Tag Archives: opendata

FOSS4G Keynote: Open Data for Social Impact

Last week I had the pleasure to attend and to speak at the annual FOSS4G conference. This gathering of the community around free and open source software in the geo-sector took place in Bonn, in what used to be the German parliament. I’ve posted the outline, slides and video of my keynote already at my company’s website, but am now also crossposting it here.

Speaking in the former German Parliament
Speaking in the former plenary room of the German Parliament. Photo by Bart van den Eijnden

In my talk I outlined that it is often hard to see the real impact of open data, and explored the reasons why. I ended with a call upon the FOSS4G community to be an active force in driving ethics by design in re-using data.

Impact is often hard to see, because measurement takes effort
Firstly, because it takes a lot of effort to map out all the network effects, for instance when doing micro-economic studies like we did for ESA or when you need to look for many small and varied impacts, both socially and economically. This is especially true if you take a ‘publish and it will happen’ approach. Spotting impact becomes much easier if you already know what type of impact you actually want to achieve and then publish data sets you think may enable other stakeholders to create such impact. Around real issues, in real contexts, it is much easier to spot real impact of publishing and re-using open data. It does require that the published data is serious, as serious as the issues. It also requires openness: that is what brings new stakeholders into play, and creates new perspectives towards agency so that impact results. Openness needs to be vigorously defended because of it. And the FOSS4G community is well suited to do that, as openness is part of their value set.

Impact is often hard to see, because of fragmentation in availability
Secondly, because impact often results from combinations of data sets, and the current reality is that data provision is mostly much too fragmented to allow interesting combinations. Some of the specific data sets, or the right timeframe or geographic scope might be missing, making interesting re-uses impossible.
Emerging national data infrastructures, such as the Danish and the Dutch have been creating, are a good fix for this. They combine several core government data sets into a system and open it up as much as possible. Think of cadastral records, maps, persons, companies, adresses and buildings.
Geo data is at the heart of all this (maps, addresses, buildings, plots, objects), and it turns it into the linking pin for many re-uses where otherwise diverse data sets are combined.

Geo is the linking pin, and its role is shifting: ethics by design needed
Because of geo-data being the linking pin, the role of geo-data is shifting. First of all it puts geo-data in the very heart of every privacy discussion around open data. Combinations of data sets quickly can become privacy issues, with geo-data being the combinator. Privacy and other ethical questions arise even more now that geo-data is no longer about relatively static maps, but where sensors are making many more objects as well as human beings objects on the map in real time.
At the same time geo-data is becoming less visible in these combinations. ‘The map’ is not neccessarily a significant part of the result of combining data sets, just a catalyst on the way to get there. Will geo-data be a neutral ingredient, or will it be an ingredient with a strong attitude? An attitude that aims to actively promulgate ethical choices, not just concerning privacy, but also concerning what are statistically responsible combinations, and what are and are not legal steps in getting to an in itself legal result again? As with defending openness itself, the FOSS4G community is in a good position to push the ethical questions forward in the geo community as well as find ways of incorporating them directly in the tools they build and use.

The video of the keynote has been published by the FOSS4G conference organisers.
Slides are available from Slideshare and embedded below:

Data Sovereignty as Prerequisite for Open Data Agency

As we are living in a networked world, increasingly government bodies execute their tasks while collaborating in networks of various other stakeholders. This also happens when it comes to collecting, providing or working with data as part of public tasks. One of the potential detrimental side effects is that it quickly becomes unclear who can decide to open such data up. Or whether a government entity, who wants to publish data as part of a policy intervention, still feels able to do so. This ability to decide over your own data, I call data sovereignty. I think without proper attention, the data sovereignty of public institutions is under pressure in collaborative situations and a threat to the freedom of public entities to decide and act on their own open data efforts. This is especially problematic where the lack of data sovereignty hinders public entities in deploying open data as a policy instrument.

I have just completed an inventory of the data sets that a Dutch province holds and the visible erosion of data sovereignty was the main unexpected outcome for me.
This erosion takes different shapes. Here are a few examples of it, encountered in the Province I mentioned:

  • Data collection on businesses locations and the number of people they employ (to track employment per municipality per sector) is being pooled by all provinces (as a national level data set is more useful). The pooling takes place in a separate legal entity. It is unclear if this entity still falls under FOIA and re-use regulations. This entity also exploits the data by selling it. Logical at the organisational level perhaps, but illogical in comparison with the provincial public task (and maybe not even legal under the Re-Use law). Opening up the data needs to be done through that new entity, meaning not just convincing yourself, but all other provinces as well as the entity who has commercial interest in not being convinced. The slowest will thus set the speed.
  • Data collection on traffic flows, collected by the Province, is stored directly in a national data warehouse (NDW). Again pooling data makes it more useful, but the Province cannot store cleaned data there (anomalies filtered out, pattern changes explained etc.), so always needs to redo that cleaning and filtering whenever they want to work or access their own data. Although the publicly owned NDW now publishes open data, until recently they saw themselves as a commercial outfit, adverse to the notion of open data.
  • Data collection on bicycle traffic, done by the Province, is stored in the online database of a French service provider active in the entire EU. Ownership of the data is unclear. The Province only accesses the data through the French website. If a FOIA request came, it would be unclear if providing the data runs counter to any rights the service provider is claiming.
  • Data collection on the prevalence of bird species is being collected in collaboration with nature preservation groups and large numbers of volunteers. The Province pays for the data collection, but the nature preservation groups claim their volunteers (by virtue of their voluntary efforts) are the rightful owners of the data. Without seeking internal legal advice, the discussion remains unsolved and stalls.

None of these situations are unsolvable, all of them can get a definitive answer. The issue however is that nobody is clearly in a position, or has the explicit role to make sure such an definitive answer gets formulated. Because of that, uncertainties remain, which easily leads to inaction. If and when the Province wants to act to open data up, it therefore easily runs into all kinds of questions that will slow action down, or ensure action does not get taken.

It is entirely logical that public entities are collaborating in networks with other public entities and domain-specific stakeholders for the collection, dissemination and use of data. It is also certain, given our networked society and the drive for efficiency, the number of situations where such collaboration takes place will only rise. However, for the drive towards more openness it is detrimental when ownership of public data becomes unclear, gets transferred to an entity that potentially falls outside the scope of FOIA, or falls under the rights of a private entity, just because nobody sought to clarify such matters at the outset.

Public entities should learn to strongly guard their data sovereignty if they want to maintain their own agency in using opening up data as a policy instrument. Moving to open by design as a default for the public sector, requires stopping the erosion of data sovereignty.

A month in Lucca: week 3

The second full week in Lucca, where we are staying the month of July, with a week before it, and some days after in Switzerland.

Turismo
This week contained a few regular tourist outings. One right at the start to the city of Pisa and its leaning tower. Even on a relatively early Monday morning it was already pretty crowded. But as soon as you walk away from the ‘piazza dei miracoli‘ into the streets of Pisa, you quickly lose most of the other visitors. Then you get to see a few glimpses of regular life in this old university town. Like students celebrating their graduation, such as the group next to us on the terrace where we had lunch. Or the anarchist writings on the walls across town and a coffee place that did not look like it had been there for ages.

Pisa Pisa
Tourists holding up the tower of Pisa, and a student coffee shop

Pisa Pisa
Pisa street art, and anarchistic posters

As we are near the Mediterranean coast we of course also had to take in a sunset on the beach. So one evening we drove to Viareggio, a to me rather unappealing seaside town, driving past the endless row of privatized beaches, to the public beach right at the edges. The cloudless sky gave us plenty of time to enjoy the sun sinking into the sea.

Viareggio Viareggio
Sunset over the Mediterranean

The end of the week we took a train to Firenze. The 80 minute train trip turned out to be surprisingly cheap, compared to home, at 7 Euro one way. We arrived at the 1930’s Firenze Santa Maria Novella station, an example of Italian modernism. Starting from the notion that form should reflect functionality, it is a spacious thing with great filtered daylight, serving some 60 million passengers annually. The architects sought to balance the station with its urban surroundings and the church Santa Maria Novella opposite. Many of the internal details (from the turnstiles, to the benches, and the markers at the beginning of the platforms) were additionally designed by a state architect and more reflective of Italian fascism / realism.

Firenze Firenze
The Firenze cathedral, and inside the Uffizi

Stepping away from the station you are immediately transported from the 1930’s to the 1400’s when De’ Medici’s put their remarkable stamp on the city. We explored the cathedral, with a great archeological exhibit in the cellars about the pre-existing paleo-Christian church, and visited the Ponte Vecchio of course. We ended the day with a visit to the office. De’ Medici’s uffizi from 1580, not a newfangled coworking space of course, and walked through the endless halls of the ancient family’s enormous collection of art housed there. Even taking in as little as we did from Firenze, we still walked 20 kilometers just that one day.

Finding the old, finding the new
Within the city walls of Lucca you can still see the original street pattern from when the Romans turned this place into a colony in 180BCE. From the Forum where the San Michele church now stands, where the two main perpendicular Roman roads still cross (Fillungo/Cenami and Roma/Santa Croce), to the square built on top of the Roman amphitheater, and the Medieval streets that still largely follow the Roman grid pattern. In other words Lucca is old. Tradition is also a highly visible factor in the shops, and the food on offer. The compactness of the inner city, with its beautiful walls, basically invite this and it is very attractive for tourists. So the old is easy to spot and delivered in large quantities.

Lucca Lucca
Traditional shop front in Lucca, and a retro interior of a hipper shop

Yet I also want to seek out the new, the ‘scene’ in Lucca, if it exists. But it turns out to be harder to find traces of that.

Lucca "Wearing my mask" on a wall in Lucca
Lucca street art

Within the city there are few traces of e.g. street art, although there are wall communiqués from political movements. There is a weekly artisanal market, but most of that is very classic (honey, soap, bijouterie) and not by younger people. Some clothing shops seem to cater to a hipper clientele, and vegetarianism/veganism is apparently a flourishing niche market. But again those traces are few. In general I don’t see many younger people on the streets, nor outside the inner city.

Lucca Lucca
Parked bike, political pamphlet, in Lucca

Searching online for traces of open data or maker communities didn’t yield anything. There are nearby FabLabs in Pisa, Cascina, Firenze and Contea, but noone responded yet to a question about contacts in Lucca, although they did organize a FabLab information evening here in March.

Likewise there is an open data project for the Province of Lucca, but the contact person has not responded to my mail. A posting to the Italian open data mailing list did get a response from someone some 200km away, and one other who lives closer. I will try and talk to them both soon.

Cycling is big in Lucca and I spotted fixies as well, the latter a sign of at least some urban scene existing. A few doors down from our apartment is Ciclo DiVino, a bike shop combined with a wine bar. Their expressed mission is to bring together and build a local community around cycling. That seems to work, not only because of the fixies, but because multiple evenings per week the street in front of their shop is filled with 20-somethings sipping drinks and enjoying eachothers conversations.

So maybe we should start hanging out there for our aperitivo’s the coming days, to hear more about what is going on here locally.

Firenze Firenze
Firenze street art

Flemish Open Data Day 2015

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.

Slides are online:

Open Data Readiness Assessment in Serbia

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.

Belgrado Belgrado
the unfinished orthodox Saint Sava church, and the brutalist ‘western gate’ Genex tower

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.

Belgrado Belgrado
Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Defence building that was bombed in 1999 by NATO

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.

Big Data for Malaysia and ASEAN

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.

3D Camp Limerick: Mixing Open Data and Making

Earlier today I gave a short talk at 3D Camp in Limerick, Ireland. I explored how open data can inform digital making, and how digital making can help create data. So that we can get around to making things that matter, that solve something for us or the communities we’re part of. Away from making as an individual act, creating a single object. We’re not living up to the potential of social media, open data, internet of things and digital making. In part because we’re still learning, in part because these four things form silos, with not much cross-over. So I discussed how to build a bridge between open data and making. So we can best make use of the new affordances these new tools give us. That goes beyond acquiring skills (like being able to operate a laser cutter) to becoming making literate where you are able to detect what is needed for your living environment to work/be better, then conceptualize, and make a solution, that creates impact through application.

Slides below.

My TEDxZwolle talk: Get to Know Our Ant Hill With Open Data

Yesterday I presented at TEDxZwolle. For a general audience I presented the case for Open Data, and called upon them to get involved. Because of the potential, but mostly because it is necessary to understand and deal with the complexity of our societies and lives.

Otherwise we are just ants, with no clue of how the ant hill works, even though we help create it with our actions. In our networked society we need to understand the ant hill.

Don’t be an ant, understand our ant hill. Get involved. Use Open Data. Understand your world.

Early May I will be speaking at TEDxTallinn 2013.

Established Businesses Can’t Innovate

Last week I co-hosted a session between a number of public sector data holders and a handful of the biggest existing players in the market re-using that same type of data. I’m deliberately vague about who those market parties were, and what type of data is involved, as it is not really relevant to my observation, and there is a still ongoing conversation with those organisations.

The session started from the idea that the public sector data holders could provide a much richer and real-time form of data on top of the usual stuff already available to third party re-users. We thought to discuss how that richer data should be shared to be easily used by the existing market.

As it turns out Christensen’s innovation theory seems to apply here: big vested interests are not in a position to innovate, as all their processes and resource allocation is geared to doing well or better what they are already doing well. Even if all people involved want it to be different, the existing structures will usually dictate otherwise. Case in point here was that the existing re-users currently have a lead-time of at least 6 months to incorporate new data in their products, and are not at all ready to handle real-time info (unless that real-time info is merely an overlay on their existing data). Also the users of their products may have up-date cycles of 2 years, rendering any real-time updates to their data useless.

The only third party in the room that seemed to say ‘bring it on’ was an open source community initiative. They however, as Christensen also predicts, will not be perceived as any threat to existing up-market players. At least not until it’s too late for them. It is this open source alternative that is also most likely to reach whole groups of new types of users of the data.

It’s interesting as well to see again that ‘release it and they will come’ is not a viable way to open government data. Releasing it needs to be accompanied by these type of conversations, and capacity building by (new) market players and citizens, so that the potential of open data can be realized.

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)