Open Data Program With 10 Local Govs

Today, in the presence of some 60 local government representatives, saw the kick-off of a project I’m proud of to see launched. Nine municipalities in the Province North-Holland are embarking with us on a 9 month program to connect locally relevant policy themes with new stakeholders and publishing open data. Open data as a policy intervention to provide citizens and organisations with new affordances and new pathways for action.

PNH Slimmer has started
The beautiful ‘open data manifesto’ the municipalities and province signed today. Made by my colleague Frank (laser cutter to the rescue!) and our artist in residence Ate Hes (hand painted data visualizations, and the overall concept)

The connection to local policy themes is intended as a source of intrinsic motivation for data holders. Economic potential or transparency impacts often see their benefits impact elsewhere, not with the data holder, and may not suffice to get the open data ball rolling pro-actively.
The Province acts as an umbrella for the effort, providing a broader context and allowing local governments to build on each other.

In the past 2 months we talked to 16 local governments to find local themes, and see whether the time needed can be allocated internally. Nine municipalities signed up today, a few more may follow in the coming days.

PNH Slimmer has started
A quick and stimulating game to come up with applications for a combination of 3 random data sets

We will be working with these municipalities both as a group, as well as ‘on the ground’ to help make it happen in practice. Working on raising awareness, spotting opportunities. Working on creating a steady process for regular data publishing. Finding and mobilizing people to start using the data.

Because just publishing data is not a result to us. Getting to the point where the data is being used to strengthen local communities is the result we are after.

It is an expedition, not a prescribed route. So also to me and my The Green Land colleagues it is an adventure with unknown outcomes. But it is an adventure we are looking forward to take on, as we’re confident there are plenty of building blocks and experiences already available to make this happen.

Join Us For “Make Stuff That Matters” MidSummer UnConference and BBQ


In four months, Elmine and I hope for you to join us at our MidSummer UnConference and BBQ. To make the most of our time together it will take place at MidSummer, so we have the longest days of the year. On Friday 20 June the MidSummer Unconference will take place. Followed on Saturday 21 June by the MidSummer BBQ.

The theme
The theme for the MidSummer Unconference will be ‚Make Stuff That Matters’.

We have more opportunity than ever to act and make things ourselves, while connected to and embedded in globally connected networks and globally accessible knowledge. Our world is however a closed system with restraints in terms of resources, with only our creativity in true abundance. So we better learn how to act, prototype, design and make well. Whether it is a product, a system, a structure or a new routine. So we better make stuff that really solves something for you or others, that makes something important possible. So we better Make Stuff That Matters.

The people
We hope to bring a diverse group of people from around our network together again. Last time we had some 12 nationalities joining us, 40 people at the unconference, and some 80 at the BBQ. Friends, colleagues, peers, family, neighbors and clients. In other words: you!

The program
A day long we will explore making in all its facets. We’ll have a number of 3d-printers, as well as laser cutters available. We’ll have Doodle-3D, Lego (serious play) and mindstorms for the kids (and ourselves). Bring your raspberry pi, arduino’s and other tinkering stuff, if you have it. We’ll have data-visualization and app making. We’ll have design, p2p organizing, and whatever idea you want to add! Bring your small and great skills, your curiosity and prepare to let yourself be surprised. Together we’ll make stuff that matters.

You are invited
In the coming weeks we will be sending out the first batches of invitations. If you would like to be there, you are very welcome to join us, so consider yourself to be invited. Just ping us, and we’ll add you to the list.

Mark your calendar, start planning your trip, and join us for Ton and Elmine’s MidSummer Unconference and BBQ on 20 and 21 June!
For more info see the MidSummer Unconference page(we’ll add info there as we go along).

Looking Back On 2013: The Tadaa! List

As in the past years (2010, 2011, 2012) I am posting a list of things that gave me a sense of accomplishment in 2013. It is often all too easy to loose track of all the different things I’ve done, and just bear in mind the unfinished, the yet to achieve, the not-quite-up-to-standard, that make up the lists of things-to-do that rule my normal routines. So at the end of the year I look back at my calendar and note the things that I think were pretty cool in the last year. In no particular order, and roughly chronologic 2013′s (mostly work related) ‘Tadaa!’ moments are:

  • Contributed to an Austrian/German MOOC on MOOCs, formulating some observations on the necessity and limits of openness
  • Presented to the group of EU national representatives for public sector information
  • Co-organized an international conference on open data for some 300 people in Warsaw, Poland

  • Did an international workshop on the value of open data for the public sector itself with my colleague Frank (also in Warsaw)
  • Spent time with my dad, visiting Barcelona together, taking the time to talk for the first time in years really
    Accidental shot Explore Catalunya
  • Presented at TEDxTallin in Estonia, as well as at TEDxZwolle, the town where I grew up, on Open Data
  • Saw the Copenhagen Data Drinks I started in October 2013 grow to almost 200 people, as well as spin off into the Aarhus Data Drinks, which I visited in April
  • Joined the advisory board for Luxembourg’s first FabLab and presented at its opening
    FabLab Luxemburg Belval
  • Worked and working with the Dutch High Court of Audit on Open Data, an organisation that is impressive in terms of professionalism and integrity
  • Got billed as a “futurist” for the first time, giving the key-note at the ARAS Community Event Europe, on digital disruption
  • Having the chance to meet up with dear friends at home and abroad, cherishing the sparse face to face time we get
  • Finding better footing to work with colleagues on complexity management and landing several projects in this area (although still struggling to balance my time with the open data work)
  • Launched an Open Data program for 10 local governments (taking place in 2014) in which opening data in the context of specific policy questions is done, while also stimulating stakeholders to use that data
  • Spent a month working in/from Cambridge and London with Elmine (see week 1, 2, 3, 4)

    P1050353 Design Museum
  • Aimed to reduce my work pressure by restructuring my rhythm to setting 3 months goals with weekly reviews, and by using two 90 minute focus blocks per day to get good things done, next to 10 minute efforts on all that is fringe (and normally ignored until it gets too big to do so). Importantly, also learned to increasingly regard my day productive and well spent, if I do just those two focussed blocks
  • Going from an empty portfolio in early August to one that is basically full until the end of 2014, in just 10 weeks
  • Getting to the point where The Green Land will be incorporated in the next few weeks, and where we are looking to hire a first employee
  • Speaking at the Swedish Internet Days on Open Data in a fun panel together with ao Daniel Dietrich, Cathrine Lippert
  • Organized ‘Unperfekt Inspiration’ meet-ups in my home town with Wiro Kuipers, to connect inspiring people and stories across the city, to counteract the general mood of gloom and whining
  • Spent 2 days at a conference full of lawyers while having a lot of fun, providing the closing remarks, followed by meeting Paolo and Monica in sunny Ljubljana

    Ljubljana Ljubljana
  • Started a project with a big city local government to push their open data efforts further, where (once again) I get to translate my strategic open data notions into actual operational steps, and get to deal with all the practical obstacles that entails. To me this is of huge importance, connecting the strategic and operational directly without any intermediate stuff: in terms of impact for the client, but also in terms of energy and learning for myself
  • Hearing great feedback on my work from several clients
  • Hiring an illustrator to make otherwise dull open data lists more palatable and thus more likely to be used
  • Doing a FOIA request for financial data from my home town, and asking them to publish it as open data
  • Deciding with Elmine on organizing a next Unconference BBQ, and announcing it
  • Feeling better and more relaxed in the last few months, while also more productive, in comparison with previous years.

I think, in summary, 2013 was a bit of a transitional year. After finishing up a European project in the spring I was in need of some serious down-time but did not take that time until the summer. The second half of the year, after taking a proper rest in the summer months, was more about creating new activities and opportunities, which was quite successful, but which will mostly bear fruit in 2014.

At the start of 2013 I had thought to travel less. That didn’t really happen, as I was abroad for 104 days in 12 countries (compared to 112 in 16, in 2012). The upside is that a lot (some 2/3) of those 104 days were together with Elmine, so it was less disruptive than last year.

Thankfully I also succeeded in reducing the amount of hours worked, from 2400+ in 2011 to 2200+ in 2012, to 1937 in 2013. That is some 300 hours less than last year (and 500 less than 2011), and for the first time actually under the amount of working hours a year has in total. It means I did take some time off, in July, which was needed as I was pretty exhausted after the spring.

The Post-Snowden Internet

In the past few days the 30th CCC took place, and this being the year of Edward Snowden, it is worth going through some of the published video recordings.

Here are two interesting talks.

First there’s Claudio Guarnieri and Morgan Marquis-Boire on detecting internet monitoring and attack infrastructure and how those are being used to target activists and investigative journalists.

And then, please do take an hour to watch Jacob Appelbaum (“I am available for questions until I am assassinated”) on what is happening, in conjunction with the material published by the German Spiegel.

The worst part is not that the NSA has these capabilities but that they are often based on deliberately weakening hardware and software or keeping intentionally silent on vulnerabilities, which means that anyone may exploit those weaknesses as well. In the name of security the NSA and other agencies are actively reducing overall security in other words.

Early announcement: The 2014 Midsummer Unconference and BBQ!

Today is the shortest day in the northern hemisphere, and we post this to help you look forward to the longest day that comes next spring. We hereby announce Ton and Elmine’s 2014 MidSummer UnConference and BBQ!

Unconference, Friday 20 June 2014
BBQ, Saturday 21 June 2014

Mark your calendars! Personal invitations and more information will be send early in the new year.

We have the luck of knowing many great people in many different places. Over the years we have repeatedly invited many of you to our town and home for a birthday unconference and bbq. Every time we were amazed by the energy created by bringing together a wide variety of people (peers, family, friends, clients). See the e-book ‘How to Unconference Your Birthday’ we wrote in 2011 for some impressions.

Last August, Elmine and I spent a month in Cambridge (UK), thanks to the generous hospitality of Johnnie Moore. When we were in the university’s botanic gardens Elmine and I talked about doing an Unconference BBQ again, and what it should be about. In 2008 the theme was ‘work-life balance’, in 2010 it was ‘doing stuff that matters’. This time around it will all be about Your Story.

Join us with Your Story on 20 and 21 June 2014, for Ton and Elmine’s MidSummer Unconference and BBQ!

It takes a village… see open data impact

An interesting paper by Ben Worthy has been published, looking at the impact of open spending data in the UK in terms of transparency and accountability. The abstract says the impact is currently very limited “as it lacks the narrative or accountability instruments to fully bring such effects. Nor has it created a new stream of information to underpin citizen choice, though new innovations offer this possibility. The evidence points to third party innovations as the key. They can contextualise and ‘localise’ information as a first step in more effective accountability.

The superficially simple and neutral reforms conceal complex political dynamics. The very design lends itself to certain framing effects, further compounded by assumptions and blurred concepts and a lack of accountability instruments to resolve problems raised by the data.

Definitely makes sense to me. Context, narratives, and additional tools with which new stakeholders can be reached and brought into the discussion, are needed. Just as much as we constantly need to try and avoid making assumptions when publishing data, as it will create a bias towards what type of usage will be likely to occur, framing it, or setting boundaries on the evolutionary space available as it were. Whether it is open data or big data, the effects are similar, though some such as context are even more pronounced in big data.

It is why, when working on open data with local governments, and positioning it as a policy instrument, I spend energy on providing context, seeking out new or unusual stakeholders to stimulate them to take a look at the data, and to create lots of new conversations between them and the data holders. Aiming to create an ecosystem. In a sense, “it takes a village” to create the impact we are aiming for.

International Open Data Panel at Swedish Internet Days

On November 25th an international Open Data panel took place at the Swedish Internet Days. On the kind invitation of Vinnova, Sweden’s innovation agency, I took part in the panel, to present on the current status and coming steps in Open Data in the Netherlands.

I was lucky to join Malte Beyer-Katzenberger (EC), Richard Stirling (ODI), Cathrine Lippert (Digitisation Agency of Denmark), and Daniel Dietrich (OKFN Germany), who also gave their views on Open Data in their respective countries, or the EC’s plans in the case of Malte.
It was great to share a panel with them, as well as to have the opportunity to talk to each other and share our insights, new experiences and examples. Face to face time is scarce, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in Stockholm.

Below you will find the videos of the various panel contributions, as well as my own slides.

Malte Beyer-Katzenberger on the open data efforts by the EC

Cathrine Lippert on open data and basic registries in Denmark

Richard Stirling on the ODI’s work in the UK

Ton Zijlstra on open data in the Netherlands

Daniel Dietrich on open data in Germany

After the panel I had the opportunity to catch up with Peter Krantz over lunch. Peter’s a long time advocate for open data in Sweden, and although we had interacted often on-line in the past years, this was the first time we met.

Digital Disruption Key-Note

Yesterday and today I am at the ARAS Community Event Europe in Frankfurt, Germany. The conference brings together people around PLM (product lifecycle management). I was asked to provide the opening keynote. Digital disruption and the new (or rather often not so new) methods we have available to deal with that were the topic of my talk. Starting with Steve Denning’s recent observation that we’re in the Golden Age of Management now as we are setting the scene for what management looks like in the networked age, I talked about the unintended impact of internet and mobile communications, that make a range of existing management methods obsolete if not dangerous. Simultaneously I went into the different emerging instruments and methods that are emerging in response.

Find the slides below.

Theoretically Open Post Codes Not So Much In Practice

Currently the 2013 Open Data Census of the OKFN, for which I am the lead editor, is taking place. It tracks 10 data sets in each country. For the Netherlands questions were raised by a.o. Andrew Stott on the Dutch postcodes which are shown as fully open. Specifically it seemed there was no download link. So, as an experiment, I aimed to get my hands on the Dutch postcodes. Follow me down the rabbit hole.

Dutch postcodes, after a court verdict, became open in February 2012, something celebrated by the responsible Ministry for Infrastructure and Environment (the link to the press release in that article is dead). So, where’s that data?

The postcodes, first of all, are not a separate data set but part of the much larger BAG data set which holds all addresses and all buildings for the Netherlands, with their geospatial references.

National Data Portal
First port of call is the Dutch National Data Portal, which indeed holds a page for the BAG data set. It points to three data files, and lists the license as Public Domain. Nice, we’re done! Except that none of the links to the data files work. Further down the hole.

Cadastral Office, the data holder
Next stop, is the Cadastral Office, as they are the data holder, and the links in the national data portal all point there. The Cadastre has a page about the BAG listing a number of ‘products’. No links to the actual data, but the descriptions make clear that to get access to the data you need to register first, then apply for a subscription on the data, which is not free if you are not in the public sector. No indication whatsoever that any data from the BAG is available as Open Data. However they do make mention of PDOK (acronym for “public service on the map”) which offers a WFS and WMS service as well as a viewer for the data. Further down the hole.

PDOK is the next incarnation of the INSPIRE based national geodata portal. Looking for the BAG there does not provide any useful links: It does expose a ‘temporary’ WMS and WFS service. WMS provides map images, WFS provides data, but its access is restricted and fees apply the XML feature description says (none of that in human readable text on the site though). It probably would not give us the desired postcodes anyway. The links it provides are to, PDOK’s predecessor. Further down the hole.

National Geo Register
At the National Geo Register, I try another search for BAG, which yields nothing new. It appears it conflates my BAG search with ‘baggeren’ (dredging in English) as it starts the same. Then I try ‘adressen’ (addresses) with more success, and one of the results reads “INSPIRE Download Service Addresses” (incidently a stripped down version of that search result also comes up at PDOK under addresses.) Following that link it finally gets interesting, as the next page provides both a download link, an e-mail address at the Cadastral Office for enquiries, and some information on re-use rights. It says the last metadata edit was last August.

The usage conditions are listed in the National Geo Register as unrestricted, but access is listed as restricted, referencing a license called ‘GEO Gedeeld’. The National Data Portal (all the way up the rabbit hole) promised us Public Domain, so what is this GEO Gedeeld license? The link to the license is dead however. Looking for the same license title at the Cadastral Office site, yields a PDF that says attribution is mandatory, and resharing the data set is forbidden. This turns out to be a ‘roll-your-own’ license by the geodata sector, adding restrictions on top of the Creative Commons framework, including confusing pseudo-CC icons. It is however entirely unclear if this is the license that is attached to the data mentioned in the National Geo Register.

Getting to the data, sort of
As said the National Geo Register lists a download link, and if you open that XML file, in the ‘subtitle’ field it says this is the actual full BAG data. The same XML file also provides a link to a description in XML, that points to a Public Domain license again for the acccess restrictions on the file. So the National Geo Register page says a restricted license applies, but the XML metadata that comes with it specifies Public Domain as does the national data protal. Finally it also provides a link to the actual data dump.

The data dump is a 1.4 GB zip file, that contains 7 other zip files, yielding over 30GB of data when unpacked, split up in 21MB xml files. The files contain however no reference to a license. This is the full BAG data set, containing all addresses and buildings for all of the Netherlands. From this dataset you need to combine several subsets to get to a postcode list: The ‘NUM’ files give you address index numbers, its georeferences, the house number and the postcode, and a number that corresponds with a street. The ‘OPR’ files give you the corresponding street name, and the number of the place it is in. The ‘WPL’ files give you the place name, and through a separate table also the municipality it is in. (Do note that is does not include postcodes that are not connected to geolocations, such as PO Boxes. The primary purpose of this database is not postcodes but addresses and buildings.)

Open or not?
So how open is this much welcomed open post code data? It seems the data holder, the Cadastral Office, purposefully obfuscates the existence of the data dump, making no direct reference to it at all, and offering their paid for services instead. There is however a full machine readable data dump that is also directly provided by the Cadastral Office. Whether it is openly licensed is not entirely clear, as the National Geo Register states a restrictive license on the webpage, but provides a Public Domain dedication in the XML metadata, and there is the Public Domain dedication in the National Data Portal.

Make it Open for real!
To make this data Open in practice, and not just in theory the National Data Portal as well as the Cadastral Office should reference the existing data dump directly, as well as provide the Public Domain license info with the data dump. If no one can find your data, then it is not open. Next to technical openness (machine readable, online) and legal openness (public domain, or attribution) also social openness is needed (easily findable, contact info readily available).

The Failings of FabLabs

At the end of the European FabLab Conference in Aachen, professor Jan Borchers (together with René Bohne our kind hosts at the Media Computing Group of RWTH) at the final discussion round brought up an unexpected question:

Are FabLabs dead?

With the rapid proliferation of all kinds of maker spaces in all kinds of forms, are FabLabs still needed? With the ongoing rapid decline in the costs of machines (a full set of smaller sized FabLab machines, including a consumer ready 3d printer, comes in at around 3500 Euro, and prices are still falling, bringing it within household reach in well developed economies), is there still a need for public access to these machines? This is what Jan Borchers asked.

Peter Troxler then rightly pointed out that the origins of FabLab are quite technocratic, which explains the starting focus of FabLab on the machines (“All you need to make, almost, anything”). Knowledge sharing, preferably in a global network, was always part of the concept, but it came without emphasis on community and network building to support that. Indeed, most of the early FabLab network was not a network at all, but a wheel with spokes and MIT at the center, and it still usually is that way for any country with one FabLab. The European FabLab conference where this discussion took place, as are they yearly Fab conferences, was an accurate example of that same technocratic focus.

To me there are two underserved key parts in the FabLab concept.

  • FabLabs need to be very strongly rooted locally, and actively work to be locally relevant to diverse stakeholder groups.
  • FabLabs need to be networked globally, to cater to the mandated easy knowledge exchanges and for other labs to rapidly build upon experiments and designs from elsewhere and create local impact.
  • And the majority of the FabLabs I’ve encountered are crap at both those two things. Even though for me they are the discerning traits compared to other maker spaces.

    We’re bad at finding ways of being locally relevant. Bad at attracting a diverse range of stakeholders for whom the FabLab is a hub and exchange. The financial dependence on public funding, or financial difficulty in the absence of that, of most BeNeLux labs are a case in point. The regularity with which I see commercial questions to those same FabLabs being met with a ‘no’ because they are simply not prepared for such questions are another, one I find particularly shocking as it proves there is demand. A lot are in the habit as well of cannibalizing the free access in an attempt to generate revenue, which by destroying the prime directive of the FabLab concept actually increases the threshold for new makers to come play and experiment and thus serves to reduce the revenue potential, instead of increasing it. Almost none take lateral approaches to generate revenue and be a stable and energy giving node in the local ecosystem.

    We’re also bad at globally connecting. Most FabLabs I know are so busy with themselves that they hardly take time to work with other FabLabs, even if they’re neighbours. The yearly, highly tech focused global meet-ups, do not a global network make. The low point I experienced was when a FabLab was in trouble, and when I approached them about it, told me they ‘would be participating in the community again when they had solved their problems’. If there were indeed a community wouldn’t they have known to ask for support instead of withdrawing? There is little to none routine interaction between a wide range of labs, resulting in shared efforts etc. And here I am just talking about FabLab staff not interacting, and not even looking at what actually would be needed: various FabLab visitors using the FabLab network to connect and work with others.

    Meanwhile the FabLabs are successful in proliferating across the globe, so much so that the number of FabLabs roughly doubles every 18 months. They are also changing shape from a few big costly ‘flagship stores’ to include a larger number of grassroots smaller labs (reinforced by the downwards price pressure on machines). In that exponential growth lies FabLabs’ biggest challenge: there are now more FabLabs joining the network than currently are in the network. And in the next 18 months that will happen again, more new labs will join than already exist.

    Even though that exponential growth will taper off at some point, for now it is the biggest challenge: how do you welcome and engage a majority of newcomers into an existing network and community that is very poorly equipped and developed precisely on the point of network and community building?