Both the members of Openlabs and FLOSSK recently visited pointed out that we had to go to Skopje and visit KIKA, the only hackerspace in the macedonian capital. And that´s what we did!
Created 5 years ago, KIKA provides their around 30 members with an electronic lab, a programming room, a 3D printer, lots of tools and a lounge with sofas and kitchen to host movie screenings. Besides its regular meetings, its members are used to participate in events in the Balkans region. Relevant for us was to experience about the NSND Initiative, a regular unconference organised in cooperation with other hackerspaces on the topic of Open Source Software & open cultures and which gathers enthusiasts in all the balkan countries.
Also, we discussed about the situation of Open Data in Macedonia and could discover that the public administration has already created a so called platform which consists actually only in linking official websites of relevant ministries where data can be directly found. Also, the National Institute of Statistics presents a platform where data on different topics is being published. Sadly, it uses proprietary formats although it contains useful and interesting data. We were happy to know that these few steps have been already done and we wish the state of Open Data in Macedonia will be improved in the future.
Independent since 2008, Kosovo is a very young country and we were looking forward to discovering it and meeting locals there. This time, the organisation we are documenting is a non-profit called FLOSSK created 5 years ago by a very young group of Hacktivists. We were impressed to know that, although most of them haven’t been to college yet, they have already realised so many projects supporting Open Knowledge and specially promoting open source technologies. They organise each year in Pristina the biggest balkan conference about Free Software, gathering experts from the area and other countries (including well know figures from the open source world as Richard Stallmann) and about 300 participants, mostly Kosovan students. The fifth edition takes place in September 2013 and FLOSSK is currently working hard on it.
Besides this annual event, the non-proft organises also regularly workshops and other events to divulge open source technologies and teach their benefits for a developing country like Kosovo. FLOSSK has already developed projects related to open data as well and we were really interested in their experience while setting up Prishtina Buses, an info platform about public and private bus lines and stations in Pristina, gathering and releasing data from their own. And also ku me votu?, a civil tool to know the location of your polling station, created for the elections 2010 in cooperation with the municipalities. You can learn more about FLOSSK watching the interview with them below.
Our workshop took place at ICK (Innovation Center Kosovo), an incubator for technological initiatives and event space in Pristina, under the patronage of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Around 20 participants were there and for the first time till now we could count with a representative of the public administration among them, Mr. Elshani, Head of e-Governance in Kosovo, who participated in the open debate making it very constructive and informative by sharing concrete details.
Although Kosovo does not have an open data platform yet, the public administration has made the first steps towards the open government data initiative. As a young country, Kosovo has to face the lack of historical data and the high costs of building the infrastructure for releasing it in an open manner. On the other hand, it has the advantage of being able to start from scratch without having the problem of adapting old systems. A big concern of Mr Elshani was that data has to be accurate before being released, quoting him “better to have no data, than inaccurate data” but he was overall positive about the role of open data in Kosovo.
We hope that synergies in the near future between public administration and civil society makes able to strengthen the first steps already been done in this country and are looking forward to seeing what the talented hackers from FLOSSK will achieve.
Already in Berlin, we were looking forward to coming to Albania and meeting the hackers from Open Labs, the young 1-year old but very active hackerspace in Tirana. Open Labs is the one of its kind in this country. Its members ( about 20 ) are working hard to change this by promoting knowledge sharing and open cultures, and establishing a network with similar organisations from neighbour countries. Active members count also youngsters under 20 and their motivation has made the first year very successful.
Since its creation, Open Labs has been hosting weekly events, meetings and regular workshops ( about wordpress, linux, audacity…). Other projects managed by its members include the educational electronics kit called WMKIT which has been also presented at Betahaus in Berlin or the development of the wikipedia in the albanian language. We got the chance to interview the co-founder Redon Skikuli. In this video he tells in more detail about Open Labs and the situation of open knowledge in Albania.
As we did in Prague and Vienna, we also presented our workshop at Open Labs. Although the number of participants was smaller than at metalab, the interest showed made continuously the workshop very constructive. From the beginning, attendees actively participated in the presentation by asking questions and sharing their knowledge about open data, which showed that albanian hackers are willing to get deeper into the topic.
Albania is a country that has still a lack of transparency at political level. However, an open data platform has been created by an independent group of people who have gathered relevant information and published it to the public domain. They have also developed useful civic applications which promote the participation of the citizens in the improvement of the electoral system and the preservation of the environment. Unfortunately these initiatives are till now not receiving any support from the government. The attendees expressed the wish to have more data being released in the sector of security (criminality, car accidents) and public transportation.
Speaking about open data in a country like Albania has been extremely interesting for us. Quoting Redon Skikuli in the video above: “In a state like Albania […] its better to give people the tools to get their food and to learn how to create these tools than helping them giving their food”
Our second presentation took place at Metalab in Vienna, a large basement of 200m2 situated just nearby the town hall. Metalab is one of the first hackerspaces in Europe, when it was created 7 years ago, which has shown an open attitude towards non-members letting them to take part in the scheduled program and to use its facilities. We were welcomed through a small guided tour and could experience about the rich equipment available there, from electronics labs, CNC cutting machines, lasers to a dark room for analog photography. Indeed, many different profiles of people gather here (hackers, makers, artists, …).
Around 20 people attended our workshop, half of them were already aware of the concept of Open Data, which made the final open discussion particularly interesting. This time, we could go through all the content of our presentation, including the practical part & open debate.
If it seems clear that Austria is a much advanced country in Europe regarding open data (an open data platform of the federal government has already been launched, followed by similar initiatives at local level, the Austrian Statistics Office publishes online a large number of information, …), the openness doesn´t work so good as it should be. Because of the Amtsgeheimnisgesetz, administrations and companies can refuse to make available their data. One of the attendees pointed out that some organisations like the Austrian Statistics Office above mentioned were charging a subscription fee as a requirement for the user to access the raw data. There is currently an opposition movement which promotes more transparency on that field and claims for a so called Informationsfreiheitsgesetz, not established yet.
Otherwise, answering to one of the questions our survey, an attendee expressed the wish to have access to data related to local electricity network and energy consumption.
After finishing our presentation, one of the attendees showed us an interesting project called didyouknow. It consists in a python library that makes reading values from the world bank data API much easier. In general, this 2nd event was a very constructive session and we wish to keep in touch with Metalab!
On saturday, we were happy to attend the third edition of Solakra Solar Festival (3-7.07.2013) in a Czech village from East Bohemia called Hranice. Organised by the yo-yo-yo collective, with support from OKNO and ECOS, this is an annual meeting around the topic of solar energy, sustainability, ecological innovation and culture. In a former cowshed and its big garden as festival location, we met people from different nationalities (Czech republic, France, Belgium, Slovakia ) which were realising and presenting different kinds of projects related to the energy of the sun.
As part of the daily program the visitors could enjoy an electronics workshop for children where participants could start tinkering with electronics and build solar powered robots. These robots were used later as performers in an experimental music concert played by Berlin based Ralf Schreiber.
We would also like to underline another project by yo-yo-yo collective: the Rur Art Map which consist on a printed map showing the different rural locations hosting cultural and art projects in Czech Republic.
Our first hosting organisation, the hackerspace in Prague, called brmlab, could welcome us last thursday to its regularly organised Talknight. Talknight is just the idea to meet each first thursday evening of the month around daily scheduled presentations. Each one is free to offer a so called talk about its topic of interest, brmlab streams and records the meeting on video and publishes afterwards the presentation slides on its website. In some few words, brmlab is a classic hackerspace situated in the basement of a repurposed building in Prague 7, a dark 20m2 room full of motherboards, circuits, displays & electronic microscopes. Brmlab organises other types of events like regular member meetups and project nights.
We had to give a short version of our workshop and skip the practical part since each talk shouldn’t exceed 20 min. Firstly, we have to say we were quite surprised to find out that the open data topic was not well know between the attendees. Although an open data platform in beta version has been set up and the OKFN is already present in the czech republic, the principle of open data and the OKFN Czech were not known. Nevertheless, the audience showed a large interest in the topic and we were happy to be the subject of a large panel of questions.
The debate focused first on the need of a common standardisation, so to say the need to set up common rules on data format and how should the platforms store and make the data available. This emphasis on standards matters was in part explained by the fact that the audience understood that we ourselves were planning to create our own open data platform from scratch. We had to make clear that we are not willing to set up a platform but simply want to promote the idea of open data & open knowledge, introducing the principles and current stage world wide.
Then, further comments of interest arised like the integrity of data on the first hand and the integrity of the data source on the second hand. How have been data collected, under which criteria? How can we be aware of the methodology? If needed, how can we react to a lack or a non-honest method of generating data? If this issue is not a new one but also occurs in the statistic field, it is sure that the origin and methodology have to be properly communicated on a open data platform, as a legend always illustrates a map. As well, how transparent is a government or an administration while releasing its data to the public domain? Which data will be published, which not? For which purposes is an organisation willing to make available some data and not other? That brings us to a further relevant critic underlined during the talknight which is the doubt that an administration would be anyways interested in publishing its data. What would be its interest to create an open data platform? We could particularly argue that such a way makes a better communication between citizens and public administrations, optimising bureaucratic procedures thus working towards a better society.
After our presentation, we attended the second talk of the night made by one of the members of brmlab. In its talk, he teached how you can make your daily online activities (browsing the web, sending email, using cloud storage services, mobile phone…) a bit more secure by using different encryption mechanisms. We found this presentation very informative and useful. Also, very interesting by the fact that in opposition to the topic we presented (opening public data to everyone), encryption enables to protect, and therefore close to others, your private information. This fact has to be considered as complimentary and not conflicting since the definition of open data excludes the private information of the user.
In general, we are really happy with the results and feedback of our first encounter and feel, although our presentation and contents can be still improved, that the topic wakes big interest on the attendees and we are looking forward for the next stop.
We are already on the road! After the crazy last weeks in Berlin preparing everything involved with leaving our normal lifes and starting a one year worldtrip plus realising this project along the way, we can finally say that we are on the road.
We are currently in Prague preparing our first encounter with the people from brmlab.cz where we will present our project briefly.
Stay tuned for more infos, sign up for our newsletter to receive updates or come over to one of the events we are attending and say hi! By the way, we received our cards right before leaving berlin.