A few days ago I (Alvaro Graves) participated in the Open Government Data Camp 2011 in Warsaw, Poland, where people from different groups, organizations and governments met to discuss issues related to Open Data at government level. Here are some of the most important issues found in theese talk, in my opinion.
The current state of OGD
David Eaves, an activist who advises the city of Vancouver, Canada in issues about Open Data, gave a keynote in which he described his views on the current state of Open Data movement. First, it is striking that the success stories are not just a few anymore (as Data.gov or Data.gov.uk) but there are dozens (perhaps hundreds), both at national, regional and local levels. Similarly, the term Open Government Data is becoming increasingly popular, which is good because it is easier to stop explaining the ‘what’ and start focusing in the ‘how’.
Another interesting point is how the movement of Open Government Data already passed an inflection point, where it is no longer seen as people demanding from the outside, but being increasingly being invited to help working on these initiatives from within the government. For many, this change in perspective can be confusing and may create some concerns of Open Data being absorbed in a bureaucratic system that makes impossible to implement Open Data initiatives. However, it is clear that in order for these changes to occur, the movement can not reject to collaborate with governments.
Local initiatives, by locals
A talk that I really liked was by Ton Zylstra, who lives in the city of Enschede, the Netherlands. This city has only 150,000 inhabitants. He wanted an Open Data initiative there, however, it was difficult to convince the authorities, so he with a group of people decided to start working on their own. Inviting a handful of hackers to a bar, they created their first application that used data from Twitter, Foursquare, and the venues of a local festival. Eventually they convinced the municipal government that the default option for local data ought to be open.
From this experience, Ton showed several important lessons: You have to create something concrete, no matter if it is small: This implies something that requires little funding (the first beers at the bar were free) and short-term (no more than a couple of weeks). It does not matter if it is something original or not, there are some great ideas out there that deserve to be copied and are very useful for the local community.
How the Open Data died
Another very interesting keynote was by Chris Taggart, founder of OpenCorporates, who warned of the risks that the Open Data movement is facing today. His main concern is the lack of relevance in terms of impact Open Data has on society. For example, he mentioned that so far no one’s business depends on Open Data (although this is not true, there are a few out there, but I have to concede they are rare examples). In general, making data available is not enough, it is necessary for it to be used either in applications, by data journalists, etc. Also, it is fundamental to link different sites with Open Data (something quite uncommon in the movement), so that people can find out more information. Finally, I liked his idea that if the Open Data does not cause problems to its incumbents, then it is not working.
Redefining what is public
Finally another talk that I found interesting was the idea of Dave Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy, and Nigel Shaldbolt, professor at University of Southampton, to redefine “the public” in terms of data that “is available on the Web in machine-processable formats.” That is, uploading a bunch of PDFs with scanned tables does not make that information public, because it is not easily accessible. This initiative raises the bar of what public data is, especially when compared to the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) that allows you to request information from government. Note that this applies to all information, as Rasiej so vehemently described it.
So… what did you talked about at OGDCamp?
In my case, I presented a system for publishing Linked Data called LODSPeaKr, which can be used for the rapid publication of government data and to create applications based on Linked Data. In the near future I will be writing more about this framework, but for now you can see my presentation here.