Live blogging – #okcon – Session 1

Live blogging from #okcon

My notes (may contain errors!)

Session 1 Plenary Talk

Tuesday 17 September, 09:15 – 09:45 @ Main Stage

Open Data Movement Gaining Power

Ellen Miller, CEO, Sunlight Foundation

See more at:

Examples of opportunity:

— Open Government Partnership

— Open Data Portals (there are 43 country level portals, and over 100 area portals). Including city level portals.

“The win isn’t getting the open data portal itself. The win is the impact that the open portal can have.”

— International Transparency Organisations. Check out the list here, and add to it if you have an example that is not yet there:

Ellen asks does our work (Sunlight Foundation) live up to the open data potential to change things? Do we have more trust in Government? Ellen says No.  Due to:

Usual startup problems. Taking on too much work, taking too long to work out problems, working out how to relate to politicians, how to deal with the bad actors, are minor incremental reforms good enough? we’re inconsistent: should we model how govts should do their work, or should we do their work for them? I.e. make the tools for them. How should we measure our impact? how do people want to use govt data <– need to know this so that we can match their need.

We’ve learned:

— Independent position is needed – Away from politicians. Naming and shaming is very important. As is praising the good work.

— Building tools for average citizens isn’t as smart. We need to work with engaged constituencies.

— Fundamental questions of state and political power are actually key to our work. The influence of money and politics will only grow, and this threatens our ability to create accountability. This is a problem that we need to find a way around. i.e. the new surveillance powers of the US and the influence that this could have on our experience of the internet.

We need to set a standard of what we mean by open data, and then ensure that govts adhere to it.

Govt agencies have to use technologies to invite us (people) into a meaningful dialogue, to participate in the major decisions that impact on our lives.


Tuesday 17 September, 09:45 – 11:15 @ Main Stage Room 2

Moderator: Sarah Schacht, transparency technology advisor and author

Open Data – not just good, but better

Chris Taggart, Co-founder, OpenCorporates

The arguments for open data are often perceived as being about liberating a public good, but open data has another, more subtle benefit: increased quality. This presentation will use OpenCorporates’ new corporate network data features to demonstrate how open data can address the quality and collective action problems that plague proprietary datasets, and provide efficient feedback mechanisms for open data publishers, governments and data users.

– See more at:

My notes:

Data quality issues:

— Data accuracy

— Gaps in data

— Granularity.

We can’t look at companies in isolation. They are all part of a huge network of other companies. So we need to consider them in relation to other companies’ activities.

Open data on a global stage. Talked about the G8 Open Data Charter.

Global activism on the local stage.

Great summary tweet: “@pmackay16sopen data is disruptive: 1) by new uses of data, and 2) in changing processes around the data, by @_OpenP #okcon

On Process:

The “nature of the government processes are important in their own right.” is a place where interactions occur. Data users communicate with Cabinet Office team.

We’re trying to get the dataset of the datasets! We need to know what there is to ask for it to become data.

The National Information Infrastructure <– critical datasets that need to be made available (at high quality).

It’s how we interact/collaborate. Team blogs, Twitter, etc.  As a civil servant these things make my accountability to the civil society feel different to the past. Very different to the consultation process, which is less interactive.

On Improving:

How can we, as a government, interact better with the community on open data?

How can this interaction evolve after all the data is released? So after all of the data that is going to be released, has been released (only a couple of years away):

— open policy making team – learning from examples like MindLab in Denmark:

— internal insights


Big, Small, Smart – what data does an enlightened society need?

Andreas Kellerhals, Director, Swiss Federal Archives

We will look first at the availability of data and their supposed value for a public use, illustrated with some real life examples. Secondly, we’re interested in the added value of data analysis for administrative work and an opening toward a kind of data driven political participation. We will, thirdly, address questions of public responsibilities and due diligences. Fourthly, the urgent need for methodological skills when working with open data or public sector information will be a topic as well as, fifthly, possible retroactive impacts on government data.

– See more at:

My notes:

Shows some gorgeous images of historical publications of government data.

Publishing statistics of government data has a long history. As an instrument of propaganda in 17th and 18th century. e.g. Stanford visualisation of enlightment correspondence.

Swiss Open Government Data:

Much of the data was already available, but not all in one place. 1617 datasets.

The portal will now be tested for 6 months or so. Hopefully the community will get involved.

Example: data, resulting in Aare App:

As this develops, we will move away from facts and figures, and towards issues of methodology. example of University of Massachusetts, what could the effects of an error in data mean? See The Excel Depression, Paul Krugman:


Data: Opened for Action

– Andrew Alspach, Senior Information Management Officer UNHCR

UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee agency has taken many steps in the last year to expose anonymized data related to the people we serve for use by the humanitarian community. The organization has realized and embraced the fact that opening up data results in informed decision making and ultimately saving lives. While blogs and the twitter–sphere are rumbling with the need and intention to “open” data, UNHCR is committed to becoming a leader in this area through tangible actions for the humanitarian community and the people we are committed to providing assistance. Our talk will highlight the technical, innovative, and responsible ways that UNHCR is contributing in this area.

A goal of the High Commissioner, since 2011 UNHCR has changed its approach and policies to sharing data necessary for collective and effective action in humanitarian response. The recent emergencies in Mali and Syria, among others, have shown the critical importance of a humanitarian response based on a shared understanding of the needs and capacities of those displaced by conflict and natural disaster. UNHCR recognizes that unless the true condition, risks and resources of a population is known and shared collectively, the effectiveness of a collective response is severely compromised. This requires a cultural revolution within a protection agency such as UNHCR, holder of some of the most sensitive data of any international organisation. The talk will share specific experiences and changes UNHCR has adopted in regard to policies and tools for sharing data with the past year, as well as how we ensure opening of data without opening risks to rights, security and protection of refugees globally.

– See more at:

My notes:

Open data for the protection of refugees and the delivery of services to displaced peoples and people in need of help.

Andrew is beginning with a slide. UNHCR use the 5 star rating for opening their data. They’re at the 2-3 star level now.

Aiming for some of the data to be 5 stars by the middle of next year.

Websites that deal with emergencies:

The Syrian platform has evolved from a series of PDFs to having an entire dump in csv available. Daily updates are also available in csv. The information was already public, but now is extractable.  And is still improving.

Population Statistics, bi-annual. Was a PDF document, 3 months ago was converted to a searchable, downloadable database. Working on visualisations.

Beginning of this:

Open Map Data. We want to provide services to our communities. Shows a web feature service and web mapping service, available for GIS specialists to use.

Different kinds of datasets: Common operational datasets & fundamental operational datasets.

Humanitarian Exchange Language:

  • Using URIs for names of things.
  • Using HTTP URIs.
  • Providing info using SPARQL and RDF standards.
  • Including links to other URIs.

HXL is the name of the lang.

Analytical aspects of considering open data.

Its about how we can use data for action.



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