OKFestival Artists Spotlight: Josh Begley and Ingrid Burrington

This is a guest blog post by Brigid Pasco from Artists Without a Cause (AWAC), an organization striving to connect artists working on political, cultural and socially engaged art with the organizations and activists who are championing the same causes. AWAC have coordinated several artist sessions to take place at the Festival. To see who is coming, check out Artists on SCHED, follow @ArtistsWAC and the hashtag #OKFestAWAC. The original version of this post can be found here.

“How much can be learned from just staring hard enough at one dataset? How do you take stories about the real world, which have been abstracted into data, and bring them back to the real world? What are examples of open or public data that can be seen in everyday ways?” – Begley and Burrington OKFestival Mission Statement

With a collaborative presentation entitled Just Do One Stupid Thing, and Other Secrets of Making Political Art With Data, American artists Josh Begley and Ingrid Burrington hope to inspire OKFestival participants to “ask better questions and tell better stories.” Their strategy: provide participants with a dataset, and facilitate a brainstorming session about its usage, with a clear interest in identifying how different presentational/framing methods affect perception and conception of ideas.

Josh Begley "Facility 399" courtesy www.prisonmap.com

Josh Begley – “Facility 399” courtesy www.prisonmap.com

Neither of the two artists are strangers to the question of data legibility. Most recently, Josh Begley developed Dronestre.am and MetaData+, both providing multiple ways of looking at US drone strike data – a twitter feed, a searchable database, associated pictures and news articles, and an iPhone app with maps and real-time updates. He also created a publicly-accessible API so that others can use the data in their own work. Many of his other projects include mapping of socially, politically, or economically important sites, such as prisons and military bases. His work makes visible the trends and patterns underpinning the structures of industry and society.

Ingrid Burrington is a researcher, writer, designer and data analyst who uses visualizations, especially maps, to illuminate social structures and disseminate information. Her project Measuring the Impact of a Fare Hike, 2012, mapped median income, fare card usage, and average ridership in different NYC neighborhoods to determine the economic and social impact of a proposed MTA fare hike.


Ingrid Burrington - "No fare hikes" courtesy www.lifewinning.com

Ingrid Burrington – “No fare hikes” courtesy www.lifewinning.com

Her work was part of a larger campaign against fare hikes in the city, and contributed by providing visual and tangible evidence of the rising economic disparities in New York. Burrington has also created informational maps for Occupy Wall Street. She is currently writing a book on unrecognized micro-nations, countries or states which function independently but are not considered legitimate by international ruling bodies.

In teaming up to present for the OKFestival, Burrington and Begley hope to explore the many meanings and narratives that can reside in a single set of data – and what different questions or thought processes can arise from each interpretation.

The hour-long session will take place on July 16 from 15:00-16:00. For more information on the OKFestival schedule, please click here.

Low-Tech Data: Story-Finding and Storytelling

This is a guest blog post by  Rahul Bhargava, Research Specialist at the MIT Center for Civic Media, and Gabi Sobliye, Programme Coordinator at Tactical Tech. They will be leading the OKFestival session Low-Tech Data: Story-Finding and Storytelling

Visualization is hot right now, too hot. This is problem, because in our quest to learn the latest tool and grab the latest data we’ve forgotten that the technology isn’t the important part of storytelling with data. The most important part of all this work is using information to bring people to create the change they want to see in their community and the world. In the majority of the world, there aren’t computers around to help this happen.


On the last day of OKFestival we are looking forward to facilitating a workshop designed around finding and telling powerful stories without the use of computers. We’re looking to do two things; firstly to find creative ways to increase data literacy and secondly; to challenge the dominant narrative that computer generated info-graphics or complex data visualisations are the most effective way to communicate a data-driven story. If we want to use data effectively in most of the world, we have to go low-tech.

Luckily, low-tech is fun! We’ll share with you some of our activities and processes for during this work. Rahul’s been playing with these ideas for the last 10 years as part of this Data Therapy project. He works at the MIT Center for Civic Media, doing civic technology and workshops with community groups around the world. Gabi comes from Berlin based Tactical Technology Collective, an NGO that works on the intersection of activism, information and design. We came together because of our shared interest in exploring the potential of low-tech data representation. We’ve both been frustrated by the focus on tech, even in places it isn’t the right fit.

So why does this work? We know that data can empower or disempower people. Algorithms, technical language, unfamiliar processes – these all leave many communities incapable of working with data, or understanding data-driven discussions. Most people don’t “speak data”. Small Data is the stuff communities work with. We believe that hands-on activities that let you play with data can empower community groups that work with Small Data to advocate, inform, and inspire.

We want to help empower communities to find and tell data stories when you don’t have expensive tech. Idolised data visualisations spread virally and are sources of inspiration to many advocacy groups, however these are difficult to replicate due to the funds, time and internal capacity. This is often a source of frustration for advocacy groups. By facilitating this workshop we hope to encourage those with less resources to experiment with exciting creative data presentation techniques. Created away from computers, these can placed in positions where offline communities interact with them in real life.

So how do we do low-tech data? Well, we start off by helping people play with data. We’ve developed and tested a set of hands-on activities that introduce finding stories in data and representing these stories through building physical objects, data performances or drawings (to name a few). You’ll leave with activities and approaches to help a group of people find and tell a data-driven story without using expensive technology.

Looking forward to seeing some of your there! Find us at #lowtechdata

Open Education Smörgåsbord

A Smörgåsbord is a Scandinavian buffet where lots of different wonderful dishes are on offer. It is an opportunity to sample many different foods, possibly ones you hadn’t tasted before.
The Open Education Smörgåsbord will be just that – a chance to find out about different aspects of open education that you weren’t aware of. However, the possibilities for new experiences won’t end there as the facilitators intend to bring food from their home countries so that we’ll have a real edible Smörgåsbord too!


New Years Day food smorgasboard by Emma on Flickr

Our workshop will be running on Wednesday, July 16 from 14:00 – 16:00. We have a session etherpad so please do take a look, add your name if you’d like to be involved and add your ideas!

Open Education is about breaking down barriers to learning. This may be through changing teaching practice, shifting policy, releasing data or sharing resources. In the Open Education Smörgåsbord, led by the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group, we want to get people interacting, collaborating, sharing, making and ultimately learning about what the future of education could be.

At the moment we have 5 tables planed though things could change and we may even end up with more!

  • Table 1: Miska, Kristina and Irina: The open Teacher kit. On this table we will be making a best practice plan for openess can help teachers with ideas around how sharing and reuse can become a normal part of education.
  • Table 2: Alek: OER policy made crystal clear. On this table we will be creating an infographic explaining the basic policy model for implementing OER.
  • Table 3: Tom: Make mobile use of open data for education. On this table we will be making a plan for how mobiles can make better use of open data for education.
  • Table 4: Marieke: Make an Open Education Handbook. On this table we will using role playing to flesh out the questions needed for our Open Education Handbook.
  • Table 5: Darya: SlideWiki Starter Session. On this table we will trying out Slidewiki and seeing how open courseware tools can be used by educators.

The tables will be facilitated by:

  • Kristina Anderson – Kristina works for CC Sweden. @kalexanderson
  • Marieke Guy – Marieke is the Open Education Working Group Co-ordinator. @mariekeguy
  • Miska Knapek – Miska is an information experience designer from Denmark involved with OKF-Finland, working with making new (open) knowledge building cultures, and visual tools for the same. @miskaknapek
  • Irina Radchenko – Irina is an Associate Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. @iradche
  • Tom Salmon – Tom is a teacher and open development researcher. @Fishytom
  • Darya Tarasowa – Darya is a developer and | maintainer of SlideWiki.org platform for collaborative authoring of | OpenCourseWare. @SlideWiki
  • Alek Tarkowski – Alek is the director of Centrum Cyfrowe, Polish NGO focusing on open issues and Public Lead of Creative Commons Poland and European Policy Fellow with Creative Commons. @atarkowski

Come along and get tasting!

Money, Politics and Transparency

This is a guest blog post by  Julia Keserű , International Programme Manager at the Sunlight Foundation, and Alan Hudson, Managing Director of Policy and Advocacy at Global Integrity. They will be leading the OKFestival session “Money, Politics and Transparency”

All over the world, money shapes politics. Political parties and candidates in any country need money to support their activities in both election and non-election years, and that’s ok. Whether that funding comes from public sources, private contributors or both, the reality is that the financing of political activities throughout the world is often linked to actual corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Political finance transparency is crucial to understanding the influence agenda in a country, to prevent or curtail violations of political finance laws, to uncover potential conflicts of interests and to determine whether changes to a country’s system of political financing are required. Outside of the campaign and elections world, political finance transparency is crucial to addressing the problem of off-budget government expenditures and tendering scandals—particularly problematic in the extractives and defense sectors—that are too often the result of undisclosed political financing.

The open government movement has played a valuable role in shining a light on the workings of government, but money in politics remains a depressingly murky realm. This is why Sunlight Foundation, Global Integrity and the Electoral Integrity Project launched the Money, Politics and Transparency project a few months ago, with the intention to collect systematic evidence around the issue and create momentum for a change.

Besides gathering data and blogging extensively about national level reform efforts, our goal is also to build a global community that will use that new information to identify possible norms to guide future political finance transparency efforts. As a first step, we organized a workshop after Sunlight`s annual TransparencyCamp for our international guests, to address some of the relevant challenges facing the international open government community.

In order to take that conversation forward, we are now preparing a session at OKFestival to hear about the potential challenges in different political finance disclosure regimes, and to be able to come up with potential solutions/next steps for this important, controversial and highly under-regulated area. Our interactive workshop will introduce transparency projects and technology tools that help uncover the influence of money on politics and identify possible global norms to guide future political finance transparency efforts.

Some of the specific challenges we want to discuss at our session are what we can do to monitor the influence of money in politics when there`s no reliable government data on political funding (which is pretty much the case almost everywhere throughout the world), what are the more creative ways to connect the dots, how can we engage average citizens in such an abstract political issue, especially if it does not necessarily have a tangible impact on their everyday life, and last but not least, what kind of data should be disclosed eventually. And in our attempt to move a bit beyond technology, we also want to discuss potential advocacy efforts too – can we get reforms without a scandal or do we have to wait until something happens to get momentum?

Come join us for our session on Money, Politics and Transparency on July 17, between 12.00 and 13.00 pm! Please note that the dates may be subject to change.

Image Credit: Sunlight Foundation 

Credit, where credit is due


This is a guest blog post by Jonas Öberg, CEO/Founder of Commons Machinery and Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow. He will be leading the OKFestival session “Give credit, where credit is due“.

Take a moment to look at these two images. You may well recognize the style of Randall Munroe in the left image, it’s comic #1369 from the XKCD comic series (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 by the way). If you’re a long time XKCD reader, you may well recognize the right image too. It is also from XKCD, comic #34, drawn by Randall Munroe with pencil on paper, then inverted and colored.

If we take either of these images out of their context and show them to a random selection of people, chances are that they’ll be able to recognize the left image, and correctly identifying it as belonging to the XKCD series (or even that it was drawn by Randall Munroe), but they’ll stumble a bit more on identifying the flowers.

I’m showing these, or a variation of these, to audiences around the world to illustrate how, if we take images out of their context, they lose some of the meaning and value. The flowers mean something more to us when we know they were drawn by Randall Munroe and is part of the XKCD series. And the same is true for any digital work, be it an image, a music composition, a text or a computer program.

“Credit where credit is due!” – Unknown

I believe that getting credit for the work you do, and the work you share with others, is critical in today’s society: it helps build reputation and connections, it creates value and meaning. For any creator publishing their works online being able to convey more information about each work beyond the work itself is important for conveying the meaning of it. An image is less worth without knowing who created it. Any XKCD comic loses part of its meaning without the alt text.


This photograph, by itself, can mean a lot of things to different people, but by associating it with the right context, we can say that it depicts flight test barrels used to test aircraft under different centers of gravity and not proof of chemtrails. It was taken and uploaded to Wikipedia in 2011 by Olivier Cleynen and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.

Despite the prevalence of EXIF and IPTC metadata fields for images (and similarly for other media types), the sad state of affairs today is that most or all of such metadata fields are stripped away, on purpose or by accident, when images are passed around the Internet. The Embedded Metadata Manifesto did a test in March 2013 showing that Facebook, Flickr (free accounts), Instagram, Twitter, Twitpic and other services strip away both EXIF and IPTC metadata fields for images that pass through their systems.

Even services which retain such information, like Pinterest and Tumblr, never does anything with the information included. They never display it and never act on it. Not only does this lead to lost information, it also leads to practical problems, especially in the context of open licensing, where we need to convey information about license terms as well as information necessary to correctly attribute the creator (a requirement of all Creative Commons licenses).

I firmly believe that the way we think about and value any digital work online will change if we’re given easy access to more information about each work we encounter while we’re browsing the Internet. With support from the Shuttleworth Foundation, I started Commons Machinery in 2013 with the intent of exploring just exactly how technology can help us make these connections.

One of the first approaches we looked at in Commons Machinery was to put metadata – license and author information – on the clipboard when someone copied and pasted an image from the Internet into LibreOffice. That took some work, but we developed two extensions, one for Firefox and one for LibreOffice, that enables someone to copy-paste images from the Internet (in particular Flickr) and insert into Writer or Presenter and have the attribution happen automatically. This is especially useful in Presenter: just copy the images you need, reorder, remove, add, and when you’re done, do “Insert → Credits”. Like magic.

But it’s not without problems.

“A world of exhaustive, reliable metadata would be a utopia. It’s also a pipe-dream, founded on self-delusion, nerd hubris and hysterically inflated market opportunities.” – Cory Doctorow (Metacrap, 2001)

The quality of the metadata – even that which is entered by the photographers themselves! – sometimes leave a lot to be desired. And our approach to put this information on the clipboard only ever worked reliably on Linux-based systems. For anything else, we needed a different approach.

What we’ve been working on the past half year is a distributed catalogue of contextual information about digital works – metadata. We’re doing three things with this catalogue right now. We’re using it:

  1. as a sounding board for metadata passing between applications. Rather than going directly from the browser to LibreOffice (or any other application), we’re routing the metadata information through the catalogue, which can be made to work on any platform,
  2. as a repository of metadata about digital works, that can be pulled out and displayed when you hover over an image or any other digital work online, inviting you to explore more or to just get relevant details of the creator and license,
  3. as a way to refine metadata as we go along: by crowdsourcing metadata validation, collection and refinement, we can suppress information that turns out to be false or incorrect and highlight more accurate information.

This is a work in progress, and you can follow along by joining us on Freenode in #commonsmachinery, look us up on Twitter @commonsmachine or dive into our Github.

Or, you can come to the session “Giving credit where credit is due” at OKFestival on Thursday the 17th of July at 14.00 in room K4. We’ll meet to connect between everyone who’s interested in metadata for digital works, to talk about what we’ve been doing in this space, what others are doing, and figure out how we can help facilitate an open knowledge environment by developing tools that, among other things, help automate the process of attribution. I’m looking forward to welcoming you there!

Open Knowledge Festival Spotlight: Society Stream

In this 3-post series, we turn the spotlight to the the narrative streams of this year’s Open Knowledge Festival. We’ve already highlighted the Knowledge stream; today’s stream of choice is Society. This stream is kindly supported by the Omidyar Network, although all sessions within the stream remain editorially independent.

“Knowledge and tools are never developed independent of society. What we know is a shaped by our experiences and tools we develop reflect our needs and our perspective. For open knowledge to effect change, we need to explore the role society, people, cultures and perspectives, play in the change process.”

The Society Stream at OKFestival will explore how communities are designing open institutions,  holding governments and corporations to account, developing open business models, ensuring the protection of privacy and ultimately shaping a more equitable world. We will explore how different contexts affect and cultural norms interact with open principles in the aim of deepening our understanding about how to to build more equitable societies. Here is just a taste of what you are in for:

Towards Transparent and Accountable Institutions: 

By opening up data and democratising access to information, citizens are better able to monitor how governments are spending money on their behalf or to determine where corporations are sourcing their materials. In the Society Stream we will take a closer look at how citizens using data and information to create more accountable and more transparency societies.

Citizens have the right to know how governments spend public money  and the creation of a usable and flexible Open Contracting data standard will ensure that, as the Open Contracting movement gathers pace, partners across the world can gain access to ‘joined up data’, supported by an ecosystem of tools and services, rather than facing many silos of disjointed contracting data. These efforts are intended to complement other efforts by organisations such as the Stop Secrets Contract campaign supported by Open Knowledge and others.

 City governments have to navigate their legal and institutional framework, political willingness and the capacity to be open. However, they must also consider the state of their data and the implications on the demand for open data,the choice of technology and its influence on democratising data creation and use, and the role of citizens and intermediaries in opening up a city. The session is unique as it allows for joint conversations among government officials from the four cities as well as groups that engage with them. The discussions will be situated in the intersection of data, technology and citizen participation, and will aim to develop a policy, advocacy and implementation road map for open cities that governments can adopt to respond to their local contexts.

Society Stream

Beyond Access: Opening Up Institutions and Processes through Participation

In the Society Stream we will move beyond access to look at how we can use participatory practices to open up traditionally closed institutions and processes.

This session will facilitate the learning process of embedding Public Lab methodology into DIY style making for environmental good. In this session, participants will learn the importance of grassroots co-creation in conceptualising tools and techniques for environmental health monitoring. It will demonstrate the importance of community involvement in methodological design, from the first step of problem identification, to show how open hardware and software tools can be scaled and replicated into other locations.

For more details on this session, check out Shannon’s interview with OKCast here

The UK Cabinet office will lead us in crowdsourcing ideas for a manifesto for an open data era – a social contract between government and citizens. By engaging people in the lead up to OKFestival using social media and then over the course of the 2 days of the festival, this session will collect ideas for inclusion in the manifesto that will ultimately be collaboratively drafted on the second day. At the end we will leave the manifesto online & invite people to comment on it over the following month.

Power, Surveillance and the Dark Side of Opening Up 

We recognise that opening up information and processes often challenges entrenched power structures and in the Society Stream we will explore how power and inclusion as well as government surveillance and privacy impact our ability to effect change.

What does creating knowledge access, designing tools for knowledge sharing, and implementation of “open society” mean for all users in context? When thinking about “open” in government, data, and society, the contextual factors that affect people’s needs often go neglected. These factors, in all their challenge and complexity, are important pieces of the open society puzzle.Drawing on an example from Reboot’s work, when building a citizen feedback tool to encourage engagement between government officials and citizens in Nigeria, we were working within political constraints affecting how, when, where, and what kind of service delivery would work. We also recognised cultural, logistical, and geographic challenges that affect people’s emotions and behaviours.

Open Government created a global movement using public data to create a better world. Snowden’s revelations about the role of NSA and other agencies spying on citizens came as a shock to the international open government community. How should we address illegal surveillance from an open government perspective? How should the open government community react to threats to privacy and other fundamental human rights? How do we address address issues related to data traffic and surveillance? This session will explore ethical, normative and empirical approaches to secure fundamental human rights in an age of open government and open data. The session aims to address a usually ignored yet crucial issue about human rights, open data and surveillance.


This year, Omidyar are sponsoring the Society track and we’re grateful to them for supporting conversations about the many ways knowledge and society intersect. Sessions in this track remain editorially independent unless marked as a sponsored session.

Omidyar logo


OKFestival Keynote Spotlight: Eric Hysen

The last in our series of OKFestival keynote spotlights introduces Eric Hysen, who heads up Google’s elections and civic engagement products and programmes. Google’s work in this sphere has generated huge strides forwards at a global scale; with the help of his team, Eric has developed various tools which have helped people in over 30 countries both engage and vote in their respective political processes. Google’s team does this by organising and opening up information related to the electoral process, with Eric’s team working to improve access to the information citizens need in order to truly shape their own democratic processes.

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 11.39.35

In his keynote Eric will outline the overdue rise and impact of civic technologies in the last few years, but more importantly, he will open our eyes to the problem which all civic technologies are currently facing. As things currently stand, civic tech has reached that point common to all new technology; it requires the creation of a common infrastructure in order for it’s impact to become scaleable. Without scale, real change remains a distant hope. While individual civic engagement apps have helped citizens vote, made governments more accountable and been effective in engaging people in the political process, we have reached the point where we need to come together to build our public data infrastructure. Only at this point can we expect to see continuous and global progress.

In his talk, Eric will shed light on current research and discuss the three tenets of civic technology which he believes can help take us towards a common framework. To find out what these critical elements in taking the next steps are, and how your involvement is critical to global progress, come and join Eric and many others from governments, corporations and academics to funders, civic hackers and citizens as we all come work to develop this framework together, starting at Open Knowledge Festival 2014 where we will help civic technology take the first steps towards generating a truly participatory, informed and democratic relationship between governments and citizens.

Though selling quickly, there are still some tickets left; buy one now and join Eric Hysen, Beatriz Busaniche, Patric Alley, Neelie Kroes and hundreds of other members of the global open knowledge community at OKFestival from July 15th to July 17th to share experiences, learn from peers and collectively build a stronger open knowledge movement.

Don’t miss out, buy your OKFestival tickets today.