• Written by Josje Spierings
    12 August 2014

Last month, I attended the open knowledge festival (OKFest14) in Berlin. A two day conference about all kinds of ‘open’ – open knowledge, open science, open culture, open data and more. The ‘open’ that sparks my interest is Open Development.

Above: networking at OKFest14. Photo by Josje Spierings. Berlin, July 2014.

There are several definitions of Open Development, some short and brief and others more in detail (such as this, by Tim Davies, World Bank). But I would like to give my view on how I see one part of Open Development, namely the open development data focused on development cooperation.

Open development data is not only about open information. It consists of several parts. The ‘development data’ part is about information about aid spending both from donors and recipients of the money, transactions, context, stories and results. I think the ‘open’ part of open development data consists of three parts:

  1. Information should be freely accessible and easy to find, so not hidden away on a website.
  2. The format in which the information is displayed makes the data reusable (and preferably machine readable); examples are Excel, CSV, XML. And an example of a closed format is PDF.
  3. The information has an open license, which means it can legally be reused by others, for example for data visualisations.

Questions ahead
For me OKFest was mainly a networking event. There were a lot of people I had met online (via twitter, e-mail etc.) but never in person. This was my chance to speak with them and exchange ideas and learn from each other. The sessions I attended were interesting but because they were short (1 hour), lacked the ability to go into in-depth discussions. What needs to be noted is that there were 11 workshops at the same time, so of all the workshops at the event (about 50) I was only able to attend four.

Attending these workshops and speaking to people gave me a better sense of the issues, trends, challenges and opportunities in Open Development. I’ve narrowed this to ten. Because I don’t want to duplicate efforts I will give a short description and point to relevant articles and blogs about the subject. If you have any other interesting sources for the topics feel free to add them as a comment.

Organisations tend to open up due to external pressure, instead of internal benefit Many NGOs I have spoken with feel the pressure to open up and that it is something that is ‘important’ but often fail to acknowledge and talk about the organisational benefits opening up your data can have for their own organisation

Related blogs/articles:
Pelle Aardema wrote a nice blog about 7 ways IATI data can be used
Privacy concerns (two parts)
The first is that the conference was sponsored by Google. This stirred concerns for some participants. Questions at the event centred on trying to understand what is Google’s agenda. It benefits from open data, but is the open development movement something Google should be involved in or not?

The second focusses on privacy when opening up data. Because open data can sometimes be driven by “hype”, some organisations do not think through what they are opening up and how this can affect privacy.

Relates blogs/articles:
How Google notes they are using your data.
Laura James wrote about Open data and Privacy

The importance of data quality
Because what can we do with open data that is inaccurate or incomplete? Or when it is not updated frequently? As George Ingram notes: ‘The data and the platforms that present it will be widely used only when the data is complete—comprehensive, timely, comparable, searchable, easy to access and also shared and promoted’

Related blogs/articles:
George Ingram, Building aid transparency: more data, better data.
Owen Scott, The maturing of the IATI standard: ensuring quality in a highly networked environment.

Big data as a ‘forbidden word’ As for why, I would like some explanation, but the term ‘Big data’ is not mentioned in the Open Development community often and I even heard somebody say, ‘no we don’t talk about big data’. So who would be able to tell me why this is?

Coordination of initiatives For example there are a lot of data visualisation initiatives. But how can we learn from each other and work together? These are questions that are brought up frequently and that is something I take back from this event; learning what is going on and connecting to people I can work together with.

Related blogs/articles:
Blog I wrote about different open development data visualization tools (August 2013).
Open development toolkit

‘Creating ecosystems not apps’This was an interesting comment from a keynote talk by Eric Hysen of Google. Building together with different interests and different stakeholders to make ecosystems sustainable. You can watch his talk here.

There is a fascination with maps Most visualisations focus on putting data on maps. This focus on maps could lead to other ways of visualising and analysing data getting shifted to the sidelines. My opinion is that we should not start data visualisation with the notion ‘we want to see it on a map’ but with the questions: ‘What do I want to do with this data?’,‘How can I reach this goal?’, and ‘Who is going to be our user?’ Which also leads me to the next point…

Who is the target group? Most visualisation of open development data focuses on a donor country audience. So the top of the “aid chain”. But the trend I notice is that more and more there is going to be a bottom-up approach and thinking about what data the recipient country needs to manage and plan better, and how open development data can be visualised so that it matches these needs.

Mapping open development initiatives Examples are open development toolkit and Sunlight foundation. And also during the Open Development Fringe event the Follow the Money network presented the idea of creating a matrix with Open Development related initiatives. I really applaud these types of initiatives, because I think it would be great to have an overview of all the people and projects working in open development. But I am always a bit sceptical about the sustainability of these types of platforms as they are dependent on up to date information. And to maintain the information and platform you need ownership of an organisation who is committed and has the funds to maintain it.

Let’s open up! One of my personal role models, Neelie Kroes gave an inspiring keynote at OKFest14 with a message I want to end with: Lets show every citizen the opportunities of open data and lets embrace it together.

Josje Spierings is based at Akvo in Amsterdam.