The second Open Knowledge Festival took place in Berlin, from July 15 to 18. It brought together members of the Open Knowledge Foundation, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014. Founded in England, the organization carries projects on the opening and sharing of knowledge. It has experienced a rapid international expansion, especially in the last five years. It now has more than 45 groups around the world.
These three days of the festival were an opportunity to gather not just the community of the Open Knowledge Foundation, but also a group of actors – “policy makers”, entrepreneurs, researchers, “hackers”, … – to think about how information can be open, structured and governed today.
The workshops reflected the intent of the Festival to incite to “move from knowledge to action” (a catch line repeated many times by Rufus Pollock, co-founder of the foundation).
The topics, proposed ahead of the event by the participants, were multiple and varied. A first area was organized around the tools that could be used to organize, distribute and display knowledge. Other themes were more focused on actions that could possibly facilitate the sharing and opening of knowledge (governance, legal and economic framework). A third area concentrated on teaching the use of this free knowledge.
In the research field several workshops were organized. One of the sessions was aimed at presenting a set of digital tools for research (Web Native Science). Everyone could share their own experiences or complete the list of tools mentioned. Another session was dedicated to legal issues related to data and text mining in scientific articles. A last session focused on “How to Teach Open Data?” and discussed the educational project “Data School“.
During the workshops, all participants were incited to actively participate (brainstorming session post-its). Similarly, the part “One festival” allowed participants to come up with their own sessions.
The festival gave an overview of current projects in the field of Open Knowledge, and thus helped identify new projects to be initiated. Exchanges and networking were facilitated in a friendly and sometimes corporate atmosphere. But how does one go about taking these discussions outside this circle? This is partly what the Open Knowledge Foundation seems to be working on today, as indicated by the list of speakers.
Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, has been involved in the matters of Open Knowledge for many years. As a guest speaker, she was present for this second festival in order to call to mind the challenges of Open Knowledge in research (Open Science), education (Open Education), and more broadly, in governance around data (Open Data) and the Internet (Open Internet). She also reminded attendees of the involvement of the European Commission in Open educational projects and highlighted the Open Access mandate (open access to scientific articles funded by Europe). According to Neelie Kroes, the sharing of innovative ideas and transparency are key factors for a greater efficiency and better results. These concepts challenge the current modes of action and call for a major change in mind-set that should be embraced by the whole European Commission.
In addition to creating a new mind-set, it is a change in vision that is needed to lead initiatives related to the opening of knowledge. Eric Hysen from Google reminded us in his presentation that it is important to work on infrastructures: we need to think in terms of ecosystem and make different projects interoperable. Eric took the example of the hackatons. Today, these events are held around the world to gather a group of people with different backgrounds, and to create applications that meet a particular problem. However, many applications give rise to repetitive features or are not sharing the same standards. This multiplication and fragmentation make them less effective and do not support the development of a sustainable ecosystem. Martin Fenner (PLOS), in the area of Open Science, also shared this thinking. He noted that today many Open Science projects want to tackle too many issues at the same time. Thus, work is done in parallel rather than in collaboration. This lack of cooperation is obvious and deleterious, according to Martin Fenner, especially since it is known that these initiatives require a very large number of participants for a successful development.
Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan lawyer and activist, offered interesting testimony to Rufus Pollock. As a former policy manager at Google Africa, she called to mind that there is a need to leave naive views on activism around Open Knowledge behind. She used different experiences to highlight the importance of negotiation, tact and sufficient knowledge about how large groups work.
She recalls that the Open Knowledge Foundation must not only reflect an ideological movement, but must also internalize the knowledge it produces in order to achieve the desired societal transformations in a realistic and lasting fashion.
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