No use for tech, if there are no hustlers – Our recap of the Open Knowledge Conference

A recap of the Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva - with highlights on open data, human rights and beyond.

By Friedhelm Weinberg on

It takes three days to show there is a great movement around the world that wants to open up data, and it will take a much longer time until this happens, the data will be used, re-used and understood by those it belongs to and affects.

To speed up this process, share good ideas and practices, and bring people working on it together, the Open Knowledge Foundation organised the Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva that took place 16th to 19th September 2013.

We were happy to welcome old and new friends in what is our home, and to jointly navigate an event with more than 900 participants from almost 50 countries. With that size and the corresponding number of different views it was not always easy to find the needle in the haystack – which is actually similar to the challenge of finding what is interesting in a big pile of data. It was a fantastic event nevertheless and we would like to share what were the best bits for us.

  • A hackathon focussing on law and legal information, with quite a few interesting results (one of them a new visualisation for case law of the European Court for Human Rights); Oleg Lavrovsky, one of the organisers, summarised the hackathon and the agenda ahead on his blog
  • A session looking at when technology-related projects work at NGOs, and what makes or breaks them – humans, not tools; read a good summary over at the Technology and Accountability Initiative’s blog
  • A fantastic contribution by Rakesh Rajani on what it takes to make the Open Government Partnership (and in fact many other things) a success: persistence close to hustling, and humans who want to make change and don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
  • A panel on data-driven campaigning with notable contributions, such as “If they give us all the information we ask for, they’re afraid it will be painful – which of course it will be” (Marko Rakar) and investigations into politicians income focussing on the watches they wear; it was filmed as well, as soon as it’s up, we’ll link to it.

A common theme throughout is that history rarely ever happens by itself, and technology on its own will not solve any problems. It needs people to embrace it, use it, make it. The same goes for data. It needs investigators who sort through the haystacks, find the needle and use it to pinch. Explainers who get those on board who find all of this a bit daunting or might not have access yet. Coders and information architects with a vision to make available and accessible large amounts of information. Designers who can tell the stories behind zillions of numbers and words. Citizens who are in the driving seat of this movement and make sure it is responsible, not least when it comes to privacy.

For us as HURIDOCS it was a great opportunity to bounce back and forth ideas with people, who are equally concerned about other legal documents as we are about human rights case law. To meet organisations who are working on introducing technology-solutions with rights groups, and discuss how to do it better. Finally, on the fringes, we had some very good discussions about digital security – which to some extent is the other side of the same coin.

We would like to thank the Open Knowledge Foundation for organising the conference and all the committed individuals who put together sessions,  panels and the hackathon.

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