Our position: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Planned

Covered

Visited

Meeting @ GarageLab, Buenos Aires, Argentina

April 18, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Bildschirmfoto 2014-04-18 um 13.05.06Our aim to document Open Knowledge initiatives in Buenos Aires led us this time to GarageLab, a great community-run Hackerspace. Dario Weiner, co-founder and coordinator, received us in their fantastic space and gave us lots of details about their origins, philosophy, past and ongoing projects. Again, we could feel how such open spaces are the best environment for the development of Open Cultures and Knowledge Sharing.

This group of enthusiasts (more than forty members today) started meeting around 2009. Since then, their ambitious goal has been to enrich the innovation ecosystem in Argentina from the civil-society, contrary to the established assumption that such a thing only happens within the walls of universities or private corporations.

DSCF7155Since its creation, the GarageLab community has worked on a wide spectrum of technology-related fields, what they call BANG: Bits, Atoms, Neurons & Genes. It was june 2012 when they finally found a space for setting up their machines (3D Printers, laser cutters and other geekery) and start sharing knowledge through regularly organised workshops and joining forces to collaborate on projects in topic-based meetings.

What we found most relevant from GarageLab is the problem-solving approach that characterizes this community. As Dario told us, improving social-issues became one of the main focus shortly after the creation of the group. That is how some of their projects started; a study on the pollution of the Buenos Aires’ creek, their collaboration with NGOs and advocates to explore maternal mortality or the production of “happier” and more adequate chairs for children schools.

DSCF7137DSCF7150DSCF7145

Also very interesting for us was to discover that several from these social-oriented projects are based on the collection, analysis and visualisation of Open Data. And as a matter of fact, GarageLab can be defined as a multidisciplinary community since is not only programmers but also designers, journalists or artists those who are part of the community.

Meeting @ GCBA, Buenos Aires, Argentina

April 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm

In our experience, Open Government initiatives are usually implemented firstly at national level before being applied in regions and cities. This enables to test and experiment technologies and mechanisms prior to adapt them to more local administrative scenarios. The case of Argentina is different since it is the administration of the capital, the government of the city of Buenos Aires (GCBA), which pioneers in this matter.

DSCF7050DSCF7067

Gonzalo Iglesias, Chief of the Cabinet at the Open Government Directorate in the Ministry of Modernisation of Buenos Aires, welcomed us in its office. Located in the very centre of the city, the building serves also as co-working space and laboratory for experimentation on Open Data and citizen-oriented tools. The first tasks of this young and passionate team gathered two years ago were to integrate and improve the existing digital services of the different directorates of the municipality; and at the same time to conceive new mechanisms promoting transparency and empowering citizens. The launch of the Open Data platform ensuing the Open Gobernment legislative decree in 2012 has been one of the main milestones in their work and has served as reference for similar initiatives in the country, such as the city of Bahia Blanca.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-04-15 um 22.25.52

The team, composed by less than 20 members, focuses its efforts on two main fronts: First, to assist the numerous municipal sections and agencies on the process of releasing Open Data. This involves sharing know-how and sometimes even advocating for the benefits of sharing public information with the citizens. In order to address these challenges, the team organises a yearly unconference called GobCamp where civil servants have the opportunity to learn and exchange in small working groups how they can make data available and develop Open Government instruments. The second focus of the Open Government Directorate’s team is to ensure that all the information being released to the public domain is actually demanded and finally used. To achieve this, two hackathons and App Challenges, open to everyone interested, have been already organised and proved to be quite successful, if you consider the impressive amount of civic apps designed so far.

Buenos Aires counts with a FOIA law since 1998, but an equivalent at the national level is still missing. However, last year, the government has committed to initiatives such as the Open Government Partnertship, created its national platform to host and offer Open Data to users for download, and even organised a hackathon to encourage developers, designers, journalists and other interested to think of ways to turn the available datasets into something valuable for the society. But the fact that Argentina is a federal republic and also that the political party ruling the nation opposes the one in the capital make a collaborative political environment difficult. A closer cooperation where everyone could learn from other’s experiences could definitely accelerate the steps towards more Open Government in Argentina.

Meeting @ La Nación Data, Buenos Aires, Argentina

April 14, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Data journalism is one of the topics we have been continuously following along our journey, but we never had the opportunity to visit a newsroom yet. This finally happened last week with our meeting at La Nación in Buenos Aires. Belonging to the oldest newspapers in Argentina, La Nación has been pioneering in technology in the last years: it is not only one of the first newspapers launching its online edition in 1995, but also it counts with a dedicated and passionate team focusing their work on Open Data. This fact is actually what brought us there.

LNdata_250px_400x400La Nación Data (LNData) was founded as an internal section in 2010 with the aim to use and promote the power of Open Data for journalistic purposes. They created their own Open Data platform where users can find and download numerous datasets which contain valuable information relating the argentinian citizens. As Digital Media Researcher Flor Coelho explained us, there is a huge effort behind each collection of data released on the platform. Relevant numbers, as those showing the dramatic variation of the inflation rates, cannot be found in such an usable form in other sources.

 Their efforts have been already acknowledged through several Data Journalism Awards, such as the Online Journalism Award of the University of Miami and GEN‘s Data Journalism Award. The latter, received in 2013 for their project “Gastos del Senado 2004-2013”. By extracting and analysing the data from over 33.000 scanned documents downloaded from governmental sites, the investigation team could find out several and major irregularities involving public funds. We invite you to watch the video below to get more detailed information.

After the impact of such results, and having still a big amount of documents to analyse, LNData did not stop there and had the genius idea to encourage citizens to participate in the investigation process. Bildschirmfoto 2014-04-13 um 19.34.45This is how VozData got created, a platform where everyone can help gathering information from those remaining papers. Since its launch, over 350 citizens have engaged themselves freeing the data from more than 3400 scanned documents. The goal is to turn the contents into useful data, giving the possibility to analyse it accurately thus bringing transparency on how public money is being used. A reason big enough to motivate users to invest their time on this collaborative challenge. The code of the site will be released as Open Source as soon as the last features get implemented and bugs fixed.

Another example of the great work LNData does in the field of Data journalism is the research on the number of casualties due to the floods that stroke the city of La Plata on the 2nd of April 2013. An efficient analysis and visualisation of the information contained in death records revealed more victims than the public authorities announced first. The publication of the results led to a review of the official number of deaths.

Besides their journalistic research, LNData puts lots of efforts on advocating for Open Data, sharing their experience with others. Events are regularly organised, not only intern trainings but also public workshops and conferences such as the Datafest. With an upcoming third edition taking place in October 2014, this will be fantastic opportunity for journalists and communication experts, developers, designers and everyone interested on the topic to exchange, learn and bring out new ideas. Save the date if you happen to be in Buenos Aires!

DataBootcamp 12th-14th March @ Montevideo, Uruguay

March 18, 2014 at 1:54 am

DSCF6474For the second time in South America (the first was last June in Bolivia), the World Bank launched last week a 3-days DataBootcamp in Uruguay, Montevideo, co-organised with the British Embassy and AGESIC, the Uruguayan Agency for E-government. This free data training, which already took place several times in african countries and Nepal, is the place to be if you want to learn how to make use of the technologies to work with data. With always a fix number of 25 journalists, 25 designers and 25 developers; the aim of this conference is to bring participants digital tools they can use as well in their daily work as in independent projects. That, using visualisations and Open Data sources. Because learning by doing is the most effective way, participants had to work in small groups and submit a data project that address a specific problem in Uruguay. All projects were presented at the end of the 3rd day, concurring for a 2000$ grant offered by the organisers to implement it. There were plenty of creative and fantastic ideas, so not surprising that it was hard for the jury to select just one of them. ¿Quién paga? won the price, a project whose aim is to analyse and visualise data on the financing of the upcoming election campaign 2014.

DSCF6413 DSCF6455

Invited to join the experts team, we ran two presentations: the first on CartoDB, the online tool to visualize georeferenced data on a map. The second was a summary of the most exciting organisations and projects we have discovered and documented during our journey so far, and we have no doubt this source of inspiration can give birth in the future to promising Uruguayan initiatives.

In Uruguay, there is FOI since 2008 which guarantees the free access to public data. A governmental Open Data platform was initiated by AGESIC in 2010 and, as Virginia Pardo (director of the E-Citizenship department) states, the site should contain 120 datasets by the end of this year, prioritising quality over quantity. Also, a citizens group named DATA, co-founded in 2009 by two of the experts present at the DataBootcamp, works on making Open Data more known and efficiently used in Uruguay. Because there is no sense to release data if it is not used afterwards. DATA hosts the regular “cafés de data”, meet-ups in Montevideo for collaborative projects, and co-organised last year, together with the chilean fellows from Ciudadano Intelligente, the pan-Latinamerica ABRE LATAM conference on Open Data. Small country, but lots of remarkable initiatives!

The 3 days have been incredibly enriching and we decided to record a short video to share with you these moments. We invite you to watch it and get a feeling of this great DataBootcamp!

Ushahidi: Open Source platform for collaborative data collection @ Nairobi, Kenya

March 7, 2014 at 3:43 pm

logo_300It is not necessary to say that software plays a very important role in the current Open Data scene. Developers are creating brilliant pieces of code that make working with data a fast, efficient and sometimes even fun experience. This also applies to data collection. Because sometimes it is not possible to find the data we are looking for, we are in need of gathering it ourselves. Ushahidi is a platform you will like to look at if you are in this situation.

In a nutshell, it allows citizens to make reports in a collaborative way, creating crowdsourced interactive maps. With a very intelligent approach, Ushahidi gives citizens the possibility to use the web, their smartphones and even SMS to gather data, which makes this technology accessible almost everywhere and for everyone. Originally created in Kenya to serve as an instrument for social activism and public accountability in crisis situations, the software has proven to be a great companion worldwide in bringing advocacy campaigns to a successful end. The team behind Ushahidi has not only created a world-changing technology but also they share it with others since it is released as Open Source. We contacted Chris Albon, director of data projects, and asked him some questions so you can learn more about this great tool.

Ushahidi_how_it_works

1) Hello Chris, could you first introduce yourself? Briefly, what are the activities of Ushahidi as company and what is the purpose of your main product, the Ushahidi platform?

My name is Chris Albon and I am in charge of Ushahidi’s data work. Ushahidi is a Kenyan technology non-profit that builds platforms, tools, and communities extending from rural Kenya to the coast of Louisiana. As a disruptive organization we believe our place is at the bleeding edge; it is part of our organization’s DNA.

Beyond leading a movement in crisis mapping through mobile phones and the internet, and revolutionizing an industry of data-use to solve problems, we helped build the iHub in Nairobi, creating a new model for innovation and tech startups in the region and changed the perspective about where innovation comes from.

The core Ushahidi platform for data collection and changing the way information flows is now used in 159 countries around the world. It has been translated into 35 languages and has been deployed over 50,000 times. In addition, the iHub has grown to more than 10,000 members, spun out 28 companies and spawned a movement of tech hubs across the African continent.

2) Quoting your website, “the tool contributes to democratise information, increase transparency and lower the barriers for individuals to communicate their stories”. Could you give us some examples of Ushahidi-based initiatives that have succeeded on their goals?

There are many examples of Ushahidi tools being used to democratize information, from fighting sexual harassment in Egypt to civil society activism in Ukraine. For us, success is a user able to gain new knowledge and power from data from the crowd.

3) Who is actually using the Ushahidi platform? Are they individuals, NGOs, activists, public administrations? Is there a topic or an issue that is much more addressed among all the users? In which countries/continents has the platform been more actively used? Why?

Ushahidi is used by all manner of people and organizations, from small non-profits wishing to monitor an election to international organizations tracking disaster relief efforts. The platform is used globally and on a whole spectrum of issues.

4) We have recently written an article focused on data-journalism. Is the Ushahidi platform currently being used also for journalistic purposes? How can data-journalists work with it?

Ushahidi has been used to gather new data and reports from journalists. My particular favourite comes from 2012: Al Jazeera used Ushahidi to tell a story previously almost entirely untold in the international media about what Ugandans thought about Joseph Kony.

5) We see on your website that you have other products too. Could you tell us a bit more about Crowdmap, BRCK and Swiftriver?

Crowdmap is our hosted geo-story telling platform, allowing people add a layer of “place” to things that matter to them. Swiftriver is our product for tracking and understanding the social web. Ping is an app we built after the West-gate attack to help people report in that they are okay after an emergency. Finally, BRCK is our rugged router for maintaining data connectivity no matter the environment.

6) You are working hard to build up a community (support, development wiki, help forum,…). What kind of contributors are getting involved in it? How big has been the impact of it for the development of Ushahidi’s products?

Ushahidi’s community has had a huge impact on the products development in a wide variety of areas, from volunteering during deployments of the software, to bug testing, to developing new features. We could not do what we do without them.

7) Ushahidi develops open source software. What are the reasons and benefits for a company like yours for making the code available for everyone? Reading your site, “we have also built a strong team of volunteer developers in Africa, but also in Europe, South America and the US”. Is this engagement a consequence of the Open Source collaborating philosophy?

Absolutely. The open source nature of the software makes community involvement possible. If our software was not open source, there would be very little way for our great community to help us make the software better.

8) Ushahidi provides services (consulting, customization, deployment) around the platform. What kind of organisations do you count under your clients? Besides this, do you rely on other financial resources?

Ushahidi is lucky enough to have a set of great organizations supporting our work, from the Rockefeller Foundation to Google.org to many others. In addition we also provide additional services for users who want some technical customization, training, or strategic guidance in the deployment of the platform or management of crowdsourced data.

9) Recently, you have released the version 3.0 of your platform. Can you give us an insight of the new features? Also, what are the kind of development of your products we can expect in the upcoming versions? In general, which are the next steps for Ushahidi?

Ushahidi has had the same platform code base for 5 years. A year ago we spent the time to do very deep user experience research within our user base, our developer base, and our own team in order to build a new, better Ushahidi core platform. We call it “v3″.

The purpose of v3 (The next generation of the platform) is to provide a better crowdsourcing platform, so that the leaders, crisis responders, funders, and decision making organizations can do their work more efficiently, gather better information, and understand what’s happening on the ground. It is a data collection platform that makes gathering and organizing data easy. It is a mobile first platform, as always, thinking of people with simple phones and moving up to those with web access for a beautiful visual feel.

Many thanks for all your time!