It’s been a bit quiet here, but to give an update: We are currently working on some data science projects for non-disclosed clients. This week also our principle participated in the Moscow Urban Forum on the subject of open data.
Tonight the Apps for Amsterdam awards ceremony takes place and stage one of the Dutch open data trajectory will be completed.
Last year at the end of summer I helped Thijs Kleinpaste and Stefan de Bruijn co-author a proposal to sponsor open data within the municipality of Amsterdam. This proposal was accepted near unanimously by the commission in November (full write-up) and it started a roller coaster ride for open data in Amsterdam that is now starting to have far wider effects throughout the Netherlands.
Hack de Overheid (Hack the Government), the soon-to-be foundation I’m in the board of, partnered with the City of Amsterdam and Waag Society to realize the competition and a series of events. This series culminated for us in Hack de Overheid #3 an inspiring day and hackathon for over a hundred developers who built civic apps.
The completion of the contest tonight and the sometimes stunning applications —many of which display excellence in cartography and visualization— submitted to it mark another high point I am proud to be a part of.
But as I said this completes just the first stage of what is bound to be a long and tortuous road. As we speak there are local initiatives being formed to open up data in at least Enschede, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven and the Hague. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that and if some of the smaller cities may in fact outpace us here in the capital.
But we need to do more. Recent questions about privacy violations in data releases make it more than a little obvious that there is a massive issue in data literacy. I wholeheartedly agree with Adam Greenfield if he says that data and its affordances need to be a core subject starting from school onwards. We need to explore materials, interventions and processes that allow us to teach data literacy and that allow others to teach it for us if we ever want to spread this knowledge at scale.
Literacy is required not only in school children but also in decision makers in business and government right now if we want to keep the momentum we have right now. Future developments run the risk of being hamstrung by backlashes against the malignant consequences of data or open data being unused because the ecosystem is not in tune. There are still lots of issues to be resolved around ownership, privacy, responsibility, licensing and business models.
From a commercial point of view, the sustainability of many of the applications in the contest is doubtful. Creating proof of concept apps for the data is a more than a good start, but it is by no means enough. The real need is for open but comprehensive systems where open data is a given. That data needs to be technically excellent and fully engrained in the fabric of our information society so that everybody can use it to enrich their app/site/discourse. Data owners and producers need to participate and be accountable for their data to accept feedback from the public both in the specific and in the general case. Such a system cannot be built or be static, but needs to be grown and evolve continuously. The only thing we can do is plant, nurture and weed.
So tonight will be fun, but let that not distract us from the massive amount of work still ahead. We are ready for it. Will you join us?
Our Alper has joined the board of Hack de Overheid a Dutch think tank that creates software and events to advance thinking about transparent government and open data in the Netherlands. Actually more of a do tank in that respect.
Each year Hack de Overheid holds a developer day where civically inclined programmers gather to exchange knowledge and create new open data projects either with government’s consent or without.
This year the devcamp is part of a broader program along with an application contest for local data and local applications in the city of Amsterdam called Apps for Amsterdam. There is a lot of momentum and it looks like open data is finally being taken seriously.
Until the event, updates here may be a bit sparse, but do register for the March 12th event if you have any interest in data and let’s create something great together.
This opinion (in Dutch) by Ernst-Jan Pfauth about how bloggers and other people online can help make the government more transparent is in line with most current thinking on open data. It is good that message is being spread wide and far by influential people in different spheres.
Some projects we have been involved on in the past (Vervuilingsalarm, Schoolvinder) are even name checked by Ernst-Jan which is very nice except for one thing: these are prototypes we slapped together some years ago, in less than a day with minimal support AND these are still the best examples we have in the Netherlands of proper open data projects? It’s a testament to Google App Engine that these are still running and it’s a testament to the climate towards these kind of projects in the Netherlands that they have found little to no backing.
We are running into this problem when we are promoting open data in the Netherlands. It’s difficult to find sustainable, complete, thriving examples of applications built on open data like there are ample of in the USA and in the UK. So they ask: “Do you have any good examples of apps that will convince us why we should open up the data?” “Well,” we reply, “obviously if you haven’t opened much up yet, there won’t be too many good Dutch examples yet. But look at these from abroad!”
It’s a rather annoying Catch-22 that is used to justify institutional inertia. So yes, the growing mindshare around the subject is good and it’s flattering that the stuff we built is being used as the leading examples, but we will have to do better still. Stay tuned. We’re setting a bunch of stuff in motion that will nudge the status quo forward by a fair amount.
A proposal on the topic of Open Data (link to PDF) that Monster Swell advised Thijs Kleinpaste and Stefan de Bruijn on was discussed during a meeting by the commission for general affairs of the sub-municipality Center of Amsterdam.
Alper used the opportunity to take three minutes to address the council before the meeting and posted a call to action for better and more effective digital public services using open data and asked the city to open up more of its data.
When the proposal was finally treated it was adopted near unanimously (tweet) by the entire council with also a positive recommendation by the alderman. The alderman commented that because he used to be an open source developer, an open data project had been on his list of things to do for a while now and he welcomed this proposal. His idea was to spend the allocated €10’000 on projects in the form of bounties to maximize the effectiveness and first grab the low-hanging fruit.
An open data policy will provide benefits to the City, which include:
- enhanced government transparency and accountability
- development of new analyses or applications based on the unique data the City provides
- mobilization of San Francisco’s high-tech workforce to use City data to create useful civic tools at no cost to the city
- creation of social and economic benefits based on innovation in how residents interact with government stemming from increased accessibility to City data sets
City departments should take further steps to make their data sets available to the public in a more timely and efficient manner.
It would seem that the time is now ripe to push this agenda through local legislative bodies. Given the current trend towards better digital services and transparency a suitably drafted proposal for open data with a realistic goal can scarcely have any opponents.
We’re going to look into passing more proposals towards open data like this following the lead of Amsterdam.
Update: the minutes for the commission meeting have been posted: Dutch PDF
Alper will be giving a one hour workshop to civil servants of the city of Amsterdam concerning open data on the Open Innovation Festival, on December 3rd from 11:00-12:00. This workshop will treat the benefits of open data for the city and the general public of Amsterdam and is a further push of this agenda within the municipality.
The commission will have a consulting round on November 8th where I will be addressing the council to clarify the benefits of open data and exhort the city to open up.
Yesterday Dutch daily newspaper NRC.next published an opinion piece I’d written for them concerning Dutch public transportation information. Alexander Klöpping had written a piece before and mine was to be a more specific follow-up on a certain kind of information: transit.
The situation is that Dutch transit information is controlled by a single private entity who are not sharing any of their data. The Dutch government plans to write a tender for a public data warehouse (to be called: NDOV) to be built with all transit information in it. Now this is both a threat for the private institution currently exploiting the data and an opportunity for the Netherlands to make a —much needed— jump forward in the realm of transit information. Which makes this an interesting turning point.
After making the altogether clear and well-known argument for open transit data, I propose three hard requirements such a data warehouse should fulfill. Here in English:
- All public transit data: journey plans, live locations, departure times and (un)planned mutations in the NDOV have to be readable both for humans on a website and for computers via an API.
- All this data has to be freely accessible to everybody without limitations.
- There always has to be a high quality journey planner but others have to be allowed to build their own or build on top of it.
Doesn’t sound too unreasonable, does it?
Full text in Dutch on Alper’s personal weblog for those interested.
For an upcoming presentation at the Club of Amsterdam on the Future of Hacking, Alper will be presenting on an intersection of APIs, public information and game design titled: “Civic duty in a hyper-connected world”
The Internet of Things is an abstract term for something that is quickly becoming real. The world is being filled with sensors and actuators, all of which are linked into systems and being fed back to us with real and virtual displays. This is changing the fabric of society and the definition of what society is. It is our responsibility as citizens of this hyper-connected world to hack our environments to work better however we can.
Hope to see you there and have a lively discussion on this topic.