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[OKFest 2014] Flash interviews

BY the engine room | Wednesday, July 16 2014

This post is part of the live coverage of the 2014 Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin by the engine room. For more information you can read the intro post, follow the liveblog, read the flash interviews and follow us on Twitter.


During OKFest, our reporters will ask Festival participants five questions about the state of the Open knowledge movement:

  • What’s the most interesting project you have seen at OKFest?
  • What should be open?
  • What should not be open?
  • In your opinion, what has opening knowledge accomplished?
  • What’s next for the open knowledge movement?

This post collects all the flash interviews: read on for insights into open knowledge from the deep end.


Tim Hughes, Involve

What’s the most interesting project you have seen at OKFest?
The most interesting session I went to was on power, politics, inclusion and voice. It's really important that the open data community have that discussion. We think tools are a neutral or positive thing that will bring about change by themselves, but we need to think about it through power and politics. The real danger is that data and technology just fit into the existing power structures and reinforce the unbalance of power between different groups.

What should be open?
Power. The open government movement is about making power open. There's a chain that needs to happen. Power needs to be transparent: we need to know who holds it, how they exercise it, who they are linked to, etc. We need to look at how you start to redistribute and broaden power, for example by bringing in new groups to decision making processes through citizen engagement. You also need accountability to ensure that those with power are held accountable. We need to ensure those mechanisms are in place to allow that to happen through the media and civil society using both soft power and hard accountability measures, like parliamentary scrutiny.

What should not be open?
People. There's the whole privacy issue where we need to balance two entirely separate things: we need a serious public debate about security and privacy. We also need to think about who should be making that trade-off. Too often it is made by the powerful at the expense of the less powerful.

In your opinion, what has opening knowledge accomplished?
It's led to change in isolated situations. Our challenge for the coming decade is to scale it. We should work out what's transferrable between different contexts to ensure open knowledge can be enjoyed by everyone. If it continues as it is it could lead to greater inequality. At the moment, there are those who can benefit from openness because they are politically savvy or tech savvy, and there are those that don't benefit at all. It's leading to a burgeoning of the middle class. No longer just the upper classes that have access to openness, the middle classes do too, but the bottom are completely isolated and can't benefit.

What’s next for the open knowledge movement?
Broadening it. We need to deal with inclusion and push back against the encroachment on privacy. We need to be more critical of the role of politics and power in the movement.


Francois Von Schalkwyk, independent researcher (Open Data Research)

What’s the most interesting project you have seen at OKFest?
There's been so much variety which, in a way, is the value of the event. One of the best sessions was around data journalism. I know little about it and I looked forward to learn from others. It was a well structured and well run session. A story came out that according to a funder was a success, but to the presenter was a failure.

What should be open?
Interesting question - "default open" vs "default closed". Given this Festival's default context, open seems a no brainer, but as discussion progresses, there is a shift to "default closed" because of all the exceptions. If there are concerns, let's err on the side of caution. Everything should be open, but in my context we're not as aware about what can be done with our data. Priorities are different in different contexts and sometimes that's lost to others. But that's the value of meetings like these, to hear the other voices.

What should not be open?
Nothing: but that is my personal opinion, I'm not an expert. I'm not a private person. It's probably quite naive, I don't feel under threat. We are inherently defensive, maybe that's prudent.

In your opinion, what has opening knowledge accomplished?
Main thing is challenge existing hegemonies. NOt changed them, but at least it's made us think about existing structures or orders. IN research space, journals have been challenged. certainly new forms of open research. Only time tells whether the change is positive.

What’s next for the open knowledge movement?
I would like to see whether this is a fad or phase, or if it will really start settling down as a coherent moment in history. It is significant, but I'm a bit cynical. Hype has power. There's supply, but don't know if there's demand. Funders are the supply, but are they basing that on good research? Cycles and fads are the norm, and this could be the case. It is hard in the moment to know.


Tiago Veloso, visualoop.com

What’s the most interesting project you have seen at OKFest?
I really liked the data journalism session, because it brought together projects from developing countries, and I was particularly impressed by “Follow the Money”, not only for the idea, but also for the impact they have achieved. It had an impact, particularly for child health care.

Another project I was impressed by comes from Brazil, and is called “Info Amazonia”. They are crowdsourcing journalism with a layer of cartography – relating stories to points on a map. They have invented a new type of journalism – geo-journalism – and their work has also led to a great handbook.

What should be open?
Education

What should not be open?
It is a cliché, but health care data needs very careful consideration. Opening it can achieve a lot, but it requires many precautionary steps, because it can lead to very severe problems for individuals and their lifes.

In your opinion, what has opening knowledge accomplished?
At this point: awareness. Thanks to this, new projects and initiatives can be developed, they are more accepted and understood. That also means there is a long way to go, though.

What’s next for the open knowledge movement?
I strongly believe in working interdisciplinary. Open Knowledge by itself will not be as effective, if it does not connect to other movements and communities.
What is more, from Beatrice Martini's talk for me the main take away was that the Open Knowledge movement needs to learn how to lobby – and I believe the movement is often too naive. If you want to achieve more, you also need to learn how to play the game with business and government – to bring yourselves to places where you are not heard yet. Again, this is more likely to happen when you are connected to other communities and movements.


Ulrich Atz, Open Data Institute

What’s the most interesting project you have seen at OKFest?
I was impressed with Patrick Alley's Keynote (Global Witness). He works on really important topics and it was nice to see how data gets applied. Data is always a means to an end and it's helpful to be reminded of the ends.

What should be open?
Consumer data. I want to know what's in a product, where it comes from, how much it costs to make and the supply chain before I buy it.

What should not be open?
Personal data.

In your opinion, what has opening knowledge accomplished?
It has gathered an amazing international community and led to some great projects that showcase what is possible.

What’s next for the open knowledge movement?
Next is building stories around the impact and the evidence base of open data. Also, convincing people not in the bubble that open data is an amazing thing.


Lindsay Ferris, international policy associate - Sunlight Foundation

What should be open?
Personally: really interested in open science and open academic, in the USA everything is tied behind paywalls and there's initiative to keep it there. That's information that anyone can benefit from, and we stifle innovation by keeping it tied up in special databases with limited
access.

Professionally: The influence realm and lobbying regulations. We’ve worked on it extensively in the US, but right now we’ve done a couple of case studies on which countries have effective lobbying transparency (showing expenses, etc): http://sunlightfoundation.com/casestudies

Does it work?
It is helpful, but experiences are mixed. It’s better to have transparent lobbying regulations. Since there are so few countries with open lobbying regulations, it’s hard to make the case to other countries. It’s hard to influence when there are few examples of it working well.

What should not be open?
Personal identity data. Working specifically on open government, it is difficult to make the case that a lot of things should be closed. Regarding sensitive information, we had issues with opening up Congress data and people have concerns about Congress' expenses. If you know where a congressman is paying school fees, you also know where his kids go to school. In general though, it’s difficult to make the case that things should be closed.

In your opinion, what has opening knowledge accomplished?
One of the most interesting things about opening knowledge is the echo effect that it has. Our main means of doing that is the internet which is a huge megaphone. Opening knowledge of one area draws a lot of attention about possibilities of opening up other knowledge.

What’s next for the open knowledge movement?
Influence data. http://moneypoliticstransparency.org/


Anonymous interview

What’s the most interesting [project] you have seen at OKFest?
School of Data fellows, so great to see such an enthusiastic group of young people
excited about open data.

What should be open?
Anything publicly funded that doesn't violate national security, personal privacy or commercial secrecy. Contracting information is especially important, because it cuts across so many sectors, covering 9.5 billion dollars. There are so many things that come up in the course of open contracting as well, beneficial owenrship of companies and trusts, bidding amts and bidding processes (though you have to be careful with collusion issues. One thing worth noting is that it's increasingly obvious that simply making information open isn't sufficient.

What should not be open?
The main areas are private personal information, national security information and commercial secrets. There are tricky issues regarding beneficial ownership of trusts and personal privacy when it comes to contracting. This will become more and more difficult as private data gets linked.

What’s next for the open knowledge movement?
Understanding the demand side, privacy issues and interoperability and getting things linked up.


Mark Nowotny, Restless Development

What’s the most interesting [project] you have seen at OKFest?
It's been very exciting to hear about the new ScoDA fellows, including in the global south countries where we work.

What should be open?
We're moving towards a bigger world where everything is open, but to get there will take a lot of new partnerships.

What should not be open?
We heard this morning that one key tension area was around intellectual property. There's quite a bit of work to do to win that argument about how much of IP should be open.

In your opinion, what has opening knowledge accomplished?
For us the opening of the knowledge, we're a t a stage where it's bringing a wide range of new actors into the OK movement. What's exciting about that is that they're able to use knowledge in ways that weren't possible before. The OKFest is exciting because it brings together those working at the end of opening knowledge, and those who can use it.

What’s next for the open knowledge movement?
I think the continuing theme of broadening out is definitely key. It feels like we'3re at a moment where the groundswell is reaching a new swell and for us the big question is how can the open knowledge be over the next five years or so. Can it reach out to include those who wouldn't see themselves as part of it at the moment.


Ben Taylor, Twaweza

What’s the most interesting project you have seen at OKFest?
Really interested in the School of Data fellows, there's lots of potential for doing that kind of work in Tanzania.

What should be open?
I believe in open by default, so there should be a general perception (especially from governments) that they should open up as much data as they can, and only withhold data when there is a good reason for doing so. Risks to privacy and national security are good reasons for limiting this, but there is lots of government information on (for example on
budgets land rights) which should be open but isn't.

What should not be open?
Data about individuals is the most obvious example. There's also a big difference between when it comes to privacy. There are issues that relate to public figures and those that relate to the public and there's a big diff bw the two. Political leaders or even senior media figures,
by nature of their professions, have less rights to privacy than average citizen.

In your opinion, what has opening knowledge accomplished?
I can speak about TZ particular. In TZ, where there hasn't been a great deal of this kind of thing to be honest, it has a allowed a small number of people in civil society and the media to access and analyze information that previously wasn't available. They have been able to
analyze this information (for example, about service delivery) and raise awareness and advise government, but it hasn't been transformative at all, only small changes on the margins.

What’s next for the open knowledge movement?
Regarding Tanzania in particular, there is a lot more that could be done. There is momentum around open data and open gov and now is the time to capitalize on that, and get government to release more data sets. At the same time there is a big challenge many places in the world, which Tanzania is coming up against now, in that if you release data, who's to say anyone will do anything with it? We need to get people using data. I don't like to talk too much about creating tools and platforms, but some of that is needed. We need to identify which individuals and organizations have an interest in using the data that's becoming available, work with them to build capacity, support them to find and use it in interesting ways.


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