Category Archives: #OpenDemocracy

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.

Recent trends in media regulation


 
Kristofer Jäntti blogs about the CAMRI/FACE workshop in London

Traditional broadcast media is facing financial challenges from both reduced public funds and the increased importance of the media, as well calls for public guidelines for regulation in the wake of Snowden-gate and the UK phone-hacking scandal. Last week Communications scholars from Finland and the UK held a workshop discussing the future of European public broadcasting as well as the prospects of increased public oversight. These changes have consequences for democratic society.

The financial crisis and the ensuing austerity measures as well as increased digitisation has led to public discussion about the future funding of public broadcasts. In Finland the public broadcaster’s (YLE) future has secured through replacing the tv license fee with a progressive ‘media tax’ levied on on every citizen irrespective of whether they own a television or not . In Greece the state has taken another course of action and to shut down public television and radio altogether, with the hopes of reestablishing it as a more streamlined operation in the futur
Underpinning these discussion is the demise of traditional media consumption. Dr. Marko Ala-Fossi offers a gloomy assessment for the future of terrestrial television. He argues that the increased competition from internet-based media is threatening the position of television as the preeminent mode of electronic mass communication. For example, he notes that recently the ITU World Radio Conference in 2012 decided to allocate the 700Mhz band for mobile broadband in addition to to the initial 800Mhz, to the dismay of European broadcasters who are left with less space for terrestrial and digital television.
In fact, there are worries that the days of terrestrial television broadcasts are numbered with German commercial broadcasters ending their terrestrial channels in 2015. An issue that was raised in the workshop was the question whether we are moving towards a fee-paying model due to constraints on budget to maintain terrestrial infrastructure combined with competition from pay-TV competitors, such as Sky TV. Dr. Ala-Fossi suggests that there is a possibility that with the demise of terrestrial television may result in free-tv disappearing altogether.  In terms of the knowledge gap, as discussed in earlier blog posts, the rise of fee-paying broadcast model may increase the divide between those who can afford to pay satellite channels and those who cannot.
In addition to the possible consequences of the demise of terrestrial television is the question of how to ensure media plurality,especially after Hungary’s controversial introduction of their new media law that is feared to curb freedom of speech. This controversy over state intrusion has, according to Professor Steven Barnett, overshadowed concerns about media concentration in the private sphere. In particular, he notes that the Commission’s policy in this area, until recently, has been to leave plurality concerns to the level of member states themselves. Now there is a European Citizen’s Initiative calling for ensuring media plurality on the EU-level, however the 12, 000 signatures so far is a far cry for the one million required for the Commission to take action.
However, recent policy developments are fostering greater concentration in emerging technologies. Dr. Maria Michalis highlights the fact that EU’s telecommunications policy is undergoing a paradigm shift in which the need for innovation take primacy over other concerns, such as competitive markets and consumer welfare. She argues that this shift is likely to lead to more lenient regulations as well as the temporary toleration for monopolistic market structures in new technologies  in order to create European companies strong enough to challenge the American giants.
Lastly, Dr. Daniel Trottier highlights some unexpected developments in digital media surveillance. He argues that in addition to ‘top-down’ surveillance of social media à la NSA there are also instances of ‘bottom-up’ surveillance whereby citizen vigilantes ‘crowdsource’ information in order to police the web. An example he introduces is the case of a Canadian Facebook group that collected information from other Facebook users in order to identify rioters who took part in the Vancouver riots of 2011 following the defeat of the Vancouver Canucks in the the Stanley Cup. He  notes that some identified suspected rioters lost their jobs and scholarships.
Dr. Trottier’s research shows how top-down and bottom-up surveillance are using the same social media platforms. The Internet no longer offers the anonymity it may once had and there is the risk that citizens may have their personal information used against them, if not at the behest of state authorities, but also enthusiastic by fellow citizens.

In conclusion, the direction of media research is to see how policy-makers are to respond to some of the challenged emerging from the changes  in our media landscape. The emerging consensus, so far, is that the EU has not been effective in enacting laws that ensure media plurality in the interest of citizens, despite the European Parliament’s activity in this area.

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


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