highlight the role of open (government) data in that. Next to the conference as part of the advisory panel I met for a day in a closed-door session with MDeC, the agency that is responsible for the implementation of Malaysia’s big data plans. On my own initiative I met with the Ministry for Administrative Modernisation’s planning unit (MAMPU) to discuss the change management and community aspects of becoming a more open government in more detail, and see how that might be tied in with the ongoing efforts of the World Bank’s collaboration with the Malaysian government.
During the conference I gave two presentations. The first on the notion that to make sure that open and big data have a broad impact socially and economically, you need to have a strategy that involves all stakeholders, and move beyond the big company focus the effort currently seems to have. SME’s, civic organizations, and individual citizens play a crucial role, not just bigger corporations and academic institutions who provide the needed skill sets.
In this presentation I looked at half a dozen or so emergent patterns that stand out from all open data stories I’ve been part of in Europe and elsewhere to make that clear.
The second presentation took just one of those patterns: that in ‘open data’ openness is much more important than data, and zoomed in on it, under the title ‘Open data is the biggest data of all’. In this presentation I posited that openness is a necessity in a networked society, to be a visible and thus acknowledged part of the network, that in aggregate open data is bigger than whatever big data set, and that openness hits a large number of factors that make non-lineair impact possible. The type of growth that we promise ourselves from big data, but which itself in reality usually only aims for incremental growth for established players. Our societies however need that non-lineair kick. We need to reason backwards from where we want to see socio-economic impact, to which type of circumstances, such as data availability, and broad inclusiveness are needed to get there.
Finally I did a fun panel debate with Michael Cornwell on the new ethical questions emerging around open data and privacy, where I made a call for more ‘data awareness’ and called upon entrepreneurs to be straightforward to their clients on how they are using data. The way a company deals with the data that describes me and my behaviour is part of my deal and interaction with a company, and any intentional opaqueness concerning data from the company side should be seen as a breach of trust and short-changing the client.
The culmination of over a year of work
Last month we concluded a project that started in November 2013. For the Province of North-Holland we worked with 9 municipalities to help them bring publishing open data into their normal routines.
We celebrated the end of the program with an afternoon conference of 125 participants in Amsterdam, sharing the experiences, the good, the bad, the splendid, the ugly.
The program we designed is based on the notion that making open data part of normal operations requires learning by doing, and learning from others who are doing the same thing. Also by taking time for it, and us helping out on the work floor, you allow more colleagues to get involved as well as see new knowledge settle.
To make sure open data is not something ‘extra’ a government does for others (‘nice to have’) we seek to position open data as a policy tool (‘need to have’), that helps governments to engage with stakeholders and impact their own policy goals.
The preparation phase was aimed at finding a number of municipalities to participate. They had to allocate people and time to it, and there needed to be some current local policy issues that provided a possible angle for open data. We talked to about 16 local governments, and in the end 9 joined the program.
Three implementation phases were part of the plan: 1) find internal support, raise awareness, and find a suitable policy topic as context. 2) select and publish data, find initial external stakeholders, 3) engage with stakeholders, help them use the data, and make the publishing process permanent.
In practice these three phases weren’t discreet, but overlapped and never ‘finished’.
A year long execution phase
The execution phase of the program started in March 2014, with a high-energy kick-off event where some 60 civil servants and political functionaries participated, and the 9 participating municipalities and the province signed the ‘North-Holland Smarter’ Manifesto. (The manifesto was a beautiful side project by my colleague Frank and our artist in residence Ate: wooden panels with different data visualizations of the region, and laser cutted pixelated shapes of the participating local governments to place signatures on. An afternoon well spent in the local FabLab Protospace)
The participating municipalities gathered for collective working days 4 times, and in between worked on their own. We helped out with providing guidance, examples and facilitating session and workshop both internally with civil servants, and externally with citizens, businesses and organizations. Each worked around a locally relevant theme, ranging from flash floods to new entrepreneurs in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, from regional public transport for the elderly and schools, to financial transparency.
In the end most local governments started publishing data (not a small feat for non-urban local governments I’d say), and some moved it towards their line management successfully. A few first examples of seeing the data used exist, and most don’t see the end of the program as the end of their efforts but as the beginning.
Overall we included a few hundred civil servants and several dozen external stakeholders. Some of that work is still ongoing with our involvement, until May.
The final event
participants working together at final event
We ended the program with a final event to present our learnings. Some 125 people from across the Netherlands, representing local, regional and national government entities came. We shared what we experienced roughly in the same way the program phases were designed, providing the participating municipalities with ample space to discuss what they had done and learned, what worked and what didn’t work at all. Some presented their data publishing platform, others their next steps, some recounted how they helped learn colleagues use data better themselves, others how settling on a policy theme early didn’t work for them. Entrepreneurs and data re-users talked about how they work with data.
It was a good and informal way to convey the actual work involved and how some things can take more time than thought (usually the social aspects), while others turn out to be much easier than anticipated (usually the technical aspects).
the municipalities in North-Holland that are publishing open data (image Ruud Smith)
Getting past the hype
Plans and reality never match, and I think our program created the space and time for that to be ok and part of the journey. Our client with the Province said that to her the project was to help people move beyond the hype towards where open data is part of the normal way of doing things, and softening the ’trough of desillusion’ in the hype cycle. Judging by the quotes we collected of participants we succeeded in doing that.