Open Data Index 2013: Fundamental Public Sector Data Still Unavailable in MENA

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Rayna Stamboliyska, the founder of RS Strategy and Open MENA, served as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Editor for the Open Data Index.

The Index ranks countries based on the availability and accessibility of information in ten key areas, including government spending, election results, transport timetables, and pollution levels, and reveals that whilst some good progress is being made, much remains to be done.

The Open Data Index 2013 is the first assessment of openness of fundamental government data in the Middle East and North Africa, including full scorecards for six countries (Israel, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen). The six countries from the Middle East, featured in the Index, globally show very low openness.

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Big Data, Bad Data: My keynote at the Open World Forum 2013

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I was honoured to be giving the closing keynote at the Open World Forum 2013. The event took place in Paris on 4 October 2013. I shared the stage with Rand Hindi of :SNIPS and Romain Lacombe of French Prime Minister’s Commission Etalab.

We spoke about what big data can bring to society. Thus, I focused on critically discussing common misconceptions in both Big Data meaning and analysis.

Most importantly, my take-home message is that numbers do not speak of themselves. Rather, data’s meaning in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, context, interpretation, what counts even, are all a function of who runs the analysis.


RS Strategy at the Open World Forum

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RS Strategy actively contributed to this year’s edition of the Open World Forum. Our involvement encompassed chairing a whole session (from programme curation to on-site delivery) and two keynotes.

As previously mentioned, I curated the programme for and organised the Open Data track. Experts from Morocco, the French national railway company SNCF, and the French Prime Minister’s Open Data Taskforce Etalab shared views on opening governance and public sector data.

Also, contributing to specific tracks, I gave two talks:

“Open Data in Science and Research” (track ‘Public Policies’), introducing the audience to the vital importance of opening up scientific research:

(also view directly on Slideshare)

“Big Data, Bad Data” (closing keynote, with Romain Lacombe from French Prime Minister’s Taskforce Etalab and Rand Hindi from :SNIPS:), a critical look at the misconceptions ‘big data’ can endorse — and how to account for them:


[Announcement] OKCon Open & Citizen Science hackday: submissions

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I’ve already announced the OKCon ‘Open & Citizen Science satellite event’. As you may remember, we launched idea submissions several days ago. The detailed descriptions are below. You can vote for your favourite one and join us geeking out next Thursday, Sept 19. Don’t hesitate to get back to us either via Twitter (@MaliciaRogue, @stefankasberger) or via mail.

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Syria’s vanishing history

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[This was first published on Nature Middle East.]

The war in Syria is laying waste to ancient monuments and artefacts, while archaeologists and citizens scramble to protect what they can.

Syria’s rich cultural heritage, which stretches back to the beginnings of human history, is at risk as fighting ravages the country.

Gathering accurate information is a challenge, but despite the violence, archaeologists and citizens have been trying to document the destruction of historical sites in the wake of all international archaeological missions leaving Syria.

From Babylonians to Arabs and the Crusaders, numerous civilisations have left their mark on Syria. Six of the country’s sites appear on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list: Damascus, Aleppo, the Crac des Chevaliers, Palmyra, Bosra and the Ancient Villages in Northern Syria. Hundreds of monuments are on UNESCO’s Tentative List, and the national heritage register also boasts a wealth of treasures.

Since the unrest began in March 2011, the destruction of cultural sites has often been reported. The cause of damage ranges from shelling and gunfire to army occupation and bombing. Rampant looting and illegal developments on unguarded archaeological sites is also rife.

Syria’s Directorate-General of the Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) is the authority in charge of the maintaining, safeguarding and preserving the country’s heritage, but the ongoing conflict makes DGAM’s remit increasingly difficult.

Before the violence started, about 180 national and international archaeological missions were represented in Syria, but they all left the country in 2011.

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[Announcement] Open and Citizen Science in the heart of Europe

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Stefan Kasberger from OKFn Austria and myself are organizing this one-day workshop as an OKCon satellite event. Join us!

Thursday 19 September, 10:00 – 17:00 @ Centre Universitaire d’Informatique Université de Genève, Auditorium, Ground Floor

Coordinators: Stefan Kasberger (Open Knowledge Foundation Austria) and Rayna Stamboliyska (Open Knowledge Foundation France), in collaboration with Daniel Lombraña González (Citizen Cyberscience Center / Citizen CyberlabFrançois Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Center / University of Geneva), Margaret Gold/ Brian Fuchs (Citizen Cyberlab The Mobile Collective)

Hacking science makes us happy. If it makes you happy, too, then, this year’s Open Knowledge Conference is the place to be!

Indeed, OKCon 2013 is where an amazing bouquet of insights from Open and Citizen science will converge. But if you thought there would be only food for the brain, you were wrong. A satellite event will take place on 19 September aiming at giving space for everyone to actually get great things done.

With our friends Daniel Lombraña González (Citizen Cyberscience Center / Citizen Cyberlab) François Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Center / University of Geneva), Margaret Gold/ Brian Fuchs (Citizen Cyberlab The Mobile Collective), we have come up with a way allowing everyone to take part to this exciting day.

I have an idea!

We know you do. Hence, we have a dedicated form ready for you to submit a short description of what you are keen to work on. You can also indicate what additional competences you need in order to get your project done.

Idea submission will be running from today until 10 September. Every week, we will be updating everyone (through the Open Science mailing list) telling you about the new ideas submitted. In addition, a community call will be scheduled to discuss and narrow down these ideas so that they actually become feasible within one-day long hands-on sprint.

Working together

The idea of the satellite event is to geek out together. On 11 September, we will be publishing a poll with all ideas so that you can be able to vote for the project you want to work on on Day D. Voting will run until 18 September.

Do not forget to bring your favourite geeking gear (laptop, some flavour of mobile device or a fancy notebook in the perfect 1.0 fashion). We will have WiFi, cookies and fun!

The workshop space can accommodate up to 45 people. To sign-up, express your interest in the topic and get in touch with the coordinators please write to openandcitizenscience@okcon.org.

Losing Egyptian heritage: losing tidbits of humankind history

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[This was originally published on Nature Middle East.]

As political unrest continues in Egypt, thieves have attacked a museum in the country’s south, stealing or burning evidence of thousands of years of history.

While Egypt focused on violent outbreaks in the rest of the country, raiders broke into the halls of the Malawi National Museum and ransacked its collections on two consecutive nights, stealing or destroying almost all of its artefacts.

The museum, 300 Km sound of Cairo in the Upper Egypt city of Minya, is a little-known cultural centre, but is home to a rich and diverse collection that spans Egyptian history from Greco-Roman to the 18th Dynasty eras. Many of the antiquities housed in the museum date back to the eras of the pharaoh Akhenaten and Nefertiti; some are animal mummies and statues dedicated to the worship of the Egyptian god Thoth, a deity represented with the head of an ibis.

Looters are widely believed to be supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. But Monica Hanna, an Egyptian archaeologist at Humboldt University of Berlin, closely following the events, blamed the looting on “people’s greed under political and religious cover.”

Archaeologists and museum workers have started to identify and list the stolen objects, believed to number around 1,040. According to preliminary evaluations, 1040 of the 1089 artefacts that the museum housed have so far been reported missing. The Facebook page “Egypt’s Heritage Task Force”, launched by Hanna in June in response to a growing number of thefts from Egyptian heritage sites, has an updated album of images of the stolen items.

“All small pieces of the Malawi museum are completely looted, and all of them are from the Amarna Period,” says Hanna. The Amarna Period art is distinctive from more conventional Egyptian art styles, with artists of the era opting for a more relaxed, realistic portrayal than the traditional stylized and rigid formality of previous dynasties.

According to reports, in the second raid, the museum was set alight and objects not stolen on the first night were badly burnt. Objects too heavy to carry out of the museum, such as wooden and stone sarcophagi, have been severely damaged. “Two mummies were burnt down, but fortunately two others could be saved as well as a huge number of fragments,” says Hanna.

Yesterday, curators from the Malawi National Museum confirmed that five painted wooden sarcophagi, two mummies and a papyrus handwritten in Demotic, as well as a collection of broken ancient statues, have been sent for restoration.

Once archaeologists complete the investigations and finalize a list of stolen objects, it will be distributed to all Egyptian ports to thwart any smuggling attempts. All missing artefacts will be put on UNESCO’s red list to avoid being smuggled and sold on the international antiquities market. “Egypt’s Heritage Task Force contacted INTERPOL immediately, independently of the Ministry of Antiquities, and alerted the International Council of Museums and the International Committee for Egyptology,” adds Hanna.

The Ministry of Antiquities also announced a campaign to retrieve stolen objects, offering compensation for those who will return the artefacts. The al-Ashmounein storehouse near the museum is receiving the returned antiquities, but so far, only two objects have been returned, according to Hanna.

Vandalism of museums is frequently reported in times of major political disturbances. Additionally, looting of Egyptian archaeological sites has been on the rise as the black market for antiquities grows.

Egypt: Attacks on Churches Continue Amidst Nationwide Violence

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The list below sums up continuing sectarian violence nationwide for Friday, August 16. I have started to collect images separately in a dedicated gallery. This is an ongoing work, so please ping us on Twitter (myself or @moftasa) or leave a comment below to let me know if I have missed something or if I need to fix anything below.

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#EgyChurch: Sectarian Violence Wrap-up

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Ongoing work, regularly updated. List curated by @moftasa and @MaliciaRogue.

Yesterday was a tough day that saw bloodbath and destruction everywhere. We tried to document and curate things, but I’m realizing some parts 1/ need better focus; and 2/ the current description may be a bit confusing as it mixes updates, different languages and final estimations. Yes, there is life outside Cairo, and while all eyes were on the capital, bloodthirst useless insidious events were taking place elsewhere in the country.

So, below is a (thus far) verified list of Christian churches, schools and institutions having undergone attacks yesterday. I truly hope there won’t be more to add. Don’t forget to label reports with the hashtag #EgyChurch. A dedicated gallery is available here. If you hear of other religious minorities being attacked (Shi’a, Baha’a, etc.), let me know either through a comment below or through Twitter.

Amira Mikhail, Mai El-Sadani and Amir Beshay have independently done high-quality curation as well. Info is available on Amira’s blog.

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[UPDATED] Wrapping Up: Egyptian Security Disperse Muslim Brotherhood Sit-ins

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Content below curated by @moftasa & @MaliciaRogue. Translations in French and Arabic coming shortly. Content is regularly updated.

Egypt presidency declared a 30-day long state of emergency starting August 14, 4pm, and orders the Armed Forces to work closely with police to “do what is needed for the calm to return.” Curfew to be instaured after 7pm every evening except today (starting from 9pm); journalists announced to be exempt from curfew. State of emergency gives the state the following extraordinary powers (non-exhaustive):

– Censorship over any texting, media

– Assigning individuals with specific tasks

– Frisking, inspecting and searching any place or individual without court order

– Arrest under suspicion.

– Limiting individual’s transportation, gathering and residency

– Confiscating any prints, flyers and shutting down the publishing source

Mohamed El-Baradei has resigned in the end of the afternoon. The National Salvation Front (NSF) has allegedly issued a statement on the situation. His full resignation letter translated into English is below.

Announcement: For security reasons, the Biblioteca Alexandrina will be closed tomorrow, Aug 15. Reports about hooded armed men inside the building have been denied, but such individuals remain outside of the building and some of the outside glasses have been broken.

The hashtag #EgyChurch is used to curate information on Twitter about attacked churches nationwide.

Comprehensive Wrap-Up of the Events

Map of the pro-Morsi sit-ins from Al-Jazeera English:

Map of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo. Image from AJE. Click to see full size.

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Open Data at the Open World Forum!

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I am the ‘Open Data’ track leader for the Open World Forum to be held in early October in Paris. To follow the event as it’s been built up, please visit the Open World Forum’s website.

For this year’s event, we have already confirmed an impressive line-up of speakers (abstracts are in French, as the session is in French):

  • Romain Lalanne (Director, Open Data at SNCF): “Open Transport: Rethink Mobility with Open Data”

Dans le domaine du transport, l’Open Data, a le pouvoir de relever les défis d’une mobilité plus informée, plus fluide, plus personnalisée. Optimisation et valorisation du temps de voyage, gestion de l’affluence dans les trains, adaptation aux besoins de chaque voyageur : Romain Lalanne propose un retour d’expérience de l’engagement du groupe SNCF en matière d’Open Data et présente un panorama des perspectives à venir dans l’Open Transport.

  • Abderahman Zohry and Yassir Kazar (Morocco): “Is Open Data Possible in Morocco?”
  • Alexandre Quintard-Kaigre (Legal Advisor, Etalab, Prime Minister Taskforce for Open Data): “Renew Democracy with the Internet and Open Data”

Réserve parlementaire, financement des syndicats, dépenses de la Sécurité sociale, faits constatés de délinquance et de criminalité, adresses des écoles publiques, prix des carburants dans chaque station essence, masse salariale des cabinets ministériels, attribution des véhicules de fonction, subventions de l’Etat aux associations, interventions économiques aux entreprises, dotations globales de fonctionnement aux collectivités territoriales, aides de la PAC, effectifs des fonctions publiques, nombre d’agents et de chômeurs dans chaque agence de Pôle Emploi…

Les attentes des Français sont très fortes en matière de transparence des services publics et d’exemplarité dans l’action de leurs représentants. Sans confiance des citoyens dans les Institutions, la République vacille et la cohésion sociale s’effrite. Intégrer les valeurs d’Internet dans la gouvernance publique participe ainsi au renouvellement et à l’intégrité de notre démocratie : rendre des comptes sur Internet en partageant gratuitement et librement les informations et les données produites par les services publics avec tous les citoyens – quelque soit leur statut ou leur catégorie socio-professionnelle – contribue à renforcer la liberté d’information et l’Etat de droit, in fine les libertés fondamentales de chaque citoyen.

  • Antoine Courmont (Project Leader, Open Data for Lyon): “Opening Up Data: On the Road to a Smart City”

L’ouverture des données (open data) et la ville intelligente (smart city) sont régulièrement associés. Et pour cause, les données sont au cœur de la ville de demain, et les mettre à disposition du plus grand nombre ne peut que faciliter l’innovation et la création de services aux usagers. Le Grand Lyon s’inscrit dans cette perspective par la mise en place d’une plateforme de diffusion de données territoriales au service de ses politiques publiques, des entreprises et des citoyens. Cette démarche d’ouverture est une invitation à repenser à la fois le rôle des acteurs et les façons de faire pour proposer de nouvelles expériences de la vie en ville.

  • Stéphane Gigandet (Founder, Open Food Facts): “Open Food Facts: Citizen Crowdsourcing of Food Data for better transparency in our plates”

Huile de palme dans le Nutella, viande de cheval dans les lasagnes au boeuf : pour les consommateurs, l’industrie alimentaire est trop souvent une boîte noire. Bien malin qui sait aujourd’hui ce qu’il y a vraiment dans son assiette. Pour apporter plus de transparence, des citoyens ont créé Open Food Facts, une base de données libre et ouverte sur les produits alimentaires du monde entier. Armés de leur smartphone ou d’un appareil photo, ils collectent les données sur les produits alimentaires pour qu’elles puissent être décryptées, analysées et comparées.

Qu’est ce que le colorant E150d et dans quoi le trouve-t-on, quels sont les sodas les plus sucrés, les biscuits qui contiennent le plus d’additifs, quelles usines préparent les produits de quelles marques : voici quelques exemples de questions auxquelles Open Food Facts apporte une réponse. Toutes les données collectées sont diffusées sous une licence libre : ce sont des données ouvertes (open data). Elles peuvent être utilisées et ré-utilisées librement et gratuitement par tous et pour tous usages. Venez en découvrir quelques uns et peut-être en imaginer et en réaliser d’autres !

Looking forward to meeting you there!

Blogging the 2013 Global Forum on Development at OECD

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Save the date! On behalf of RS Strategy, I will be covering the OECD’s 2013 Global Forum on Development (April 4-5, 2013):

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international economic organisation of 34 countries that supports democracy and world trade. The Global Forum on Development is focussed on poverty reduction and social cohesion and attracts a wide range of participants from governments and civil society to help discuss solutions.

Leading up to the meeting, I am reflecting on development issues that help serve as weekly online discussion topics on the OECD website.

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Open and Connected: Impressions from the Social Media Week Hamburg and Paris

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[Co-written by Mario Sorgalla and yours truly, this post was first published on FutureChallenges.org.]

This year, Social Media Week celebrated its fifth birthday. Ten cities all over the world were hosts of this truly global conference. The organizers marked this milestone with a unifying global theme that explored openness in a connected and collaborative world.

Future Challenges first got in contact with Social Media Week last year. The Future Challenges team gave a crowdsourced presentation titled “Big World – Big Challenges: can a big network help?”. Twenty bloggers from our worldwide blogger network contributed to this presentation. That’s just one of the reasons why we at Future Challenges are familiar with the benefits of openness and collaboration – especially across borders.

Social Media Week 2013

Our globalized world forces us to rethink accustomed practices. The organizers of the Social Media Week assert:

Emerging technologies have dramatically changed the way we communicate and engage (with) the world around us. One voice can now ripple to millions, and we can now share our passions openly and across cultural and geographic boundaries. Change is happening everywhere (…). Groups are self organizing to take positive action. Transparency, accountability, information sharing, and collaboration are accelerating progress to levels never seen before.

FutureChallenges.org joined Social Media Week in two European cities: Hamburg (Germany) and Paris (France). Mario Sorgalla reports from Hamburg and Rayna Stamboliyska participated in Paris.

Hamburg

One week and 170 events. You don’t need to be a professional statistician to seee that one person couldn’t possibly attend all the sessions that the organizers of Social Media Week (SMW) Hamburg got going. But this abundance of interesting sessions was a great opportunity for cherry-picking. Which new trends, tools and perspectives did Social Media Week Hamburg offer its participants regarding “Principles for a Collaborative World”?

My personal Social Media Week started with a presentation about corporate blogs. Many, or actually most of, the big corporations are still hesitating to start their own blog. A loss of control is probably the main reason for such reluctance. The classical mindset in Public Relations and Communication departments is that the information flow has to be controlled and directed. Such a mindset necessarily clashes with the attitude that prevails in the blogosphere and on social media channels. However, there are some good examples of big corporations that run their own blogs, like the Daimler blog. Setting up blogs could be of particular interest for transnational corporations. Don’t you think it would be exciting to get to know the faces in different countries behind an anonymous corporation?

Let’s jump to the second day in Hamburg, when the session “A Nerd Toolkit for Journalists” caught my attention. I’m not a journalist and not a nerd (though some people might challenge the latter point) but I’m convinced that data visualizations — the focus of this session — will become ever more important for our globalized world of big data. We learned about some useful visualization tools and got to know the technical basics of visualizations. Did you know that the Guardian provides all the data they use for their visualizations via Google spreadsheets? And why shouldn’t they? They don’t own the data and everybody in any corner of the world can take these data and create something new. This is how globalized data journalism looks like. If you’re interested in the technical basis of data visualizations and you understand German, you should take a look at this summary. You will find some useful notes from the session.

…It’s already Wednesday! My highlight of the day was “Wikipedia in Museums”, an inspiring project that I’ve also discussed on my blog. There is hardly any better example for our global, open and connected information society than Wikipedia. The German Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte (Museum for the History of Hamburg) has collaborated with members of the Wikipedia community in Hamburg in order to publish information and photos about many of the museum’s exhibits on Wikipedia, an endeavour resulting in a rich collection of information for all museum geeks out there. The museum’s visitors can access this information via QR codes that are placed next to the museum signage. I’m sure there will be many more projects like this in other parts of the world.

Paris

For its third edition, SMW in Paris hosted “only” 62 events. But what a tough choice it was, selecting which one to visit, especially when I was also speaking at a few of them. As a number of the organizers are also involved in what I’ll call the collaborative economy, many sessions were converging to the focal point of identifying economic models able to sustain open knowledge in the broadest sense. Here are my top 3 SMW events from the last week!

The first day kicked off with a whole afternoon at Paris’s City Hall. This building is an absolute jewel in terms of external architecture and the interior totally follows, which makes the venue even more striking as we discuss the ‘digital Parisian’ against a backdrop of 19th century marble chimneys. The goal was to build a bond between the Parisians and their (well, our) city. One of the ways to do so was with the introduction of an app, “Dans ma rue” (translated: “In my street”), inspired by the British ‘Fix my street’. The app aims to provide Parisians with a handy tool to report the status of city works in the neighbourhood. Using the app, anyone can take a photo and geolocate the situation.

The event itself also allowed us to work in groups of 3-5 during an hour around a few other topics. In one group session, we worked on the idea of ‘Paris Answers’, a crowd-sourced Yahoo! Answers-inspired platform which will collect information on various topics related to services proposed by the city. A very interesting debate emerged around the possibility and the rationale behind crowd-funding of public services, an idea that clearly divided the participants. On one hand, some were putting forward the fact that a citizen already pays taxes, so s/he should not be asked an additional effort. From the other hand, why reject such a much more targeted contribution to the city and the neighbourhood? So many answers yet to find…

A session dear to my heart came on Tuesday: “Open & Connected: Research Joins, Too!”. In this session, we addressed vital questions about the economic models that underlie open libraries, open data produced by public institutions, and open labs. I talked a bit about open data and how it can change a person’s everyday life; one can stop being an observer and begin acting upon one’s environment. More specifically, the discussion emphasised the screaming need for opening the data produced by research groups, especially by those that receive public funds. If you read French, I greatly recommend you to allocate a neuron or two to the summary (and in any case, to watch the amazing video, no French speaking required).

Last but not least, I’d like to end this retrospective with a very short mention of the Open Hardware session. We had Open Source Software decades ago, now the time has come to have all the nerds united and geek out with Open Hardware. Actually, this is partly misleading, as anyone can hack: I leave you to the fabulous ‘Fabrique–Hacktion’ initiative (French & English) which will convince you that everyone can be creative and that wonderful things can be achieved when we work in an open, connected way.

Egypt’s Constitutional Referendum Results

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[This analysis was first published on Jadaliyya.]

Based on numbers reported by Egyptian media outlets, below is a summary of the constitutional referendum vote results broken down by governorate.

What do these numbers tell us?

  • In two stages of voting, average turnout across governorates was 30%, with Egyptians abroad participation being the most notable outlier with a 41% turnout rate.
  • The only three governorates where the majority of voters elected to reject the draft constitution are Cairo, Gharbiyya, and Menofia.

What do these numbers not tell us?

  • Given that the vast majority of eligible voters (68% or 33,855,564) did not participate in the referendum, we can neither conclude that the majority of the eligible voting population supports the constitution, nor can we conclude that a majority rejects it.
  • Only 16,232,035 or 32% of eligible voters have reportedly cast a vote. It is, therefore, misleading to claim that the silence of the other 68% is reflective of support for one position or another.
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