Some Reflections from the Open Knowledge Festival 2014

 

Antti Halonen, the Finnish Institute’s head of society programme, blogs about the recent Open Knowledge Festival and Institute’s future plans.
The Finnish Institute in London were privileged to organise the inaugural Open Knowledge Festival together with Open Knowledge Foundation (recently re-branded as Open Knowledge) and Aalto University in Helsinki two years ago. It was therefore both important and extremely interesting to attend this year’s edition in Berlin and witness how both the festival concept and the international open knowledge community had evolved in two years.
And evolved they have. In only a couple of years Open Knowledge network has expanded into 56 different countries, the Finnish chapter Open Knowledge Finland amongst them. In my mind the work of Open Knowledge has always been based on pragmatism, intellectual honesty and thrive for collective action, which is likely to be the key to this recent success: merely pointing at bad things and saying how bad they are is not a sustainable way of achieving any positive change.
The ethos of sharing was as prominent as ever throughout the festival programme. “The more you share ideas – the more others can build on them”, was the message given by Neelie Kroes, Vice-president of the European Commission, in her keynote speech. In this spirit, we will use this blog as a platform to share a couple of ideas we’ve been contemplating at late.

Firstly, the Finnish Institute is starting a project which looks into the visibility and impact of contemporary art in society in Finland, the UK and Ireland. More of this project can be read in this blog later. Presumably there would be plenty of possibilities of intertwining this project into the work we’ve done on open knowledge.

The Finnish Institute’s work on open knowledge dates back to 2011, when we compiled a report on the development of open data policies in the UK and subsequently started to promote the subject in the Finnish societal discussion. Recently our focus has gradually shifted towards the role of openness in cultural sector organisations, such as galleries, libraries, archives and museums. In the world of Open, they are collectively known by the acronym GLAM.

OpenGLAM offers intriguing opportunities for a cultural institute like the Finnish Institute. This is partly because our mission is to apply methods of social sciences and arts in order to identify emerging issues in contemporary societies and take thinking of social challenges and cultural practices in new, positive directions. We recognise the immense value of cultural data that may still lie behind barriers of accessibility and understandability and work to raise awareness on the importance of public domain. In this regard OpenGLAM offers a huge potential in both enrichening the arts and culture sector but also in the very key societal questions, such as education (museum pedagogy) and quality of decision-making (access to archival material).  

According to the festival session Maintaining a healthy and thriving public domain – exploring the notion of originality and copyright when digitising analogue works, there is an increasing need to encourage culture sector organisations to release those contents that should legally be in public domain under actual public domain licenses. This is not always the case: many organisations apply restricting licenses to contents that should be placed in the public domain which causes both confusion and also at some scale frustration for open knowledge practitioners.

One suggestion of how to encourage GLAMs included generating a rating system similar to five star open data model. However, it is worth asking whether a rating system would in fact discourage culture sector organisations of releasing their contents, as they would be afraid of getting bad results despite a genuine will to be open. Arguably it would be better for the organisation to have no mention of rating at all than to have ⅕ stars.

Therefore, it seems that there is a demand for creating new methodologies of evaluating the value of public domain for society at large and most importantly for GLAMs themselves. In this work we could potentially apply both the existing work of Open Knowledge and their OpenGLAM Benchmark Survey and methodologically, our own upcoming research on the significance of modern art. Having said that, we would also like to know if there already is a widely accepted method of evaluating the qualitative and quantitative value of public domain for culture sector organisations, or if such an evaluation is not considered necessary.

Secondly, after several discussions with the delightfully plentiful array of Finnish contacts at Open Knowledge Festival, it emerged that there would be a real demand for:

a) strengthening the international ties in the field of open data and open knowledge research

b) giving young Finnish open data researchers / practitioners an opportunity to work a short while in the UK, which is recognised as one of the leading European countries in the field of open data.

There is an intriguing opportunity to look into possibilities of creating an open data fellowship program that would possibly intertwine with our existing fellowship programme for museum and archives sector professionals. Mobius-fellowship offers Finnish, British and Irish museum and archives professionals an opportunity to spend a three-month period in an international partner organisation. For a young Finnish open data practitioner, for instance, it might be useful to be able to spend a couple of months in the UK and to work within the British open data community.

These are not finalised programme plans, but merely ideas what the Finnish Institute might do in the future regarding open knowledge. In the name of openness, if you have any comments, suggestions or ideas, we’d be happy to receive them. Similarly, we’d be delighted should you wish to start a project of your own based on these ideas.

6 thoughts on “Some Reflections from the Open Knowledge Festival 2014

  1. xmacex says:

    Thanks for the post. I can certainly see your concern with the 5* rating system and it's mechanics. Perhaps a more openended points-system would be better, but that kind of system needs a wider adoptance before its meaningful; how much are say '160 openness points'? A reference is needed, and in a 5* model it's included. A 'bronze/silver/gold' openness factor? Then any level would be an achievement. I wonder is there something already in the Open Badges?

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  2. Thank you for the comments! Possibly Social Enterprise Mark (http://www.socialenterprisemark.org.uk) could provide a benchmark of sorts? Instead of a visible rating system, only a certification of openness once certain criteria are met?

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