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  • OKFestival 2014 Stories: Thought Experiments in Sensor Journalism. Notes from a sensor journalism workshop at #OKFest14

    This blog post is written by Lily Bui, M.S. Candidate in Comparative Media Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is cross-posted from her personal blog.

    This year, I had the privilege of presenting at the Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin, Germany, an international meeting of the minds that brings together advocates for open science, data, government, and societies. While still not completely recovered from jetlag, I wanted to make sure I wrote this down before it all disappeared into the ether! (Though, most of it is conveniently logged in the session's Etherpad.)

    My Thursday session focused on sensor journalism — using sensors to generate data that could be used to support journalistic inquiry. Long story short, it is clear that for many common issues that journalists pay attention to (both local and global), there is a sensor that could potentially help generate and collect data.

    Any emergent field deserves its share of constructive criticism to shape it and to keep it balanced as it evolves. So, in our workshop, we ran a handful of thought experiments that stimulated some critical thinking about the sensor journalism space.

    Needless to say, it was incredibly inspiring to see people from so many different countries thinking collaboratively about both local and global problems that sensor tools + data might help solve. They held constructive debates and discussions, asked challenging questions, and in the end helped me gain a better understanding of what still needs to be done for the field.

    In the course of merely one hour, a group of people who were initially unaware of sensor journalism transformed into one that was able to identify various world problems that sensor data could help investigate, as well as suggest approaches to doing so. Now, if that's not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

    [The feedback I received from this conference also warranted the start of an e-mail group and official hashtag for #SensorJourno to connect those wanting to stay in the conversation. Please join in if it suits your interests!]



    There were four groups total, and each group was given a scenario involving sensors + storytelling for which they needed to find a solution and define a working strategy. One group in particular (Group D) was given the sole purpose of playing devil's advocate — to think about the risks that come with more experimentation with sensor-based reporting. You’ll find the scenarios below.

    GROUP A:

    Your city, Dendropolis, was once known for its abundant and lush forest. Over time, a company called TIMBER, INC. began to cut down the trees for paper production, construction materials, etc. Now, there is very little forest left. Recently, a law was passed to restrict deforestation in Zone X. However, an anonymous source leaves you a tip that TIMBER, INC. is secretly still cutting down trees in Zone X. So far, there is no way to prove this. How could you use sensors to monitor this kind of activity? What kind of sensors are they? How would you collect the data? How would you use the data to tell a story? Would the story be a video, podcast, newspaper article, blog post, phone app, game, etc.?

    This group thought of creating a visible border around the protected area/trees, so if the border was breached, then an alert could be sent off to the correct authorities to act upon it. Another idea was to place noise sensors in the area so that if the sound of a chainsaw was detected, alerts would be sent to the proper authorities or anyone else who signed up to receive them.

    [Incidentally, this strategy actually resembles that of the current project called Rainforest Connection.]

    GROUP B:

    You are part of a research group that has designed an open source sensor which vibrates a few hours before earthquakes. This technology could possibly work as an early warning system for people who live in areas that are at risk for earthquakes. However, the technology is useless unless the information it provides reaches people who need it. Design a plan for action that includes media outreach. How will you spread the word and make this sensor available to as many people who need it as possible? How will you teach people how to use it? How would you use the data to tell a story? Would the story be a video, podcast, newspaper article, blog post, phone app, game, etc.?

    For the sensor itself, the group came up with a list of questions to start thinking about their deployment strategy:

    – How do we get it to potential earthquake zones?

    – How do we get information/alerts from teh sensor to the local people?

    – What kind of information?

    Then for installing the sensor in earthquake zones, the group decided that the best way forward might be to build and maintain relationships with local communities, NGOs with extensive distribution networks, fire departments/emergency first responders, and local news outlets. The sensors would be installed in public buildings in identified earthquake zones.

    In order to generate feedback to the community if an earthquake is detected by the sensors, the group thought of using relationships with local radio or TV as well as a broadcast SMS alert to spread the word in case of emergency. They even thought of tying the alerts to Ushahidi, an open source crisis alert system, to collect data from the ground and broadcast it to people.

    GROUP C:

    Identify an issue that you can help track using smart phone sensors. What is the best way to report the data you collect — an app, game, etc.? After the data is collected, how can you convey it in a way that will make sense to people that the issue affects?

    The phone sensors that this group identified were as follows: GPS, microphone, accelerometer, gyroscope, battery/ambient temperature, barometer, bluetooth, light. (There are actually many more.)

    Inspired by a group member who was visiting Berlin from the Sahara, where sandstorms can be prominent, this group designed an app meant for parents who were concerned about air quality outside, especially while their children were playing outdoors. With this app, parents can submit a photo of air quality/conditions to an app, which will be aggregated in an open, public database. The data would be visualized in a way that would show where air quality/pollution was the worst so that parents could make better decisions about where to take their kids for recreation.

    GROUP D:

    Your role is to play devil's advocate. While sensor journalism project emerge, what possible risks need to be considered? What problems can you anticipate might arise from more experimentation?

    Limited accessibility & representativeness. Mostly who can afford the sensors will acquire them, which excludes many demographic groups.

    Transparency/privacy. People may not be aware of what data they are giving away.

    Quality of the collected data. Problems with calibration of sensor tools, improperly collected data, working with unreliable data.

    Generalization. Analysis of data from local samples cannot be generalized to make greater statements about the wider issue (e.g. data from monitoring the water quality of one private well does not reflect the water quality of an entire state, region, country, etc.).

    Lack of clarity as to who can start a sensor journalism initiative — journalists, scientists, both?

    Bias. Journalists can shift media attention toward specific issues tha thave reached a critical mass, while ignoring other issues that could require attention.

  • Revisiting OKFestival 2014

    This blogpost is by Susanne Kendler, Communications Manager at Open Knowledge.

    Hard to believe that a full month has passed since the end of a fantastic OKFestival 2014. While our team is hard at work following up on all the great ideas and impulses from the event, and evaluating what we can learn, we would like to highlight some of the magnificent write-ups and other documentation that has been made in pretty much all of the community around the world.

    Over 1000 people from 60 countries came together to enjoy a slice of summer in Berlin. But they also were there to discuss, share, think, create new ideas and to collaborate with a focus to open minds to open action.

    We are especially grateful for our fab team of community volunteers who created these storify-collections to mark each day of the event

    Here are some reminders for OKFestival 2014 in pictures

    Here are some more of our favorite things

    A big thank you to all who shared thoughts about OKFestival 2014 on social media, who wrote blog posts and articles about the event, and who helped us spread the word about what we learnt. Here are just some of the reflections we collected:
    #OKFest14 – Outcomes, Impressions & Thoughts

    And finally, here’s our fantastic short video, which summarizes impressions from OKFestival 2014 perfectly

    Let us know if you are taking any new partnerships and ideas formed at OKFestival 2014 forward, we’d love to hear about any follow-up projects!

  • Thank you for joining us at Open Knowledge Festival 2014!


    Thank you for joining us in Berlin and helping to shape OKFestival and the future of the open knowledge movement!

    We hope that the event provided you with the opportunity to learn, to share and to connect with open knowledge advocates from around the world. While we were excited and inspired by the collaborations and activities we saw springing up over the course of the week, we know that we can always do better and we want to hear from you about what we did well and what you would change. Furthermore, we'd like to encourage all the festival participants to keep sharing – ideas, blogposts, photos, videos, anything which can make the work done last week together resonate with everyone who was there but also everyone who couldn’t join us in person but can still fuel the upcoming projects online!

    So, in the spirit of Open Minds to Open Action – let's call for action!

    i) Tell us how it was for you! Firstly, we'd like to ask for your feedback about the event to help us with planning for the future. We’d really appreciate your answers to this survey, which shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to complete:

    ii) Content from the festival Next, we'd like to remind you of all the great content created at – and around – the Festival, and to encourage you to check it out and contribute to it.

    • Etherpads
      Every session had an etherpad, which is an online tool for note-taking. You can find them listed on the Sched page for the corresponding session or you may want to browse the “pad of pads” where they're all listed.
    • Photos
      We saw lots of great photos being tweeted from the event and would love to collect as many as possible in the festival Flickr pool so that everyone can find them. So whether you snapped people enjoying ice cream or artists creating graffiti, please do add your images to the group here.
    • Articles & blog posts
      Again, we've seen lots of tweets sharing blog posts about the festival – if you’ve written one or seen one you liked, please add it to this document so we can gather them all in one place and put the links up as a record on the festival website.

    Finally, if you’d like to relive some of the festival, you might want to check out our short video celebrating the event. Enjoy!

    Thanks once again for your energy, contributions and enthusiasm in making Open Knowledge Festival 2014 our best event yet.

    With love,
    Your OKFestival Team

  • Open Knowledge Festival – Day 3 Storify

    At this year’s festival we were helped by a fantastic team of volunteers, some of whom contributed to sharing updates about the event on social media. As well as tweeting and taking photos and video, each day they compiled a Storify of some of the top tweets. Below is the Storify for Day 3 of the festival which included keynotes from Neelie Kroes and Eric Hysen as well as ice cream, a graffiti wall and the closing party!

  • Open Knowledge Festival – Day 2 Storify

    At this year’s festival we were helped by a fantastic team of volunteers, some of whom contributed to sharing updates about the event on social media. As well as tweeting and taking photos and video, each day they compiled a Storify of some of the top tweets. Below is the Storify for Day 2 of the festival.

  • OKFestival: Day Two Highlights & Wrap Up

    What a Week!

    Opening Ceremony OKFestival 14

    Between five incredible keynotes, 70+ participatory sessions, an unFestival and countless fringe events, not to mention informal strategizing in the courtyards of the Kulturbrauerei, I am sure that we are all still taking some time to process all the information. Last week, our incredible volunteers put together a Day 1 roundup, highlighting all the exciting conversations that were taking place! Here is just a taste of what happened on Day 2!

    We kicked off Day Two with a keynote from Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner responsible for the digital rights agenda, who called on the open movement to put the pressure on national governments to open up data in order to help create jobs and stimulate growth. She highlighted the need to change the mindset of public administrations, to show them that there is a better way, an open way. After a standing ovation from the audience, Eric Hysen had a tough act to follow and was up for the challenge!  He joined us on the OKFestival stage to highlight that open data is not enough and if we truly want to create more innovative societies, we *have* to build the necessary infrastructure. If you missed it, you can read it here.

    If you missed the Thursday morning keynotes, you can watch them here:

    Following the keynotes, OKFestival participants spread throughout the Kulturbrauerei to share, learn and innovate together in 30 different interactive sessions and at the unFestival. All thirty sessions and the unFestival would be difficult to recap in a single blog post but you can check out the etherpads for all the the sessions here or our Storify of day two!

    Here are a few photos of the day:


    Finally, because we were, after all, at a Festival, we ended with a live performance from Juliani, Valsero and The Swag. Thank you Artists Without a Cause!


    Stay tuned, OKFestival official photos and videos are coming soon! In the mean time, if you want to help us tell the OKFestival story, please add your blogs to our list & your photos to our flickr pool.  Thanks for joining us in Berlin last week, it wouldn’t have been the same without each and everyone of you! 

    Image Credit: Arte Pilpilean EgonOpenCorporates GalleryBurt Lum, Open Data Research Network , Mark Braggins