June 9, 2015 IODC0

A guest post by Mélanie Brunet.

Canada’s digital diplomacy experience was the subject of a panel at the 3rd International Open Data Conference, an interesting intermingling of academic research, data science, and diplomacy.

Martha McLean of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) defined digital diplomacy as the application of new technology and social media to traditional diplomacy, and levering data created by these interactions to understand how these tools are used and why. Furthermore, who are these Twitter and Facebook followers, who are they connected to, and how do they relate to Canada’s diplomatic objectives? Launching the conversation, McLean asked whether digital diplomacy can further our diplomatic goals or does it just open the world to what diplomats do. Can hashtags, such as #BringBackOurGirls, really bring about change?

Aniket Bhushan of the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University presented a detailed analysis of Canada’s digital diplomacy efforts based on the mapping and tracking 467 official social accounts, covering all embassies, numerous languages and platforms, and providing 1.7 million data points. But why focus so much on social media? In the emerging world, despite connectivity problems, much more time is spent on social media than on television, and the proportion keeps growing. To reach out to citizens of other countries, Canada needs to be present where they are. Indeed, there is a paradigm shift: diplomacy is no longer confined to governments talking to other governments. Social media is fast, big and uncertain, but it is open and it generates a vast digital footprint that can be used to evaluate and adjust Canada’s diplomatic efforts.

Data scientist Scott Burlington of 76design explained how Bhushan’s study was made possible by gathering the data using a 76insight watch list to monitor all of Canada’s diplomatic social network in real time, providing information about content, interactions, and how accounts/followers are connected.

Speaking via pre-recorded video, Canada’s ambassador to Tunisia, Sébastien Beaulieu, talked about the real impact of social media, citing the Arab Spring as an example. He stated that digital diplomacy is about engaging citizens, civil society, the media, and local governments. More specifically, the Canadian embassy in Tunis promoted human rights by denouncing sexual violence and homophobia through its social media accounts. Beaulieu observed that it elicited a lot of comments, but that direct social media metrics are not the only sign of impact; although they are difficult to measure, offline conversations generated by social media are often the most productive ones and can make their way back online.

Martha McLean closed the conservation by highlighting the advantage of digital diplomacy: it makes it possible to bypass governments and NGOs to talk directly with the population, in their own language, without imposing change from the outside. With digital diplomacy, diplomats take a backseat and can focus on the objectives rather than the means. The next challenge for DFATD is to adjust its approach to digital diplomacy based on what has been learned so far.

June 5, 2015 IODC0

A guest post from Madeleine McGreevy, reflecting on the Civic Tech panel at IODC15.


“Civic tech” refers to apps, platforms and other software that spur civic engagement to build better communities. Key civic tech goals include open and improved government, policy implementation or community services and stronger accountability and transparency mechanisms. A panel held recently at the 3rd International Open Data Conference 2015 in Ottawa convened civic tech innovators from across the globe to answer questions around impact, community building and international collaboration.

What is the value proposition of civic tech communities?

Justin Arenstein (Code for Africa) sees value in providing people with granular, local and personal information that enables action. Many feel distanced from the mechanisms that control their lives. Civic tech is a means to create a seamless interaction between citizens and decision making that affects their lives. An important civic tech strategy is to involve the right people in deciding what problems need solving. Citizens should be asked: What keeps you up at night?

Sheba Najmi (Code for Pakistan) points out the many ways to measure success. User adoption, community engagement, dialogue and collaboration are all accomplishments. Getting techies to see the value in civic start-ups and public service innovation is key. In Pakistan, a low tech peer-to-peer ride sharing app has seen the greatest user adoption.

Lucía Abelenda (Civic Innovation Accelerator Fund) sees value when civil society is engaged and change is articulated both online and offline. An important question arises from this proposition: What is the theory of change for online/offline articulation?

How do you define or address real-world problems?

TH Schee (Open Knowledge Taiwan) consults with stakeholders and partners first, not afraid to invite public companies or the government to the conversation.

Others collaborate with institutions, non-governmental organizations or local media to help identify problems. A long-term strategy is to help those already working with their communities, rather than to build for the “man on the street”.  The press is especially useful in helping to identify stories in data sets that people will care about and in delivering stories to audiences.

How can civic tech communities collaborate internationally?

Panelists suggest that international civic tech communities work on projects and apply for grants together. Other strategies include having exchanges that allow for the reuse and recycling of projects. One crucial aspect of this is storytelling on what worked and what didn’t work.  On the technical side, it is important that apps are re-deployable and open source to allow for reuse.

Thanks to the panel!

Panelists included Daniel Dietrich (Open Knowledge Foundation), Lucía Abelenda (Civic Innovation Accellerator Fund), Justin Arenstein (Code for Africa), Jen Bramley (mySociety), Julia Kloiber (Open Knowledge Foundation Germany), Sheba Najmi (Code for Pakistan) and TH Schee (Open Knowledge Taiwan).

June 5, 2015 IODC

A guest post by Mélanie Brunet and Lynne McAvoy on a sharing session from IODC15.

Making data available is one thing, doing it well is another. How data is published has a big influence on it’s accessibility and usability. Moderated by Steven Da Costa of Open Knowledge Australia, this session at the 3rd International Open Data Conference focused on best practices for data publishing, based on the experiences of five data developers.

Drawing on his experience managing the World Bank’s Open Data initiative, Neil Fantom emphasized the necessity of making data indexable by search engines since users are searching from Google. Data should also be open by default without restrictions on commercial use (with a CC-BY). It should be available in non-proprietary, open formats. Finally, organizations should not hesitate to publish archived data. Fantom pointed to AlFRED (ArchivaL Federal Reserve Economic Data) as an example of successful data publishing.

Sarah Bird of Aptivate focused on the development of the Open Contracting Data Standard, emphasizing the need to improve the interoperability and quality o data about procurement processes that can span more than five different agencies all releasing their records at different times. Both national and local governments can implement the OCDS gradually, with the standard acting as a guide in their journey to becoming more transparent.

David Read, lead developer of data.gov.uk, offered this advice:

  • In the early days of a platform, the quantity of datasets made available is more important than their quality
  • Publish a list of unpublished datasets, explain why they are not open and push to make them open
  • Categorize datasets by themes
  • Choose an open platform with an active developer community
  • List the applications that have been created using data from your platform to demonstrate the impact of data publishing

Mike Headd of Accela, formerly first Chief Data Officer of Philadelphia, shared his experience about the early days of open government. Starting from scratch, he created an Open Data Guide, which is now used by many government agencies. He emphasized that getting the data out (often from antiquated systems and not created with the intent of making open) is only the first step in an iterative process. Indeed, open data is not an outcome but a work in progress. To convince senior managers that open data is a good thing, it is imperative to show them how it will make their jobs easier and give them a sense of ownership. Internal adoption can be accelerated by stories of successful uses of data by those who published it.

Speaking about Canada’s Open Government Portal, Ashley Casovan indicated that with the federal government’s approach of consolidation all of its websites into one, the task has been somewhat simplified by making everything open by default and having working groups to engage about data releases and technical issues. This makes for a common user experience and metadata schema. The public have a say in prioritizing releases by voting up or down. However, the challenges of bilingualism and web accessibility compliance remain.


What do you think is important for accessible and usable data? Join the ongoing debate in the Data Standards Best Practices action area.

June 3, 2015 IODC0

A guest post from Ashley Cassovan about the CKANCon 2015 IODC pre-event. 

CKANCon 2015 was a great opportunity for the international CKAN Community to gather and discuss current questions and the future plans of the open source data portal software as well as learn more about the new CKAN Association.

From detailed presentations about adding spatial capabilities to CKAN to the benefits of contributing to an open source platform, excited conversations were in abundance. Over 100 engaged users participated in the conference both in-person and online. If you weren’t able to attend CKANCon this year, not to worry! You can watch the CKANCon 2015 video.

While the morning was dedicated to presentations about current uses and extensions of CKAN, in the afternoon we looked to the future. We had one major question, how can the active technical users and the growing strategy and policy users of CKAN work harmoniously?

Key outcomes were:

  • create a more user-friendly space for new users and government to adopt CKAN in their organization;
  • develop an approach to co-development of commonly desired functionality to reduce redundancy and share development cost;
  • improve spatial capacity or integration of existing geospatial services into CKAN.

If you’re interested, a more detailed account of the afternoon conversation was captured in this document, Bridging Technical and Policy Teams.

The CKAN Association and subsequent working groups now have a strong understanding of what the next steps are and will continue to build on the success of these conversations! Check back with ckan.org for new information, tools, and plans in the coming weeks.

Many thanks to the International Open Data Conference for including CKANCon 2015 as an official pre-event. It not only provided the opportunity for many community members to attend in-person, but also gave a platform for conversations about the growth and sustainability of CKAN to persist throughout the week.

If you would like to support the CKAN Association by joining as a formal member then please contact us via steering-group@ckan.org.

May 31, 2015 IODC0

A guest post from Ahmed Tareq Rashid reflecting on panels on ‘Delivering the International Open Data Charter’ and ‘Global Partnership on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development’

The Third International Open Data Conference showcased the tremendous interest in open data by governments, civil society organizations, funding agencies, practitioners and academics.  Particularly impressive was the number of government representatives and civil society activists from developing countries.  This is significant because it is shows that developing countries recognize that data is a fundamental driver of development.  To be sure, convincing developing countries about the importance of data is not an easy task —building bridges or investing in vaccines may have greater political leverage.  Yet, the data gap in developing countries is shocking.  As one participant at the conference pointed out, measurement of poverty levels in Africa is often based on extrapolation of data collected a decade ago.

Sustaining the political commitment of developing country governments is a real challenge. We heard at the conference that at the turn of the century, data was high in the political agenda before losing momentum.  Now that open data and the “data revolution” is firmly back in the agenda, developing countries are encouraged to participate in several global platforms, principles, campaigns, task forces,  on (open) data.  Prominent among these are the Open Government Partnership, UN’s Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution and the International Open Data Charter.  While there is no doubt a need for platform(s) to advance open data across the globe, is there a risk that countries may have too many goals and “action plans”?  My intention here is not to discuss these important initiatives already undertaken or being developed, but rather to raise some general points based on the discussions at the two sessions that are especially relevant for developing countries.

Complementarity is key

Global platforms should not supersede regional, country and local level initiatives.  While all stakeholders will benefit from a common understanding of goals and practices of open data, unique approaches may be required in some contexts that may or may not be applicable elsewhere. There needs to be a recognition that countries are at different levels in the implementation of open data principles or in the “data revolution”. The Africa Data Consensus is an example of a continental initiative that calls for an evidence-based development policy by and for Africa.

(Open) data initiatives need to be inclusive

A question that reverberated in the sessions is how to make the global partnerships, charters, or campaigns inclusive.  How can we ensure that the views and perspectives of various stakeholders such as civil society and the private sector?  More importantly, can input from citizens be taken into account?  A suggestion that came from the discussions is crowd-sourcing the drafting the handbook of International Open Data Charter.

The “data revolution” must be open

If data is to lead to better development outcomes, it must be accessible.  It is worth repeating that making the data open is the most effective way to realize its full potential. Martin Tisné of Omidyar Network stressed that we cannot assume that the data revolution will be open by default.  It is here that global multi-stakeholder platforms such as those mentioned above could be particularly useful in promoting openness and transparency in the way data is use

May 29, 2015 IODC

A cross-post from David McNair, ONE.org

As world leaders prepare to launch a new set of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at ending extreme poverty by 2030, we have joined forces with the Citizen Cyberscience Centre and SciFabric to launch an open call for ideas on how crowdsourcing can help tackle extreme poverty, corruption and gender inequality.

The Open Seventeen is a challenge inspired by Crowdcrafting, an open platform that supports hundreds of diverse crowdsourcing projects where participants sift through existing data sets – images, scanned text, tweets and more – to find the sorts of nuggets of wisdom that computer algorithms cannot extract.

We are inviting you to submit ideas for how to track one or more of the 17 draft goals, which include eradicating extreme poverty, ending hunger, achieving gender equality and making cities more sustainable.

Existing examples of Crowdcrafting include classifying images of light pollution taken by astronauts on the International Space Station and pouring through scanned documents released by the oil industry in order to reveal complex webs of corporate interests in developing regions.

The Open Seventeen challenge will run until the end of June, when we will select three proposals to turn into actual crowdsourcing projects. The winners and their projects will be promoted in upcoming high profile international events.

Find out more about The Open Seventeen challenge and get involved at www.openseventeen.org.

May 29, 2015 IODC

A cross-post from Paul Maasen, OGP.
Today OGP is launching a new tool, the OGP Explorer. The core idea behind the OGP Explorer is to give the OGP community – civil society, academics, governments, journalists – easy access to the wealth of data that OGP has collected.

It will make it much easier to answer questions like:

  • What have countries promised – and what have they delivered?
  • How did the consultations go across Africa?
  • Which countries have commitments on fiscal transparency?
  • How many starred commitments does Albania have?
  • What happened to the UK promise on beneficial oonership?

The tool comes in two options and has three views.

Option 1 has all 2,000 commitments, of which roughly half have already been assessed by the IRM researchers. For the other half – commitments being implemented as we speak – the data is limited to the commitment title, details and thematic tags. The sheer amount of data makes this the slightly slower Explorer.

Option 2 will be faster as it only contains the data on commitments and consultation processes that have been assessed by the IRM.

The OGP Explorer can be viewed in three ways:

Graph view of IRM-assessed commitment data. This is by far the coolest view to play with because of all of the possible variations.. For example, you can make graphs on completion or relevance, select grand challenges, values or tags you are interested in, select countries or regions and even pick a sorting option. Moving your mouse over the bar chart will give you detailed statistics. The graph will change instantly when you change any of your chosen options.

Table view of the process dataset. This will give you details on how countries performed on their OGP process. It has information on the AP development, whether countries have a permanent dialogue during implementation and how they did on their self assessment. The x and ✓in the column headings provide filter options for each of the columns. The statistics change with filtering and show as mouse-overs when you look at specific subsets of information.

Table view of the commitment data. This is the Big Boy! All details on all commitments are here. You can explore most easily by selecting specific tags, using the search function or using the x and ✓in the column headings for filter options. You can view the commitments as a long list, by country, or opt for simply for the country statistics. This view has everything you ever wanted to know on impact, completion, relevance including which commitments are ‘starred’ and which ones are new. Each commitment is also classified with tags and on OGP values and grand challenges.

You can play endlessly with all these views, and once you are finished please feel free to export the data.

Many thanks to our talented developer, Miska Knapek, whose previous projects include the Web Index of the World Wide Web Foundation. Thanks also to the IDRC who gave the Civil Society Engagement team a grant to make this happen.

This is an important project for OGP. Having access to all data on OGP performance will make it much easier to find, filter and analyze the data. We hope academics will use it for their research, civil society for their advocacy, and that governments will be inspired by the progress being made by their fellow OGP members.

Please note that this is only Phase 1 of the OGP Explorer project!. We already have some ideas for phase 2, but also want to invite you as users to let us know what you like, what you don’t like and what you want to see in the next version of the OGP Explorer.

Send suggestions to paul.maassen@opengovpartnership.org.

– See more at: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/blog/paul-maassen/2015/05/28/introducing-ogp-explorer#sthash.rH4xvzJN.dpuf

May 29, 2015 IODC

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 07.22.42Open Data offers an important opportunity to support development goals and spur new social innovation. Recognizing the need for open data work that enhances global cooperation, reduces duplication, and supports the scaling of development solutions that work, a group of Donors have joined together to support a program that funds innovative open data initiatives around the developing world.

The initial donors comprise of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the World Bank (WB), and Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). The Fund, managed by IDRC, has firm commitments for a total value of $6.8M (CDN) for the next 2 years.

The Fund builds on the OD4D program coordinated by IDRC, which is a platform for funding a diverse array of open data research and action. The OD4D program objectives for 2015-2016 are:

  • To help developing country governments, entrepreneurs, and civil society create and implement national and global action plans to harness open data for development;
  • To support developing country governments to plan, execute, and manage national open data initiatives;
  • To increase re-use of open data in developing countries by supporting appropriate data standards, guidelines, solution-driven applications, and demand-side capacity, helping to bring about social and economic innovation;
  • To better understand the relationship between open data initiatives and socioeconomic development, informing the quality and reach of future open data initiatives; and

In addition, four main principles guide the network and its members:

  • Research and learning,
  • Empowerment of leadership from developing countries
  • Efficient coordination and,
  • Creation, access and reuse of global public goods and assets.

The Open Data for Development network is already global network which includes important players in the open data community such as The Open Data Institute, Open Knowledge, and the World Wide Web Foundation, the Latin American Open Data Initiative and Caribbean Open Institute, as well as collaboration with the Open Data Working Group of the Open Government Partnership.

Other funders are welcome and encouraged to participate in the OD4D programme, either by adding resources to the Fund or to engage and align their efforts by joining the Donors’ committee, established to coordinate efforts and create a space of exchange.

Building on the results of the International Open Data Conference in Ottawa, the expectation is that the greater engagement and coordination of donors in this new mechanism will help to close knowledge gaps on the use of open data for development and accelerating cross fertilization amongst the research community, technical experts and governments in developing countries.

May 29, 2015 IODC

A guest post from Joel Gurin & Laura Manley of the Center for Open Data Enterprise

Yesterday, the Center for Open Data Enterprise launched the Open Data Impact Map as a project of the OD4D network. The Map is a “big tent” project, designed to pull together examples of all kinds of open data use cases from around the world. It includes large organizations and small, for-profit and nonprofit, local and national – anyone using open government data to create products, services, programs, or other applications of open data that can have a positive impact.

​ When the Center launched the Map in a beta version yesterday morning, it included 700 examples from over 60 countries. It’s already proven to be an important tool for organizing and visualizing the world of projects now using open data in many different ways. ​Through postcards, online surveys, and hallway conversations, conference attendees have been sharing new examples and insights with the Center for Open Data Enterprise team. The Map is designed to put all kinds of information on a common platform, comparing open data use cases from previous studies, new research, and individual contributions.

In the months ahead, we will continue our outreach for the Map, and we welcome the input and contributions from the widespread open data community. Open data by its very nature helps encourage community engagement and socially conscious innovation. In many countries, we’re finding that the line between entrepreneurship and civil society engagement can be a fluid one.  We’re finding both for-profit and nonprofit actors using open data to improve health care, promote new energy sources, promote education, reduce environmental pollution, and take on many other challenges that have high social value.

​Between now and next January, we’ll be taking the Map from its current beta version to an official launch with many more international use cases. ​We encourage members of the open data community to get involved!

  1. Check out the Map visualization
  2. Take the survey or
  3. Contact us at map@odenterprise.org to become a Regional Supporter.

Thank you for helping to build the Map as a resource for the open data community. Your contributions, insights and input help make this a truly global view of open data’s impact.

May 29, 2015 IODC

A guest post from Arnaud Sahuguet, Andrew Young,  Beth Simone Noveck at The Governance Lab

Open data is a growing but still nascent field where innovators need all the help they can get to find technical, policy, and practical expertise for opening data and translating that data into impact.

At the IODC, we are testing the Network of Innovators, an expert network to help open data practitioners find the know how they need.

Expert networks are a relatively new phenomenon in the government context – with notable exceptions like the United States Air Force Research Lab’s Aristotle and Australia’s business-development-focused Expert Network. They have, however, existed in various fields for some time. VIVO connects scientists within and across disciplines to enable knowledge sharing and collaboration. Zapnito is even offering businesses the ability to create their own internal expert networks. And, of course, millions use LinkedIn build their professional networks.

At its core, an expert network is: (a) a database of people’s profiles with some rich information about them; (b) the ability to navigate the database along various dimensions;  and (c) the ability to take some concrete actions on the results.

This is actually not that different from a dating site when you think about 🙂

Designing the database

The first task at hand is the design of a people-centric schema to describe members of the network. Beyond the traditional and objective attributes – e.g. name, location, picture, education –  the schema must describe a set of skills and experiences related to the application domain, open data for us. Taxonomies and ontologies will be critical to make sure people use the same ‘language’ when describing their expertise.

Populating the database

Now that we have an empty database with a rich structure, it is time to populate it.

The most obvious approach is to have network members self-report information about themselves, with the well-known pitfalls – e.g., people bragging about expertise they don’t have or people omitting expertise they do. Another option is to have network members report about other members. This is what LinkedIn tries to achieve using endorsements. Yet another option is to rely on external sources to populate members’ profiles.

These various approaches can be used either separately or combined. Note the use of external sources has been working very well in academic fields where publications and patents are a rich source of expertise about people – Harvard Catalyst Profiles is a prime example.

The Network of Innovators adopts a blended approach. We combine open sources of data, such as basic conference registration information about who is attending the IODC, with self-reported data gleaned – not from open ended questions – but by asking people to identify the questions they could answer if asked. For example, how might I gain organizational approval for opening data?

Navigating the database

Just like for any information retrieval task, we have the choice between two complementary approaches: search and browse.

In the search mode, people looking for an expert will express their need using a query that will leverage the rich schema we described above. A query for an expert might include requirements for location, spoken language and, of course, expertise. The search interface might incorporate some extra knowledge such as synonyms, support for natural language and richer information about geography.

In the browse mode, people start from an entry point and start navigating along various dimensions, e.g., “people from the same country,” “people from the same organization,” “people speaking the same language,” etc.

Of course, a typical user might combine both approaches iteratively to find the best matches.

For each result set, the tool may also provide some nice visualization to help compare candidates and feature-rich profile pages.

Connecting with the experts

Once a set of experts has been identified, one can take some concrete actions, e.g. adding them to one’s address book or contacting them directly (via phone, email, SMS). More advanced social features can also be added, such as the ability to ‘follow’ people.

The modes of interaction and the actions that can be taken are largely network-specific and should respect people’s privacy and preferred way of interaction.

Two elements not to be ignored when building such an expert network are the engagement layer and the experiment layer. The former enriches the tool with dashboard and game mechanics to encourage people to continue use or to discover new features. The latter allows for A/B experiments and a better understanding of how the network is actually being used.

This is just the beginning

The technical components are a necessary but not sufficient condition for an expert network to be successful. Just like building any community (offline or online, see [2]), bootstrapping such a network is hard since early adopters will find little value in a largely uninhabited network. Other challenges include:

  • devising incentives to convince people to populate their profile and keep them fresh and accurate;
  • articulating a clear value proposition for people to actually use the network, especially on the demand side; and
  • motivating people to integrate the platform into existing workflow and communication processes.

In order to overcome the incentives challenge, we are testing the tool here at IODC where people are eager to learn from one another. But we will learn what works and what doesn’t.

The government setting poses another big challenge: asking for help and sometimes admitting ignorance is not necessarily part of the culture.

At GovLab, we are exploring some of these issues as part of our Network of Innovators project. Our first experiment will take place during the International Open Data Conference. We encourage you to try the app and visit our booth.



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