Workshop @ Transparency International Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

DSCF4416On our last intervention in this busy week in Phnom Penh, we were hosted by Transparency International Cambodia. The office has been created in 2010 and, as the organisation does worldwide, its team works actively in the south-east asian country promoting transparency and fighting against corruption. A practical example of their activities consists on the adoption of the platform bribespot.com for campaigning against bribery, sadly a recurrent subject in the cambodian daily life.

The session was a great opportunity to discuss with the team and around thirty attendees (mostly students and Human Rights advocates) about how data and its proper visualisation can be used to explore society issues. Methodologies and tools for collecting and sharing information were topics that the participants were interested to learn more about. Along this line OpenDataKit was presented by one of them; an open-source suite of tools that helps organizations author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions. Also, OKFN’s project CKAN could be a choice for those organisations willing to make the step and release their data following the open definition.

DSCF4423Although the concept of Open Data was in general not well known among the participants, fact is that the way they are already working shares a lot of the principles behind it. A big attention was raised on the practical part, where we went hands on with some online visualisation tools: CartoDB and Datawrapper.

Closing our stay in Cambodia where we met many enthusiastic Human Rights advocates and activists, we head now north and invite you to stay tuned for the next steps.

Slides of the presentation
Slides of the presentation

Workshops @DMC and @GIZ, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

DSCF4211The Department of Media and Communication (DMC) of the Royal University of Phnom Penh is the single education centre across Cambodia providing a training ground for journalists and communication practitioners. The director and faculty members have a big interest in Data journalism and we were asked to present the topic at the weekly guest lecture last friday. We started researching Data journalism some weeks ago when we documented journalism++, so this invitation was a great opportunity to extend our presentation with new material and discuss with around sixty DMC cambodian students, from all of the four courses that compose their studies. The interest they showed was great and although the topic is new, the session was very constructive.

DSCF4235
DSCF4244But the day was not over yet, since we conducted another session in the afternoon. This time for the Civil Peace Service (CPS) group of the GIZ, the german national agency for international cooperation which focus its work in developing countries. The CPS team in Cambodia partners with cambodian civil society and government institutions to carry out outreach and education about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The expectations of this smaller group of attendees were basically to learn more about tools and methodologies available for them to work more efficiently with the data they collect. Visualisation and management of data was also a central point of the debate. After speaking about the insights of existing Open Data platforms, we experienced that NGOs in Phnom Penh working on similar issues could actually profit from a common database to share documentation. Participants agreed that such a solution could facilitate collaborative work and the way their generated contents get published.

Slides of the presentation
Slides of the presentation

Meeting @ Open Development Cambodia , Phnom Penh, Cambodia

ODC-LogoIf you happen to search for Open Data initiatives in Cambodia, Open Development Cambodia is definitely going to appear on the top of the results list. Started in 2011 as a project under the activities of the EWMI and on the way to be registered as a NGO, ODC represents the most active effort in the South-East-Asian country to collect, use and share data for social improvement.

With a strong philosophy of objectivity and independence, the team does not focus on advocacy in particular sectors nor does it pursue any agenda, other than aggregating and offering information to the public in easily accessible forms. Self-defined as an intersection between NGO, media platform, and think-thank, ODC concentrates its resources on aggregating data (which necessarily must be already available somewhere in the public domain) and creating objective briefings, maps, and graphics available for everyone to download, analyse and re-use. Sources are quoted and even the methodology they employed to create these contents is transparent and can be found on their site. That is what can be understood as an open way of working.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-01-08 um 15.35.44Among other contents, we learned about their forest cover page. At the heart of the page are animated forest cover change maps developed based on analysis of satellite imagery released in public domain by NASA. These maps and accompanying graphics provides information about the extent and rate of Cambodia’s forest cover change over the past 40 years. This and other information found on the site has been already used by NGOs, bloggers, journalists, researchers, grassroots groups, rights advocates and even government technocrats and investors to inform their research, reporting, analysis, and planning. As an example, the local rights-focused website SITHI.org uses maps from ODC as base layers on which they add other analysis. An interesting statistic: since its creation, their website has counted visits from users from almost every country and state of the world, although the majority of users are Cambodians.

All this, in a country whose administration is not particularly supportive when it comes to releasing data to the public domain or sharing information with its citizens. It is important to note that there is currently no Freedom of Information laws in Cambodia, even an attempt to pass a draft law was rejected in January 2013. At the time we are writing these lines, there is no Open Data platform initiated or planned by the government.

PRAJ2Jul2013bHowever, the remarkable work of organisations such as ODC and the presence of a newly created local chapter of the OKFN are examples of the current will to fill the gap and realise a positive development of openness and transparency for Cambodia. Talking about what is to come, ODC team will add interesting new features on their platform, such as and API, to improve user experience and more effective access to their aggregated datasets. The site will also be available in Khmer language within the next few months.

LocalWiki: Collecting and sharing community knowledge @ San Francisco, USA

LocalWiki is a grassroots effort to collect, share and open the world’s local knowledge.” This is how the San Francisco based non-profit organisation defines its interesting initiative, and we absolutely wanted to cover it.

The idea consists on offering a platform that allows communities to collect and share local knowledge, all of this in a collaborative (crowdsourced) way. It all started with DavisWiki in 2004, a community-run wiki with contents about Davis town in California. Currently, LocalWiki counts worldwide with over 70 independent projects in 9 countries and in 7 languages.

As you can see in the following video, the tool is very easy to use and allows users to populate the knowledge database of their community in a quick and accurate way. Inserting text, links, pictures on pages and even on maps has never been so intuitive for a wiki platform and the revisioning system makes it really simple to discover what other users have modified.

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/32534830[/vimeo]

Would you like to start a LocalWiki for your community? You can contact the team and they will assist you on the process. The technology is released as Open Source, meaning that you can take the code, use it and adapt if you feel like doing it.

The current state of the development already offers lots of useful functionalities. However, and since the platform is continuously being improved, some remarkable things are still to come. We recommend you to read their blog to discover more about their future plans.

We believe LocalWiki represents the principles behind Knowledge Sharing and the Open Source philosophy at its best and consider it a great piece of software that brings community members to work together. Fully support it!

 

Goteo.org: Crowdfunding platform for collective benefit @ Barcelona, Spain

Internet has been changing constantly the way things get done in many aspects of our life, one of these areas is how projects get funded. „Crowdfunding“ has been a hot topic in the past years and a handful of platforms are currently being chosen by many enterpreneurs and creative minds who want their ideas become reality without needing to get a loan from the bank.

PrintBut there is one, that in our opinion, represents the philosophy behind the words „Openness“ and „Sharing“ the best: Goteo.org. The main virtue of this platform for crowdfunding and distributed collaboration is that the collective return represents the principal output everytime a certain project gets succesfully funded, also promoting the commons, open code and/or free knowledge in the process.

Goteo.org was very smartly conceived. Taking in consideration the input of the creative community it is meant to serve even before a single line of code for the platform was written, it features intelligent design decisions such as the two crowdfunding rounds of 40+40 days or the possibility for backers to contribute through services, material resources and/or insfrastructure instead of only with money. These and other aspects differentiates Goteo.org in great way to the others.

Launched in November 2011, after its first year the platform registered impresive statistics: 15K+ registered users, around 150 open projects collecting in total more than 430,000 Euros, with an average of almost 40 Euros per cofunder and a campaign success rate of over 60%. We recommend you to watch the following video of the presentation one of it’s co-founders Olivier Schulbaum did at TEDxMadrid in 2012.

Bildschirmfoto 2013-12-21 um 12.52.30In the list of sucessfully funded projects we discover very interesting initiatives: two models of Do-It-Yourself shoes, a citizen-run network to measure and share pollution data collected by sensors called Smart Citizen or even the production of a music album released under creative commons license. Just browse their site and you will get automatically inspired but lots of good ideas. If you like them, support them! And make them become true.

Another great thing about Goteo.org is that the code of the platform is Open Source, that means anyone can get it and adapt it to their own needs. That is what two regional communities in Spain have already done; first it was Euskadi and then Andalucia which created its own “local node”, supporting innovation and development among its creative citizens. Currently, another one is being prepared for France!

Do you have a great idea for a project with social, cultural, scientific, educational, technological, or ecological objectives? Your budget is limited and you need help from the community? You didn’t know about Goteo.org yet? If you answered with are yes yes no to these three questions, that means this article probably made your day!

Experiencing Knowledge Sharing @ Tom Karen’s Center, Ban Huai Sak, Thailand

After running our workshop in Chiang Mai, we decided to discover the countryside and headed North to the Chiang Rai district. A number of different hill-tribes originally from Burma, Laos or China have settled in this border region in the last two centuries, enriching it culturally with their own traditions and languages.

Feeling interested, we wanted to learn more about them and how they live nowadays. We met Tom almost by chance, a great man who belongs to the Karen tribe and who, after living in different parts of Thailand and abroad, decided to come back to his village and do something relevant for his people.

centerHis project is called the Tom Karen’s Center. Offering free education for the children of Ban Huisak and neighboring villages, it receives volunteers which contribute to the community teaching English while sharing time, passions and knowledge with the kids.

We had the opportunity to spend some days with Tom and his wonderful family, which warmly welcomed us in their beautiful house surrounded by mountains and rice fields. During our stay, we took part in the local community’s activities and showed the kids how they can create their own blog, work with photos and slide presentations on their computers. It was fun!

classfield

Since two years, Tom is working really hard to build his after-school center. It has already a classroom, toilets and lots of space for the children to learn and play. But many things are still in the works; a library, a second classroom are planned and thanks to donations the available equipment (computers, books, learning material) is getting better.

We fully respect and support Tom’s initiative and would like to recommend everyone to learn more about his project, volunteer at his center if you happen to spend some time in North Thailand and support him by making a donation: learning and construction materials besides financial support will help Tom providing better education to children in rural areas.

Introducing the Open Steps Directory of individuals and organisations

directoryThe Open Steps Directory is something we have been working on for the past weeks and we are happy to announce it now!

It contains the list of individuals and organisations we have met and/or collaborated with along our journey. It represents an attempt to gather information and contact details about the persons, groups and collectives that work actively with Open Knowledge and play an important role supporting the principles behind Open Cultures. You can check it here.

Open Data is one of the main topics we are working with and therefore we are also releasing this information in the following formats for you to download, use and redistribute:

– List of organisations: JSON CSV XLSX
– List of individuals: JSON CSV XLSX

Meeting & Workshop @ Opendream, Chiang Mai, Thailand

DSCF1923Our first workshop in Asia took place in the modern and creative city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. We were welcomed by the Opendream team in their wonderful office where the young developers are busy implementing technological solutions mainly for social enterprises. Although this company was founded only 5 years ago, it counts already with an interesting portfolio of social oriented projects like an educational mobile game which informs about how to react in case of floods, a data-collection portal used by village citizens after the floods of 2011 or the Digital Library Network of Thailand, an online knowledge search tool. We could experience that Opendream collaborates with like-minded organisations such as ChangeFusion in Thailand, OpenDevelopmentCambodia which we will meet next month in Phnom Penh, and the fellows from TacticalTech we already visited in Bangalore. This fact proves that Open Cultures activists are connected even across borders and that makes us happy every time we experience about it! Opendream is certainly one of the most active organisations in Thailand regarding Open Data and Open Source. In 2011, they organised an Open Data Hackathon in Bangkok where programmers experimented scraping and cleaning data from governmental websites. The team participated in another hackathon hosted in Cambodia and its present in several events across the globe as the latest DDD conference in San Francisco.

DSCF1936After running our workshop in front a small group, mostly composed by the Opendream staff, we had a very enriching discussion around the status and controversial history of Open Data in Thailand. Why the national Open Data platform created in 2009 was closed some months later and is still inactive nowadays? One of the participants, the info-activist Arthit Suriyawongkul, could answer this question. Arthit belongs to the team which adapted the creative commons generic license to the Thai jurisdiction and initiated the Thai Netizen Network, a small group of individuals working with advocates defending the citizens’ rights for privacy and freedom of expression on the net, providing expertise and trainings in these topics.

Apparently, the first platform, developed by Opendream, was created out of the personal initiative of the former primer minister and disappeared from the internet once the political power changed hands later on. It hosted around 1000 datasets mostly on agriculture, transport and health and was conceived as a prototype which remained almost unknown for the civil society. So, technical know-how is already available, but as we experienced from the audience, what is missing is the legislative stability to guarantee the existence of such a platform. However, two new websites, data.go.th and apps.go.th, have been recently announced by the actual ICT minister for 2014. Also, the limited awareness of the thai society regarding the potential of Open Data and Open Government seems to slow down the development of these areas. While browsing the web, we could only find a few active references of community engagement apart from an old and outdated google group. We hope, the new initiatives from the government mentioned above boost the interest of developers and users.

That’s why only few Open Data apps and projects made in Thailand could be exposed at the final discussion, compared to previous workshops. However, we could find out about some interesting projects in Asia and other continents like the portal for transparency regarding public expenditures in Timor-Leste, the UNESCO founded data portal for education OpenEMIS or helpful open source platforms for social change made in UK.

After this stop, we feel very curious about the situation in other asiatic countries and are looking forward to visiting Thailand’s neighbour countries.

Slides of the presentation
Slides of the presentation

Next steps in Asia

Leaving India, we are closing an important phase of our project. It’s is already being over five months on the road documenting and discovering Open Knowledge / Open Data related projects. Now we are busy preparing our schedule for Asia, where following dates have been planned so far:

Meeting & Workshop @ Opendream, Chiang Mai, Thailand – 16th December 2013

opendream1Opendream is a social enterprise with expertise in Internet solution development and information design. With years of experiences in open collaborative projects and open source communities, Opendream brings best-of-the-breed technologies and practices to work with our client-friends making impacts in their landscape, no matter does it is in public or private sector.

Meeting @ Open Development Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia – 8th January 2014
odc

Open Development Cambodia (ODC) is an “Open Data” website, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. The “Open Data” movement is based on the simple premise that data collected for public interest should be publicly available – without restrictions. Information or “data” in the public domain should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish. Open Development Cambodia (ODC) does not promote any particular perspective, agenda or bias other than to provide objective information about Cambodia and its development.

 

Workshop @ GIZ / Civil Peace Service, Phnom Penh, Cambodia – 10th January 2014

Giz_new_logo

To strengthen the reconciliation and the peace-building process, the Civil Peace Service (CPS) ensures that Cambodian citizens and Khmer Rouge survivors are thoroughly informed about Tribunal processes to foster public opinions about the outcomes. It is hoped that understanding, and a feeling of citizen ownership of the legal process will result in a genuine sense of justice.

Meeting & Workshop @ Transparency International Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia – 13h January 2014

Transparency International Cambodia

One global movement sharing one vision: a world in which government, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption. In 1993, a few individuals decided to take a stance against corruption and created Transparency International. Now present in more than 100 countries, the movement works relentlessly to stir the world’s collective conscience and bring about change.

Meeting @ Mekong River Commission Data Portal, Vientiane, Laos – Beginning February 2014

mrclogo

MRC collects and manages a range of data and information with its Member Countries and other regional stakeholders. The MRC Data and Information Services Portal provides a summary of MRC’s services and enables direct access, including to realtime information and downloadable data.

 

 

Meeting & Workshop @ Open Data HK , Hong Kong, China – Mid February 2014

odhk

The OpenDataHK is an open, participative, volunteer-run group of Hong Kong citizens who support Open Data, founded in March 2013. Anyone is welcome to join, take part and lead.

Interview with Journalism++ @ Paris/Berlin, France/Germany

logo_jppJournalism++ is a network of data-journalists and developers which has chapters in five cities across Europe. With the goal of promoting the use of data and its visualisation for journalistic purposes, they create Open Source tools, organise trainings and consult other organisations in this area.

We contacted Nicolas Kayser-Bril, one of its co-founders, and asked him to give us an inside view about his company and the concept of data-journalism. Covering the theory, how data is currently being used to enhance story-telling, and the advantages for journalists working with Open Source and Open Data, this interview exposes a topic we were eager to learn more about.

1) Hi Nico, many thanks for sharing time with us. Could you first introduce yourself and present briefly Journalism++? How does it come that you are represented in five different cities in Europe?

We started Journalism++ with Pierre Romera, a developer, in 2011. At the time, we were working together at OWNI as a team of journalist & developer. When we left, we asked several newsrooms if we could join, as a team, and do data-journalism. Most were eager to hire us but not one was ready to let us work together. In order to keep working together, we created Journalism++. The name is a nerdy joke, as the “++” sign is an increment in most programming languages. In effect, it means “journalism is now equal to journalism plus one”.

As the company grew, we offered other data-journalists in Europe to use the Journalism++ brand. The Journalism++ network is organized around these chapters, in something that resembles a franchise. Companies such as Subway or NGOs like Transparency International operate in much the same way. Today, 3 companies that operate independently from us use the brand in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Cologne. All we ask from chapters is that they adhere to the Journalism++ Manifesto and be financially sustainable.

2) What does it mean to be a data-journalist? How does it differ from traditional journalism? Is the use of Open Data and its visualisation what make that difference?

At its most basic, data-journalism means using numerical data to tell stories. Let’s say you have a database to work from. You’ll need to clean it, check its authenticity, interview the data using data-mining techniques, and finally communicate your results, sometimes using data visualisations or more complex interfaces. This process can be done by one-person operations using Google Spreadsheets. But sometimes, you’ll need much expert skills, like statistics, computer forensics, designers or developers. And project managers to hold everything together. The end product changes too. Where we had articles or video reports, we can now tell stories using evolving databases. Homicide watch in Washington, DC, is a good example: it compiles all data it can find on homicides in the town. It accomplishes a basic task of journalism in a totally new format.

From a simple thing (doing journalism with data) we end up with a totally new way of doing journalism, which is very close to traditional software development. That explains why small companies like ours are better equipped than big newsrooms to do data-journalism.

3) You have participated in many events and trainings around Europe, divulging the benefits of using Open Data applied to journalism. How is Open Data seen among the journalistic community? Is there a general movement towards using Open Data in journalism or is it still a new and almost undiscovered topic?

Data-driven is still very new to most newsrooms. There is an acknowledgement of what it can do and that it can help journalists overcoming some of the challenges they face. But there’s no movement towards using open data. The number of requests for open data in most EU countries (look at the reports from CADA in France or at tools like Frag den Staat in Germany and Austria) from journalists still range in the few hundreds per year. It’s getting better, but very slowly.

4) We have seen in your portfolio that some of your clients come from the public sector. Is the public administration specially demanding Open Data-based-tools nowadays?

We’re very proud to work for the ÃŽle-de-France region, Europe’s biggest region by GDP. They set up a data-driven communication strategy alongside their open data platform, which we help them implement. Many administrations, as well as NGOs and corporations, are realizing that they sit on very valuable data troves. Most are just starting to organizing them and are thinking of making them more open. They understand that more open data will make it easier for them to communicate on their action.

5) You already developed really interesting tools and civic apps (Cartolycées, e-diplomacy, Alertepolitique, Datawrapper, …). Where do all these ideas come from? Could you explain more about the conception process and its context?

Most of our projects start at the coffee table, within the company or with clients and partners. We then take these ideas from a drawing on a napkin to full-fledged products. We sometimes have to find funding in the process. Clients are very open to experimenting with new ideas. In the case of E-diplomacy, for instance, a visualisation of diplomats’ Twitter streams for Agence France Presse, the tool really emerged from a back-and-forth ideation process between us and AFP journalists.

6) We know it might be difficult to choose one, but can you pitch one of your projects in particular? Perhaps the one you consider the most useful?

I’ll take the latest project we released, called SpendingStories. We had this idea with the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF), which financed the project through a grant from the Knight Foundation. With its OpenSpending project, OKF collects a lot of data on budgets and spending throughout the world. But not many people know how to read, much less make sense of, this data. So we built a very simple interface that let people enter any amount, in any currency, and see how it compares to items in different budgets. We hope it’ll make it easier for journalists to put things into perspective when a politician announces a million or billion-euro plan, instead of resorting to meaningless comparisons such as “this is as much as the GDP of [insert country here]”. You can access the demo version of SpendingStories, which contains data about UK public spending, here: http://okf-spendingstories.herokuapp.com

7) You release most of your projects as Open Source. What is the motivation behind this? What are the benefits for a private company like yours in a market economy?

There are several reasons. One is practical: Open source projects are granted privileges by many companies eager to encourage openness. We don’t pay to host our code at Github and many APIs and other services are free for open source projects. It’s also a great way to showcase our work to other developers and make sure that we code in a clean manner. It’s great to ensure a high quality in our work.

So far, we haven’t coded anything that is worth protecting for its technical value. What we sell to clients is our expertise rather than our code proper. They know that we’ll develop an app or a variation of an app much faster than they would, so it makes a lot of sense for them to pay us rather than simply take the code and do it themselves.

8) Where do you find the data you are working with? Does this data already exist or does it have to be collected before? Is the data already open and available? Which are the Open Data platforms you are using the most?

There’s no fixed rule. Sometimes we’ll tell stories using open data. Sometimes we’ll do a Freedom of Information request. Sometimes we’ll scrape it. Sometimes we’ll obtain it though leaked documents. Sometimes we structure already available data. And if we still don’t find what we need, we crowdsource data collection.

As for open data platforms, the World Bank’s is certainly the most useable. It’s great to see institutions such as the IMF and Eurostat making their data available. But I’m not a fan of the newer brand of data catalogs, à la data.gov. Most of them simply aggregate data that was already published somewhere else and add little value in the process.

9) Let’s talk about what it’s still to come. In your opinion, how will data-journalism evolve in the upcoming years and what are the future steps for Journalism++?

We want to become the number one network of data-journalism companies worldwide: a dozen of financially independent companies operating in close cooperation, so as to be able to launch large-scale journalism projects at anytime and keep hacking things!