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Open Government Community Survey

- April 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


The following guest post is by Mor Rubinstein, coordinator of the Open Government Working Group and student at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Open Government Community Survey

The open government working group at Open Knowledge has been growing and evolving for quite some time. Over the years, we have grown to over 900 members from across the globe, addressing a diversity of topics. With all honesty, as the community coordinator, I feel lost!

Open Government Data Scrabble

So what do you do when you feel lost? The first thing is to take a deep breath and relax. Getting stressed is not going to get you anywhere. Then you have to familiarise yourself with your surroundings. Try to find landmarks, ask people where you are or take out your smartphone and map your way home. However, when it comes to community, things are not so obvious. We don’t have a map to help us navigate and landmarks are almost unknown in the virtual space. We are left with the tried-and-tested human solution, we have to ask people the way.

That is why, today we are launching the open government working group survey. The primary aim of this survey is to help us understand who we are and what we need as a community. This will help us to understand if we are using the right tools to further our goals and determine what we want to work on in the future. Hopefully, it will help us to create a better working plan for the next year and ultimately, we hope that this exercise will enrich the community. In addition, the survey will help me to write my thesis about Open Governments communities at the Oxford Internet Institute where I am working on the first academic paper mapping the world of Open Government and its communities.

The survey does not contain any personal information and is completely anonymous for your privacy. We will not be upset if you will give us negative feedback – we are doing this to do better so it is essential that you are as honest and open as you can be. The open government community space has evolved over the years and community management within the space needs to evolve too!

In contrast to the Open Knowledge community survey that you contributed to last year (see the results here, here and here), this survey is specific to the Open Government working group and individuals working within the open government space as it seeks to understand in order to address the challenges we face as a community pushing the open government agenda forward. With your help, we can steer the group into a fruitful future. Of course, all opinions matter and you don’t have to be an active member of the Open Government Working Group to take the survey. We would love to know your thoughts!

All you need to do is to click away. Please find the open government community survey here and we thank you in advance for your candour and support!

Image: open government data (scrabble) by justgrimes on flickr, CC-BY-SA

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Is Open Source Drug Discovery Practical?

- August 30, 2013 in events, Join us, OKCon, OKF, Open Science

The following guest post is by Matthew Todd, Senior Lecturer at the School of Chemistry, The University of Sydney and Sydney Ambassador of the Open Knowledge Foundation. As part of OKCon 2013 Matthew will host a satellite event entitled ‘Is Open Source Drug Discovery Practical?’, taking place on on Thursday 19 September from 09:00 – 12:00 at the World Health Organization (WHO) – UNAIDS HQ. (Find instructions about how to get there below).



IsOpenSourceDrugDiscoveryPracticalIf we value collaboration as a way of speeding scientific progress, we should all embrace open science since it promises to supercharge the collaboration process, both by making data available to anyone but also by allowing anyone to work on a problem. Open science can obviously promise this because of its essential and defining condition: openness. We, as humans, default to this way of interacting with each other, but such norms can be overridden where there is some advantage in keeping secrets. A possible advantage might be financial, meaning there may be an incentive to work in a closed way if something one has done can be capitalized on for financial reward, leading to the idea of “intellectual property” and its protection through patents.

So we appear to have two opposing forms of enquiry. One that is open (without patents) and one that is closed. Clearly there are examples of great things arising from both.

One of the areas of science that has been of late dominated by the private sector is the pharmaceutical industry. Many effective medicines have been developed using the current model, but is it the only way? Might drug discovery that aligns with open source principles be possible?

My lab has been involved in trying to answer this question, both in developing ways to improve how we make medicines and how we discover new ones. The latter project, Open Source Malaria, directly challenges the idea that something new and of potential value to health should be sequestered away from public involvement. The OSM project abandons the protection of intellectual property so we may take advantage of the greatest number of people working on the problem in a barrierless, meritocratic collaboration.

There are historical arguments that patents are not necessary to drug discovery. Therapeutics of great value have been developed without patents, such as penicillin and the polio vaccine. The ability to patent molecular structures (rather than the methods used to make them) is a relatively recent invention. Patents have been accused of allowing companies to innovate less frequently.

But is an open approach really possible for the development of a new drug? Who would pay for the clinical trials? Who would invest money in the medicine if there is no monopoly on selling it downstream? Is there a realistic economic model that can take a promising new therapeutic and turn it into a medicine for treating millions of people? If open drug discovery is possible for diseases such as malaria, where there is little prospect of a profit, can the same model be applied to a disease like cancer, or Alzheimer’s, where the predicted profit would be very high under the current model?

These questions will all be addressed at a session I am hosting at the Open Knowledge Conference. This satellite event, taking place on the Thursday, is entitled “Is Open Source Drug Discovery Practical?“. I am very excited to have assembled a highly knowledgeable panel to discuss these issues, and in some ways it is lucky that OKCon is taking place in Geneva, where so many of the people most relevant to the current method of finding new medicines are located. The speakers are from the World Health Organisation, the Medicines for Malaria Venture, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, GlaxoSmithKline, the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the Structural Genomics Consortium. If anyone is able to answer the session’s main question, these speakers can.

These panel members will have 10 minutes to speak about their organization’s efforts related to a more open approach to drug discovery. We will then have some coffee, and then turn to addressing some of the key questions above. There will be ample chance for members of the audience to take an active role in the discussion. If you are interested in the quandary of how we are going to find the drugs that we most need for the coming generations, and how we might be able to use open data and open research to do that, then this session is for you. The subject is so interesting because the discovery of effective new medicines is very hard: we assume, then, that the best way to do the research is using a massively distributed collaboration with lots of open data, yet that model is a real challenge today because of the structures we have put in place to support the industry.

Please join us! The session will take place at WHO’s main headquarters from 09:00 till 12:00. So we ensure we don’t overflow the room, please just register your intention to attend here – just to keep track of numbers.

Location: Initially sign in at the WHO main building then go across to the WHO-UNAIDS building, meeting room D46031 (take lift 33/34 to go to the 4th floor).

Instructions on getting to WHO by public transport

[Picture credit]

Even after earthquakes, we need Open

- August 29, 2013 in Featured Project, OKF Italy, Open Development, Open Government Data

The following guest post is by Chistian Quintili from Open Ricostruzione. Open Ricostruzione is an Italian civic project focused on people engagement after the earthquake which damaged cities of Emilia-Romagna in 2012

Open Ricostruzione is pleased to have a little corner in the OKF network. Our project, in short, is a website to monitor public funding and private donations raised to reconstruct public buildings damaged by the earthquake which hit Emilia Romagna in May 2012.

Emilia Romagna is a region in Northern Italy, which in 2012 experienced a series of devastating earthquakes, measuring up to 6.0 on the richter scale. Up to 45,000 people were made homeless, and 27 lost their lives. The cost of reconstruction so far is estimated at around €350 million, with projects including schools, hospitals, and the restoration of historical cultural sites. We want to make sure that this process is open, transparent and accountable.

The Emilia-Romagna region and the ANCI (the association of all Italian municipalities) gathered the relevant administrative data; and an association working on IT and civic participation, called Open Polis, developed special software for accessing the data in a user-friendly and easy way. You can find raw data, project by project, on a featured website named Sisma2012.

open ricostrizione

But Open Ricostruzione is more than this. Technology isn’t enough to “rebuild” democracy: our focus is on re-building citizens’ skills. Beyond smart cities, we need smart citizens. For this reason, ActionAid is organizing a series of workshops to train civil society activists to monitor reconstruction, providing juridical and data journalism skills with Dataninja (an Italian data journalism network).

Bondeno 29 giugno 2013

Today each of us can contribute to make reconstruction in Emilia and our institutions more accountable, and this is possible just using a mobile phone, a camera and an internet connection. This means we can, and should be, more responsible for and concerned by the rebuilding of a better society, better institutions and better nation.

We have the tools and we want to make it happen.

We’d love to hear from you, and you can follow us @Open_Ric for updates.

Open Ricostruzione is a project of ActionAid.it

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Open Data Toolkits and Assessment Tools

- August 28, 2013 in events, OKCon, OKF Switzerland, Open Development, workshop

The following guest post is by Iulian Pogor (World Bank), Meghan Cook (University at Albanyand Barbara Ubaldi (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – OECD), who are among the coordinators of the workshop Open Data Toolkits and Assessment Tools, which will take place at OKCon 2013, as part of the Open Development and Sustainability programme, on Tuesday 17 September. Cross-posted from the OKCon Blog.


OPEN DATA TOOLKITS AND ASSESSMENT TOOLS

A growing network of governments, corporations and civil society organizations around the world are working to expand the availability of open government data by removing technical and legal barriers to data re-use, and engaging the public to unlock the full potential of open data as valuable economic assets and drivers of civic engagement. There are currently hundreds of open data initiatives and a large number of organizations providing assistance to run them. However, the vast majority of them are focused on developed countries and only a few institutions are providing technical assistance to developing countries’ open data initiatives.

The Open Data Toolkits and Assessment Tools workshop to be held on September 17 from 11:30 to 13:15 within the Open Knowledge Conference will present some technical assistance tools and the emerging lessons from implementation of those in developing countries and discuss options for their improvement. The workshop will be broken down in two parts: (i) short presentations and discussion on the World Bank’s Open Government Data Toolkit (by Amparo Ballivian, Chair of the Bank’s Open Government Data Working Group) and the United Nations Guidelines on Open Government Data for Citizen Engagement (by Daniel Dietrich, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs), and (ii) longer presentations and discussion on the open data readiness assessment methodologies from the World Bank and the Web Foundation (by Tim Davies, Research Coordinator), the Center for Technology in Government (by Meghan Cook, Program Director), and OECD (by Barbara Ubaldi, E-Government Unit Project Leader) along with the lessons learned from their applications in developing countries. This second session will aim to gather ideas for improvements of these assessment methodologies.

Please see below short descriptions of the respective tools. We invite your feedback regarding the workshop and the tools in the comments section of this post before, during, and after the conference.


OpenGovernmentDataToolkitThe World Bank Open Government Data Toolkit is designed to help practitioners get “up to speed” in planning and implementing an open government data program, while avoiding common pitfalls. Resources include:

  • Open Data Essentials – answers “Frequently Asked Questions” about open data with many examples.
  • Technology Options – describes open data scenarios with different levels of complexity, and suggests technical solutions for open data platforms appropriate to each scenario.
  • Demand and Engagement – offers a ‘menu’ of services to promote and support ‘Open Data Literacy’, the goal of which is to catalyze, engage, and inspire strategic multi-stakeholder groups to see the value and potential of open data, and what it means for local, national, and regional development in a practical, hands-on way.
  • Supply and Quality of Data – discusses basic examples of data quality standards and useful tools to review, refine, clean, analyze, visualize and publish data.
  • Readiness Assessment Tool – provides a methodological tool for conducting an action-oriented assessment of the readiness of a government – or even an individual agency – to evaluate, design and implement an Open Data initiative. The tool has been applied in Ulyanovsk (Russia),  Antigua and Barbuda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Peru.

OpenGovernmentDataAndServicesThe Guidelines on Open Government Data for Citizen Engagement is a practical and easy-to-understand guideline for policy makers and technologists developed by the UN Public Administration Programme. It can be used to understand, design, implement and sustain open government data initiatives. The toolkit is tailored to the needs and constraints of developing countries, but it can be used by anyone interested in opening up data. It contains the core principles of openness, best practices and case studies, checklists, step-by-step guidelines and practical policy recommendations.

WebFoundationThe Web Foundation has completed initial assessments of two countries’ readiness for implementing open government data programs, in Ghana and in Chile and a third feasibility study is expected to be conducted in Indonesia. Initially, the Web Foundation developed a methodology and a set of composite indicators to define open government data readiness of a given country. These indicators range from political willingness, the public administration readiness, and the civil society interest and readiness. The Web Foundation followed this by conducting research to provide quantitative and qualitative data in preparation for in-country visits, during which the Web Foundation met with key stakeholders to refine the assessment of open government data readiness in their country.

20year_logoFor over 20 years, the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at State University of New York has developed tools and guides that help governments assess their capabilities, gauge readiness, and inform the design and implementation of open government and open data initiatives. Some selected CTG’s resources to build knowledge and assess readiness include:

Most recently CTG conducted an open government readiness assessment in the Republic of Nigeria using a blended approach of both World Bank and CTG’s tools and techniques.

OECDThe OECD project on Open Government Data (OGD) aims to develop a knowledge base on OGD policies, strategies and initiatives. The ultimate goal of the methodology proposed in the Working Paper on OGD Towards Empirical Analysis of Open Government Data Initiatives is to map practices across the OECD and to identify metrics to evaluate costs and benefits of OGD. This provides a framework for data collection to assess the economic, social and good governance value generated by making government data open, as well as the required conditions for successful implementation of OGD initiatives.

The assessment will also underlie policy support and capacity building activities to help governments in OECD and developing countries improve the impact of their OGD policies and practices. The assessment methodology includes: (i) An Analytical Framework for examining OGD initiatives, planning and implementation, and (ii) survey data collection on: OGD strategies and policies, implementation of OGD initiatives and portals, value generation and creation of relevant ecosystems, challenges to implementing OGD policies and initiatives.

The first Open Knowledge Foundation Glasgow Meetup

- August 28, 2013 in events, Meetups, OKFN Local

The following guest post is by Lorna Campbell, former assistant director of the Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards (CETIS). It is cross-posted from her blog.

Last night Sheila and I went along to the first meeting of the Open Knowledge Foundation in Glasgow. The meeting was hosted by the Electron Club and the room was packed to the gunnels with over thirty enthusiastic open data geeks. The event was introduced by Edinburgh University’s Ewan Klein, who has already been instrumental in helping to facilitate a successful series of Open Knowledge Foundation events in Edinburgh.

There were six fascinating lightning talks on a wide range of open data topics:

Glynn Staples introduced the Glasgow Future Cities Demonstrator project, which Sheila, Martin Hawksey and I have already had a little involvement with, when we presented a worksop on social media engagement strategies earlier in the year.

Lizzie Brotherston gave a presentation on the Learner Journey Data Jam which took place in Edinburgh in April, and which featured the work of Cetis’ very own Wilbert Kraan 🙂 It was interesting listening to Lizzie talking about the value of events such as the data jam, and reflecting back on the DevCSI hackdays and the earlier Cetis CodeBashes which ran between 2002 and 2007. We were ahead of our time!

Graham Steel’s presentation was called “Publishing research without data is advertising, not science” and to prove his point, he provided us with lots of useful links which you can find on his prezi here. [And look out for blog post to follow soon – ed]

Bill Roberts, from linked data company Swirrl, reminded us about the importance of presenting Open Data for multiple audiences and introduced a sort of typology of data users which featured “hard core spaqrl junkies” at the bottom!

Neil Logan, of Amor Group, introduced the SFC innovation centres initiative and the Data Science Innovation Centre proposal. You can read more about Neil’s presentation on his own blog here. One of the points that Neil made was that “academics talk to industry because they want money for research”, which I suspect is true, but it did rather make me wonder about whether industry could also offer any investment in teaching and learning?

The final presentation of the evening was by Peter Winstanley of the Scottish Government who talked about the Cabinet Office’s Open Standards Hub. Peter also presented one of the most robust justifications for the adoption of open standards, including persistent resolvable identifiers, that I’ve heard in a long time. If I hadn’t been precariously perched on the edge of a rather high table, I’d have stood up and applauded!

All in all it was a really lively and thought provoking evening and judging by the energy in the room and the many positive comments on twitter, there seems to be real enthusiasm for future Open Knowledge Foundation meetings to take place in Glasgow, so here’s looking forward to the next one!

If you’re intereted in learning more about the first #OpenDataGla event, I’ve posted a Storify here and Martin Hawksey has archived all the tweets here.

For all the latest on the Open Knowledge Foundation in Scotland, follow @okfnscot.

Predicting city bankruptcies with open data: The case of Detroit

- July 31, 2013 in Featured, Open Spending

This is a guest post by Marc Joffe of Public Sector Credit Solutions.

Used to Make Money Selling Baked Goods

Many have noticed that the United States last week was struck by its biggest municipal bankruptcy ever, when the City of Detroit declared bankruptcy. Less well known is the fact that Moody’s, the major credit rating agency, downgraded the City of Chicago by three notches at about the same time.

Earlier this year, I used audited financial disclosures to estimate the risk of city bond defaults, which often accompany bankruptcies, in the state of California. The research was funded by a grant from the state, but its conclusions are mine and not those of any official agency. The goal was to see whether open data collected from so called Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR), that US governments typically file as PDFs, and open analytics (or open economic modeling), can serve as an alternative to standard credit rating agency analysis.

The model created during the research is openly available and designed to calculate default probabilities, where higher scores are worse than lower scores. Since 1940, the annual default rate for American cities has been 0.10%. In 2012 however, 2 out of 265 or 0.75% of California cities defaulted on their debt, and so that is the average score in the model. Scores substantially higher than 0.75% therefore represent heightened credit risk.

A number of people have asked me how the scoring model would have treated Detroit (Michigan) and Chicago (Illinois), which are in other US states. Here is a my response.

A Google spreadsheet containing the model is available here and embedded below. It is a modified version of our original model. I entered data from Detroit’s 2012 CAFR, which was published on December 28, 2012 and the Chicago’s 2012 CAFR which appeared more recently. Based on our open model Detroit’s probability score is 3.34%, which is worse than almost every California city in our survey. Chicago’s score is also pretty bad: at 1.77% it is worse than the score for Stockton, which was one of the two California cities to default in 2012.

The main driver of Detroit’s high default probability score is its negative general fund balance. The ratio of Detroit’s general fund balance to general fund expenditure is -27%. As reported in our April working paper general fund exhaustion, which means very low or negative general fund balances, were associated with the Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino bankruptcies. The situation in Detroit provides further evidence that municipal bond investors and other stakeholders would benefit by monitoring this indicator.

Although Chicago does not have a negative general fund balance, it has an annual general fund deficit and declining revenue, two of the four indicators that drive the default probability score. Chicago also has a relatively high ratio of interest and pension costs to total governmental fund revenues. When these uncontrollable costs become relatively high, bankruptcy is harder to avoid.

Assessing government default probability rates based on open data is today a challenging task, as most cities publish this data in PDF-format. Getting cities to publish such data in machine readable format, would make such research a lot easier. For the OpenSpending community the the bankruptcy of Detroit also underlines the need for addressing not only spending, but also revenue flows and liabilities.

Collecting, extracting and analyzing data from public financial disclosures can help us evaluate the credit risk of our local governments openly and transparent. This could be an important way of using the OpenSpending concept and platform.

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Open Data Portal on Land Rights

- July 30, 2013 in events, External, OKCon, Open Data

Cross-posted from the OKCon Blog.

Introducing a series of guest posts by OKCon 2013 speakers that we will publish over the coming weeks. This first post is by Laura Meggiolaro, Land Portal Coordinator, International Land Coalition, who will be speaking on the main stage during the Open Development and Sustainability session on Wednesday 18th September at 10:15.


logo-land-portal-transparenThere is a wealth of information and data online about land governance. However, much of this content is fragmented and difficult to locate, and often it is not openly licensed to enable wide dissemination and reuse. Bringing this information together in one place, actively addressing gaps in the available information, and providing a range of ways for the information to be accessed and shared does increase use of the available information. This supports more informed debates and policy making, and greater adoption and up scaling of best practices and promising innovations, leading to improve land governance practice. Through a focus on localisation of content creation and use, the Land Portal aims at tipping the balance of power towards the most marginalised and insecure, promoting greater social justice in land tenure practices across the world.

Access to knowledge is essential for individuals and communities seeking to secure land rights, particularly for women. Stronger networks between government agencies, CSOs, and emerging social movements are needed to support more just, equitable and gender aware land governance. Over recent decades land governance groups have come to use the Internet in their practice, but it’s full potential is by no means realised. The land Portal can support land advocacy and governance, drawing on learning from current practice, and highlighting emerging frontiers of relevance to the field. Recent online dialogue that focused on monitoring women’s land rights in Madagascar demonstrated that the Land Portal as a platform for open content and open data offers a collaborative approaches to land governance.

As Madagascar has recently been debating its new progressive tenure reform, it provides an interesting case study to show how internet-based tools such as the Land Portal gives the opportunity – provided the basic infrastructure is available and those accessing it have functional literacy skills – to enhance participation and allow for diversity of insights and perspectives on questions like “is land reform in Madagascar a model for replication?” or “how legal pluralism may restrict or promote women’s access to land?”.

Over the last years we found out that online discussions, in particular, are effective means to promote inclusion, knowledge sharing and promote social changes.

logo

The discussion on “land reform” had the objective of involving civil society to debate experiences of the land reform implementation and which key lessons could be transferred to other countries. The more recent discussion provides an interesting insight of how women’s access to land might be affected by a legal pluralism. Insights from Malagasy people or land experts in region aimed at revising and improving data on the FAO Gender and Land Rights database (GLRD).

The LP is based on open source, open data and open content and applies principles of openness in its governance, its use of technology and in its outputs. Through the pursuit of more transparent and open information on land governance the Portal seeks to become a leading example of open development in action. However, the Land Portal does not adopt openness uncritically, but instead focuses in particular on identifying where openness can help tip the balance of power in favour of the marginalised, rather than where openness could ‘empower the already empowered’ (1.). Land Portal seeks to ensure that a diversity of knowledge is included and represented, and that those best placed to act in the interests of those with the most insecure land rights and the greatest vulnerability to landlessness have effective access to the open data and knowledge that is made available.

landportal_card

Besides documenting land rights, the Portal also encourages social information exchange, debate and networking. It aims at becoming the leading online destination for information, resources, innovations and networking on land issues; support more inclusive and informed debate and action on land governance and increase adoption and up-scaling of best practices and emerging innovation on land tenure.

The Land Portal is a partnership project supported by a network of international and grassroots land organisations focussed on land governance, development and social justice. Its innovative approach to engaging stakeholders on the highly complex issue of land governance ensures that the Portal is coordinated, managed and populated with content by the stakeholders and users who are actively involved with land from far and wide.


(1.) Gurstein, M. (2011). Open data: Empowering the empowered or effective data use for everyone? (2.) Link to article


With almost 10 year work experience in the land governance sector collaborating with both UN Agencies and Civil Society Organizations in information and knowledge management, partnerships building and communication for development, Laura is strongly committed towards social change and the improvement of life conditions of disadvantaged groups within societies, focusing in particular on gender dynamics.
Since she has been assigned the overall Land Portal coordination in 2012, she has been leading an in deep project self-assessment and promoting a major re-development of the Portal to better address its main target audiences, respond to the ever-evolving technological innovations and opportunities for better quality and reach, but also to increasingly make the Portal a hub for Open Data and a clear example of open development in action contributing to open land governance information and knowledge in order to increase transparency on land related issues.

The transformative potential of gardening with data

- July 18, 2013 in Open Data

The following guest post is by Farida Vis from the Everyday Growing Cultures research project. The project looks at the potentially transformative effect of bringing together the food growing and open data communities.

Potatoes, everyday growing cultures

Those supporting the government’s open data agenda highlight the business case for open data, an economic argument about its moneysaving potential, along with the suggestion that it will lead to better-informed citizens. All of these claims require close and critical examination. If money is saved, who benefits and makes money from these innovations? How exactly do citizens know about and become better informed through open data? Why should they care? Some within the wide and heterogeneous open data ‘movement’ subsequently point to the importance of ‘really useful’ data, suggesting citizens might care and become better informed if open data was seen as useful in their daily lives.

Our project, “Everyday Growing Cultures”, addresses these issues by focusing on two distinct yet connected communities: allotment, growing communities (plot holders; allotment societies; those waiting for plots; allotment governing bodies) and the open data community (open data activists; developers; local government; data journalists). Allotment and open data communities may initially seem unconnected, but they share many concerns: around ideas of knowledge sharing, exchange, collaboration, ‘the commons’, and access to shared resources (digital and land).

We believe there is a potentially transformative value in connecting these two currently disparate communities. Bringing them together could build stronger, more active communities, benefit local economies and improve environmental sustainability and food security. We focus on the current allotment waiting list crisis and huge interest in growing your own, to investigate the value that could be brought into people’s lives through opening up local government data on allotments. Moreover, we are interested in facilitating citizen-led solutions to this crisis by identifying and mapping vacant land for the purpose of growing food.

Our research is based on the UK cities of Sheffield and Manchester, which both have thriving open data and food growing communities. Keeping in mind the different aspects of the open data agenda – the economic dimension, its claimed contribution to a better informed citizenry – along with the methods through which open data is practiced, we are using the allotment case and increased interest in food growing to ask:

  • What does digital engagement and transformation look like within these communities?
  • How can these communities further the national open data agenda so that it benefits citizens?
  • How can a more widely adopted and enacted open data strategy benefit local economies?
  • If unsuccessful in these aspects, what might open data’s unintended consequences look like?
  • How can we think of forms of resistance, mobilisation of local histories and heritage identities?
  • How can we rethink received ideas of participation and enacting citizenship in light of these?

Since mid-February 2013, in partnership with Open Data Manchester, The Kindling Trust and Grow Sheffield, we have run a number of events with growing communities in Manchester and Sheffield, to identify potential food growing spaces. We have talked to local councils about taking some of our ideas forward and how this might take place. We have requested allotment data through the Freedom of Information Act and looked at how council websites provide information to potential allotment plot holders. We are in the process of surveying people on waiting lists and have made a documentary film highlighting these important issues.

Join the Everyday Growing Cultures team in Sheffield on 23 July to discuss and explore these issues with key partners and stakeholders, including leading UK allotment expert Professor David Crouch. As part of the event, the award winning feature documentary, Grown in Detroit, will be screened. Before that our own project documentary film will be shown and the filmmakers (Erinma Ochu and Caroline Ward) will be there to answer your questions!

The event is free to attend, but registration is required. Please register here: Eventbrite information. Please check the website for further details.

We will also present work from the project at these upcoming events:
Smart Towns event in Halifax in September.
Everyday Growing Cultures film screening at Dig the City festival in Manchester (3-11 August).

What Does $3.2M Buy in Open Government?

- July 16, 2013 in Exemplars, Open Government Data

The following guest post is by Travis Korte from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

Still from GitMachines’ submission video

The Knight Foundation received hundreds of submissions to its “Knight News Challenge on Open Gov.,” a competition designed to create new tools to improve how citizens interact with government. The applicants noted a number of problems with government data: confusing interfaces for government data portals, poor public understanding of proposed policies, inaccessible court records, strict security regulations impeding civic hacking projects, poor visualization of government data and a lack of information about municipal projects.

Last month, the Foundation awarded over $3.2 million to eight winners. Here’s a round-up of what they do:

  • Procure.io: The Oakland and Atlanta-based organization will produce a streamlined procurement system for government contracts. Using a simple interface, government officials will be able to submit requests for proposal to a publicly accessible and easily indexed database. By simplifying the contracting process, Procure.io stands to broaden the pool of applicants and encourage lower bids.
  • Outline.com: This Cambridge, MA-based “policy simulation” startup will let users input their age, income and other general details on a website and then use sophisticated economic models to output a positive or negative dollar amount that represents their expected net income change as a result of a proposed policy. Outline will also provide a transparent version-control system to catalog changes in various policies.
  • Oyez: Founded in 1997 at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Oyez has overseen successful digitization initiatives for U.S. Supreme Court documents, and now hopes to apply the same model to state supreme courts. The effort will collect, catalog, standardize, annotate and release to the public the records of the courts of the five largest states (CA, FL, IL, NY, and TX). The organization will also work to annotate the records with metadata and plain-English summaries, in partnership with local “public-spirited institutions.”
  • GitMachines: The Washington, DC-based team will provide free, cloud-based virtual machines that are compliant with NIST and GSA software standards and come pre-configured with commonly used open government tools such as the Apache Tomcat web server and data workflow management tool Drake. By offering these servers from a central, virtual depot, GitMachines will also reduce costs associated with ad hoc server-side IT staffing.
  • Civic Insight: Building off their work on BlightStatus, an urban blight data visualization tool for New Orleans, the San Francisco-based Civic Insight will expand the scope of their dynamic mapping solution, working with other cities on applications related to economic development and public health.
  • Plan in a Box: A Philadelphia- and New York-based team will build a web publishing platform designed for municipal planning activities. Aimed at geographically-constrained projects in small and medium-sized cities, Plan in a Box will offer a centralized news and feedback repository, with mobile and social integration. Organizers hope to enable effective communications without any costly web design or excessive configuration on the part of city officials.
  • Smart Communities – Pushing Government Open: The Chicago branch of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation offers a three-pronged approach to grow the community’s capacity to participate in and take advantage of future open data initiatives: 1) attract more internet users by providing classes and job training 2) promote currently available open data by introducing existing data projects on neighborhood web portals and in special meetups and 3) meet with community members in five Chicago neighborhoods to prioritize and request additional open data.
  • OpenCounter: The City of Santa Cruz, CA and Code for America will simplify the process of opening a small business by developing an application programming interface (a set of protocols for building software using the OpenCounter platform), a mechanism for non-technical users to customize the website, and tools for site selection and project comparison. These tools will be added to the existing OpenCounter website, which provides a portal to the city’s business permitting process.

The winning entries provide a revealing glimpse into an emerging concern in open government data projects: what sorts of web infrastructure will be necessary to allow more people to actually make use of the data? Oyez represented the only traditional digitization project among the winners; others, such as Civic Insight and OpenCounter, trained their focus on the post-digitization landscape, proposing projects to redesign the data offerings that already exist.

The most ambitious projects took a further step back from data itself, and proposed to address gaps in knowledge, skills and resources related to open government that no amount of interface design is likely to fix. From GitMachines, which will attempt to help surmount security obstacles to government software adoption, to Smart Communities, which will promote data literacy as a gateway to participation in open government, a common question emerged. Data is here; now what will we have to change about ourselves and our institutions to make good use of it?


Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), where he works on the Data Innovation project. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining ITIF, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics.

If you’re interested in Open Government Data, you should be on our Open Government Data group!

Publish from ScraperWiki to CKAN

- July 5, 2013 in ckan, Featured Project

The following post is by Aidan McGuire, co-founder of ScraperWiki. It is cross-posted on the ScraperWiki blog.

ScraperWiki are looking for open data activists to try out our new “Open your data” tool.

Since its first launch ScraperWiki has worked closely with the Open Data community. Today we’re building on this commitment by pre-announcing the release of the first in a series of tools that will enable open data activists to publish data directly to open data catalogues.

To make this even easier, ScraperWiki will also be providing free datahub accounts for open data projects.

This first tool will allow users of CKAN catalogues (there are 50, from Africa to Washington) to publish a dataset that has been ingested and cleaned on the new ScraperWiki platform. It’ll be released on the 11th July.

screenshot showing new tool (alpha)

If you run an open data project which scrapes, curates and republishes open data, we’d love your help testing it. To register, please email [email protected] with “open data” in the subject, telling us about your project.

Why are we doing this? Since its launch ScraperWiki has provided a place where an open data activist could get, clean, analyse and publish data. With the retirement of “ScraperWiki Classic” we decided to focus on the getting, cleaning and analysing, and leave the publishing to the specialists – places like CKAN.

This new “Open your data” tool is just the start. Over the next few months we also hope that open data activists will help us work on the release of tools that:

  • Generate RDF (linked data)
  • Update data real time
  • Publish to other data catalogues

Here’s to liberating the world’s messy open data!


Aidan McGuire is the co-founder of ScraperWiki, the site which enables you to “Get, clean, analyse, visualise and manage your data,
with simple tools or custom-written code.” Among other things, they write and catalogue screen-scrapers to extract and analyse public data from websites.