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OKFestival Sustainability Stream Recap

The open knowledge community came together in Helsinki for the one of the biggest events of the year: the Open Knowledge Festival, gathering for a week more than a thousand people from civil society, international institutions, government and businesses. The event run with parallel streams showing that open knowledge and open data are transforming government transparency and accountability, democracy, cities and transport, businesses, cultural heritage, research and education and other areas of the society and the economy.

Open Knowledge and Sustainability Stream examined the value of open knowledge, open data and open source for the sustainability context. The Open Economics Working Group (Velichka Dimitrova, Guo Xu, Dirk Heine), the Centre for Sustainable Communications at KTH (Jorge Zapico, Hannes Ebner) and Cleanweb UK (James Smith, Chris Adams) and Jack Townsend from Southampton University put together a programme showcasing why openness is an important value in a sustainable future, how open data and technology can help improve the measurement of social progress and the role of open data for more efficient energy consumption. The programme also included a Green Hackathon and two sessions about the community-engaged sustainability mapping initiative Green Maps.

Jack and Chris presented the results from the Sustainability stream on the last day: slides from summary session.

James Cameron: “Open data systems: a collective response to a collective problem”

In his keynote speech, James Cameron, founder and non-executive chairman of Climate Change Capital shared his vision about a complete open knowledge system, where decision-makers are able to view geophysical, climate and economic data on a single screen and are able to analyse the information, react in appropriate manner and realise a two-directional information flow. While a lot of the relevant data and elements of such a system exists, they are not joined up, as datasets in some institutions don’t talk to datasets in other institution. We still lack the right delivery mechanisms to make use of the potential that exists in open data and open knowledge.

CO2 emissions are a very good proxy for measuring and monitoring the performance of powerful actors in respect to the climate change issue. Initiative like the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) has gone on to cover water and supply chain issues and government procurement – there is tremendous data in that space, but there is clearly much more that can be done with it in the next iterations of such projects. (Video link).


Hans Rosling: Liberate the CO2 data

Data visualisation and global development guru Hans Rosling provided some inspiring and sobering insights into the scale and immediacy of the environmental challenge. The ice is melting fast but Hans can get by without the polar bears – he’s most very keen to avoid a world that’s hungry or at war because of climate change. He railed against the lack of timely and accurate emissions data. He went on to challenge many of the misconceptions about global development – focussing on the arrogance of the global north for imagining the global south as it was thirty years ago, ignoring the human progress that has been made. With an ultra-low-tech toilet-paper-roll demonstration he showed how, even with birth rates now stabilising, we are still on course to reach around 10 billion people on the planet (Video link).


Open Knowledge and Energy Data

The Open Knowledge and Energy Data session gathered different perspectives related to energy data and openness: how sharing energy use information on the community level can help reduce energy consumption, how one can better manage and understand one’s personal energy data and the importance of linked open data in the energy context (Video link).

Karthikeya Acharya from Aalto University’s School of Art, Design and Architecture shared some theoretical concepts on how opening up energy use data at the end user level can make one reflect on one’s acquired personal energy habits and how this is relevant for energy conservation and the transitioning to a less-intensive energy future [Slides].

Ken Dooley, Sustainability Group Manager of Granlund, spoke about how the availability of personal energy consumption data can promote positive behaviour change by providing a consumption comparison with peers. He showed how such comparisons can give some people the ability to prove that they are living a low energy lifestyle and will motivate others to reduce their consumption [Slides].

William Heath, entrepreneur and co-founder of Mydex Community Interest Company talked about personal data with relation to energy use and personal energy profiles and will explain why we need to revolutionize the ways we understand and manage our personal data [Slides].

Denise Recheis from Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and Thomas Thurner from the Semantic Web Company looked at Linked Open Data and its applications in real world examples and give an overview of the clean energy portal reegle.info and how they integrated the Linked Open Data principles in the project. They tried to get across the importance of readily available energy and emissions data on a regional and national levels [Slides].


Green Maps

For Green Map System, taking part in the Open Knowledge Festival was eagerly anticipated. Together with Helsinki Green Map, we provided sessions that highlighted both the locally relevant and globally linked aspects of our community-engaged sustainability mapping initiative.

As the founding director of the New York-based nonprofit that has worked with over 800 diverse project leaders in 65 countries, I found the OK Festival to be a powerful springboard as we consider the importance of maintaining trust, reliability and communication with the diverse municipalities, universities, nonprofits, enterprises, grassroots and youth groups who create Green Maps. Our process of going open made significant progress, and we’re now creating milestones to guide our trajectory. Watch our blog for news as we adopt increasingly open approaches to sharing knowledge, and let us know how you can help this effort.

Cindy Kohtala of Helsinki Green Map joined me in leading our sustainability stream sessions. On Tuesday, we focused on the evolution of the living lexicon of Green Map Icons (slides here). Used by all Green Mapmakers, these globally designed universal icons identify, promote and link thousands of natural, cultural, activism and green living resources on printed and interactive Green Maps. What new symbols are needed to highlight the fab labs, hacker spaces and co-ops show where open knowledge is taking root in communities? How do we select an open license that offers new capabilities yet prevents misuse by green-washers? How can our policies, tools and infrastructure make it easier for (often non-technical) Mapmaker communities around the world to operate according to their own unique preferences and conditions? We announced that soon, our social mapping platform will offer each Mapmaker the option to open their data to the public. The ensuing discussion was quite valuable (make open the default going forward, license choices, etc.) and it continued outdoors as we saw some of the nearby sites on the Helsinki Green Map (Video link).

Friday’s interoperability and inclusion session featured Philip Todres and Arne Purves from South Africa and Ciprian Samoila from Romania, who joined us via Skype. The Cape Town Green Map was initiated by the City to give community stakeholders a voice in the greening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Games. This ongoing project is also an instrumental part of the municipality’s successful bid for the crown of World Design Capital 2014. Arne and Philip detailed their approach and with an interactive Open Green Map and beautiful printed editions, this project successfully communicates good works and eco-assets to a local audience and at the same time, supports responsible tourism. It’s also inspired Green Mapmaking across South Africa (Video link).

Bucharest, Bacau, Cluj-Napoca and Bistrita Green Maps have been organized by Asociatia Harta Verde Romania. Its director, Ciprian described his involvement in ’4BsHive’, a Grundtvig-funded transnational Green Map project between four river cities: Bristol (UK), Berlin (Germany), Budapest (Hungary) and Bistrita that resulted in knowledge exchange, a video and guide book. Ciprian has especially been involved with Green Map at the global level, including our transition to open. Green Map System’s first phase of interoperability will be in place this fall, and with it, new terms of service that address open licensing and support a wider diversity of partnerships and applications. These sessions along with the many insightful conversations that took place throughout the festival generated a fresh sense of how open can make significantly more of the good we have already created in support of sustainable, engaged community development.


Future, Openness and Sustainability

The session on Future, Openness and Sustainability explored the question of how openness as a value can be important for a sustainable future and how. The session was hosted by Jorge Zapico, a researcher on ICT and sustainability at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The format was a panel, where first five participants shared their perspective:

First Chris Adams, product manager at AMEE, spoke about the intersection between open source and sustainability, and recounted AMEE’s own experiences acting as a company built around using open source technology, and open data to help companies and governments understand their environmental impact and and why the hacker mindset was so relevant in bulding an open, sustainable future. He also announced the opening up of AMEE’s environmental datasets.

Hannes Ebner, a researcher at KTH in Stockholm, shared his experience on using open linked data for educational resources on organic agriculture in the Organic Edunet european project, and argued why open education is important for creating change and spreading and improving knowledge.

Jack Townsend, a web and sustainability researcher at the University of Southampton in the UK, talked about four primary ways in which open knowledge can help with creating a sustainable open society. Firstly, transparency to make actors accountable for their environmental impact. Secondly, better informing the citizens to whom institutions are accountable, building well-founding trust in relevant science and policies. Thirdly, to get more human value out of the global economy with less environmental input, through coordination, optimisation, and rethinking what we want out. And finally by innovating to find earth-friendly technology and to provide freedoms in a resource-constrained world.

James Smith of Cleanweb UK described how transparency and accountability in government and the scientific process could be enabled by Open Data, and would be essential for the public to support a large-scale transition to a sustainable society. It would also enable innovation and the discovery of new systems-level efficiencies.

The final discussion included the present public and discussed the synthesis of the different panelist. The main topic was on how the the hacker mindset was relevant in building an open, sustainable future. Two main points were discussed: first transparency, second creativity (Video link).


The Green Hackathon

The Green Hackathon at the OKFestival was a two days event part of a series of events organized around Europe. The concept at the OKFestival was to bring together developers, data experts and organizations to do hands-on work on existing projects and data and to have focus sessions discussing different projects and synergies between the participants. Some of the results and activities include:

Helsinki CO2 Visualization

A visualization of the CO2 emissions data for the city of Helsinki from Siemens and Aalto. It allows to change different variables to explore how different possible future scenarios: http://helsinkiCO2.com


Future weather and the World Bank Climate Change Portal

App uses World Bank data on current and projected weather to put climate change in a context: You choose the country you are interested in and the app tells you which country today has a climate comparable to the future climate of your country. Calculation is done by creating similarity indices using Euclidean distances for each country and picking out the best fit. You can choose between a conservative projection (optimistic) and a doomsday projection (pessimistic): http://www.guoxu.org/weather

Tim Herzog from the World Bank Open Data team gave a tour of the World Bank Climate Change Portal. Whilst we can always use more and better data, the immediate challenge for climate is understanding and translating what we already have. Non-experts need tools to understand why climate change is important, and how it will impact them now and in the future. Experts need better analysis tools for making decisions and planning. To this end, the World Bank had the Apps for Climate competition, with Jack Townsend demoing one of the winners, Globe-Town. Tim discussed ideas for new visualisations including the the Future Weather app (above), and one to visualise different emissions reductions scenarios to reflect the great lack of progress since they were last were developed a decade or more ago.

Mashing up the Carbon Map with data from the International Land Coalition

The team of the International Land Coalition (ILC) demoed the Land Matrix Portal and invited a discussion about what could be done with the data. The ILC is a global alliance of civil society and intergovernmental organisations working together to promote secure and equitable access to and control over land for poor women and men through advocacy, dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building. After a serendipitous conversation between ILC and Robin Houston of Carbonmap, he created a new visualisation using the same technology powering Carbonmap, to show these changes in land ownership over the last 10 years, on a global scale.

The map shows the effect of the land deals in the Land Matrix database. The “before” map simply shows the true land area of each country. The “after” map is an exaggerated rendition of the changes due to land deals, where a company based in one country buys a tract of land in another. For each land deal where the purchasing company is associated with a particular country, the size of the purchasing country is increased and the size of the country where the land was bought is reduced correspondingly. The true size of the affected land area is multiplied by 100 to make a visible difference on the map: see the Land Matrix map.

Energy Pulse and Big Oil Facts

Thomas Thurner and Denise Recheis presented two challenges relating to energy data: Energy Pulse and Big Oil Facts/Truth. Energy pulse focusses on varying production and consumption patterns of electricity around the globe, to visualise how they can be held in balance as demand increases and more time-varying supplies of renewable energy are introduced. Big Oil Facts is about visualising the subsidies given to fossil fuel production companies and how this underpins their profits – a reality often overlooked in criticisms of renewable energy subsidy.

Open Data for Measuring Social Progress

The session “Open Data for Measurement of Social Progress” brought a diverse range of panelists from academia, policy and the open data community together to discuss how open data and technology can help improve the measurement of social progress.

Guo Xu, PhD student at the London School of Economics, gave a brief introduction to the historical and existing efforts in measuring social progress. Defining progress, he argued, is power and the aim of the session is to explore how both definition and discourse can be “opened up” to the public [Slides].

Dr. Ulla Rosenstroem, Senior Specialist at the Prime Minister’s Office, presented the Findicator, a website aimed presenting Finnish statistical data in a more appealing way. In particular, she stressed the importance of indicators in summarizing and communicating socio-economic trends to policy makers and citizens alike [Slides].

Vincent Finat-Duclos, Statistical Editor at the OECD, introduced the OECD Better Life Index and showed how gamification and good visualization can help educate the broader public about the functioning and use of composite indices. Finally, he sketched the next steps of the Better Life Index: Improving robustness, extending the sample and improving the usability [Slides].

Dr. Robin Houston, Developer of Guardian’s Rio+20 Better or Worse app, showed how eliciting user’s rating on the current developmental progress can help generate useful data for statistical analysis: Among survey participants, women were on average more pessimistic than men, participants from Africa were the most optimistic and (taken with a grain of salt) iPad users were the most optimistic [Slides].

Dirk Heine, Member of the OKFN Economics Working Group, presented Yourtopia and Yourtopia Italy – two applications that allow users to define which dimensions matter most for development. Harnessing the feedback provided by the users, the app then calculates an “consensus” measure of social progress [Slides].

In overall, panelists agreed that there was a lack of high frequency indicators that span longer time horizons to allow a more nuanced analysis of trends. While diverse in backgrounds, the session illustrated how collaboration between policy, academia and the open data community may help generate innovative and exciting ideas (Video link).

Any comments for the whole team? Contact: sustainability [at] okfestival.org

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