NOW: Live-Blog from Open Data Institute Summit

By Joel Gurin, TheGovLab


Live-blogging from the first-ever Open Data Institute Summit put on by the Open Data Institute at the Museum of London.

3:00 GMT: Panel on “Open for Business”

Chaired by Richard Stirling of ODI; with Kevin Merritt of Socrata, Chris Taggart of Open Corporates, Rhydian Lewis of Ratesetter, Volker Buscher of Arup, and Richard Benjamins of Telefonica.

Ratesetter studies peer to peer lending, using crowdsourced data to find trends and improve financial services. Arup – a giant consulting firm – using open data for environmental building and construction, and partnering with ODI to accelerate the work. Telefonica – working with ODI to improve products through Open Data. Socrata, developing platforms for Open Data in the U.S., works exclusively with governments and NGOs – including the state and local level.

2:30 GMT: Panel on “Open Data, So What?”

Chaired by Ben Goldacre, it includes Mike Flowers from NYC; Laura James, CEO, Open Knowledge Foundation; Paul Baker, CEO of Webitects and head of the Chicago Open Data Institute; Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner of the UK; and Liam Maxwell, Government CTO.

Laura James: the key is “working with data and getting new insights and understanding.”

Christopher Graham, on dealing with the privacy problem: The ODI is now helping to launch a project at

2:2o GMT: Keynote from Liam Maxwell, Government CTO, UK Cabinet Office

Back after lunch for a keynote on the government’s tech policy. The key change they’ve made is the shift from pushing data out to developing applications that people actually want to use. He has a reminder note on the back of his phone: “What do users need?” Open Data enables government to provide apps on spending, crime, and more. An example of change: When they sent consumers their energy costs with an email at the bottom asking if they wanted to spend less, they were able to cut costs 25 percent overnight. is now making data available in every more useful ways. Track all kinds of usage of government data at Their Open Data principles will embed new practices in government.

12:40 GMT: Lightining round of presenters:

Mike Flowers on New York’s “quanitative support for NYC Government,” aka “the Mayor’s geek squad.” A problem of data analytics: “Can we leverage what we know about you without freaking you out?” So they turned to Open Data with building inspections, putting together Open Data on buildings with data from inspectors on the ground.

Chris Taggart of Open Corporates (now with data on more than 61 million companies) and Fran Bennett of Mastodon C, both “incubated” at the Open Data Institute – see my post on their work here. Also Jonathan Raper of, another ODI company. One problem: “You can’t use UK transport data if you put it in a bad light – but of course, they do that every day themselves.” So they’ve found new sources to help the commuting public. Finally, David Tarrant, also of ODI, on the impact of fire-station closings.

Noon GMT: Finance and Politics panel: We need an economic model to keep the movement and its projects going. Moderated by Nigel Shadbolt, with Paul Maltby (Cabinet Office), Nick Sinai (White House), Ken Cukier (The Economist, “Big Data,”) David Branch (Deloitte), Martha Lane-Fox (HM Government). Ken Cukier: Open Data as an important part of Big Data. Every U.S. business uses Open Data through government statistical data – but why does the UK charge for using postal codes? Nick Sinai on the Obama administration’s commitment, and the need to start thinking about “open” principles when you start building an information system; Paul Maltby on similar commitments in the UK. Martha Lane-Fox cautions that this may still be a movement “talking to itself” – we have an “enormous opportunity to take it from us to the community. . . . There needs to be a revolution, and revolutions happen on the back of crises” – such as the recent financial and political crises. “We need more voices than those talking her to make a cultural shift.”

Nigel asks about use cases for open data. Nick points out a recent Forbes article – banks are using Open Data on consumer complaints to race to improve customer service. And the Climate Corporation, recently sold for about $1 billion, used govt data to build its business.  He sees opportunities in the intersection of Open Data and regulatory regimes; Ken and Martha talk about the use of proprietary data together with Open Data as well.

Threats and opportunities? David sees high approval for companies that practice openness, which could encourage more. Ken is concerned about governments seeing the popularity of open data and charging for it. Nick raises concerns about privacy; “we’re having a bit of a dialogue about privacy in the States.” Concerns could slow down the open data movement.  Paul: it’s “hard to articulate” the process by which Open Data produces its benefits after it’s released by government.  And when consumers use Open Data apps, like apps that tell you when the next bus is coming, there’s nothing to tell them it’s “powered by Open Data.” Martha: We need to come at this in many ways to ensure government support; it’s a “long game.”

11:50 GMT: Martin Tisne of Omidyar asks, “Is open data the new normal?” It shouldn’t just be the province of data geeks but a concept that people can take to the streets. What does “global norm-setting” look like? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an example. Freedom of Information laws are another. The challenge is that the Open Data movement may have both huge expectations and significant risks, eg invasions of privacy through surveillance. We need to beware of “openwashing” – governments trying to make their policies look more “open” than they are. Four opportunities:

– Established government institutions – for example, leveraging the G8

– Form creative coalitions

– Use the Open Government Partnership

– Keep our eyes open for the release of key data sets internationally

Finally: Don’t let the work become siloed: build a movement by going global and going deep. Talk to communities in education, freedom of information, and more.

11:40 GMT: Back with Nigel Shadbolt after a coffee break. Talks about having to push hard to get data open – for example, geospatial data or crime data. When crime data was released, the police were afraid that trust in the police department would collapse. Instead, tens of millions of people looked it up. Another example:, an ODI project, showed how money could be saved by shifting from brand-name to generic drug prescribing. And Chris Taggart’s work with OpenCorporates – showing which corporations own whom. NEW today: a project at showing what happens when fire stations close.

11:00 GMT: Loren Treisman of the Indigo Trust on their lifesaving work in Africa. Wonderful work!

10:50 GMT: Future Everything presents on their role as “curators.” Digital Public Space does for culture what the Open Data movement does for data. Open Data Cities – “how would a city evolve if all data were made open?” They don’t envision a centralized-control model of cities, but a bottom-up approach – began in Manchester, now in Moscow. “We curate an environment for change.” Lots of experiments in Manchester, including Pac-MANchester – use bus data and avoid the “ghosts” while navigating the system. Yesterday, published a report on “smart citizens,” available here. “Open is our culture.”

10:40 GMT: Catherine Bracy, Code for America, on how they work to “rebuild trust that has been lost between citizens and government. One fellow said: “Interfaces to goverment can be simple, beautiful, and easy to use.” Examples from Code for America: A project in the city of Boston to make school choice vastly easier, going from a complex print brochure to an easy interactive website. Restaurant health inspection scores added to Yelp in San Francisco and Louisville; housing inspection data available on Trulia. Also a mention of their great new book, Beyond Transparency. You can add to it at GitHub.

10:30 am GMT: Gavin Starks, ODI CEO, describes the system of ODI Nodes – bridging businesses, universities, and NGOs. The “notes” now include Paris, Moscow, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Gold Coast in Australia, Dubai, Canada (nationally), and more – a global network of 13 global Open Data Institutes. Signing ceremony on stage now.

10:25 am GMT: At the fireside chat, Beth Noveck describes the Open Data 500 project that the GovLab is now doing on companies in the U.S. ANNOUNCEMENT: We are now partnering with the Open Data Institute to do a study of the same kind here in the UK. More to come! More on our Open Data 500 project here.

10:05 am GMT: In a “fireside chat” panel, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, and Beth Noveck review highlights of how we got here. Sir Tim describes the passion for the Web (which he says is now 24.5 years old) and now for Open Data.

Beth recalls the GovLab holding the first conference at the ODI last November (I was there also) – and, the growth of Open Data in the U.S. from the 47 federal datasets her team posted when she was Deputy CTO, to the hundreds of thousands of datasets available today. Open Data isn’t just government data, it’s data from citizen science – eg, Public Lab and environmental science. Beth: We’re moving into Phase 2, where Open Data is not just about accountability of government but collaboration between government and citizens. It’s not just for “beating government over the head with a stick,” but opening up data for health, transport, more.

Sir Nigel: The Open Data revolution is being driven by passion, but it still sounds “dry and geeky” to many people – we need to communicate the power. It’s four years that we’ve been pushing it hard – “there is a huge amount still to do. There is nothing like an assumption that open is the new default – it’s going to be a contested area for some time to come.” “The revolution is not finished yet – we need to ensure that Open Data is nonpartisan, is bipartisan, that everyone is behind it.” And: Recognize that data is as important a part of infrastructure as the electric grid.

9:50 am GMT: The Summit is beginning at the Museum of London: CEO Gavin Starks giving the intro for the day. Amazing growth for the Open Data Institute (ODI) in less than a year. 117K people reached, about $30M in value unlocked, 45 international members. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of the ODI, takes the stage, and talks about what “Open” means. “We’re moving from a world where communication is for humans, to one where more and more is processed by computers – with a general move toward data.”


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