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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Stimulating corporations to open data, in contrast or complementary to published government data. Stimulating citizen generated or citizen shared data.
- 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.
- 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.
At the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw on 20 and 21 October I hosted a workshop on ‘making open government data work for local government’.
If open government data is here to stay then only because it has become an instrument to government bodies themselves, and not because government are releasing data only because of compliance with transparency and re-use demands from others (central government or citizens).
This workshop started from the premise that there is opportunity in local governments treating open data as a policy instrument to find new solutions to the issues local communities face, amongst others in coming up with new ways of working in light of budget cuts.
Contributions were made by the local open government data initiatives of the cities of Berlin, Munich (Germany), Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Enschede (Netherlands), Linz and Vienna (Austria), who all shortly presented the current status of their initiatives. It was great to be able to have seven cities take the stage after each other to explain their work in and with local government on open data, and it shows how much things have changed in the past year alone.
Slides of the introductory presentation I gave are available, and are embedded below.
After the introductions, the workshop participants worked in little groups on identifying local issues where open government data could be used towards new approaches by local government and citizens.
This was done in three steps:
- Identify issues that are currently relevant to your local community.
- Try to define which datasets might be connected to these issues.
- Discuss what new steps are possible, using the datasets mentioned.
The collective output of the workshop has been made available as a document I wrote for the ePSIplatform.eu (download PDF), and is embedded below.
Making Local Open Data Work
In the Open Data arena people often ask if ‘the people’ are actually ‘ready’ to deal with the availability of data. Do we have the statistical skills, the coding skills, to make data useful?
In my presentations over the past 8 months I’ve positioned data as an object of sociality: it becomes the trigger for interaction, a trigger for the forming of connections between people. Much like photos are the social object of a site like Flickr.com, and videos are the social object of YouTube, or your daily activities are for Twitter.
The current best example of how data can be a social object is something John Sheridan showed at the Vienna Open Data Conference last June. All legislation information in the UK has been made available as linked open data. This makes it possible to reference specific paragraphs in laws.
In general law is generally regarded as boring and decidedly un-hip, but the availability of all this legal data as linked open data has a surprising effect: people are referencing specific paragraphs in their on-line conversations, for instance on Twitter. This is what you see in the screenshot below, where people link to specific parts of UK legal texts in the course of their conversation. From boring and useless texts (other than to legal minds that is), to the social object around which everyday conversation can revolve.
Data is a social object. It is a trigger for citizen participation that way, a new way for people to engage with their community. And, the other way around, participation (e.g. existing participatory processes, existing conversations) is a path to data use. From this basic starting point any newly needed skills will grow.