FLOK Society @ Quito, Ecuador

During our ongoing research, we have witnessed how the principles of Open Knowledge are being applied in almost all areas of our society. We have seen how software developers are considering Open Source as a serious model for releasing their products, how governments are sharing their data to bring more transparency or even how non-proprietary machinery designs are revolutionising agriculture, just to name a few examples. As the map on the top of our website shows, those initiatives are happening all-over the world, however they do happen mostly independently.

But, what if a set of such initiatives would be put in practice at the same time in a political framework? At a county level, or even better, nationally?


This is what is currently being prepared in Ecuador, where an initiative called FLOK Society has being launched in a cooperation between the Ecuadorian Ministry of Knowledge, Secretary of Higher Education and National Institute of Higher Education: a project aiming to change the productive matrix towards creating a society based on common, free and open knowledge, as part of the government’s National Plan for Good Living (2009-2013).

FLOK Society’s research team, composed by Ecuadorian and international researchers and led by P2P-Foundation’s founder Michel Bauwens, has been elaborating 15 strategic documents in the last months. This documentation, along with theoretical approaches, refers to success cases of the implementation of Open Knowledge happening already around the globe. Those papers are the starting point for the upcoming decision making process.

An event called FLOK Summit is taking place as we write these lines (from May 27th to 30th). During it, the feasibility of the actions proposed in the base documents are discussed by the team together with representatives of the government and members of the civil society (150 invitations could be distributed among citizens interested to join). Optimally, further steps and a detailed implementation plan will be drafted as outcome.

Because the benefits of sharing knowledge have to be explained and debated with the Ecuadorian society as well, the team has organized 24 workshops in the country since the beginning of the year. Ecuadorians will be the first beneficiaries and their support and collaboration are without doubt essential for the success of this ambitious initiative.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-05-26 um 10.36.38Considering that the project was officially launched in January 2014, the work done so far is impressive. We invite you to go through the large amount of documentation available on FLOK’s wiki, videos and social media (twitter, facebook). Surprisingly, there has not being much resonance on the international media yet. However, the concept already seems to raise interest among other communities all over the world, not at national level as Ecuador but rather in local urban areas, and hopefully similar projects can crop up as early as in 2015.

Workshop @ HacksHackersLima, Lima, Peru

DSCF8085After Brazil, it is time for Open Steps to document Open Knowledge projects in Peru, the last country on a list of 24 travelled since the journey began back in July 2013.

In the city of Lima, we had the pleasure to organise our Open Data visualisation workshop with the newly created local chapter of HacksHackers, and the evening, since most of the attendees where journalists, was mainly focused on data-journalism.

For those who do not know HacksHackers yet; it is a global network bringing the so called Hacks (journalists) and Hackers (software developers) together with the purpose of rethinking the future of news and information.

Within only one week since its official launch, HackHackersLima has attracted the attention of many enthusiasts in the Peruvian capital and are already preparing great actions such as an upcoming Hackathon taking place in several cities from South America at the same time. This event, conceived by the HacksHackers network has the title of “La ruta del dinero” and aims to research on how public money is being used in the participant countries.

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At the end of our event, during the great debate we enjoyed, enthusiastic participants could give us an insight on the status of Open Data/Open Government initiatives at both the city and the country level. We felt grateful to count with the contribution of Leonardo León, key person on the implementation of the Open Data platform of the municipality, which by the way is built on Junar. Leonardo shared with us lots of details about the administration’s actions to encourage transparency, economic development and citizen participation through Open Government mechanisms. In this line, already 3 hackathons have taken place in the city where some great apps got built on top of the data available. We would like to mention Mi Canasta, a web platform built by Carlos Salvatierra and his team at the FabLab UNI, where citizens stay informed about prices and availability of sessional products in the wholesale market. Looking at the future, we experienced that a new law has been passed on the municipality which will set a more solid base for the continuation of the measures already taken. As it happens in Buenos Aires, Lima represents a model for further implementations by other regions or at national level.

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Although Peru is part of the Open Government Initiative and the OGP since April 2012 and counts with FOI law since 2002, there is still a lot to do at the country level. According to the OGP report, the government is now preparing its 2nd action plan and hopefully the actual site dedicated for transparency will be improved.

We want to thank again the team at HacksHackersLima and Open Data Peru for the great organisation. They are the proof of how enthusiastic journalists, activists and hackers are making Latin America become one of the most active spots in terms on civic activism.


Digital Tuesday @ Belo Horizonte, Brazil

tdt-logo2On the 20th May, we have been invited to participate to the 2nd Brazilian Data Tuesday, taking place this time in Belo Horizonte, the capital city of the state of Minas Gerais. An event focused on Data, Technology and Innovation renamed over here Digital Tuesday. Since we were already in town before the day of the event, we could get an impression on the status of the Open Knowledge ecosystem of the region beforehand.

DSCF7944That’s why we landed at Seed, an accelerator program managed by the government of Minas Gerais to bring young entrepreneurs from all over the world along with their ideas to Belo Horizonte and support the creation of innovative start-ups with 6-months funds and a special coaching agenda. A 3-level co-working space, regular talks also available online (seedcasts), the best networking opportunities and a swimming pool full of balls to jump in if you feel stressed; the Seed offices represent the best environment imaginable for each one who want to put his ideas into practise. On the long list of start-ups initiated there, we definitely need to say a few words about CityHeroes, a collective platform where citizens can report any security incident or risk situation. The data is shared online to all users, including competent authorities such as the police, the next fire station or further public services in order to act and solve the problem as soon as possible.

DSCF7990Not surprising that these initiatives have occurred in Minas Gerais since the regional government has showed itself committed to innovate and support the use of new technologies. Regarding Open Data, 2 platforms have been recently created: one dedicated to economical data, Data Viva, developed in partnership with the MIT Media Lab, where you can search, download and visualise data by choosing one of the 8 visualisation charts. Apart from the UN Comtrade, the data comes also from two federal ministries where the information was already available online but far away from what we can call user-friendly. The aim behind Data Viva is to boost the economical growth in Minas Gerais and Brazil by giving entrepreneurs and companies the knowledge on how to make business and attract investment. On the same line, the platform helps the government of Minas Gerais as well to define its economic policies. The tool is Open Source and a new version is planed to add data on 3 further subjects: education, taxation and technical jobs. But DataViva it has not been conceived to compete with the second platform, Numeros, which was created beforehand and focus on indicators and social topics.

Outside of Belo Horizonte and Minas Gerais, local public administrations experiment Open Data/Open Government initiatives in the cities of São Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro too. According to two research articles from the ODDC, which we covered recently, in São Paulo there is still a lot to do, but in Rio the actual state is much more advanced. At federal level, Brazil counts already with its Open Data platform and another site dedicated to strengthen transparency. The national state is member of the Open Government Initiative and takes part in the OGP too since 2011 which gives indications for further engagement on the topic.

During Digital Tuesday, we could enjoy interesting presentations on topics such as Big Data, Data Visualisation and Internet of Things. On this last topic, Ewerson Guimarães from the local Hackerspace Area31, gave us a cool introduction to the technology, risks and potential of RFID/NFC micro biochips that can be “installed” on your hand.

Not forgetting that Brazil is a gigantic and multi-faceted country, we could say that the general momentum in terms of Open Knowledge is very good. In February this year, the local OKFN group got the status of full chapter and they have been quite active organising events since then. Also, we have discovered initiatives such as “Politica Esporte Clube”, an original way of encouraging citizens to follow the performance of its politicians and act as a barometer, as if it was a football league. Perfect to the upcoming world cup!

Interview with Diego May, co-founder of Junar @ Palo Alto, USA

Do you know what the Open Data platform maintained by the chilean government has in common with its analog from the city of Cupertino in the USA or the argentinian city of Bahia Blanca? Besides obviously hosting Open Data for users to download, they are all built with Junar.

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From governments, through NGOs to businesses, Junar offers those willing to share data a great technological solution with all the wished features.

In these 5 years since Junar was founded by Diego May and Javier Pajaro, the list of organisations using the Open Data platform (most of them from the public sector in USA and Latin America) has considerably grown. That makes Diego in the right position to tell us what are public administrations expecting from such a platform, what they want to achieve with it and the general awareness towards Open Data in Latin America. Get the details in the following interview:

1.­ Hola Diego. We already know you from the past Databootcamp in Montevideo but our readers might not. So, can you please introduce yourself and tell us what Junar is?

My name is Diego May, I am co-founder of Junar. My co-founder (Javier Pájaro, CTO) and I started this company 5 years ago as we saw how difficult it was for organizations and individuals to publish data into the web in such a way it could become easy to search and use.

We currently work mainly with government organizations in Latin America (Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, Perú) and in the US (City of Palo Alto, Cupertino, Sacramento and Pasadena to name a few).

We enjoy helping leaders in Government that see a future in which citizens are more engaged and in which government opens up valuable resources to get innovators outside governments help solve key challenges that governments face.

We have helped organizations in setting up their open data portals, their policies and programs, and in setting up successful hackathons that brought together innovators, developers, designers, citizens in general. The outcome of such events has been great and we are seeing how this innovations occurring are already helping citizens in their day-to-day as new and valuable applications become available.

2.­ We have been following worldwide the creation of new Open Data platforms, being launched by  different  actors  such  as  governments,  city  councils  or  international  organisations.  In  your opinion, what are the mandatory elements an Open Data platform should have?

It is important to mention that setting up an Open Data Platform is not the most complicated task in setting up a successful Open Data Program.

We believe that government officials have a lot of work already and engaging the different departments and groups as well as setting up a clear policy and communicating it to generate engagement is already a lot of work.

In order to really help these government leaders that are working to make governments more transparent, accountable, and innovative, Open Data Platform providers should:

ensure that it is really easy to set up the Open Data Portal. In our case we provide all in a SaaS delivery such that governments do not need to consider hardware or software complications.

make it easy for citizens to find and use data. We put a lot of effort in ensuring that citizens can easily navigate this open data portals to not only find what they need but also to make such data easy to manipulate and use by allowing its download in multiple formats, its insertion in spreadsheets, the possibility of embedding such data in blogs or websites, and very important we provide a very easy to use API that allows developers to transform this raw data into machine readable data that can now feed new and innovative civic apps.

make it easy for government staff to maintain the Open Data Portal. Setting up is only the beginning. Open Data programs evolve and usually consider an Open Data Roadmap. Staff (non-technical) should be able to update datasets, bring new datasets and create valuable data resources and visualizations. We work hard to ensure that this workspace for staff is simple yet powerful.

Finally, Open Data is evolving and standards are continually updated. Semantic web standards are shaping how data has to be published to the web. Open Data Platforms should ensure that while governments care about publishing valuable and always updated data, the outcome is expressed complying with Open Data standards.

3.­  We  see  that  most  of  your  clients  belong  to  the  public  sector.  What  do  in  general  public administration such as municipalities or governments wish from an Open Data platform? What do they want to accomplish by launching one?

We have seen an evolution in the intentions of Open Data Programs from local and federal governments as well as in specialized agencies. Here some of the goals that these organizations want to accomplish:

– Transparency and accountability. The Open Data Movement started very focused on bringing valuable data to allow citizens to better understand what is going on in Government, how resources are being allocated, how budgets are being spent, which specific projects are the top priority and how they are being executed.

– The right thing to do. A lot of government leaders today acknowledge that valuable datasets collected by governments have to be opened up to constituents. Those datasets are being gathered thanks to tax-payer money and as long as no privacy or security issues are compromised such data should be proactively opened up.

– Citizen engagement. Government leaders also understand that it is becoming more important to engage citizens at different levels. From journalists, to citizens doing day-to-day activities, to academics, and the private sector and developers. All want to engage more with governments and have the chance of now being more informed and contributing at different levels.

– Efficiencies and collaboration. We have heard several times how governments are facing shrinking budgets while their challenges are not being reduced. By opening up data governments are becoming more efficient both in how they interact and serve constituents as well as in how different departments can collaborate. We also see that government officials are finding (via Open Data) new ways of collaborating with the private sector.

– Innovation. As valuable data resources are being opened up and hackathons proliferate we see more apps being created. It might have been unthinkable some time ago to have the private sector so engaged in civic innovation, but the fact that now valuable resources are being opened up allows for new apps being created.

– Economic Development. Open Data Programs can certainly trigger economic development. We see new companies being created. We also see new services (data services) being provided to local companies. We see products and services companies that are improved by live and valuable data feeds. And we see new efficient ways of governments tackling key issues such as education, tourism, agriculture, housing. Successful Open Data Programs are taking into account Economic Development goals to define roadmaps of datasets that have to be opened up.

4.­ And what about the others? Is Junar also suitable for other kind of organisations such as private companies, NGOs, etc? Can you point us to any success case?

Yes, since the beginning we saw that the Open Data movement will trickle down to other sectors.

In this particular industry, Government has been the early adopter and it is expected a global impact of between 3 and 5 Trillion dollars from Government Open Data (McKinsey report).

But we are already seeing the interest from:

 – Media outlets, Newspapers. Data Journalism is a big trend. We see some newspapers such as the guardian, BBC, La Nacion in Argentina, and many others taking into account the value of data in Journalism 2.0.

 – NGOs, Associations, and Academia. Reporting results and ensuring that valuable research takes the form of Open Data so that research can be easily taken to the next phase is crucial. Reporting impact is also very important.

 – Private Sector. Open Data derives a new interesting concept: Data Philantrophy. Corporations have a lot of very valuable data that used well could help tackle key problems in modern society. We have powered hackathons of corporations that are clearly interested in offering some of these data for the public good. On a different note, corporations are (yet in few numbers) understanding the value of engaging with their stakeholders and specifically with their communities of users. Open Data is one of the venues they are exploring.

5.­  Let’s  talk  about  the  context  of  Open  Data  in  South  America:  How  would  you  describe  the general status? Are public administrations already convinced of the benefits of opening data? Was it necessary to  “persuade” your  clients before working with them, or were they fully committed beforehand? Is there a general awareness among citizens?

As in any new market there are early adopters that very quickly see the value and then there are others that need more proof of the results before deploying resources.

Latin America is no different to what we see in the US or Europe. We have found some leaders that understand the importance of this trend and the impact it is having in transparency, accountability and innovation. In those cases they just want to move fast and efficiently.

We are in conversations with lots of other clients that now are seeing the impact of what governments like Chile, Perú or Costa Rica have been doing. The great case of a city like Bahia Blanca in Argentina is permeating in other cities and together with the success in city of Mercedes this is starting to impact other clients.

Overall I see a great opportunity for Latin America to be a success story in this Open Data movement.

As for citizens, it varies but we see different groups of society getting more and more engaged as the Open Data movement evolves. It started with some NGOs focused on transparency, it then started moving to Academia, and it is now permeating into other segments of society.

6.­ OpenDataLatinoAmerica.org was also built with Junar. This site aggregates datasets generated in  the  different  Latin American  countries.  What  are  the  requirements  for such  an  interregional initiative  to  succeed?  We  covered  a  similar case  from  South­East  Asia.  Do  you  think  such platforms will get more developed with the time? Can we see it as the next step once governments have their own national platform?

I see a lot of potential in ´aggregators´ and ´intermediaries´. As the Open Data movement evolves more and more cities and government agencies will come on board and will set up Open Data Portals. It makes a lot of sense to have organizations that group some of these data.

It will also make sense to have organizations adding value on top of open data and even measuring and certifying quality of government open data.

Open Data Latinoamerica serves the purpose of helping lots of data journalists that need to be able to compare data. It also serves developers that need data feeds from different countries. It probably also helps multilaterals and academic institutions that are better off going to one central location to find all the data they need.

7.­ As you know, we are also focusing our research on Open Source and when it comes to tools related to Open Data, the general tendency is to release their code to the public domain. Could you tell us the factors that made you not to choose an Open Source model for Junar? We can imagine, your  clients  considered  also  Open  Source  alternatives  before  choosing  your  product.  How  are public agencies facing the open versus commercial dilemma?

Let me start this answer by telling you WHY we do what we do and why we work so hard every day.

 – We believe in a world in which governments and other organizations are more open and with this openness then citizens engage more with their transparent governments, innovation is spurred and more and better civic apps improve live in cities.

 – How we do it? by providing the easiest to use, easiest to maintain, and the most friendly for citizens and governments open data platform in the market. We also work hard to ensure that we provide the lowest total cost of ownership. This means that if everything is taken into account (hardware, technical resources, sys admins, connectivity, load balancing, etc) we are by far the least expensive solution to deploy.

In order to fulfil this vision and belief we work hard in defining and evolving the platform that will allow Open Data penetration. Today we open the code to organizations that commit to help with development of new features and modules.

Regarding becoming a full open source solution when we started with Junar we assessed the two alternatives and we opted to focus on spending all the energies and resources we had in developing a top-notch full-featured Open Data Platform that was quickly including new features suggested by actual users.

It has worked well and all the clients we have appreciate all the effort we put into the platform to provide not only a well designed and easy to use product but also a very powerful data management engine that is provided in a SaaS model allowing cities to very efficiently (and at low cost) have the lowest total cost of ownership platform in the market.

If early on we had gone the open source route we would have spent a lot of energy and resources in:

 – Community building. It requires resources to build a real community of users all over the place that are synchronized and working towards improving a platform. There is no real community around any open data platform today. Even in the case of UK most of the development and resources come from the UK government. Most of the code is being generated by a small group.

 – Code documentation vs thriving platform. As the code becomes open source the requirement to spend time and resources in code documentation becomes more and more relevant. All the time spent in this documentation is time NOT spent in actually serving clients and creating new features. It is a trade-off.

We are continuously working with Governments and when we see their interest in adding development teams to help evolve the platform we open the code and we collaborate.

And with the right amount of resources we would seriously assess opening up the code to have a really thriving community interested in bringing open data to all the corners of the world.

ODDC / Open Data Research network @ Web Foundation, Washington DC, USA

ODDC_hi-resIt happened a few times along our journey that we met researchers participating in a project called ODDC: Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries. We wanted to know more about it by talking to Tim Davies, open data research coordinator at the Web Foundation which hosts the Open Data Research network, as a platform for the project.

Created few years ago, the Open Data Research network is a collaboration between the Web Foundation and the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Its goals are to connect worldwide researchers working in the field of Open Data and to share results and methodologies, generating a rich documentation about this new field. A challenging initiative since Open Data, due to its novelty, is actually in need of academic literature.

Launched through a call of proposals mid 2012, the ODDC project counts today with researchers from 17 projects across 12 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia who, after been selected, got funds allocated for the realisation of the programme. Being member of this international and multidisciplinary initiative consists both in reporting on the implementation of Open Data mechanisms (at national or local levels) and participating in regular online and face-to-face meet-ups. From the beginning, the funding has been limited for the length of the project (2013-2015) and the need to build a sustainable environment has always been considered. That’s why the Open Data Research network has worked all these years on strengtheningthe community and conceiving a valuable research methodology at the same time.

As Tim shared with us, ODDC soon reaches its next milestone where reports will be finished and the outcome synthesized. Also, this will be the time to think about how the gathered documentation can be exposed and to define future steps. There are already plenty of useful reports available on the website. We definitely invite you to have a look in the research list and experience the ongoing updates. Not to forget other interesting projects run by the Open Data Research network such as the Open Data Barometer.

Tabula : Liberating data tables trapped inside PDF-Files @ Buenos Aires, Argentina

In the context of the Open Data movement, we are currently witnessing how organisations (whether public administrations or private corporations) are increasingly releasing data to the public domain. The intention behind this can be of becoming more transparent or to encourage developers to build useful applications on top of the published data.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-05-08 um 13.49.48For the sake of its re-use, this information should be optimally stored in a well-structured and machine-readable file, formatted as XML, CSV or EXCEL. However, this is not always the case and although such organisations are willing to share the data, the format is not properly chosen what, in some cases, makes the information even useless. It is the case of PDF files. PDF is a format originally thought to contain data meant to be printed. That is the reason why this kind of files support paging, paper-like sizing or can contain indexes, but in any case achieves the goal of storing large amounts of structured data as we expect from Open Data.

Activists, journalists or researchers willing to analyse big amounts of information published in PDF files often have to give up on their intention due to the effort associated to extracting all the numbers out of the files. That is why we want to introduce you Tabula, a tool that helps extracting the information contained in tables inside PDF files.

68747470733a2f2f662e636c6f75642e6769746875622e636f6d2f6173736574732f35333132392f3238373935372f36626566656564652d393236352d313165322d396538352d6165386631393337646562332e706e67Developed by Manuel Aristarán with the help of other fellows working on data journalism, Tabula can be installed on every computer (Windows, Mac or Linux) and, as if it was magic, extracts the information from tables present in PDF files, exporting it directly in a nice CSV formatted file. The interface makes the tool really easy to use, allowing the user to “draw” a box to select the relevant information. This saves up lots of valuable time.

Although, it is important to warn that only text-based PDFs are supported by now and not scanned documents, which are in their internal structure significantly different. This is a feature that would make the tool super powerful and is placed on the top of the improvements wish-list. Did we mentioned that Tabula is Open Source? That means that you can contribute improving it if you are a developer (OCR gurus more than welcomed!), contribute with some improvement ideas or give your feedback as user.