Category Archives: #OpenData

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.
The universal language of money – Express visa service for big spenders to be expanded
Immigration and its effects get a lot of coverage in the news. Generally it is the cons that dominate the headlines: immigrants are without a doubt too many, they are too foreign, too criminal and way too unemployed. The numerous pros introduced by foreign nationals are often dismissed when politicians concentrate on making it more and more difficult for people to enter the country. Outsider swarming into the UK is bad, is the message – unless, of course, there is a flow of cash involved.

David Cameron wants to expand the speedy visa service for wealthy visitors, according to last week’s Financial Times. The prime minister seeks to make the UK more attractive to big spenders from overseas by extending the 24-hour visa service to seven more countries. Currently the visa service, which ensures a decision on application within just one day, is available in China and India and costs a mere £600 per application – that is in addition to the standard visa fee, of course. If and when the plan is brought about, rich people coming also from Turkey, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Thailand and visa processing centres in New York and Paris are welcomed with open arms.
It is somewhat peculiar how a big enough pile of money can fade out the otherwise often  overly highlighted borders of different countries. Unlike people, money clearly isn’t discriminated based on its birthplace or origins. Money talks loudly and the heavier the wallet, the easier and less time-consuming the bureaucratic process clearly becomes. The message to outsiders is clear: you are welcome in as long as you spend money, spend it like it’s seriously going out of style.
A look into your fridge can reveal your political orientation – YouGov launched a profiling app
We at the Finnish Institute have for long been interested in the many possibilities of open knowledge and Big Data. There are numerous ways in which the freedom of information can benefit our lives and make us more aware of matters, facts and figures surrounding us. Open data can be utilised in many ways and one of the freshest examples has been offered by the market research company YouGov.
YouGov collected data from its 200,000 active panellists and created a website that allows anyone to access profiles of people showing their different likes and personal preferences. According to Guardian, the site is intended mainly for commercial purposes and it is broken down by demographics based on age, political preferences, earning and multiple niche interests and hobbies. You can type in one of the 30,000 search terms and compare, for example, what Justin Bieber fans have in common. The results can prove to be somewhat amusing.
The profile tool tells us, for example, that Miliband’s fans enjoy mushroom stroganoff and admire Pete Seeger. Nick Clegg’s followers are fans of the Eurovision song contest whereas Cameron’s fans listen to Dolly Parton, watch Les Miserables and have a pet fish. The more rightwing you are the more you like sweetcorn and musicians such as Cliff Richard. On the other hand, if you are fond of Kate Bush the chances are you’re also a Guardian-reading male over the age of 40 and work in IT.
As you might suspect, the profile tool is not exactly the all-knowing crystal ball with its relatively small and statistically biased sample size. One can, however, easily spend a considerably long period of time typing in different search words just for his/hers own amusement. While doing that one spots, for example, that those British people who have special interest in Finland (307 people) often also play some instrument and have a cat. Those interested in Finland are likely to be females between the ages of 25 and 39 who live in central Scotland and value ethically produced goods and organic food. Those panellists who have a soft spot for Finland also tend to bank with Co-op and spend less than one hour a week watching TV. All this sounds rather fascinating and even if the profile tool can’t be described as statistically sound, it for sure is entertaining.

From Big Data to Insight

The Institute’s Communications Assistant Hanna Heiskanen blogs about a recent event on Big Data.

The How We Prepare for a Future of Big Data? event held at the Finnish Ambassador’s Residence in London on 30 October gathered together a prestigious panel of big data experts as well as a knowledgeable and active audience. The event celebrated the recipient of this year’s Millennium Prize, Professor Stuart Parkin, whose innovations have played a large part in raising big data to the prominent position it has today.

The 1 million euro Millennium Prize has been awarded every other year since 2004 by The Technology Academy Finland. The Technology Academy Finland incorporates the Finnish Academy of Technology, the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in Finland and the Industry Council, which represents leading Finnish companies. The Millennium Prize is funded by the Finnish state, and its recipients are innovators who have significantly improved people’s quality of life. Past beneficiaries include the inventor of World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee, and Linus Torvalds of the Linux kernel.

Professor Parkin’s work centres on the field of spintronics and has lead to technological discoveries that have dramatically increased the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives. This in turn has allowed for the evolution of large data centres, cloud services, and other applications that require the processing of large amounts of data. Despite an exponential increase in the appetite for Big Data, much of the discussion around it has focused on the technical aspects of storage and processing data. The issues around interpreting and taking advantage of Big Data remain large and significant grey areas, which was also reflected in the discussion.

According to Professor Parkin, we are approaching the end of a technological era in terms of how data is stored and processed, and financial investment on the science that will allow for the development of these facilities must be increased. New approaches to storing and processing big data are emerging and carry huge potential – examples include storing data three- rather than two-dimensionally as well as Parkin’s research subject spintronics, which could increase storage capacity a hundredfold. The potential problem of increased carbon emissions, the by-product of large computers and data centres, could be solved through building more energy-efficient computers, or through handling data locally by people carry computing power directly on them, as envisioned by the President and CEO of Technology Academy Finland Dr Juha Ylä-Jääski.

The growing need to interpret and understand data before it can be applied came across strongly in the panel discussion. While technology is making more data available for use and is becoming better at interpreting it, the CEO and cofounder of Big Data specialists Mastodon C Francine Bennett pointed out that governments are only just starting to think about possible uses for the large amount of data they are already in hold of. Much of data remains unstructured and thus unusable. Indeed, Professor Parkin called for replacing the word ‘data’, which by itself might be useless, with ‘knowledge’. Global CEO of Social DNA business Starcount and developer of Tesco’s Clubcard Edwina Dunn’s sentiment that much of processing of Big Data is currently simply counting echoed the demand for more insight to be extracted from it and applied to practical use.

Cross-science collaboration was mentioned as possibly offering great benefits in making sense of Big Data. Particularly the humanities could be very helpful in creating context for raw data. Both StJohn Deakins, founder and CEO of citizenme, and Dr Ylä-Jääski argued that much of data requires layering or combining over data sets to reach a better picture of what they are about. Keeping the human element in mind is crucial both in understanding that despite all available data people are not machines and their behaviour is therefore difficult to predict, and in making data accessible and understandable for people, in which visualizing data might prove useful.

The gap between what can be done with Big Data and what should be done with it remains, in the words of Edwina Dunn, a form of art and is a particularly difficult issue from a legislative point of view. According to StJohn Deakins, the key to both more accurate and insightful data and to people’s willingness to share their data lies in creating a reciprocal relationship between the individual and the party holding the data. Dunn argued in the same vein that instead of collecting data behind people’s backs, businesses and organisations should aim to build a relationship of transparency and trust with them. Her rule of thumb for the use of Big Data is that it must always benefit the individual, too, not just for the party holding it. If done right, such a two-way relationship could bring phenomenal leaps forward. Dunn praised the Finnish tax system, which combines data from tax officials, banks, and the individuals, as an example of a successful data sharing relationship. Professor Parkin, on the other hand, brought up Facebook as an example of how people are willing to give up a very large amount of data about themselves as long as they feel they benefit from sharing it. He also suggested that people would feel more involved in society were they aware that revealing more data of themselves would be of general benefit.

The danger of breach of privacy predictably emerged as one of the main threats associated with using Big Data. Edwina Dunn remarked that as the customer is the ultimate judge on a company’s actions, brands value the element of trust most highly. Misuse of data can at worst lead to the removal of the permission to use it. While people should be aware of the data they are giving away and take precautions by for example encrypting it, the main responsibility of the security of data should still lie with the businesses and organisations in hold of and using it, StJohn Deakins said. This highlights building a relationship of trust that is based on reality between the individual and society. The misinterpretation of data was seen as another threat, leading potentially to the wrong conclusions and action taken based on it.

All in all, however, the panel was optimistic about the future of Big Data. Professor Parkin encouraged taking more advantage of scientific open source platforms, which would help accelerate the pace of innovation. He also argued that many of the future benefits or developments of Big Data would be impossible to foresee, just as it would have been impossible to envision the technologies we use today 30 years ago. Parkin nevertheless predicted that education would take huge leaps forward, with more people gaining access to education online, and education becoming more individualised. Francine Bennett identified the utilities industry as a potential field for Big Data. She also recommended combining government data over silos more often than is done at the present. Both Edwina Dunn and StJohn Deakins said that the advertising industry would benefit greatly from Big Data by gaining more insight of people, and therefore becoming more relevant to them. In fact, Deakins argued that in the future advertising as such might disappear completely and be replaced by providing information that is of benefit to the individual. 

The concept of MyData, introduced at the first Open Finland seminar in September, could offer new tools for tackling some of the issues brought up in the discussion, in particular privacy and creating a mutually beneficial relationship of data sharing. It also aims to highlight the active role of the citizens in taking advantage of the data that is being collected of them. You can access the report of MyData, which was commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications and produced by Open Knowledge Finland, here.

Wikimania 2014 Highlights

Sampo Viiri from the Finnish Institute blogs about Wikimania, the annual event of the Wikimedia movement, which was held in London this year.
Wikimania, the official annual event of the Wikimedia movement, took place in London 8–10 August 2014. The event was an interesting mix between a conference and a festival, including over 200 speakers in 8 simultaneous spaces inside the Barbican Centre, with fringe events and hackathons running during the event and preceding it. Most participants seemed to be active Wikipedia editors, as Wikipedia is obviously the most well known Wikimedia product. The British have been active Wikipedians, the UK producing about 20% of all English language Wikipedia articles.
Wikipedia is now the world’s sixth most visited website and the British people trust it more than the BBC News. Despite the success of Wikipedia, the project faces a number of challenges. The majority of  Wikipedians are tech-savvy western men, which may impose a bias to the selection and style of articles, despite an ethos of neutrality. Wikimedia has so far “failed miserably” in fixing the gender imbalance, which requires new measures.
The English language encyclopedia also thrives compared to smaller languages. During the conference I met Finnish Wikimedia representatives and activists. It seems that in conjunction with the overall trend, Finnish Wikipedia is also struggling with declining editor numbers. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to hear about the development of different local Wiki projects, and for example about the slightly bizarre situation between Wikimedia and the Finnish fundraising law and its interpretation.
Image by: Sampo Viiri, CC BY-SA 4.0
I can admit that I’m not (yet) an active Wikipedia editor, and was mainly interested in the numerous sessions on open data and open scholarship, especially from a cultural heritage sector perspective. Wikimania demonstrated that Wikimedia projects are very much connected with the open knowledge ethos, manifested for example by the strong presence of Open Knowledge (Foundation) and the Open Data Institute. There were lots of relevant sessions and a whole programme track about the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector. The sessions demonstrated how open cultural heritage data can be used improving Wiki projects and also how active Wikimedians can be a huge asset for these organisations.
The Wikimedian in Residence programme is particularly interesting. Participants in the programme dedicate time to working in-house at an organisation, usually financially compensated by the institution or by a Wikimedia chapter. Besides editing Wikipedia, they enable the host organisation to continue a productive relationship with the encyclopedia and its community after the residency. The Wikimedian in Residence model was first piloted by the GLAM initiative of Wikimedia, but has since been adopted by other types of organisations too. Wikimedia UK has recently released a review of the programme and a video documentary about the project.
Another noteworthy GLAM project was the German project Coding da Vinci, where the local Wikimedia chapter teamed up with Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland, digiS – Service Center Digitization Berlin and Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, organising a hackathon to make innovative use of open cultural data. The results included for example an iOS app that visualises the historical development of Berlin as an interactive map.
Wikimedian in Residence is quite similar to the Finnish Institute’s Mobius programme, a fellowship program for museum and archive professionals in the UK, Ireland and Finland. As open data and knowledge are some of the Institute’s focus areas, perhaps in the future there could be collaboration for open data fellowships too.
Some other interesting projects visible in Wikimania were Wikimedia’s own Wikidata and the Wikipedia Library, and the UK based projects ContentMine and Histropedia. It has to be noted that these are just some highlights from a variety of interesting initiatives.

Wikidata is a blooming project, a free centralised knowledge base for structured data that can be read and edited by humans and machines alike. While Wikimedia Commons is for storing images, sound, video and other media files, Wikidata is a similar service for machine-readable data. Wikidata could benefit all kinds of projects but in my opinion one important possible use would be to become a repository for academic researchers who need infrastructure for storing their digital research data.

In the United Kingdom the copyright law was altered in June 2014 so that it allows non-commercial researchers to legally copy material for a text and data mining analysis. ContentMine is a new initiative that exploits this new possibility. They use machine-reading to liberate 100 million facts from the scientific literature and make them free for everyone in Wikidata. This can enable new and exciting research, technology developments such as in artificial intelligence, and opportunities for wealth creation.

Histropedia is a new UK based project that made its public debut at the conference. It is an interactive tool to display historical events and described as “a combination of maps, timelines, and trends”. The site pulls data from Wikidata and Wikipedia plotting events on a timeline which is navigated with simple interface. (Demonstration in Guardian website.)

Open publishing is an important topic for Wikimedia and the whole academic community.  The publishing industry naturally wants to make money in their playground, and can be a bulwark against reform. Jonathan Gray from Open Knowledge argued that innovation in open publishing needs to come from the researchers, not publishers. Wikimedia has the Wikipedia Library project to fund active Wikipedians getting access to paywalled databases. Researchers could also be more active in editing Wikipedia, like the American historian Stephen W. Campbell has argued.
Open data and open knowledge may sound like an ideal state of affairs but the Wikimania conference reminded that these are controversial concepts and constantly being fought over. Both Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia and Lila Tretikov, the new executive director of Wikimedia Foundation made a strong argument against the new “right to be forgotten” EU legislation that gives people power to remove irrelevant or outdated information about themselves. They argued that the legislation is immoral and would lead to censorship and appearance of “memory holes” in Internet. Quoting Wales: “History is a human right and one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another.” This is certainly an interesting topic that provokes different opinions, like the Jimmy Wales’ interview on BBC Newsnight perfectly demonstrates.
Participants gathered on the Barbican courtyard. Adam Novak CC BY-SA 4.0

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.

Opening Cultural Data: Inspirations from Britain and Finland

Sampo Viiri blogs about the Finnish Open Cultural Data course’s study trip to London 15–16 May 2014.

The GLAM organisations (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) have in their collections enormous amounts of cultural data that have so far been accessible mainly in physical format. Nowadays the Internet makes spreading knowledge digitally much easier. The Open Cultural Data course, organised by Open Knowledge Finland, aims to provide tools and skills for the Finnish GLAM professionals on how to digitally open their organisations’ cultural data to broader audiences. The Finnish Institute organised workshops in London 15–16 May as part of the course that has been held in Finland this spring.
Thursday 15 May
The group gathered at Mozilla’s London office where Paula Le Dieu and William Duyck explained about the activities in which Mozilla UK participates. Mozilla is a non-profit organisation heavily based on volunteer participation. The idea of open source and openness are at the core of all Mozilla activity. Mozilla’s main product, the Firefox browser, has championed open source principles and nowadays all the main browsers embrace certain openness standards. One of the reasons why the US based Mozilla decided to open their London location was because the principle of open web was already firmly rooted in Britain. For example the BBC has a public role of making content available to everyone. The government, creatives and the GLAM sector were all enthusiastic regarding to Mozilla’s ideas of openness, so the UK was a fitting base to build open source tools.
We discussed the main obstacles for GLAMs to “push their archives through the door”. Opening data requires new skills and also new attitudes, and sometimes there is a fear that opening data leads to lost profits even though the reality can be quite the opposite. Content is also only valuable when combined with expertise. This is why there needs to be good communication between the GLAM professionals and the technology infrastructure providers.
One of the initial reasons to kick off Mozilla was that by the end of the nineties, the basis of the Internet had changed. For the early geeks the web had been inherently interesting and exciting. They had gotten used to poking things and learned how to “make the web”. For the second wave of Internet users the web was just a thing to consume, which required a different kind of approach.
Mozilla’s Webmaker project aims to make the broad audience once again participant in “making the web” by providing easy-to-use tools. William Duyck presented the Webmaker and various different tools that Mozilla has developed for the public. This is something highly relevant for the GLAM sector and cultural data as well. By embracing the broad audience and making them participate the GLAMs could open their data with less costs than by making everything themselves.
Mark Hedges and Stuart Dunn from King’s College London’s Department of Digital Humanities continued on the community participation theme. They have done research on different crowdsourcing projects in the field of humanities. According to them the GLAM sector’s engagement in digital methods has typically led to enhanced experience in exhibitions and adding certain extra to the collections. However, recently crowdsourced methods have also contributed to creating genuinely new knowledge and interpretations to the material.
Mark and Stuart showed several interesting case examples where crowdsourcing has produced, for example, more detailed collection and object metadata, retroactively corrected OCR (optical recognition software) texts of archival material, the narratives of social media, and creative input from the visiting public itself. One of their findings has been that most high profile and successful crowdsourcing projects have been coordinated by the GLAM sector, not by universities. Galleries, archives and museums have always been public facing, meaning that their engagement in crowdsourcing would be quite natural. 
Last but definitely not least, Adam Green from the Public Domain Review introduced the benefits of public domain for the GLAM sector. The Public Domain Review is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to promoting and celebrating the public domain in all its variety. Adam showed some interesting material he had collected on his website and different online projects based on non-copyrighted material. One of the best aspects of public domain is the possibility for the public to recreate and remix the material in whichever way they choose. This can lead to a feeling of collectivity and participation. We discussed the different possibilities and problems with copyrighted works and pondered how public domain material could also be used to create profits. The group concluded the day by making some GIF animations from stereographic images.
Friday 16 May
Friday’s sessions were held at the British Library, where Nora McGregor, Anna Vernon and James W. Baker from the library’s Digital Research team enlightened us about their interesting work with digital collections. The Digital Research team works with already digitised material, inventing new ways on how to use the library’s vast collections. Perhaps their most well-known project is the British Library’s online images on Flickr, where the library has published millions of pictures from their scanned books. Nora explained about the quite ambitious move when they decided to publish the pictures without knowing what might lurk in the depths of the collections. Sometimes you need a certain bold attitude to open cultural data. Anna Vernon introduced us to the different copyright aspects that need to be dealt with when publishing the collections online. The rules vary by country but the common EU legislation also opens possibilities for collaboration.
One important topic raised in the discussion is that because Finland is a small country and it doesn’t have big organisations like the British Library, we need collaboration in the GLAM sector to fully use the potential of digital collections and data. Hopefully this spring’s course will lead to new ways of collaboration in Finland and maybe also with other countries’ organisations.
Lastly James W. Baker held a workshop where the group invented new ways of using digital tools on imaginary collections. As James said, it is easy to get obsessed with data but what really matters is the research and how to use the data. This is where I believe the GLAM professionals step in. When the professional staff and also the researchers develop new digital tools and skills together, there are huge possibilities in humanities research. This is a topic in which the Finnish Institute in London will also continue to look into this year by conducting a survey on new trends of digital humanities in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Finland.
Overall, the two days were full of excellent presentations and the atmosphere was very enthusiastic. Personally, my head was buzzing with new ideas and knowledge and my notes full of scribbled remarks and future questions. Always a good sign.
More information (mostly in Finnish):
Twitter hashtags: #kulttuuridata #datakoulu

Information Integrity: Lessons from Finland

James Lowry from the International Records Management Trust writes about his recent study trip to Finland and IRMT’s research on information integrity

The open government movement has stimulated an international discourse on information management and use. This can be seen in Open Government Partnership ‘national action plan’ provisions for the release of government information and the growth of citizen-focused open data projects. Questions are now being asked about the integrity of the government information that is being opened up. Where does it come from? How can we be sure it is authentic? How can we be sure it is accurate? How can we ensure that it is up to date?

The records management discipline has developed the technical knowledge and tools to protect the integrity of information, for instance through the management of contextual metadata and the long-term preservation of digital records. This expertise will become increasingly relevant to the open government movement, as information with integrity becomes an expectation.

Questions about the integrity of government information become all the more significant in countries where basic records management controls have not been instituted. The International Records Management Trust (IRMT) is a UK charity that is working to support developing countries in addressing records management challenges, to strengthen governments’ ability to deliver services and be accountable to citizens.

IRMT’s research has identified that the advances being made in northern Europe hold lessons for governments that wish to become more open while assuring citizens of the integrity of their records and data. For instance, Norway has created, through a combination of laws, standards and technology, an approach to openness built on information integrity. Norway has created an online portal through which users can view the metadata of government records and request access. Users can be assured of the reliability of the information they are accessing because standardised records systems have been used to protect the integrity of the records and data from their creation.

With support from the Finnish Institute in London, IRMT is studying the Government of Finland’s approach to digital records and data management and preservation. In January, we visited the National Archives of Finland to examine the laws, standards and systems that are being developed to ensure the capture and preservation of digital information with integrity so that it is available to decision-makers and citizens.

The National Archives of Finland has supported government agencies in defining Lifecycle Management Plans (eAMS) for their records. These plans define the management requirements for the lifecycle of all records created or received by agencies and managed in digital records management systems. Based on in-depth work process analysis, the eAMSs identify all record types and comprehensively set out the provisions for their management from creation or receipt to final disposition (destruction or transfer to the National Archives). The eAMSs are integrated into digital records management systems, in compliance with the SAHKE2 standard.

The National Archives introduced SAHKE2 in 2009 as a national standard for digital records management. It specifies the functionality that government systems must have to protect the integrity of digital records, and it standardises metadata to support interoperability and the consistent treatment of digital records throughout their life. Through the eAMSs and SAHKE2, the National Archives has created a framework for controlling the management of records that incorporates case and workflow management while ensuring the capture and preservation of records with integrity.

The records that have enduring value will eventually be transferred for permanent preservation in the National Archives’ VAPA digital repository. VAPA has been developed in line with international good practice in digital preservation, complying with the OAIS reference model and featuring a checking service to validate the authenticity of records. Records can be certified as authentic, and of great interest to users of open data, the datasets held in VAPA can also be certified as authentic. Users can access records and datasets held in VAPA, as well as digital surrogates and metadata for paper records, via the Astia interface.

Finland’s advances in digital information management seem a long way from the realities of records management in many lower resource countries, but if a means could be found to transfer Finland’s digital records management expertise, national archives in developing countries could begin to develop the capacity to manage and preserve the digital records that are already being created in their agencies. This would be a crucial step towards assuring information integrity as a basis for true transparency and accountability.

Afternoon with Open Ministry – outcomes and challenges of open policy making in Finland

Head of Society Programme Antti Halonen blogs about our recent event on citizen initiatives and open policy making.

The Finnish Institute organised together with the Embassy of Finland, Democratic Society and Open Data Institute an event where Aleksi Rossi, a co-founder of Open Ministry, gave a passionate lecture on citizen initiatives and how to facilitate them. The lecture was followed by a round table discussion on the more general outcomes and challenges of open policy making.

Open Ministry is a non-profit organization based in Helsinki. They help citizens and NGO’s with national citizens’ initiatives, EU citizens initiatives and develop online services for collaborating, sharing and signing the initiatives. Open Ministry was established in 2012, after the new Finnish constitution came into force. The constitution allows every citizen a right to put forward a law proposal for the Parliament to consider. If the proposal gains more than 50.000 signatures within six months, then the Parliament is obliged to discuss and vote on the initiative.

Rossi started of the event with a brief reminder of Finland’s relatively good standing in international country comparison rankings. Despite the harsh climate (or maybe partly because of it) Finland seems to do rather well: no 3 in PISA rankings (2009) and no 1 in anti-corruption index (2009), to name a few. In addition, the Finnish political culture has long been characterised by a high level of public trust towards the government.

According to Rossi, however, this trust has started to erode. This is reflected in a decrease in election turnouts and a collapse in political party memberships. There is, in parallel, a growing demand for exploring new forms of participative democracy and open policy making.

Open Ministry’s version of open policy making combines technology and the human factor interestingly. It recognises the fact that technology itself can never be a solution for social problems or a motivator for political participation. In addition to the internationally unique system of strong online authentication, Open Ministry provides an opportunity for citizens to sign initiatives in public libraries. It also participates in an academic study on the longitudinal changes in public opinion.  

Rossi explained that there is an abundance of ideas for citizen initiatives, but the big problem is how to filter the good ideas and how to develop them into credible law proposals. Open Ministry provides a platform for crowdsourced draft writing and also expert help in formulating the final law text proposals.

Effectively Open Ministry works as a good indicator of public opinion. Most of the initiatives never gather enough signatures to enter the parliamentary discussion but in some cases citizen initiatives can reveal an overwhelming public support for a particular initiative that has been previously neglected by the parliament. In Finland, the initiative supporting equal marriage gathered over 100.000 signatures in one day only, thus making it virtually impossible for the parliament to ignore the topic.   

How to place Open Ministry in a bigger societal context? Participation through political parties is still as relevant as ever. Crowdsourcing will never replace representative parliaments, but it doesn’t undermine the value of citizen initiatives. Where Open Ministry have been particularly successful, is in highlighting the fact that the expertise does not necessarily lie within parliaments or established policy makers only. The question worth asking is, how to harness this collective skill without losing the efficiency and accountability of representative systems.

This culture of openness was one of the highlighting themes of the event. Arguably the culture change is not only a question for governments and civil services to consider, but increasingly for communities, too. Individual citizens have to realise that due to demographic changes the relevance of certain structures of decision making and service delivery have to be scrutinised. In terms of political participation, especially the younger generation needs to find a way to get their voice heard. Bold initiatives like Open Ministry can help in creating a political culture where interconnected networks and smaller scale local initiatives are not only appreciated, but also put in use for a more participative democracy.

You can read a storify-summery of the event and listen the presentation

What was the gender(gap) of Open Knowledge Festival? Data for improving it

What is the gender gap in open knowledge community and how to improve it? This article was originally meant to be published in The Open Book, but was unfortunately left out in the final editing process. The study was facilitated by Mayo Fuster Morell from Berkman Centre for Internet and Society and developed in collaboration with the Gender & diversity stream of Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki last year.  

This contribution to the Open Book presents an study to monitor gender at Open Knowledge Festival (OKFest). As in any other event, the monitoring of gender at OKFest aims to increase gender consciousness among OKFest community, and ultimately aims to contribute to reduce gender gap in open and technological sectors.

Gender gap refers to the “gap” in gender equality, that is, when one gender predominates more than and over the other. We acknowledge that gender equality is more complex than gender balance (that is, equal presence of male and female). However, in this study we adopt gender balance as an indicator of gender equality, also assuming that better gender balance contributes to improve gender equality.

Gender “what”? What is this about?

Gender gap is the difference between women and men involvement. To provide some data to exemplify the gender gap, according to surveys developed in Wikipedia, around 88% of Wikipedia editors are male (Source: Wikimedia Foundation Annual Editors Survey 2011); according to a EU survey, 98.5% of developers in free and open source software projects are male, while they are 70% in the software industry (Source: Gender: Integrated Report of Findings. UCAM, University of Cambridge. March 2006). This is also present in conference. According to our counting from Wikisym – International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration (, at Wikisym there is 89% men at Symposium Committee (8 men / 1 woman), 78% men in Program Committee (54 men /12 women) and 80% of the program of speakers were men .

Most technological sectors (even if not in all) are more populated by male, and projects, communities and conference in those sectors might reproduce it. However, this is not a uneatable situation. Furthermore, in some occasions the projects, communities and events not only reproduce the gender balance in its sectors, but more importantly, results in worth gender balance percentage that do not represent the sector. Importantly, projects, communities and conference could help to improve the gender balance in its sectors. There are ways to solve the gender gap projects and conferences which are gender conscience and put in practices the methodologies than reduce gender gap are able to generate gender balanced communities. This is the case of Wikihow (a community about how to manuals) which has an almost gender balance community of contributors (Source: Women in Wikihow presentation at Wikimania 2012 ( The same could be said to academic institutions such as the Berkman center for Internet and society at Harvard University (which according to our counting from its web, the Berkman center program of fellows for 2011 and 2012 is gender balanced). This is also the case of technological conferences such Personal Democracy Forum with a speaker gender balance of 60% men 40% women according to our counting (Source:

Which is the methodology of this event gender balance monitoring?

This study was facilitated by Mayo Fuster Morell and developed in collaboration with the Gender & diversity stream of OKFest. The methodology was based on counting male and female presence in each of the ways to engage with a conference. We acknowledge that gender is a complex constructions that goes beyond female and male categories, such as the hermaphrodite. However, for this study we used the categorization of gender as female and male for methodological purposes. We classified people according to their names or/and apparency in pictures in the web.

This study is available at a wiki together with data on other events:

Data on gender at OKFest 2012
Visualization provided by Michael Bauer

Mean of % of gender balance in all the categories at OKFest =  26,83%
* Core Organizing Team: 83.33% m / 16.6% w
* Advisory Board: 75% m / 25% w
* Guest Programmer Planners: 59% m / 41 % w
* Featured Speakers: 81% m / 19% w
* Speakers: 72.5% m / 27,5% w
* Participant Testimonial: 71,5% m / 28,5% w

Total people % Gender Balance
Core Organizing Team Total 6 = 5 m + 1 w 83.33% m / 16.6% w
Advisory Board Total 16 = 12 m + 4 w 75% m / 25% w
Guest Programmers Total 63 = 37 m + 26 w 59% m / 41 % w
Featured Speakers Total 26 = 21 m + 5 w 81% m / 19% w
Speakers Total 381 = 276 m + 105 w 72.5% m / 27,5% w
Gender balance per stream:
Ranking of women inclusion
1. Gender and Diversity in Openness (75% w)
2. Open Cultural Heritage (42,85% w)
3. Open Development (38,88% w)
4. Data Journalism & Data Visualization (38,09% w)
5. Transparency & Accountability (32,96 w)
6. Open Research & Education (24,24% w)
7. Business and Open Data (24% w)
8. Open Geodata (22,22% w)
9. Open Democracy & Citizen Movements (21% w)
10. Open Knowledge & Sustainability (19,35% w)
11. Open Cities (17,24% w)
12. Open Design, Hard., Man. & Making (15,6% w)
13 Open Source Software (9,09 % w)
Participant Testimonials on the web Total 14 = 10 m + 4 w 71,5% m / 28,5% w
m = men w = women

Overview and best practices insights from OKFest for improving gender at conferences

Some points for an overview of gender performance at OKFest and insights on best practices for women engagement in Internet and technology related conferences:

i)  OKFest 2012 had a gender and diversity in openness stream in its program, which was not the case in previous OKFest, and it is not common in other conferences on Internet and society issues.

ii) This OKFest had several sessions in the program on gender, more than in the program of previous OKFest years.

iii) The Gender Stream had a 75% of female and 25% men. For next occasions, it might be good to see how to better balance it and engage more male in the Gender stream. However, this seems a better % than other gender events in which around 95% are female. Even if the Gender Stream is predominantly female, this had the good effect of contributing to rate the female presence in the overall conference. Over all to have a gender stream has increased the overall gender balance of the conference. In this regard, it seems a recommend best practice to other Internet & Society related events to have gender specific activities in order to attrack women.

iv) Overall OKFest had a balance of 73.16% male and 26,83% female. In this regard, OKFest has a long process to do in order to assure gender diversity and inclusion in the conference and to keep working in that direction is something to do. However, in contrast to other Internet & society conference, the actual balance at OKFest is not the worth (conference like Wikisym are around 85% male dominated, but better cases in contrast to OKfest can also be found like Open Personally Forum with 60% male 40% gender balance). In sum, there is much to be done, but this is not the worse starting point.

v) What it seems to be more problematic is what happened in some specific stream topics at OKFest 2012. That “Open Software” stream was the worth (with 91% male 9% female) is not a surprise, neither that “Hardware, Manufactures & Making” was also bad (15,6% female). However, it is in certain degree a negative surprise that topic streams like “Open Cities” (82% male 17,24% female) and “Open Democracy & Citizen Movements” (79% male 21% female) performed so badly. Those are topics that could be said that has less challenging aspects to include women that other streams. These results open up questions such as: How can we think cities or democracy with such a poor involvement of women?. For future OKFest editions there could be done a more explicit effort for assuring that the balance in those (and all) streams to be better.

vi) Observing the relationship between guest program organization and the number of speakers per stream seems to suggest that (in some cases) involving more women in organizational tasks tend to have a higher presence of more women in the program of speakers. However, the data does not provide strong statistically significant support for this.

vii) The distribution of travel bursaries making sure it also favors women could be a way to assuring women participation.

Unintended consequences of government transparency – freedom of information and open data under scrutiny


Institute’s Head of Society Programme Antti Halonen writes about government transparency, open data and freedom of information

Finland has one of the oldest freedom of information (FOI) laws in the world and – like its Nordic counterparts – its government is frequently considered one of the best-functioning and less-corrupted. The spirit of Chydenius and Forskål has encouraged Finland to showcase itself as a frontrunner of government transparency and good governance. Since its inclusion to the European Union in 1995, the Nordic state has argued for greater transparency within the supranational body, and in 2011 the newly elected Finnish government made open data one of its principle objectives in its government programme. Earlier this year, Finland joined Open Government Partnership, a new intergovernmental project for more transparent and accountable societies.

This was the setup for an all-afternoon discussion event held at the residence of the Finnish Ambassador, HE Pekka Huhtaniemi on 30 May. The event was organised by the Finnish Institute, Embassy of Finland, Center for the Study of British Politics and Public Life at Birkbeck University and the University of Helsinki.

The first part of the event comprised of a lecture by Dr Tero Erkkilä from the Department of Political and Economic studies at the University of Helsinki and a commentary from Dr Ben Worthy from Birkbeck University. Dr Erkkilä has recently published a book “Government Transparency and its Unintended Consequences” where he forms an argument on how the conceptual shift from publicity to openness and transparency has in fact lead to several paradoxes in terms of democratic accountability and accessibility of public sector information.

The second part consisted of a panel with Christopher Cook (Financial Times), Paul Gibbons (SOAS) and Dr Gesche Schmid (Local Government Association) sharing their views and answering questions on the topics of the event.

One of the outlining themes of Dr Erkkilä’s lecture was the gradual shift in discourse from publicity towards market-oriented transparency. In the 1970s freedom of information was perceived mostly in democratic terms, as a right to access governmental documents, whereas during the 1990s the government started to realise the market potential of public sector information and the efficiency-driven term transparency began to emerge.

This conceptual shift together with Finns’ high trust towards their government has lead to a one example of unintended consequences, that being the economic exploitation of information such as census data. When government started to see public sector information as an economic commodity and started to attach a price tag to data, citizens’ access to this information arguably became more restricted.

The consensus-driven political culture has arguably lead to another unintended consequence, that being the “grey area” of openness, where the relevant information is being circulated among the decision making elite, but where the information will not necessarily reach the general public.

Dr Worthy responded to the lecture by contrasting the long tradition of FOI in Finland with the secretive administrative culture of the UK. However, certain similar trends seem to emerge in both countries due to the digitisation of information and the evolving efficiency-driven discussion around the role of public sector and provision of public services.

The panel further strengthened the observation of increasingly efficiency-oriented transparency discourse. Dr Gesche Schmid pointed out that especially in the UK the recent open data agenda has foremost focused on saving public resources. Open data agenda started as a technology-driven initiative but later on has transformed into primarily a way to save public resources.

Another interesting argument concerned the usability of data. According to Christopher Cook, comment editor of Financial Times, much of the data that is released as open data is almost unusable for the journalists since the data is not designed for using. Instead, there are datasets that are released under license and that are designed for journalists’ purposes. National Pupil Database is a good example of a dataset that is restricted from the public use, but selected individuals have access to it under a strict license.

Paul Gibbons, the creator of FOIman blog, pointed out the increasing division between FOI and open data. It is argued that the goals of the open data agenda have less and less resemblance with the initial democratic goals of FOI. Moreover, some of the most senior figures in the British public policy have recently argued in favour of proactive release of open data to replace the reactive FOI. Prime Minister David Cameron has even argued that FOI is merely “furring up the arteries of government”.

Gibbons further highlighted the importance of records management. In fact, one unintended consequence of open data might be the undermining of records management profession. In order to ensure the good quality of data and to protect privacy, it is crucial to involve records management into open data processes, because in many places records management professionals possess the required legal knowledge and have enabled the everyday mechanics of good governance.

Of course, FOI is not the only tool for ensuring democratic accountability, but without it it is hard to contemplate any serious progression. Moreover, the question of transparency is not a zero-sum game: open data does not automatically undermine FOI, far from it. In fact, open data can be used in various innovative ways to improve the state of FOI. As Ben Worthy mentioned in his comment, interesting things will presumably happen where FOI, open data and citizen engagement interact and this is what we should further support.

Discussion event on 30 May 2013: Future of Freedom of Information? Government Transparency and its Unintended Consequences

The Finnish Institute together with Embassy of Finland and Birkbeck University will host a discussion event on freedom of information and open data on Thursday 30 May at the residence of the Finnish Ambassador, HE Pekka Huhtaniemi.

The event consists of two parts: we will start off with a talk by Dr Tero Erkkilä, assistant professor in the Department of Political and Economic studies at the University of Helsinki, followed by a comment from Dr Ben Worthy, lecturer in politics at the Birkbeck University. Dr Erkkilä’s talk will be based on his new book “Government Transparency: Impacts and Unintended Consequences” (Palgrave Macmillan 2012).

In the second part, we will have a panel discussion with plenty of time for questions from the floor. Christopher Cook from the Financial Times, Paul Gibbons (Information Compliance Manager at SOAS & creator of the FoI Man blog) and Dr Gesche Schmid (Programme Manager at Local Government Association) have kindly agreed to join the panel.

The event is open for everyone interested, so feel free to share the invitation but please do RSVP to tiina.heinila(at) in advance if you’d like to attend.

Date and time: Thursday 30 May 2013, 2pm-6pm
Location: Finnish ambassador’s residence, 14 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QP

14.00-14.30    Registration
14.30-14.45     Introductions
14.45-15.15      Dr Tero Erkkilä
15.15-15.45      Dr Ben Worthy
15.45-16.00     Coffee
16.00-17.00    Panel and Q&A
17.00-18.00    Drinks and canapés


Transparency has recently become one of the defining concepts in public administration. Arguably transparency is now globally seen as a key part of democratic governance, and it has gained an increasingly significant status in debate over government and institutional design.

This event aims at identifying why and how transparency has become such a topical concept and how has it reacted with the rapid digital development. The main questions that will be asked are as follows:

  • What are the impacts of freedom of information and digital transparency?
  • What are the possible unintended consequences of transparency especially in performance management?
  • What is the state of government transparency in Finland and in the UK today?
  • What is the future of government transparency in an increasingly digital society?
  • How should the freedom of information law be amended in order to fully satisfy citizens’ right to information?

Post-industrialised societies have recently taken a form where many key infrastructures are increasingly based on digital data and where the friction in creating and disseminating information has rapidly vanished. The amount of information available has increased exponentially and the relationship between governments and citizens in this data society has arguably changed in terms of information creation and use.

In addition to the amount of information, also the diversity of information types has increased exponentially. In the digital age information can refer to anything from genes to geodata and from literature to source code. The questions of fair access to information and universal right to use information are topical societal challenges that remain unsolved. Moreover, research results indicate towards a vast economic potential in the free reuse of public sector information.

One of the key questions for contemporary information societies, however, is to distinguish between open data’s potential for growth and innovation in one hand, and for democracy in the other. What also needs to be addressed is the potential risk of undermining freedom of information if open data policies prematurely replace reactive freedom of information laws. We need to be aware of the potential ambiguity of government transparency: does increased “transparency” in fact increase democratic accountability or merely administrative efficiency.

The event is targeted at a high-level audience consisting of policy-makers, journalists, civil servants, academics and public policy enthusiasts.

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