Tag Archives: okfn

International Open Data Hackathon Updates and Apps

With the International Open Data Hackathon getting closer, I’m getting excited. There’s been a real expansion on the wiki of the number of cities where people are sometimes humbly, sometimes grandly, putting together events. I’m seeing Nairobi, Dublin, Sydney, Warsaw and Madrid as some of the cities with newly added information. Exciting!

I’ve been thinking more and more about applications people can hack on that I think would be fun, engage a broad number of people and that would help foster a community around viable, self-sustaining projects.

I’m of course, all in favour of people working on whatever peaks their interest, but here are a few projects I’m encouraging people to look at:

1. Openspending.org

What I really like about openspending.org is that there are lots of ways non-coders can contribute. Specifically finding, scraping and categorizing budget data, which (sadly) is often very messy are things almost anyone with a laptop can do and are essential to getting this project off the ground. In addition, the reward for this project can be significant, a nice visualization of whatever budget you have data for – a perfect tool for helping people better understand where their money (or taxes) go. Another big factor in its favour… openspending.org – a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation who’ve been big supporters and sponsors of the international open data hackathon – is also perfect because, if all goes well, it is the type of project that a group can complete in one day.

So I hope that some people try playing with website using your own local data. It would be wonderful to see the openspending.org community grow.

2. Adopt a Hydrant

Some of you have already seen me blog about this app – a project that comes of out Code for America. If you know of a government agency, or non profit, that has lat/long information for a resource that it wants people to help take care of… then adopt a hydrant could be for you. Essentially adopt a hydrant – which can be changed to adopt an anything – allows people to sign up and “adopt” what ever the application tracks. Could be trees, hydrants, playgrounds… you name it.

Some of you may be wondering… why adopt a hydrant? Well because in colder places, like Boston, MA, adopt a hydrant was created in the hopes that citizens might adopt a hydrant and so agree that when it snows they would keep the hydrant clear of snow. That way, in case their is a fire, the emergency responders don’t end up wasting valuable minutes locating and then digging out, the hydrant. Cool eh?

I think adopt a hydrant has the potential of become a significant open source project, one widely used by cities and non-profits. Would be great to see some people turned on to it!

3. Mapit

What I love about mapit is that it is the kind of application that can help foster other open data applications. Created by the wonderful people over at Mysociety.org this open source software essentially serves as a mapping layer so that you can find out what jurisdictions a given address or postal code or GPS device currently sits in (e.g. what riding, ward, city, province, county, state, etc… am I in?). This is insanely useful for lots of developers trying to build websites and apps that tell their users useful information about a given address or where they are standing. Indeed, I’m told that most of Mysociety.org’s project use their instance of MapIt to function.

This project is for those seeking a more ambitious challenge, but I love the idea that this service might exist in multiple countries and that a community might emerge around another one of mysociety.org’s projects.

No matter what you intend to work on, drop me a line! Post it to the open data day mailing list and let me know about it. I’d love to share it with the world.

The State of Open Data 2011

What is the state of the open data movement? Yesterday, during my opening keynote at the Open Government Data Camp (held this year in Warsaw, Poland) I sought to follow up on my talk from last year’s conference. Here’s my take of where we are today (I’ll post/link to a video of the talk as soon as the Open Knowledge Foundation makes it available).

Successes of the Past Year: Crossing the Chasm

1. More Open Data Portals

One of the things that has been amazing to witness in 2011 is the veritable explosion of Open Data portals around the world. Today there are well over 50 government data catalogs with more and more being added. The most notable of these was probably the Kenyan Open Data catalog which shows how far, and wide, the open data movement has grown.

2. Better Understanding and More Demand

The things about all these portals is that they are the result of a larger shift. Specifically, more and more government officials are curious about what open data is. This is not to say that understanding has radically shifted, but many people in government (and in politics) now know the term, believe there is something interesting going on in this space, and want to learn more. Consequently, in a growing number of places there is less and less headwind against us. Rather than screaming from the rooftops, we are increasingly being invited in the front door.

3. More Experimentation

Finally, what’s also exciting is the increased experimentation in the open data space. The number of companies and organizations trying to engage open data users is growing. ScraperWiki, the DataHub, BuzzData, Socrata, Visua.ly, are some of the products and resources that have emerged out of the open data space. And the types of research and projects that are emerging – the tracking of the Icelandic volcano eruptions, the emergence of hacks and hackers, micro projects (like my own Recollect.net) and the research showing that open data could be generating savings of ¬£8.5 million a year to governments in the Greater Manchester area, is deeply encouraging.

The Current State: An Inflection Point

The exciting thing about open data is that increasingly we are helping people – public servants, politicians, business owners and citizens imagine a different future, one that is more open, efficient and engaging. Our impact is still limited, but the journey is still in its early days. More importantly, thanks to success (number 2 above) our role is changing. So what does this mean for the movement right now?

Externally to the movement, the work we are doing is only getting more relevant. We are in an era of institution failure. From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall St. there is a recognition that our institutions no longer sufficiently serve us. Open data can’t solve this problem, but it is part of the solution. The challenge of the old order and the institutions it fostered is that its organizing principle is built around the management (control) of processes, it’s been about the application of the industrial production model to government services. This means it can only move so fast, and because of its strong control orientation, can only allow for so much creativity (and adaption). Open data is about putting the free flow of information at the heart of government – both internally and externally – with the goal of increasing government’s metabolism and decentralizing societies’ capacity to respond to problems. Our role is not obvious to the people in those movements, and we should make it clearer.

Internally to the movement, we have another big challenge. We are at a critical inflection point. For years we have been on the outside, yelling that open data matters. But now we are being invited inside. Some of us want to rush in, keen to make advances, others want to hold back, worried about being co-opted. To succeed, it is essential we must become more skilled at walking this difficult line: engaging with governments and helping them make the right decisions, while not being co-opted or sacrificing our principles. Choosing to not engage would, in my opinion, be to abscond from our responsibility as citizens and open data activists. This is a difficult transition, but it will be made easier if we at least acknowledge it, and support one another in it.

Our Core Challenges: What’s next

Looking across the open data space, my own feeling is that there are three core challenges that are facing the open data movement that threaten to compromise all the successes we’ve currently enjoyed.

1. The Compliance Trap

One key risk for open data is that all our work ends up being framed as a transparency initiative and thus making data available is reduced to being a compliance issue for government departments. If this is how our universe is framed I suspect in 5-10 years governments, eager to save money and cut some services, will choose to cut open data portals as a cost saving initiative.

Our goal is not to become a compliance issue. Our goal is to make governments understand that they are data management organizations and that they need to manage their data assets with the same rigour with which they manage physical assets like roads and bridges. We are as much about data governance as we are open data. This means we need to have a vision for government, one where data becomes a layer of the government architecture. Our goal is to make data platform one that not only citizens outside of government can build on, but one that government reconstructs its policy apparatus as well as its IT systems at top of. Achieving this will ensure that open data gets hardwired right into government and so cannot be easily shut down.

2. Data Schemas

This year, in the lead up to the Open Data Camp, the Open Knowledge Foundation created a map of open data portals from around the world. This was fun to look at, and I think should be the last time we do it.

We are getting to a point where the number of data portals is becoming less and less relevant. Getting more portals isn’t going to enable open data to scale more. What is going to allow us to scale is establishing common schemas for data sets that enable them to work across jurisdictions. The single most widely used open government data set is transit data, which because it has been standardized by the GTFS is available across hundreds of jurisdictions. This standardization has not only put the data into google maps (generating millions of uses everyday) but has also led to an explosion of transit apps around the world. Common standards will let us scale. We cannot forget this.

So let’s stop mapping open data portals, and start mapping datasets that adhere to common schemas. Given that open data is increasingly looked upon favourably by governments, creating these schemas is, I believe, now the central challenge to the open data movement.

3. Broadening the Movement

I’m impressed by the hundreds and hundreds of people here at the Open Data Camp in Warsaw. It is fun to be able to recognize so many of the faces here, the problem is that I can recognize too many of them. We need to grow this movement. There is a risk that we will become complacent, that we’ll enjoy the movement we’ve created and, more importantly, our roles within it. If that happens we are in trouble. Despite our successes we are far from reaching critical mass.

The simple question I have for us is: Where is the United Way, Google, Microsoft, the Salvation Army, Oxfam, and Greenpeace? We’ll know were are making progress when companies – large and small – as well as non-profits – start understanding how open government data can change their world for the better and so want to help us advance the cause.

Each of us needs to go out and start engaging these types of organizations and helping them see this new world and the potential it creates for them to make money or advance their own issues. The more we can embed ourselves into other’s networks, the more allies we will recruit and the stronger we will be.

 

International Open Data Hackathon 2011: Better Tools, More Data, Bigger Fun

Last year, with only a month of notice, a small group passionate people announced we’d like to do an international open data hackathon and invited the world to participate.

We were thinking small but fun. Maybe 5 or 6 cities.

We got it wrong.

In the end people from over 75 cities around the world offered to host an event. Better still we definitively heard from people in over 40. It was an exciting day.

Last week, after locating a few of the city organizers email addresses, I asked them if we should do it again. Every one of them came back and said: yes.

So it is official. This time we have 2 months notice. December 3rd will be Open Data Day.

I want to be clear, our goal isn’t to be bigger this year. That might be nice if it happens. But maybe we’ll only have 6-7 cities. I don’t know. What I do want is for people to have fun, to learn, and to engage those who are still wrestling with the opportunities around open data. There is a world of possibilities out there. Can we seize on some of them?

Why.

Great question.

First off. We’ve got more data. Thanks to more and more enlightened governments in more and more places, there’s a greater amount of data to play with. Whether it is Switzerland, Kenya, or Chicago there’s never been more data available to use.

Second, we’ve got better tools. With a number of governments using Socrata there are more API’s out there for us to leverage. Scrapperwiki has gotten better and new tools like Buzzdata, TheDataHub and Google’s Fusion Tables are emerging every day.

And finally, there is growing interest in making “openess” a core part of how we measure governments. Open data has a role to play in driving this debate. Done right, we could make the first Saturday in December “Open Data Day.” A chance to explain, demo and invite to play, the policy makers, citizens, businesses and non-profits who don’t yet understand the potential. Let’s raise the world’s data literacy and have some fun. I can’t think of a better way than with another global open data hackathon – an maker’s fair like opportunity for people to celebrate open data by creating visualizations, writing up analyses, building apps or doing what ever they want with data.

Of course, like last time, hopefully we can make the world a little better as well. (more on that coming soon)

How.

The basic premises for the event would be simple, relying on 5 basic principles.

1. Together. It can be as big or as small, as long or as short, as you’d like it, but we’ll be doing it together on Saturday, December 3rd, 2011.

2. It should be open. Around the world I’ve seen hackathons filled with different types of people, exchanging ideas, trying out new technologies and starting new projects. Let’s be open to new ideas and new people. Chris Thorpe in the UK has done amazing work getting young and diverse group hacking. I love Nat Torkington’s words on the subject. Our movement is stronger when it is broader.

3. Anyone can organize a local event. If you are keen help organize one in your city and/or just participate add your name to the relevant city on this wiki page. Where ever possible, try to keep it to one per city, let’s build some community and get new people together. Which city or cities you share with is up to you as it how you do it. But let’s share.

4. You can work on anything that involves open data. That could be a local or global app, a visualization, proposing a standard for common data sets, scraping data from a government website to make it available for others in buzzdata.

It would be great to have a few projects people can work on around the world – building stuff that is core infrastructure to future projects. That’s why I’m hoping someone in each country will create a local version of MySociety’s Mapit web service for their country. It will give us one common project, and raise the profile of a great organization and a great project.

We also hope to be working with Random Hacks of Kindness, who’ve always been so supportive, ideally supplying data that they will need to run their applications.

5. Let’s share ideas across cities on the day. Each city’s hackathon should do at least one demo, brainstorm, proposal, or anything that it shares in an interactive way with at members of a hackathon in at least one other city. This could be via video stream, skype, by chat… anything but let’s get to know one another and share the cool projects or ideas we are hacking on. There are some significant challenges to making this work: timezones, languages, culture, technology… but who cares, we are problem solvers, let’s figure out a way to make it work.

Like last year, let’s not try to boil the ocean. Let’s have a bunch of events, where people care enough to organize them, and try to link them together with a simple short connection/presentation.Above all let’s raise some awareness, build something and have some fun.

What next?

1. If you are interested, sign up on the wiki. We’ll move to something more substantive once we have the numbers.

2. Reach out and connect with others in your city on the wiki. Start thinking about the logistics. And be inclusive. Someone new shows up, let them help too.

3. Share with me your thoughts. What’s got you excited about it? If you love this idea, let me know, and blog/tweet/status update about it. Conversely, tell me what’s wrong with any or all of the above. What’s got you worried? I want to feel positive about this, but I also want to know how we can make it better.

4. Localization. If there is bandwidth locally, I’d love for people to translate this blog post and repost it locally. (let me know as I’ll try cross posting it here, or at least link to it). It is important that this not be an english language only event.

5. If people want a place to chat with other about this, feel free to post comments below. Also the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Day mailing list will be the place where people can share news and help one another out.

Once again, I hope this will sound like fun to a few committed people. Let me know what you think.

Open Knowledge Foundation Open Data Advocate

My colleagues over at the Open Knowledge Foundation have been thinking about recruiting an Open Data Advocate, someone who can coordinate a number of the activities they are up to in the open data space. I offered to think about what the role should entail and how that person could be effective. Consequently, in the interests of transparency, fleshing out my thinking and seeing if there might be feed back (feel free to comment openly, or email me personally if you wish to keep it private) I’m laying out my thinking below.

Context

These are exciting times for open government data advocates. Over the past few years a number of countries, cities and international organizations have launched open data portals and implemented open data policies. Many, many more are contemplating joining the fray. What makes this exciting is that some established players (e.g. United States, UK, World Bank) are continue to push forward and will, I suspect, be refining and augmenting their services in the coming months. At the same time there are still a number of laggards (e.g. Canada federally, Southern Europe, Asia) in which mobilizing local communities, engaging with public servants and providing policy support is still the order of the day.

This makes the role of an Open Data Advocate complex. Obviously, helping pull the laggards along is an important task. Alternatively (or in addition) they may need to also be thinking longer term. Where is open data going, what will second and third generation open data portals need to look like (and what policy infrastructure will be needed to support them).

These are two different goals and so either choosing, or balancing, between them will not be easy.

Key Challenges

Some of the key challenges spring quite obviously from that context. But there are also other challenges, I believe to be looming as well. So what do I suspect are the key challenges around open data over the next 1-5 years?

  1. Getting the laggards up and running
  2. Getting governments to use standardized licenses that are truly open (be it the PDDL, CC-0 or one of the other available licenses out there
  3. Cultivating/fostering an eco-system of external data users
  4. Cultivating/fostering an eco-system of internal government user (and vendors) for open data (this is what will really make open data sustainable)
  5. Pushing jurisdictions and vendors towards adopting standard structures for similar types of data (e.g. wouldn’t it be nice if restaurant inspection data from different jurisdictions were structured similarly?)
  6. Raising awareness about abuses of, and the politicization of, data. (e.g. this story about crime data out of New York which has not received nearly enough press)

The Tasks/Leverage Points

There are some basic things that the role will require including:

  1. Overseeing the Working Group on Open Government Data
  2. Managing opengovernmentdata.org
  3. Helping organize the Open Government Data Camp 2011, 2012 and beyond

But what the role will really have to do is figure out the key leverage points that can begin to shift the key challenges listed above in the right direction. The above mentioned tasks may be helpful in doing that… but they may not be. Success is going to be determined but figuring how to shift systems (government, vendor, non-profit, etc…) to advance the cause of open data. This will be no small task.

My sense is that some of these leverage points might include:

  1. Organizing open data hackathons – ideally ones that begin to involve key vendors (both to encourage API development, but also to get them using open data)
  2. Leveraging assets like Civic Commons to get open data policies up on online so that jurisdictions entertaining the issue can copy them
  3. Building open data communities in key countries around the world – particularly in key countries in such as Brasil and India where a combination of solid democratic institutions and a sizable developer community could help trigger changes that will have ramifications beyond their borders (I suspect there are also some key smaller countries – need to think more on that)
  4. I’m sure this list could be enhanced…

Metrics/Deliverables

Obviously resolving the above defined challenges in 1-5 years is probably not realistic. Indeed, resolving many of those issues is probably impossible – it will be a case of ensuring each time we peel back one layer of the onion we are well positioned to tackle the next layer.

Given this, some key metrics by which the Open Knowledge Foundation should evaluate the person in this role might be:

At a high level, possible some metrics might include:

  • Number of open data portals world wide? (number using CKAN?)
  • Number of groups, individuals, cities participating in Opendata hackathons
  • Number of applications/uses of open data
  • Awareness of CKAN and its mission in the public, developer space, government officials, media?
  • Number of government vendors offering open data as part of their solution

More additional deliverables, could include:

  • Running two Global OpenData Hackathons a year?
  • Developing an OKFN consulting arm specializing in open data services/implementation
  • Create an open data implementation policy “in a box” support materials for implementing an open data strategy in government
  • Develop a global network of OKFN chapters to push their local and national governments, share best practices
  • Run opendata bootcamps for public servants and/or activists
  • Create a local open data hackathon in a box kit (to enable local events)
  • Create a local “how to be an open data activist” site
  • Conduct some research on the benefits of open data¬† to advance the policy debate
  • Create a stronger feedback loop on CKAN’s benefits and weaknesses
  • Create a vehicle to connect VC’s and/or money with open data drive companies and app developers (or at least assess what barriers remain to use open data in business processes).

Okay, I’ll stop there, but if you have thoughts please send them or comment below. Hope this stimulates some thinking among fellow open data geeks.