The Austrian Open Knowledge Chapter is dissolving itself (link in German), a decision already made at a general assembly in December 2018. Judging by the website activities had petered out in recent years, the blog falling silent at the end of 2017.

Austria over the years has been an active country concerning open government data and open knowledge in general. Specifically I see the Austrian open data community as a globally relevant good practice example, one that I still regularly refer to. Already in 2010, when I spoke at an open data meet-up in Graz, and in subsequent years presenting at OGD Austria conferences and various other events, what stood out to me was the broad scope the Austrian open data community had. Academia, activists, the federal chancellery, state governments, city governments, start-ups, technologists and traditional re-users were all around the same table. Informal get-togethers and resulting relations formed a basis on which more formal structures and cooperative initiatives could grow. I think such a solid community fundament is the key reason Austria was able to achieve a lot on open data in the absence of any legal framework to actively stimulate it, moreover with a constitution that enshrines civil service secrecy.

For a few years I was quite well informed about the Austrian efforts, through regular visits, and regular calls between German speaking community leaders from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and me as the odd one out. Over time my connection grew more distant however.

With Open Knowledge Austria ceasing to exist, a chapter ends. I suspect the community substrate on which it could exist will endure, even if events, individual members lives and contexts are always in flux around us. It is laudable that OK Austria is actively deciding to dissolve. Organisations all too easily stumble into the pitfall that continued existence becomes the organisation’s primary goal. By dissolving, as Stefan Kasberger, OK Austria’s chair, wrote, one releases its hold on specific topics and niches in an ecosystem, and it becomes possible for new things to emerge over time.

At the 2012 OGD Austria conference in Linz, a wall at the venue carried the text, near the floor obviously, “Above starts down below”. It seemed a good description of how the Austrian open data efforts were based on solid bottom-up community building to me at the time.

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, 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.

Last week I visited the Open Government Data Austria 2011 conference in Vienna. It was a great meet-up of the very active and lively Austrian open government data community. I spoke at the conference on the change management aspects and societal impact of open government data, and not about the operational aspects of technology or things like licenses. I gave my presentation in German, but the slides below are in English.

I also did a few interviews with Austrian press, a video of which is embedded below (in German). There has also been an interview in the webmagazine.

Other presentations of the conference can be found on Slideshare.

=”” alt=”” width=”556″ height=”312″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-18281″ />