Category Archives: free culture

Open Data Day Google+ Hang Out

With just about a month to go until Open Data Day things are going well. There are quite a few cities that have been added to the open data day wiki.

This year we thought we would try something new. On January 21st we are going to host a  Get Ready For Open Data Day 2014! Google hangout.

The goal of the hangout is to help people thinking about organizing an event in their city get a sense of what others doing, ask questions about what has worked in the past, and just learn more about what is possible on the day. 

We’ll be hosting a 30-60 minute event on Tuesday, January 21 (at 11:00 am EST/ 8:00 PST/ 16:00 GMT /17:00 CEST) with myself, Heather Leson and Beatrice Martini focused on:

  1. What is Open Day Day – History
  2. Planning tips
  3. Open Q&A

There is likely a limit to how many people we can host on the hangout so please let us know if you’d like to participate.

And if you are interested in connecting with others – especially those who have run open data day events before – please consider joining the mailing list!

Open Data Day 2014 is Coming Feb 22 – Time to Join the Fun!

So, with much help from various community members (who reminded me that we need to get this rolling – looking at you Heather Leson), I pleased to say we are starting to gear up for Open Data Day 2014 on February 22nd, 2014.

From its humble beginnings of a conversation between a few friends who were interested in promoting and playing with open data, last year Open Data Day had locally organized events take place in over 100 cities around the world. Check out this video of open data day in Kathmandu last year.

Why makes Open Data Day work? Mostly you. It is a global excuse for people in communities like yours to come together and organize an event that meets their needs. Whether that is a hackathon, a showcase and fair, lectures, workshops for local NGOs and businesses, training on data, or meetings with local politicians – people are free to organize around whatever they think their community needs. You can read more about how Open Data Day works on our website.

Want to join in on the fun? I thought you’d never ask. Listed below are some different ways you can help make Open Data Day 2014 a success in your community!

A) How can I let EVERYONE know about open data day

I love the enthusiasm. Here’s a tweet you can send:

#OpenData Day is community powered in a timezone near you.  http://opendataday.org/ #ODD2014

Yes, our hashtag is #ODD2014. Cause we are odd. And cause we love open data.

B) I’d like to participate!

Great! If you are interested in participating in check out the Open Data Day wiki. We’ve just unlocked the pages so cities haven’t been added yet but feel free to add your city to the list, and put down your name as interested in participating. You can even check to see who organized the event last year to see if they are interested in doing it again.

C) Forget about participating, I want to coordinate an Open Data Day event in my city.

Whoa! Very exciting! Here’s a short checklist of what to do:

  • If you didn’t organize one last year, check to see if anyone in your city did. It would be good to connect with them first.
  • Read the Open Data Day website. Basically, pick up on our vibe: we want Open Data Day to work for everyone, from novices who know little about data to experts like Kaggle participants and uber geeks like Bruce Schneier. These events have always been welcoming and encouraging – it is part of the design challenge.
  • Okay, now add your city to the list, let people know where it will be taking place (or that you are working on securing space), let them know a rough agenda, what to expect, and how they can contribute.
  • Add yourself to the 2014 Open Data Day map. (Hint: Wikipedia lists Lat/Long in the information side bar for each cities wiki page: “Coordinates: 43°42′N 79°24′W”)
  • Join the Open Data Day mailing list. Organizers tend to share best practices and tips here. It’s not serious, really just a help and support group.
  • Check out resources like this and this about how to organize a successful event.
  • Start spreading the news!

D) I want to help more! How can Open Data Day work more smoothly everywhere?

Okay, for the truly hardcore you right, we need help. Open Data day has grown. This means we’ve outgrown a whole bunch of our infrastructure… like our webpage! Everyone involved in this is a volunteer so… we have some extra heavy lifting we need help with. This includes:

a. Website template update: The current Open Data Day template was generously donated by Mark Dunkley (thank you!!!). We’d love to have it scale a little better and refresh the content. You can see the code on github here. Email me if you are interested. Skills required: css, design

b. Translation: Can you help translate the ODD site into your language? You can submit the requests on github or send a document to heather.leson at okfn dot org with the content. She’ll do the github stuff if that’s beyond you.

c. Map: Leaflet and layers helpers wanted! We’d like a map geek to help correct geolocation and keep the 2014 map fresh with accurate geo for all the locations. Github repo is here and the event list is here.

What’s next?

I’m really looking forward to this year… I’ve lots more thoughts I’ll be sharing shortly.

Plus, I can’t wait to hear from you!

Access to Information, Technology and Open Data – Keynote for the Commissioners

On October 11th I was invited by Elizabeth Denham, the Access to Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia to give a keynote at the Privacy and Access 20/20 Conference in Vancouver to an audience that included the various provincial and federal Information Commissioners.

Below is my keynote, I’ve tried to sync the slides up as well as possible. For those who want to skip to juicier parts:

  • 7:08 – thoughts about the technology dependence of RTI legislation
  • 12:16 –  the problematic approach to RTI implementation that results from these unsaid assumptions
  • 28:25 – the need and opportunity to bring open data and RTI advocates together

Some acronyms used:

Mission Driven Orgs: Don’t Alienate Alumni, Leverage Them (I’m looking at you, Mozilla)

While written for Mozilla, this piece really applies to any mission-driven organization. In addition, if you are media, please don’t claim this is written by Mozilla. I’m a contributor, and Mozilla is at its best when it encourages debate and discussion. This post says nothing about Mozilla official policy and I’m sure there Mozillians who will agree and disagree with me.

The Opportunity

Mozilla is an amazing organization. With a smaller staff, and aided by a community of supporters, it not only competes with the Goliaths of Silicon Valley but uses its leverage whenever possible to fight for users’ rights. This makes it simultaneously a world leading engineering firm and, for most who work there, a mission driven organization.

That was on full display this weekend at the Mozilla Summit, taking place concurrently in Brussels, Toronto and Santa Clara. Sadly, so was something else. A number of former Mozillians, many of whom have been critical to the organization and community were not participating. They either weren’t invited, or did not feel welcome. At times, it’s not hard to see why:

You_chose_Facebook

Again this is not an official Mozilla response. And that is part of the problem. There has never been much of an official or coordinated approach to dealing with former staff and community members. And it is a terrible, terrible lost opportunity – one that hinders Mozilla from advancing its mission in multiple ways.

The main reason is this: The values we Mozillians care about may be codified in the Mozilla Manifesto, but they don’t reside there. Nor do they reside in a browser, or even in an organization. They reside in us. Mozilla is about creating power by foster a community of people who believe in and advocate for an open web.

Critically, the more of us there are, the stronger we are. The more likely we will influence others. The more likely we will achieve our mission.

And power is precisely what many of our alumni have in spades. Given Mozilla’s success, its brand, and its global presence, Mozilla’s contributors (both staff and volunteers) are sought-after – from startups to the most influential companies on the web. This means there are Mozillians influencing decisions – often at the most senior levels – at companies that Mozilla wants to influence. Even if these Mozillians only injected 5% of what Mozilla stands for into their day-to-day lives, the web would still be a better place.

So it begs the question: What should Mozilla’s alumni strategy be? Presently, from what I have seen, Mozilla has no such strategy. Often, by accident or neglect, alumni are left feeling guilty about their choice. We let them – and sometimes prompt them to – cut their connections not just with Mozilla but (more importantly) with the personal connection they felt to the mission. This at a moment when they could be some of the most important contributors to our mission. To say nothing about continuing to contribute their expertise to coding, marketing or any number of other skills they may have.

As a community, we need to accept that as amazing as Mozilla (or any non-profit) is, most people will not spend their entire career there nor volunteer forever. Projects end. Challenges get old. New opportunities present themselves. And yes, people burn out on mission – which no longer means they don’t believe in it – they are just burned out. So let’s not alienate these people, let’s support them. They could be a killer advantage one of our most important advantages. (I mean, even McKinsey keeps an alumni group, and that is just so they can sell to them… we can offer so much more meaning than that. And they can offer us so much more than that).

How I would do it

At this point, I think it is too late to start a group and hope people will come. I could be wrong, but I suspect many feel – to varying degrees – alienated. We (Mozilla) will probably have to do more than just reach out a hand.

I would find three of the most respected, most senior Mozillians who have moved on and I’d reach out privately and personally. I’d invite them to lunch individually. And I’d apologize for not staying more connected with them. Maybe it is their fault, maybe it is ours. I don’t care. It’s in our interests to fix this, so let’s look inside ourselves and apologize for our contribution as a way to start down the path.

I’d then ask them if them if they would be willing to help oversee an alumni group. If they would reach out to their networks and, with us, bring these Mozillians back into the fold.

There is ample opportunity for such a group. They could be hosted once a year and be shown what Mozilla is up to and what it means for the companies they work for. They could open doors to C-suite offices. They could mentor emerging leaders in our community and they could ask for our advice as they build new products that will impact how people use the web. In short, they could be contributors.

Let’s get smart about cultivating our allies – even those embedded in organizations with don’t completely agree with. Let’s start thinking about how we tap into and help keep alive the values that made them Mozillians in the first place, and find ways to help them be effective in promoting them.

New Zealand: The World’s Lab for Progressive Tech Legislation?

Cross posted with TechPresident.

One of the nice advantage of having a large world with lots of diverse states is the range of experiments it offers us. Countries (or regions within them) can try out ideas, and if they work, others can copy them!

For example, in the world of drug policy, Portugal effectively decriminalized virtually all drugs. The result has been dramatic. And much of it positive. Some of the changes include a decline in both HIV diagnoses amongst drug users by 17% and drug use among adolescents (13-15 yrs). For those interested you can read more about this in a fantastic report by the Cato Institute written by Glenn Greenwald back in 2009 before he started exposing the unconstitutional and dangerous activities of the NSA. Now some 15 years later there have been increasing demands to decriminalize and even legalize drugs, especially in Latin America. But even the United States is changing, with both the states of Washington and Colorado opting to legalize marijuana. The lessons of Portugal have helped make the case, not by penetrating the public’s imagination per se, but by showing policy elites that decriminalization not only works but it saves lives and saves money. Little Portugal may one day be remembered for changing the world.

I wonder if we might see a similar paper written about New Zealand ten years from now about technology policy. It may be that a number of Kiwis will counter the arguments in this post by exposing all the reasons why I’m wrong (which I’d welcome!) but at a glance, New Zealand would probably be the place I’d send a public servant or politician wanting to know more about how to do technology policy right.

So why is that?

First, for those who missed it, this summer New Zealand banned software patents. This is a stunning and entirely sensible accomplishment. Software patents, and the legal morass and drag on innovation they create, are an enormous problem. The idea that Amazon can patent “1-click” (e.g. the idea that you pre-store someone’s credit card information so they can buy an item with a single click) is, well, a joke. This is a grand innovation that should be protected for years?

And yet, I can’t think of single other OECD member country that is likely to pass similar legislation. This means that it will be up to New Zealand to show that the software world will survive just fine without patents and the economy will not suddenly explode into flames. I also struggle to think of an OECD country where one of the most significant industry groups – the Institute of IT Professionals appeared – would not only both support such a measure but help push its passage:

The nearly unanimous passage of the Bill was also greeted by Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) chief executive Paul Matthews, who congratulated [Commerce Minister] Foss for listening to the IT industry and ensuring that software patents were excluded.

Did I mention that the bill passed almost unanimously?

Second, New Zealanders are further up the learning curve around the dangerous willingness their government – and foreign governments – have for illegally surveilling them online.

The arrest of Kim Dotcom over MegaUpload has sparked some investigations into how closely the country’s police and intelligence services follow the law. (For an excellent timeline of the Kim Dotcom saga, check out this link). This is because Kim Dotcom was illegally spied on by New Zealand’s intelligence services and police force, at the behest of the United States, which is now seeking to extradite him. The arrest and subsequent fall out has piqued public interest and lead to investigations including the Kitteridge report (PDF) which revealed that “as many as 88 individuals have been unlawfully spied on” by the country’s Government Communications Security Bureau.

I wonder if the Snowden documents and subsequent furor probably surprised New Zealanders less than many of their counterparts in other countries since it was less a bombshell than another data point on a trend line.

I don’t want to overplay the impact of the Kim Dotcom scandal. It has not, as far as I can tell, lead to a complete overhaul of the rules that govern intelligence gathering and online security. That said, I suspect, it has created a political climate that amy be more (healthily) distrustful of government intelligence services and the intelligence services of the United States. As a result, it is likely that politicians have been more sensitive to this matter for a year or two longer than elsewhere and that public servants are more accustomed at policies through the lens of its impact on rights and privacy of citizens than in many other countries.

Finally, (and this is somewhat related to the first point) New Zealand has, from what I can tell, a remarkably strong open source community. I’m not sure why this is the case, but suspect that people like Nat Torkington – and open source and open data advocate in New Zealand – and others like him play a role in it. More interestingly, this community has had influence across the political spectrum. The centre left labour party deserves much of the credit for the patent reform while the centre-right New Zealand National Party has embraced both open data. The country was among the first to embrace open source as a viable option when procuring software and in 2003 the government developed an official open source policy to help clear the path for greater use of open source software. This contrasts sharply with my experience in Canada where, as late as 2008, open source was still seen by many government officials as a dangerous (some might say cancerous?) option that needed to be banned and/or killed.

All this is to say that in both the public (e.g. civil society and the private sector) and within government there is greater expertise around thinking about open source solutions and so an ability to ask different questions about intellectual property and definitions of the public good. While I recognize that this exists in many countries now, it has existed longer in New Zealand than in most, which suggests that it enjoys greater acceptance in senior ranks and there is greater experience in thinking about and engaging these perspectives.

I share all this for two reasons:

First, I would keep my eye on New Zealand. This is clearly a place where something is happening in a way that may not be possible in other OECD countries. The small size of its economy (and so relative lack of importance to the major proprietary software vendors) combined with a sufficient policy agreement both among the public and elites enables the country to overcome both internal and external lobbying and pressure that would likely sink similar initiatives elsewhere. And while New Zealand’s influence may be limited, don’t underestimate the power of example. Portugal also has limited influence, but its example has helped show the world that the US -ed narrative on the “war on drugs” can be countered. In many ways this is often how it has to happen. Innovation, particularly in policy, often comes from the margins.

Second, if a policy maker, public servant or politician comes to me and asks me who to talk to around digital policy, I increasingly find myself looking at New Zealand as the place that is the most compelling. I have similar advice for PhD students. Indeed, if what I’m arguing is true, we need research to describe, better than I have, the conditions that lead to this outcome as well as the impact these policies are having on the economy, government and society. Sadly, I have no names to give to those I suggest this idea to, but I figure they’ll find someone in the government to talk to, since, as a bonus to all this, I’ve always found New Zealanders to be exceedingly friendly.

So keep an eye on New Zealand, it could be the place where some of the most progressive technology policies first get experimented with. It would be a shame if no one noticed.

(Again If some New Zealanders want to tell me I’m wrong, please do. Obviously, you know your country better than I do).

Beyond Property Rights: Thinking About Moral Definitions of Openness

“The more you move to the right the more radical you are. Because everywhere on the left you actually have to educate people about the law, which is currently unfair to the user, before you even introduce them to the alternatives. You aren’t even challenging the injustice in the law! On the right you are operating at a level that is liberated from identity and accountability. You are hacking identity.” – Sunil Abraham

I have a new piece up on TechPresident titled: Beyond Property Rights: Thinking About Moral Definitions of Openness.

This piece, as the really fun map I recreated is based on a conversation with Sunil Abraham (@sunil_abraham), the Executive Director of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore.

If you find this map interesting… check the piece out here.

map of open

 

Open Data Day: Lessons for Hacktivists

This piece is cross-posted on TechPresident where I post articles on the intersection of politics, technology and transparency and serve as an editor.

Three years ago, after a chance encounter with Daniela Silva and Pedro Markun of Sao Paulo and a meeting with Edward Ocampo-Gooding and Mary Beth Baker in Ottawa, with whom I shared a passion about open data, we agreed to simultaneously host events in our three cities on the same day. It would be a hackathon, and because it would take place in at least two countries … we liberally called it “international” inviting others to join us.

In that first year we had about six cities conduct events on every continent save Australia. Now in its third year, Open Data Day events is far bigger than we ever dared imagine. More interesting still is its impact, both expected and unexpected.

Reflecting on it all, I thought it might be worthwhile to share a little bit about the impact I think Open Data has, and some lessons hacktvists may find interesting to draw upon.

Build Community

From the beginning our goal was simple. It wasn’t code, or even opening data per se. It was about community.

We wanted to foster a friendly event where anyone would feel welcome to participate. The team in Ottawa had, in particular, done great work in reaching out an engaging new people in previous hackathons, they’d have a wealth of non-software developers and even full families attend their events. This was as much a hackathon as it was a community event.

So Open Data Day was always meant to serve as a catalyst for community and network creation. Yes, creating, adding to or working on a project was strongly encouraged, but the real output to help open data advocates find and connect with one another, as well as grow the movement by engaging new people. An effective community was always going to be the core ingredient for petitioning a government to make data open, teaching students or policy makers how to use data or have a group of developers launch a project. While we wanted to create cool software, visualizations and analysis, what I wanted even more was to foster local leaders, champions, social glue and community hubs.

And that’s what we got.

One of the strengths of Open Data Day is its incredible decentralized nature. I blog about it to encourage people to organize and help moderate a mailing list, but beyond that everything is done by local volunteers. From a capacity building perspective, it is an incredible event to watch unfold. I’d like to think Open Data Day has played a helpful role in connecting local stakeholders and even knitting them together with regional, national and international peers.

While I believe that a beautiful piece of code can be critical in making policy makers, the public or others see the world in a different light I also think that building community and developing allies who can share that story of that code with leaders and the public at large is, depending on the breadth of your goals, equally important.

What Works for Communities Can Work for Governments

Almost immediately upon launch of Open Data Day, government officials began showing up at the hackathons. Some came unofficially, others officially, and in some places, the hackathons were invited to take place at city hall. Because we set a venue Open Data Day created a predictable publicized space where governments that were curious, reluctant, eager or cautious could come and engage at a speed that worked for them.

When you build a safe place for a broader community – if your event has more of the feel of a public consultation or community meet-up than a gathering of subversive technologists – you can create space for governments. More importantly, the one thing that characterizes most open data hackathons I’ve witnessed or investigated,is that the participants share a desire to make their community better. That is something most government officials can easily wrap their heads around.

Thus, in a way that I don’t think anyone planned, Open Data Day events have become a place where governments want to understand more of what is possible, learn about the community that is interested in data and wrestle with how open data can change the way they work. What began with a few pioneering cities three years ago has evolved where now places like the Victoria Palace in Romania (the seat of government) and the White House in Washington DC are hosting Open Data Day events.

This type of engagement creates new opportunities, and new challenges, but that is exactly the type of progress many movements would like to see.

Plant a Flag

Setting a date and having people around the world step up and embrace had another interesting impact. It created a deadline not just for community organizers who were organizing their local open data day event, but also for governments that want to engage these communities.

Indeed in the past it has been amazing to see how many governments now see Open Data Day as a deadline for launching open data portals or releasing additional data sets. This is a fantastic outcome as it creates subtle pressure on governments to act.

This year was no exception. I heard of governments around the world releasing data sets in anticipation of Open Data Day. In particular there was a flurry of activity from European governments and agencies. Indeed the European Union chose to launch its open data portal in time for Open Data Day. But there was also much activity across the continent. This included that launch of data portals for the Building Performance Institute Europe, the Italian Senate, the city of Venice , the city ofTrento, the region of Puglia in the south of Italy, and the province of Bolzano. But the practice has become widespread. I was particularly happy to see a city a few kilometers from my home town do the same: the City of Victoria, BC launched its Open Data portal for the day.

These announcements show the amplifying effect of getting organized across geographies. The advocacy work of a group in one country helps reinforce a message that benefits advocates in other countries. This is pretty basic stuff — political advocacy 101 if you will — but it is a reminder of why congregating around a single date, and meeting in person still have value for those who are unpersuaded.

Ultimately Open Data Day is important because it serves the needs of local advocates and activists wherever they are. That means keeping the event coherent so that it can continue to be a global event that people understand, yet flexible so that it can satisfy local needs and desires. For example, the event in Manila focused on poverty while in Washington DC it focused on building community and capacity. These types of events are not, in of themselves, going to completely solve a problem, but I do believe that they are part of a broader political effort that activates a community, engages government and creates pressure for change.