Posted by & filed under OKCon, workshops.

This post is brought to you by Christopher Wilson, Knowledge Lead at the engine room. Christopher manages the design and implementaion of research projects at the engine room, and supports partners in the use of data to realize programming objectives. Christopher is partnering with Jun Matsushita, information innovation lab (iilab) to facilitate the Wednesday session on Interoperability Standards for Public Good Data.


We are awash in a sea of data. Produced by all kinds of actors for a variety of reasons, and there’s more on the way all the time. On the plus side, much of this is being produced or aggregated for the public good, and implies tremendous potential for transparency, accountability, education, knowledge and efficiency across a broad range of sectors. A quick scan of the #OKCon program shows just how broad. On the minus side, it can be overwhelming. And this raises the big question about what open data is actually being used, by whom and for what?

One might argue that as a community, we aren’t asking this question enough. It’s  revealing to see how much of the open community’s attention is still focused on the supply side of open data.  Open, access, release, connect: these are some of the most common words in the program—supply verbs every one.

This can be justified to some extent by the state of play in open. The norm of #open is still being established, and there remains a tremendous amount of data that is not yet produced, collected or released. But we also know that there are demand-side challenges, and that uptake is not matching release as much as we would like. For the lofty aim of informing and enabling citizens, data literacy poses a real problem with no obvious, cookie cutter solution. And ironically, it’s a problem that’s exacerbated by the increasing production and release of data on public interest issues.

Access to complementary data sets covering the same phenomenon would at first glance seem to be a boon for advocates or researchers seeking to better understand complex social phenomena or power dynamics. Working on corruption in the extractives industry? What better than to have hard data both from the government, the companies, the media, citizen reporting mechanisms and international regulators? Hard evidence on what’s really happening? Great!

squarepegroundholeBut here enters another well-known thorn in the side of open data: the lack of standards. This issue gets raised a lot in the abstract, and there are differing opinions on whether it is a fundamental or a constructed problem. Would interoperable social good data actually help advocates and researchers working on social change issues, or will differences in data from different producers frustrate any attempt to make sense of it anyway? Are data standards even feasible, even for specific industries or data types, or is it way too early in the game to even be suggesting this since most of the data being opened is just so bad?  We don’t think anyone has the answers to these questions in the abstract, but  are pretty convinced that they are questions we need to start asking in specific use cases.

We’ll be holding a workshop on Monday to do exactly that. The Standards and Interoperability workshop will come with 4 specific use cases (international aid in Nepal, extractive industries in Nigeria, Internet freedom in Iran and tech and accountability initiatives globally), each with a set of different, complimentary (and often contradictory) data sets—we call them data clusters. We’ll spend the beginning of the session talking about some of the interoperability issues and background for each of the use cases. Then we will dig in and start hacking out the different data clusters in small groups, trying to understand what the data tells us, what we can do with it, and what the obstacles are. We’ll be looking for insights, advocacy tools or just plain strategies. Frankly, we don’t really know what these data clusters have to offer. But we have lots of specific questions.

At the end of the session, we hope that this exercise will give us some indication about whether meshing data can actually provide useful tools, where the obstacles for doing so lie, and if there are any tricks for automating interoperability that could be further tested (at least for these use cases). We might not answer these questions definitively, and they are by no means the only questions, but we hope to get a little bit smarter about what this whole question of standards actually means, and by extension, what it means for thinking about the demand side of open data.

We only have room for 10 spots in the workshop, which means we will likely have to focus on just two use cases. If you would like to join us, sign up at interoperabilitystandards@okcon.org!

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Posted by & filed under Invited Speakers, OKCon.

This post is brought to you by Oludotun Babayemi and Hamzat Lawal, co-creators of Follow the Money, Nigeria. Oludotun was planning to speak in the Open Government Data: New Territories session, but sadly due to bureaucratic reasons, he will be unable to join us in Geneva. Instead, he and Hamzat have kindly sent through their thoughts on the planned talk. Look out for both of them participating virtually on Twitter! (@dotunbabayemi and @hamzy12)


#SaveBagega: The winding road to tracking government spending

If government spending reached communities for which it is intended, there would not be much need for foreign aid in some developing countries. Children would receive vaccinations, disease might be eradicated, there would be an increase in yield on crops, entrepreneurs would have “direct access” to funds. Trade would go up while aid would go down!

In Nigeria alone, about $6.5 trillion worth of foreign aid has been received between 2000 and 2012, while the government of the country itself, both federal and state, by the end of 2013 will have spent about $500 million [80 trillion Naira] since 2005. So what? The country still ranks 153 amongst 170 countries in the recent Human Development Index and 139 in about 160 countries on the Transparency Corruption Index. Where did all the money go?

Save Bagega

In the dry season of 2010, an unprecedented epidemic of lead poisoning was discovered in Zamfara State, northern Nigeria. More than 2,000 children were severely poisoned and an estimated 400 children died as a result of lead absorption associated with artisanal gold mining/processing in residential compounds in a number of remote villages. Several international organizations intervened including the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Doctors Without Borders (MSF), UNICEF, in providing emergency medical, environmental, technical and public health responses.

There was one village left out in the intervention in 2010 – Bagega. The total population of Bagega was about 7,323 according to the last census in Nigeria, which was about the size of the other seven villages affected, thus there was no reason why funds weren’t available then. Consequently, about 1,500 children in Bagega have to wait!

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Posted by & filed under OKCon.

One of our last guest posts before things kick off on Monday is brought to you by Stéphane Gigandet, founder of Open Food Facts. They’ve been working with the bar at the OKCon conference site, CICG, to open up the data on the drinks we’ll be getting next week!


Opening Drinks at OKCon 2013

I hope I grabbed your attention with the idea of free drinks to welcome you in Geneva next week, but this being about OKCon, I’m talking about a different kind of opening: opening the data of drinks available in the CICG restaurant where you will have lunch during the conference.

The OKCon organizers put us in touch with Fabienne Pizzera from the CICG restaurant and thanks to her we added all the drinks to the Open Food Facts database so that you can choose your fruit juices or sodas based on hard data next week.

Of course you could just stay on the safe side and pick a drink you already know. Surely they have Coke in Switzerland too, and Coke is the same everywhere around the world right? Well yes, they do have Coke in Geneva (although they call it Coca-Cola), but it’s not exactly the same as in the US. In 2011 the State of California added a component of sulfite ammonia caramel (E150d) on its list of chemicals believed to cause cancer, and now Coke contains a different coloring in the US. But in Europe we still have sulfite ammonia caramel in Coke and most colas.

This is the kind of information you can get when you scan a product barcode with the Open Food Facts iPhone or Android app. Nobody knows all the 2000 “E-numbers” like E150d that producers put on ingredient lists. In fact very few people know the meaning of even just one of them. Open Food Facts can decrypt those codes for you and tell you if a product is likely to contain ingredients that you may which to avoid like palm oil.

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Posted by & filed under Invited Speakers, OKCon.

This post is written by Mark Cardwell. Together with Anders Pedersen, he will be coordinating the event ‘Opening up the United Nations, to be held on Thursday 19 September, 10:00 – 13:00 @ International Environment House 2 as part of the Open Data, Government and Governance track. Please use the form at the bottom of this page to sign up for the event, and please note that this event is not at the main venue of OKCon. 


How can we better understand the way governments and the UN spend funds? How do we really measure the impact of, say, poverty reduction programmes? Could relevant financial, procurement and operational data be used for more effective risk management or to identify potential cases of corruption?United Nations in Geneva

These questions and the work that is currently underway to operate in a more transparent way, using a data-driven, results oriented approach, will be tackled at a special event in conjunction with the Open Knowledge Foundation on 19th September as part of OKCon.

In this environment of austerity, it has never been more important to demonstrate transparency and accountability.

The goal of the event is to show the issues and opportunities in driving towards an open, inclusive way of working.

We’ll focus on the three following questions:

  • How to free data from large, complex organizations and legacy reporting systems?
  • What needs to happen to make this data understandable – and actionable?
  • What long-term policy and processes need to change to make this part of our thinking?

We’ll examine case studies of how to publish meaningful information and how to analyse the implications of opening up organizations. Oluseun Onigbinde from BudgIT, will discuss the impact of making Nigerian government data understandable to public and Federico Ramírez will share the experiences from Fundar, Mexico cleaning and visualising open data. Milica Begovic from the United Nations Development Programme will lead a conversation on the often controversial process of government contracting, and representatives from UN-Habitat, UNICEF and other agencies will show their work in driving towards an open, accessible culture.

Representatives from open government community and open data users across will discuss how data should be released and most importantly, which type of data should be released. Open data users will also be able to share their stories in an informal show-and-tell forum, where individual projects can be displayed.

The event is part of the Open Knowledge Conference (OKCon) 2013 organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation in partnership with UNDP, UN-Habitat, UNOPS and UN-OCHA.

As with all events at OKCon, we’ll make it participatory and insist on an open and frank exchange of ideas.

Attendance for this event is open to everyone registered for OKCon. If you are interested in presenting at our show-and-tell forum, please get in touch with us.


Mark Cardwell is the transparency lead and the head of online communications at the United Nations Development Programme.

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Posted by & filed under Invited Speakers, OKCon.

This post is written by Mitar Milutinovic, Rodrigo Ochigame, Tony Chen, Xuan An Thi Ho, and Dawn Song. They’ll be talking about their project at the Hackspace at OKCon (times to be decided on Monday 16th), and you can reach them via Twitter or email if you’d like to meet up – they’d love to hear from you!


mitarPeerLibrary is an open access project developing a collaborative online community where scholars and researchers can read, discover, and discuss various open access literature all within one site. The project is a response to the question as to what comes after open access.

Although open access publications will be opened to the public for gratis access, licensing terms often still restrict the reuse and redistribution of the texts. Scholars and researchers, however, need access to the discussion and discovery surrounding a paper to enhance understanding. PeerLibrary will be a one-stop site where users will not only have access to the original publications but also access to a collaboratively edited layer of knowledge surrounding the publications. Through this integration of multiple sources of knowledge, PeerLibrary will simultaneously enrich the experience of reading research by making it more interactive and open up the possibility for improving publications through peer feedback.

Furthermore, by encouraging more community interaction and involvement, PeerLibrary hopes to stimulate discussion on how we can build better open access resources and tools for the general public, not just scholars and researchers. This will enable us to better understand the breadth of usage for all communities that the open access movement seeks to empower. Ultimately, by analyzing which resources and tools open access enables, we will be able to supply the open access movement with more compelling and unique reasons for the immediate investment in its development, which we believe will improve scientific research and its results. We believe that PeerLibrary will play a vital role in fulfilling the potential of open access to enrich and energize the scientific community, and we will pursue these goals through three specific steps: expediting access to publications, enabling public recordings of analysis and insights on said publications, and encouraging collaboration and openness in the development of science.

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Posted by & filed under News.

With less than a week to go until OKCon kicks off in Geneva, we wanted to give you a few last minute tips and reminders before you travel:

Getting around in Switzerland: Check out these two sites: SBB for the Swiss railway and the TPG for local public transport. All hotels will provide you with free public transportation passes too!

Want to brush up on your knowledge of Switzerland? It’s a small country, but it has a rich variety of cultures, traditions and languages! Be aware that people might speak any/all of French, German and Italian, but probably also English. If you want to know more, check out this short introduction.

keep-calm-and-get-ready-to-travel-1

What to bring: Yourselves, your projects, your ideas, and of course, enthusiasm to meet your fellow open-advocates from across the world! On a more practical note, things to remember:

  • Chargers for your electronic devices
  • A big stack of business cards for all the great people you’re going to meet
  • Swiss Francs (CHF)
  • A coat, or warm clothing – the weather is likely to be between 12-18°C

What to wear: Anything you feel comfortable in. OKCon will be bringing together people from a huge range of backgrounds and professions so there’s likely to be a big mix of dress codes going on!

Where to eat: Check out our Restaurant Recommendations

What to prepare: Have a good look at the schedule, and make a note of sessions you want to attend. For workshop sessions you need to sign up now! See this blog post on the subject. If while you’re travelling you want to check out the programme, download the PDF version here.

Where to be: On Monday, there are workshops in the afternoon and the official opening on Tuesday is at the CICG (Centre Internationale de Conférences de Genève) [map]. It will be open from 8.45 on Monday morning, and the first Keynote speaker will be on at 9am sharp. Get there early to get a good seat to watch Ellen Miller start the festivities for us!

How to follow online: The hashtag is #OKCon and you can add your photos to this Flickr group, OKCon 13. . Once the conference kicks off, there will be a Liveblog and livestreaming of the main sessions too!

For even more information, check out Practical Information, and our FAQs.

Posted by & filed under Invited Speakers, OKCon.

Next up, we have Paul Maassen, who together with Daniel Dietrich and Anders Pedersen will be coordinating the workshop ‘Raising the bar for ambition and quality in OGP: workshop to develop a ‘Civil Society National OGP Review’, to be held on Tuesday 17 September, 14:45 – 16:00 @ Room 5, Floor 3, as part of the Open Data, Government and Governance track. Get in touch with them to book your place!


When asked what makes the Open Government Partnership model different I always mention 3 elements: the guaranteed seat at the table for civil society; the concrete, ambitious commitments made, and the independent monitoring of the process and promises.

Two years after the OGP was launched at the UN General Assembly the first set of independent reports are being released. That brings the first cycle for the founding countries to a close. The last 12 months reformers in close to 60 countries have experimented with the OGP process, testing it out as a new tool to deliver change and get more transparency, more accountability and more participation.

Image: Open Development Technology Alliance

Image: Open Development Technology Alliance

Not surprisingly civil society across the globe has been watching OGP closely. Embracing the idea of creating space for reformers, but critically vocal on all three key elements, as well as the criteria to get into the partnership. In ultra short summary: the eligibility threshold is too low with too little criteria; the commitments are not ambitious and the consultations not inclusive and ‘real’ enough. All okay to an extent for the ‘test drive’ of the first action plan cycle, but not for the second round.

The team working on the independent reports (IRM team) have worked hard the last couple of months to get their methodology right, find the best researchers, balance the interest of government and civil society. This week the very first report – on South Africa – will be published and the coming weeks 7 more will follow. Hopefully the reports will bring about a dialogue on key learnings, rather than serve as a simple scorecard to praise or denounce national efforts. Solid thinking and resources have been put into this exercise and the reports should push the reviewed countries in the right direction and create fresh energy.

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Posted by & filed under Invited Speakers, OKCon.

This article originally appeared on the Guardian website on 01 August 2013. Marc Joffe will be speaking in the Open Finance and OpenSpending – Workshop on Wednesday 18 September, 14:45 – 16:00 @ Room 7, Floor 2.


Open governance groups around the world compare local authority finances Council finances are being compared for greater transparency, but a lack of standardised data is holdings things back.

We built a website in the US that maps the finances and credit scores of 260 Californian cities. You can click on a town and find out about their revenues and expenditure, debt levels and even retirement plans for staff. California City Credit Scoring

The California fiscal transparency project is one example of how open governance initiatives are increasingly being used to compare local authorities, accessing their spending priorities and financial conditions. A similar site exists in Denmark and one will launch in Israel shortly using a new open source software platform.

However, projects like this that compare authorities finances face a number of challenges – many of which arise from a lack of standardised, machine-readable data. While corporate financial data analysis is aided by the XBRL standard, there is no analogous standard in the realm of government financial reporting.

Our work on California required us to locate and extract data from audited financial reports filed by each city. In virtually all cases, these reports were stored in pdf files, and completing this project required a lot of manual inputting. We got the best results by selecting portions of the pdf to convert within the software.

So, would something like this be possible in England? The raw material for such a project is available in abundance. Local councils in England are required to publish audited financial accounts, and typically do so in pdf form. Tax receipts, investments and borrowing data for all councils are published in Excel format by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

But it is not certain whether these statistics tie out to the audited financial reports. In California, we found widespread inconsistencies between audited financial reports and standardised data collected by the state controller’s office. The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accounts also collects and standardises council financial data, but they sell their compilations for several hundred pounds.

The UK is significantly ahead of the US in the area of reporting transactions. In the UK, councils are required to publish all transactions above £500; some voluntarily report smaller transactions.

The only problem is that there are varying interpretations of what data is being completed in each field and inconsistency in data formats and field headers. Although transaction reports are supposed to be issued monthly, some councils publish them less frequently.

While most councils provide their spending data in machine readable formats, others only provide pdfs. We sent a freedom of information request to East Riding council, asking them to publish their data in comma separated variable (CSV) format instead but the council refused on the basis that the data in the new format might be used fraudulently.

Some of the local government transaction data has been aggregated on the Open Knowledge Foundation’s global Open Spending project and at Openly Local.

City councils in the US and the UK both publish budgets which include estimates of future spending. In our California project, we initially excluded budgets because budget reporting formats are less consistent than those used in audits (since the latter are governed by accounting standards).

However, because budgets are forward looking, citizens find them more interesting. As a result, they have been the focus of the Denmark effort as well as many individual city-level transparency projects such as Open Oakland.

In California, the impetus for developing our transparency site was a desire to provide an alternative to credit ratings for assessing the likelihood of municipal bond defaults. In recent years, the state has had a number of high-profile bankruptcies, so investors may require greater transparency before purchasing bonds issued by California cities. We meet this need by running city financial statistics through an open source credit scoring model.

UK councils have not accessed the capital markets, but that could be about to change. Before becoming reliant on the credit rating agencies, local leaders may wish to build a transparency platform like the one in California.


Marc Joffe is the principal consultant at Public Sector Credit Solutions and Ian Makgill is the managing director of the Spend Network.

Posted by & filed under Invited Speakers, OKCon.

To complete the dozen in our guest posts by OKCon speaker we asked Mark Brough to write something about the workshop ‘Connecting Open Resource Flows for Development’ in the Open Development & Sustainability programme, that he will present together with Anders Pedersen, Openspending on Monday 16 September, 17:15 – 18:45 @ Room 20, Floor 3.


Connecting Open Resource Flows for Development

ugandabudgetAid, climate finance, extractives, government budgets, humanitarian aid, contracts and organisation identifiers: there are now a large range of initiatives to open up data on developmental resource flows.

On 16th September at OKCon, we will be co-hosting a workshop on connecting open resource flows for development. There is a lot of discussion right now about joining up these different flows – in terms of interoperability of different standards at the technical level, as well as improved communication among advocates, publishers, and organisers of this data at the policy level.

The workshop will focus more on the policy level; while many of those joining us have been heavily involved in the mechanics of standards for aid data through IATI, wrangling budget data into OpenSpending, and designing new standards for open contracts data, improving communication and learning between different initiatives is an important first step before beginning the work of developing, aligning and implementing standards.

As you’d expect at OKCon, the workshop is intended to be open and participatory, and we’re encouraging all organisations to give short (2 minute) presentations at the start about their own area of work and how it might overlap with that of others. We’ll then consider what questions we can begin to answer by connecting data together, and discuss shared challenges and opportunities. Finally, we will begin to discuss how the data could be joined up in practice – through the identification of existing standards, initiatives and opportunities for making it happen.

If you’re interested in coming along then please get in touch. You’ll be very welcome, regardless of your area of interest and level of expertise (the conversation is likely to be detailed, but not technical). The more participants we have the more lively the discussion and chances to share experience so we hope you’ll join us.

More details: Google Doc


Mark Brough is the Aid Information Advisor at Publish What You Fund, the global campaign for aid transparency. He leads on developing technology and advocacy tools, including the Aid Transparency Tracker, which assesses the quality of donors’ aid data as part of the forthcoming 2013 Index, and a visualisation of aid to Uganda mapped onto Uganda’s budget.

Posted by & filed under Invited Speakers, OKCon.

Guest post number eleven in the OKCon speaker series is from Florian Bauer, Denise Recheis and Martin Kaltenböck. They have organized and will be holding the workshop ‘How Linked Open Data (LOD) supports Sustainable Development & Climate Change Development’ in the Open Development & Sustainability programme, on Wednesday 18 September, 11:45 – 13:15 @ Room 8, Floor 2. Get in touch with them now to register your place! 


How Linked Open Data (LOD) supports Sustainable Development & Climate Change Development

The idea of using LOD first emerged as a useful technology for data and information management in the health sector as an area where many different aspects need to be combined to create a bigger picture. Sustainable development is another such complex area where many factors are needed to make informed decisions. For both, LOD brings better decision making as well as awareness building.

reegle-lod-cloudOften these snippets of information are retrieved across different research fields and later stored in hundreds of different information silos that are not connected to each other. The same can be said about modern energy systems that combine new and conventional sources of energy, centralized and on-site generation and a complex distribution infrastructure. Again, a lot of data is needed to smooth the way for the transition towards clean energy.

Ambitious targets are already in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase access to sustainable energy for more people at the same time. We seriously lag behind in reaching these goals and often find that what’s missing is often proper access to essential information. Such information arrives too late, has not been processed to a useful format or is simply not available for open use and re-use.

We believe that the LOD principles are the right mechanism & technology that can support our efforts to tackle these global issues. Today networking is being accepted as a crucial part of development, and that can also be said about networked, linked information/data. Linked Open Data is often described as Open Data interlinked with other datasets. Going from link to link, connections that may not be obvious instantly are drawn together – a bit like the introduction of hyperlinks now connects many pages on the web across different websites and allows the user to dive deeply into a subject. Only in the case with LOD, it’s the machine that can dive into this knowledge and provide the user with tailored results to tackle problems.

Right now, many of those who need data to make informed decisions have caught on to the logical benefits of (linked) open data. More convincing needs to be done to see more relevant data being released in a way (format, license, links) that makes it valuable in the quest to tackle global, complex problems. “Concerns about opening up data, and responses which have proved effective” by Christopher Gutteridge, University of Southampton and Alexander Dutton, University of Oxford has put together all the usual thick-as-a-brick arguments and proposed solutions and answers. Classics include being worried about misinterpretation of the data, data not being very interesting, and possible future use in a research paper, as well as technical, legal and financial concerns.

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and the Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN) are two organizations active in the promotion of clean energy and energy efficiency and have embraced LOD as a means to accelerate their work and strengthen their networks. GBPN provides its building efficiency data in this format to ensure that the information can be used in relevant contexts as they arise. REEEP is using available open data to draw together country dossiers focusing of clean energy in its information portal reegle.info and also sees its role as a broker between information providers and users. The Semantic Web Company (SWC) has been working in the field on semantic web technologies for many years and has helped making this state-of-the-art way of working with data accessible to several organizations in the energy and sustainability sector. All three organisations see sustainable development as an excellent way to showcase the benefits of LOD, and therefore have joined forces to organise a workshop at this years Open Knowledge Conference to highlight use-cases of Linked Open Data and discuss lessons learnt.


Florian Bauer, Operations & IT Director, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership Denise Recheis, Knowledge Manager REEEP Jens Laustsen, Technical Director, Global Buildings Performance Network, Martin Kaltenböck, Managing Partner, Semantic Web Company