OKFestival 2014 Stories: OpenAfrica – a call to consolidate the African open network

This blog post is written by Michelle Willmers, Project Manager at OpenUCT Initiative, and is cross-posted from the OpenUCT Initiative blog.

The OpenUCT Initiative has in recent months been fortunate to participate in a number of workshops and events around open access, open science and open data in the African and developing country context.

Group Photo – Open Data in Developing Countries Research Network Workshop, Berlin, July 14th/15th 2014 (flickr)

Most recently, myself and Francois van Schalkwyk participated in the IDRC/World Wide Web Foundation's Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC) network meeting which took place in Berlin to coincide with the Open Knowledge Festival, a bi-annual global event organized by the Open Knowledge Foundation.

The slogan of this year's OKFest was ‘Open Minds to Open Action’. It was inspiring to be a part of what felt like a quite historic event and there was a tangible sense of excitement around what might be possible if this extremely talented and passionate community of activists, researchers and open advocates could harness their collective energies to promote openness and improved access to information.

Against this backdrop, network members from the African ODDC projects got together in Berlin to discuss what we could be doing to promote the open agenda and consolidate the open network in Africa – particularly in the emerging areas of open science and open data. It was acknowledged that while there have been a number of funder-driven initiatives, workshops and projects across Africa, it was incumbent upon us to move to action in joining the dots between these initiatives and doing more to consolidate the Africa network.

In short, discussion amongst the African participants surfaced a general sense of frustration around:
(a) Lack of cohesion in African “open” projects and research initiatives — i.e. we can see increasing pockets of sophisticated activity but no real initiative/conversation to consolidate the agenda.
(b) Reliance on funders and partners from the North to stimulate the local conversation.
(c) The need to take the conversation around openness outside of the purely academic context in order to include NGOs/CBOs as well as private/corporate partners.

As a small first step to help address this issue, I volunteered to share a public list of Africa-based academics, university managers, advocates and practitioners that I have interacted with at “Open” events in recent months. The list is available here.

It is a modest start, but we are hoping that African colleagues will add their names to this live database, which will hopefully be of use in surfacing a local network and providing contacts for partners from other continents. Africa is an enormous continent and finding key people in niche areas can be one of the main challenges in penetrating and collaborating within this environment.

In addition to adding names to the directory, we are also encouraging anybody interested in the African conversation to tweet items of local interest using the #OpenAfrica and #scholarAfrica hashtags.

Should you be interested, preliminary insights from the Open Data in Developing Countries initiative can be accessed here.

A Storify from the special ODDC session at OKFest is available here.


OKFestival 2014 Stories: Three things I learned at the 2014 Open Knowledge Festival

This blog post is written by Tariq Khokhar, Data Scientist and Open Data Evangelist at The World Bank, and is cross-posted from Open Data. The World Bank Data Blog.


I was lucky to be in Berlin with some colleagues earlier this month for the 2014 Open Knowledge Festival and associated fringe events.

There's really too much to distill into a short post – from Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, making the case for “Embracing the open opportunity” to Patrick Alley’s breathtaking accounts of how Global Witness uses information to expose crime and corruption in countries around the world.

A few things really stuck with me though from the dozens of great sessions throughout the week, here they are:

1) Open data needs users and long-term commitment from governments.

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The “Nos Ecoles, Nos Donnees” Application in Burkina Faso

The Partnership for Open Data hosted a fantastic session highlighting examples of open data in action in low and middle income countries.


Joachim Mangilimai a School of Data Fellow from Tanzania showcased a Swahili mobile app he'd developed to support decision making by medical staff. The app was based on guidelines published by The Population Council and built using the Open Data Kit framework. He also highlighted Shule.info, a project by Twaweza that compiles and visualizes government data on school performance that parents can use to stay better informed.

Burkina Faso

Malick Tapsoba, the technical manager of the Open Data Burkina Faso team highlighted the difficulties they overcame in launching their open data portal in a low capacity, low connectivity environment and how the next big challenge was to nurture a community of data users. They'd also built a great school information app called “Our Schools, Our Data” that offers gender disaggregated data on school performance. They’ve done an impressive job of kick-starting their initiative in a difficult environment.

Mexico and The Philippines

We also heard from Ania Calderón of the Mexican government on their “Data Squads” program providing rapid support to different government agencies to publish high quality data to the national open data portal. Finally, Happy Feraran who created the Bantay corruption reporting platform in the Philippines emphasised the importance of mobilizing the community.

Lessons learned: There are some great open data initiatives around the world and two common themes are the need for a strong community of technologically literate data re-users, and the sustained effort needed within governments to change how they create, manage and publish data in the long term. Tim Davies has also shared “15 open data insights” from the Open Data Research Network, and you can read the ODI’s Liz Carolan’s takeaways from the event here.

2) Spreadsheets are code, and you can unit test data

A Turing Machine implemented in Excel

Jenni Tennison has declared 2014 the year of the CSV and the fringe event csv,conf was the most informative conference I've been to in a long time. With over 30 speakers on technically specialised topics to do with the creation, management and application of (mostly) tabular data there was again too much to choose from but my highlights were on “Treating spreadsheets as code” and “Unit testing for tabular data

Spreadsheets are code

Felienne Hermans who heads The Spreadsheet Lab (I'm not kidding) at Delft University asked that if we remember one thing from her talk it’s that “spreadsheets are code”. She thinks we should treat them as such and use software engineering approaches like tests, refactoring, and designing for maintainability. She casually demonstrated that Excel is “Turing complete” and just as powerful as any other programming language, by using it to build a Turing Machine (see picture above) and highlighting some tools that can help to improve the quality of spreadsheet applications.

The first tool is Bumblebee which Felienne developed for optimizing spreadsheet formulas. It can do a lot but think about automatically replacing things like “SUM(F3:F7)/COUNT(F3:F7)” with the simpler “AVERAGE(F3:F7)” plus other user-defined or automatic transformations. She discussed another tool (which I now forget the name of) that helps with formula testing and at the end of her talk, mentioned the (commercial) service spreadgit that brings cloud-based git-like revision management to Excel.

She noted that “Like democracy, spreadsheets are the worst, except for all others” and in her “Programming and data science for the 99%” course recognizes that Excel (and open alternatives like LibreOffice and OpenOffice) are going to be the main way most people do data analysis for the foreseeable future, so we should encourage people to adopt some good software engineering habits when coding spreadsheets.

Programatically Testing data

Karthik Ram the co-founder of the awesome rOpenSci and scientist at Berkeley shared some promising work they've been doing on the testdat R package. In short, it will let you programmatically test for and correct errors like outliers, text formatting problems and invalid values in datasets. It’s still in development but you can get an idea from Karthik’s slides.

The old and new approaches to science by Karthik Ram.

He ended with a useful reminder of the changing norms the “open science” movement is creating – where once the research paper was the principal output of a scientist, it's increasingly accepted that the code, the data and separate elements of the narrative of a scientific study will all be public and available for re-use.

Lessons learned: Spreadsheets are code and we can adopt some software engineering practices to make much better use of them. There are a number of powerful tools and approaches to data handing being pioneered by the scientific community (e.g. Hadley Wickham just announced the tidyr tool for data cleaning in R) and those of us working in other fields can adopt and emulate many of them.

3) The future of civic tech (probably) lies in re-usable software components


I had a chat with the always thoughtful Tom Steinberg of mySociety just before the “Can Open Data Go Wrong?” session and Tom told me about one way he thinks open data can go right: Poplus

To use their own words, Poplus is an “open federation of people and organisations from many different countries.” with a “joint mission to share knowledge and technology that can help us to help citizens” The primary resource they've got at the moment are Poplus Components which you can think of as building blocks for more complex civic applications.

The current components are:

Represent Boundaries – a web API onto geographic areas like electoral districts

SayIt – a service to store and retrieve written transcripts of public statements

MapIt – a service that finds out which administrative area covers a specific point

WriteIt – a service to write and send messages to public persons

PopIt – a tool to keep lists of politicians and associated biographic information

BillIt – a flexible document storage tool

Why re-usable software components and not re-usable apps?

So for example, could this app built to visualize secondary school performance in the United Kingdom be re-purposed to work in Tanzania or Burkina Faso? Maybe, but probably not. Why? Because the context is different enough, that the UK-based app, like many others, just doesn't quite translate to work in other countries, so it’s just easier to build a new app designed for the local context.

This is why Poplus components are great – they abstract out functional elements of civic applications and make them easy to combine and build a more complex service on top of. Nerdier readers will remember Robert Glass' “rule of three” which states it’s three times as difficult to build reusable components as single-use components. I think Poplus understands this this and the components are carefully curated and already being re-used and combined around the world.

Lessons learned: Open data fundamentally needs open source software. App reuse often doesn't happen because contexts are too different. Reusable software components can reduce the development overhead for creating locally customized civic software applications and a pool of high quality civic software components is a valuable public good worth contributing to.

Finally, a big thank you to the organizers of OKFest and csv,conf for hosting such great gatherings. Were you at #okfest14 or #csvconf – what did you learn?

OKFestival 2014 Stories: Open Culture at the 2014 Open Knowledge Festival

This post by Meredith Holmgren, Principal Investigator & Project Manager – Intangible Cultural Heritage, originally appeared on the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's Talk Story blog.

This year's Open Knowledge Festival (OKFest) brought together over one thousand participants to share their work in transparency and open access to government data. Taking place July 15 to 17 in Berlin, Germany, the festival included a wide range of panel topics, from development sector analytics and election monitoring tools to storytelling and cultural heritage policy. Opting for a dynamic framework of a festival, rather than that of a conventional conference, there were a wide range of participatory activities in addition to prepared panel presentations, including a robust “unconference” program, workshops, performances, skill sharing, and hack-a-thons.

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OKFest 2014 took place in the Kulturbrauerei—a converted brewery that now serves as a complex of arts and culture venues. Photo by Meredith Holmgren

One thematic thread that ran through the event was open cultural data, the principles of which foster free use and unrestricted public access to cultural assets stewarded by cultural heritage institutions, such as galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (a.k.a. GLAMs). With increasing demand for digital cultural assets across the world, open cultural heritage projects, such as those initiated by the Getty, the Walter's Art Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and Europeana, have gained significant traction in recent years and garnered quite a bit of attention from researchers and media outlets. With momentum building both within and outside of cultural institutions to make cultural assets more digitally accessible, and equally as much debate about the merits of declaring assets as public domain works, I looked forward to learning more about the open culture community and ongoing collaborations between cultural heritage institutions and open culture professionals from around the world.

Indeed, the open cultural heritage events at OKFest did not disappoint. The program started with a pre-festival workshop at the Wikimedia Deutschland offices, titled “Open Data in Cultural Heritage”. Around fifty participants from across the world gathered to present their work and discuss ongoing activities. While much of the content focused on advances in the German cultural context (e.g. Wikimedia Deutschland, Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, Museum für Naturkunde) presenters who hailed from Finland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, in addition to Germany, shared their experiences with cultural heritage initiatives. Hearing their case studies—though exclusively from the European continent, where public support for this work is arguably the strongest—provided a unique comparative perspective toward current developments in the field, ongoing pilot projects, policy debates, and challenges encountered by a variety of open culture professionals…

Read more on the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's Talk Story blog.

OKFestival Fringe Event: The SWAG Jam July 15 @ 10PM

This is a guest blog post by Brigid Pasco from Artists Without a Cause (AWAC), an organization striving to connect artists working on political, cultural and socially engaged art with the organizations and activists who are championing the same causes. AWAC have coordinated several artist sessions to take place at the Festival. To see who is coming, check out Artists on SCHED, follow @ArtistsWAC and the hashtag #OKFestAWAC.

On Tuesday, July 15 AWAC OKFestival musicians Juliani and Valsero will join The SWAG for their weekly SWAG Jam at BADEHAUS Szimpla in Friedrichshain. This week's Jam is a special OKFestival fringe event – come check out OKFestival artists jamming with local Berlin hip-hoppers (and hide from the post-world cup madness)!

The SWAG Jam is a weekly event which functions as both a SWAG concert and an open mic – anyone who wants to can jam with The SWAG! The event takes place every Tuesday from 10pm til late. Entry is 5 euro (3 euro before 11pm). Badehaus is located at RAW, Revalerstrasse 99, in Berlin Friedrichshain.

In addition to The SWAG Jam concert, you can catch The SWAG performing with Juliani and Valsero at the closing performance of the OKFestival on Thursday, July 17, at 17:00.

For more information on the OKFestival Schedule, click here.

To see more fringe events, click here.

OKFestival fringe events – CSVConf call for proposals is now open

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Last week we released the provisional programme for this year's Open Knowledge Festival. We’re starting with an opening evening event on July 15th followed by two full days of the festival on July 16th and 17th. However, the fun isn’t confined to our official festival events! There are also going to be various fringe events taking place in Berlin around the festival – one of which is CSVConf on July 15th.

CSVConf will bring together data makers/doers/hackers from backgrounds like science, journalism, open government and the wider software industry to share tools and stories. It's not just about CSV tools – the organisers would love to hear about a wide range of data-based projects, so if this sounds like your thing the call for proposals is now open and tickets are also on sale. Don’t delay though – the deadline to submit suggestions is May 31st!

You can check out the other OKFestival fringe events that are taking place here – and there's still time to organise one of your own. If you’re planning to do so, do let us know. We’d be happy to help you to spread the word!

OKFestival Provisional Programme is now live!

Over the last few months we have received hundreds of terrific proposals for this year's Open Knowledge Festival programme. Thank you for your ideas and your input!

There have been more sessions proposed than we could possibly accommodate and as a result, we've had the incredibly difficult task of whittling down all of those great ideas into a 3-day festival. It wasn’t easy, and it’s with regret that we can’t include every one of your great proposals in the final programme.

However, after this tough task of creating our final programme, we're happy to be able to give you the first glimpse of the Open Knowledge Festival 2014 programme. Read on to find out more about what translating “Open Minds to Open Action” is going to look like!


Festival Schedule & Preliminary Programme

Please note that information about sessions is still a work in progress. A full list of sessions and facilitators will be finalised and updated in due course.

July 15 – The Open Knowledge Fair

OKFestival 2014 will kick off at 18:00 on Tuesday 15th July with the Open Knowledge Fair; an opening extravaganza to set the scene for the following two days. This dynamic start to the 3 days of the festival will be comprised of demo stands, performances, interactive hands-on things to do and make, and the opportunity to enjoy music and drinks.

Here's a taste of what will make it an unforgettable night:

  • GIF animation jam session (Kati Hyyppä, Sanna Marttila, Adam Green)
  • Politaoke – the non-partisan political karaoke (Diana Arce)
  • Let’s make music and food from data! (csv soundsystem)
  • Security in a Box & Digital Security Help Desk (Tactical Technology Collective)
  • Tracka: Crowdsourcing Service Delivery – Oluseun Onigbinde (BudgIT)
  • Opening Closistan – Tarek Amr, Ahmad Gharbeia
  • Public Lab – Shannon Dosemagen
  • Sensors, Uncensored: Using Sensors to Enrich Storytelling – Lily Bui
  • Open Bank Project
  • Open Steps – a journey around the world discovering and showcasing open knowledge projects
  • Open Access Button
  • and many more!

July 16 and 17 – The Core Festival Days

Each day will kick off with two inspiring, engaging plenary sessions to fuel the activities for the day ahead. We have some truly incredible keynote speakers joining us – stay tuned to discover more about them soon. After the plenaries, there will be community-led sessions from 11:00 to 18:30 each day. There will also be breakout spaces available throughout the entire festival and another space where you'll be able to pitch and run emerging sessions on the fly.

Here's a taster of some of the sessions that have been confirmed – more updates soon!

Knowledge Stream (in alphabetical order by session title)

  • An Exploration of Global Social and Economic Policy Data: Tools to Improve Well-being and Equity – Amy Raub, Nicolas deGuzman, Isabel Latz (WORLD Policy Analysis Center)

  • Can Open Data Go Wrong? – Tin Geber, Alix Dunn (The Engine Room), Lindsay Beck (NDITech)

  • Citizen Report Knowledge Sharing – Mariana Mas (DATA), mySociety, Ushahidi

  • Defining and Designing Successful Data Journalism Initiatives in Developing Countries – Eva Constantaras (Internews)

  • Enabling Reliable Narrators: Opening up Openness beyond the Usual Suspects – Penny Andrews

  • Exploding Open Science! Awareness, training, funding, training – Alexandre Hannud Abdo
  • How to Teach Open Data – Milena Marin (Open Knowledge School of Data) & more

  • Lobby Regulation and Transparency: standards and campaign plans – Victoria Anderica (Access Info Europe), Julia Keseru (Sunlight Foundation)

  • Low-Tech Data: Story-Finding and Storytelling – Rahul Bhargava (MIT Center for Civic Media), Gabi Sobliye (Tactical Technology Collective)

  • Maintaining a healthy and thriving Public Domain – exploring the notion of originality and copyright when digitising analogue works – Joris Pekel (Europeana), Paul Keller (Kennisland), Lieke Ploeger (Open Knowledge Foundation), Thomas Margoni (University of Amsterdam) & OpenGLAM Open Knowledge Working Group

  • Mapping the Corporate Web: an Open Data Approach – Johnny West (OpenOil)

  • Open Access Review – Michelle Brook (Open Knowledge) & more

  • Open Educational Resources and Policy: Overview and Connections to Others

  • Open Education Smörgåsbord – Marieke Guy (Open Knowledge), Alek Tarkowski, Tom Salmon, Kristina Anderson, Miska Knapek, Darya Tarasowa

  • OpenGLAM Benchmark Survey Workshop – Beat Estermann (Bern University of Applied Sciences), Lieke Ploeger (Open Knowledge)

  • Open licenses for a free press – Hauke Gierow (Reporter ohne Grenzen)

  • Open Movements – Alek Tarkowski (Centrum Cyfrowe), Nicole Allen (SPARC), Delia Browne (P2PU), Melissa Hagemann (OSF)

  • Openness Divide? — How Openness Can Help the Unfinished Arab Spring – Salwa AbdelTawab (Al-Jazeera)

  • Panton Principles for the Humanities. Do we need one and what would it look like? – Iain Emsley

  • Reimagining scholarly communication – Stuart Lawson (Wikimania)

  • Storytelling for Social Change – Javie Ssozi (Rural Farming 4 Devt & Speak Out Uganda!)
  • Testing the efficiency of open versus traditional science – Daniel Mietchen, Jenny Molloy, Alexandre Hannud Abdo (Open Science Open Knowledge Working Group)

  • Transportation data: traffic and transit – different path, same result? – Peter Hicks & Open Transport Open Knowledge Working Group

Society Stream (in alphabetical order by session title)

  • A crowd sourced manifesto: what is the open data ‘social contract’ between governments and citizens – Kitty von Bertele, Antonio Acuña (Cabinet Office UK)

  • Budget Data Package: toward an open standard for budget and spending data – Samidh Chakrabarti (Google), Open Knowledge

  • Building the open coalition – developing a wider community of open – Stevie Benton (Wikimedia UK), Bekka Kahn (P2PU)

  • Business Revenue Models for Open Data or Getting Rich with Open Data

  • DIY Making for Social and Environmental Justice – Shannon Dosemagen (Public Lab)
  • Global Elections Toolbox – DATA Uruguay & more

  • Ground-up open data intermediaries – Who? Where? How? – Tim Davies (Web Foundation), Michael Canares (STEP Up Consulting), Satyarupa Shekhar (Transparent Chennai), Gisele S. Craveiro (University of Sao Paulo & Open Knowledge Brazil), Zachariah Chilliswa (Jesuit Hakimani Center, Kenya), Omenogo Mejabi (University of Ilorin)

  • How Do You Win Fiscal Transparency Campaigns? – Follow The Money network

  • Land rights data: quality control, challenges and new strategies

  • Money, Politics and Transparency – Julia Keseru, Lisa Rosenberg (Sunlight Foundation), Alan Hudson (Global Integrity)

  • Open Contracting: Disclosing Data, Engaging for Results – Michael Roberts, Tim Davies (Web Foundation), Felipe Estefan, Marcela Rozo (The World Bank), Sarah Bird

  • Open Data Charter and the G20

  • Open Government Data updates from around the world – Daniel Dietrich & more

  • “Opening” Society in Challenging Contexts – Ethan Wilkes, Panthea Lee, Adam Talsma (Reboot)

  • Opening up ‘open’: how do we strengthen the base of people who care about open? – Elliott Bledsoe

  • Open Surveillance? – Fabrizio Scrollini (DATA), Renata Avila (Web Foundation), Javier Ruiz (Open Rights Group)

  • Power, politics, inclusion and voice – Duncan Edwards (Institute of Development Studies), Ben Taylor (Twaweza), Kersti Wissenbach (Open4Change), Rebecca Latourell (AidData)

  • Taking privacy considerations forward- the role of the data publisher – Javier Ruiz (Open Rights Group), Sally Deffor (Open Knowledge)

  • The Problem with Participation – Nancy Schwartzman (Circle of 6 / Tech 4 Good), Lina Srivastava, Linda Raftree

  • Tracking development in the open – Mark Brough, Shreya Basu (Publish What You Fund)

Tools Stream (in alphabetical order by session title)

  • An E-waste Hackathon: hacking/fixing our gadgets and learning what happens when they die – Janet Gunter, Ugo Vallauri (The Restart Project)

  • Bring the Public Domain Calculators Worldwide! – Pierre Chrzanowski (Open Knowledge France), Samuel Goëta, Primavera de Filippi (Open Knowledge France, Public Domain Working Group), Marco Montanari (Open Knowledge Italy)

  • CrisisNET: An Interactive Introduction – Jonathon Morgan (Ushahidi)

  • Detecting Climate Change in Open Weather Data – Brian Abelson (Enigma)Transparent Cities – creating a shared framework for city governments to use data and technology to be more open, transparent and participatory – Satyarupa Shekhar (Transparent Chennai), Instituto Polis, GPoPAI/Colab and Indonesia Lab, Web Foundation & more

  • Giving credit where credit is due – Jonas Öberg, Leena Simon (Commons Machinery)

  • Open Decisions API’s – Global Standardization – Markus Petteri Laine (Open Knowledge Finland)
  • Save the Titanic: Hands-on anonymisation and risk control of publishing open data – Ulrich Atz, Kathryn Corrick (Open Data Institute)

  • Humanitarian OpenStreetMap mapping workshop – Katie Filbert, Shoaib Burq, Christian Lenz (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team)

  • Introduction to Text and Data Mining (TDM): Technical and Legal Considerations – Puneet Kishor (Creative Commons), Peter Murray-Rust (University of Cambridge), Ross Mounce (University of Bath)

  • Open Design Definition workshop – Sanna Marttila, Peter Troxler, Christian Villum (Open Hardware and Design Working Group)

  • Opening Politics: Collecting and Organizing Political Data – Scott Hubli (National Democratic Institute), John Wonderlich (Sunlight Foundation), Jakub Gornicki (ePanstwo)

  • Open Product Datification – Thomas McNally & Open Product Data Open Knowledge Working Group

  • Sensors, Uncensored: Using Sensors to Enrich Storytelling – Lily Bui
  • Skills and tools for web native open science – Kaitlin Thaney (Mozilla Science Lab), Karthik Ram (rOpenSci)

  • Understanding the civic space – Stef van Grieken (Google), Knight Foundation, MIT Media Lab

  • Usability testing workshop – Claus Höfele, Lydia Dreyer

 Fringe Events

We encourage people to plan and run fringe events which will complement the Festival, both before and after the official programming. If you are organising a Fringe Event, please let us know so we can help publicise it for you. If you want to know more about Fringe Events already in the pipeline, check out this page.

We hope you're as excited as we are by this provisional Programme line-up, and that you’ll agree that this year’s Festival is going to be an amazing place full of possibility, learning and action!

If you've not already bought your ticket, make sure you don’t miss out – we’re looking forward to seeing you in Berlin!

With excitement,

The OKFestival Team