Last Wednesday in Berlin, about 25 people gathered in the spaces of New Thinking Store.
They were there to found the Open Data Network in Germany as a legal entity. I happened to be in Berlin for another event (will post later), and thought it was a good opportunity to go there and show my support, as well as meet up with a number of Open Data advocates (some of them familiar faces from last month’s Reboot_D).


founding meeting of Open Data Network

Clearly a Political Topic
During the short intro round in which each of those present shared their background and reason for being there, one thing very clearly stood out: Open (Government) Data is of high political interest. All major parties were represented, and at significant level as well. The Greens (with a national board member), the Left Bloc (Die Linke), the Pirate Party, Labour (SPD, just voted out of power last month), christian democrats (CDU, currently in power), and right wing liberals (FDP, currently in power), all were represented. I thought that was rather impressive.


Counting votes for board members

The Open Data Network will work towards a ‘citizen centered’ information society, where transparency and participation are key words, as well as the translation of civil rights and privacy to our information age.
Now, founding a legal entity isn’t all that exciting to do. There are statutes to vote on and underwrite, board members to be chosen, etc. So next Wednesday there will be a much more practically oriented follow up meeting to work on a first tangible project: the ‘Germany API’.

‘Germany API’
This will be a general API for different sources of information and data in Germany, to allow others to more easily build their own apps and mash-ups with the underlying data. It resembles somewhat the HNS.dev in the Netherlands that aims to do the same.
Building something like this would be a good step forward as it allows people to get engaged in using public service info and data in a more low-threshold fashion.


Founding members signing the documents

OurData.eu
The Open Data Network also will act as the local contact for Germany for OurData.eu. Connecting to other European initiatives and showing existing sources, initiatives and examples of re-use is well within their scope of activities, and I am happy they want to take on that role. I am looking forward to see more entries on OurData.eu from Germany.

German Cities
The association of medium sized cities in Germany apparantly has a keen interest in Open Data. In my view it is on the municipal level that open data is most easily leveraged in ways that have meaning for individual citizens: info that matters right in your own neighbourhood. So it is exciting to hear that the Open Data Network will be working closely together with a number of German cities to help move open government data forward. Perhaps the recent progress in e.g. Vancouver can serve as an example.

It was fun to be witness to this founding meeting, as well as talk to Berlin-based Open Data enthusiasts over a beer or two.
(more pics)

It’s already been a month (it’s been kind of hectic, amongst others with a death in the family) since I visited Reboot_D in Berlin, but finally here are some impressions.

Reboot_D
Reboot_D (link in German) took its cue from Reboot Britain last July, an event looking into how to use the new affordances of the digital age to work on the challenges nations face.
In Germany the focus was specifically on political and government structures, and the public sphere, and it was a small scale workshop-like day, with about 40 participants. Organizers were amongst others Martin Lindner (blog) and Ulrike Reinhard.

I was invited by Martin Lindner to contribute around the theme of open government data, as that is what I have been working on with the Dutch government this year, together with James Burke.

Format of the event
There were six general themes (the links point to collective event notes in German):
Digital grass root organizing
Open government data / government as platform
Representation 2.0
Legislation 2.0
Crowdsouring
Open Documents

The day started with a general round of introductions where participants were invited to state some of the questions, positions or things they’d like to address.
Then we did 6 quick rounds of 8 minutes in which all participants rotated in small groups, getting introduced into the six themes by ‘hosts’. Each host shortly showed a few examples relevant to the theme, and first questions got explored. I liked that format.

After this ‘speed-dating’ each theme was more fully explored in two rounds of smaller group discussion/workshop. A plenary session at the end brought resulting actions and impressions together.
As I was the host for the ‘open government data’ theme I did not get much chance to hear what was discussed around the other themes

Open Government Data
From the group work on Open Gov Data three actions emerged.

1 Legal framework, flow-chart
First of all, participants feel a need to establish the exact current conditions around open government data. How exactly has the 2003 EU Directive on public service information been translated into German law? How does it connect/ work with other relevant laws around privacy, copyright and database gathering? Without knowledge of the general legal framework it’s hard to enter into discussions on what is or is not viable open government data. Knowledge of this legal framework can be made into a flow-chart like poster, helping others to navigate this topic.

2 Finding change agents
From the discussions it seems likely that the individual states in the German federation are a better starting point than the national level. (Also see my general observations on the discussion further down)
Finding people to talk to, and connecting them with existing open government data enthusiast/advocates elsewhere will help build momentum. Right after the event I was approached by Daniel Dietrich informing me there now is a German open government data association, called OpenData Network, which will actively work towards this.

3 Formulating new ethical questions
Before the digital age some questions about admissible or inadmissible data usage never needed to be discussed as it wasn’t technologically feasible anyway. Now that technology isn’t a barrier, we need to both formulate and answer the type of ethical questions that we could ignore before. Is it ok to connect certain data sources into something new, that even those that it concerns weren’t even aware of themselves? (Like being confronted with patterns in your own behavior you were unaware of but that can be constructed from data you are aware of, finding new mirrors as it were to look into) What if somebody uses data without knowledge what it actually means, and bases faulty decisions on it, and then complains back at the source? It’s these questions that I find most often are now used as a reason to not open data up. It also connects to Lawrence Lessig’s recent article on the ‘shadow’ side of transparency. We most certainly need to look into these questions: both formulating them, and providing lines of reasoning to answer them.

General impressions from the debate
Germany is less than 5 kilometers away from my home, but it’s always interesting to see how different some cultural aspects can be between neighbors.
I was surprised to hear how quickly a lot of discussions, even the more mundane ones, quickly turned to highly politicized highly abstracted debates, and whether it meant changing or even damaging the constitution. That way things quickly become too big to tackle I think. You can work change without top-down transforming the entire nation first. You can work change by creating a few practical steps and examples, that then serve as leverage to do more. Those practical entry points are most likely better found at lower levels of government than the national one.


Fitting democacry in a new frame (German parliament through a glass panel at Berlin Hauptbahnhof)

All in all it was a good an inspiring day, and I think it helped build some more ties for the European network of those working towards open government data and public service information.

Video impressions can be found on the Reboot_D Youtube channel
A short video interview with David Weinberger on how ‘transparency is the new objectivity’ was done before the event by Ulrike, one of the organizers.

I am honoured to be invited to give a key-note at Online Educa in Berlin early December. This is the 14th international conference on Technology Supported Learning and Training.

It promises to be an interesting event, that will feature much more than just presentations. Bloggers have been invited to cover the event, and there are a number of fully interactive sessions as well. Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, the anthropologist that created the ‘Machine is Us’ and other videos with his students will be presenting as well, and I am very much looking forward to hearing him speak.

My own presentation, as well as my contribution in the panel discussion that will follow it, has the title “Networked life, networked work, networked learning. Or the consequences of accidentally reconfiguring my life.” It will be a combination of the story of what my fully networked and connected day looks like, and the more fundamental shifts in underlying cultural categories that go with it. The changes I made these past 6 years in the way I live work and learn have not been preplanned, but happened in response to a changed environment. Once I noticed those responses I turned them into more conscious strategy.

When we look at how children respond to the technology available as well as to the societal changes that already caused, it is much the same process. We need to adapt our teaching, because the world these children grow up in and respond to has already changed due to the new affordances that mobile communication and internet give us. Our teaching needs to empower children to consciously shape their strategies using the tools and environment they already adapted to without noticing.
In preparation of the conference the organizers published a short interview with me, and there is a short article featuring some quotes on TrainingZone.

Am looking forward to visit Berlin again. It’s been a long time since I last was there.