Abre Latam [es], an event on Open Data and transparency in Latin American governments that took place in Montevideo, Uruguay on June 24 and 25, did not only bring together hackers and civil society activists from Latin America, along with other people from the region interested in spreading open data and the applications that use them, but also organizations and people from other parts of the world with the same interests.
Does open data have economic value beyond the benefits of transparency and accountability? Does it have the power to fuel new businesses and create new jobs? Does it have the potential to improve people's lives by powering new services and products? If so, what should the World Bank be doing to help this along? These were questions we had in mind as we set out to bring together open data entrepreneurs from across Latin America for an Open Data Business Models workshop in Montevideo, Uruguay.
As mentioned in a prior post, people from the Open Knowledge Foundation were present to launch the Spanish version of School of Data: Escuela de Datos [es]. They had previously been in Santiago and Buenos Aires and their mission was to promote the launch of the School of Data, but also to try to find and meet the people that participate and drive the topic of open data. According to what they wrote in their blog, it was a magnificent experience:
The initiative [Escuela de Datos] was received enthusiastically and we’re looking forward to see the network grow. […] After the two intense days all of us left with big smiles and new ideas in our minds. Big congratulations to the team at DATA for organising the event and bringing together such a great group of people from all around the region!
Jen Bramley, of MySociety.org, one of the organizations present that is dedicated to developing software that will empower people in their civic and democratic aspects (FixMyStreet, for example), wrote that “it was extremely interesting to hear the social, cultural, and political experiences of other people in relation to technology,” and also mentioned that:
For me, the most important part was seeing the projects other people work on to strengthen transparency, citizen participation, and civil liberties in their own countries. It’s a humbling experience to realise that some things we take for granted are the subject of intense campaigning in other countries. Each day we had a series of workshops around different topics. I facilitated one, trying to learn what people want from open source technology to make it more globally usable.
Javier Ruíz of the Open Rights Group, an organization dedicated to defending freedom of expression, privacy, innovation, creativity, and consumer rights on the Internet, believes that it is interesting that among the attendees at Abre Latam there was a genuine concern that open data was not only playing with technological toys. He also wrote about his participation in the event:
ORG’s proposed session on privacy brought up many interesting examples of conflicts and difficult choices. Among others we heard of exam results being published in Mexico and the electoral register with Google indexed photos in Argentina. The consensus was that the privacy and open data nexus is very important but we lack the framework to analyse it. This is particularly complicated with the diversity of legal and cultural contexts we find in different countries. Many activists asked for more information and capacity building.
Although Fabrizio Scrollini is Uruguayan and a member of D.A.T.A., one of the organizers of Abre Latam, he wrote a post in English as a guest for the Sunlight Foundation's blog, where he makes a series of reflections on the event as well as on the state of open data, transparency, and open government in the region. Among other things he says:
Community matters. This is hardly a surprise but community can mean different things. Indeed people are interested in open data for all sorts of reasons, but when it comes to a particular area or group of datasets, and the aim is social change, the need for different skills and common goals becomes crucial. Some of the greatest sessions were about how to link the different worlds of technology, communication, policy and social problem solving. Open data (or the lack of it) is sometimes a great excuse to put minds together working to achieve better outcomes.
When Ciudadano Inteligente was launched back in 2011 it was perhaps the only initiative in the region using technology to enhance civic information, engagement and transparency. That same year a regional hackathon, Desarrollando America Latina, was created. Soon after, a community of civic technologists that rivals Chile’s emerged in Mexico, and then in Argentina, Perú, and elsewhere. Uruguay’s DATA launched less than a year ago. As bellwethers like Ciudadano Inteligente grow, and newer projects emerge, a convening designed to consider what has worked and what hasn’t is propitious. It’s also the first of its kind for the region, where civic technologists have come together (plenty) for hackathons, but never to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the hackathon and open data projects.
In another post, Susannah identifies three tendencies that emerged in Abre Latam to answer the question: How do we engage the right people at the right time to use data from the government and turn it into policies for lasting change?
1. Top-Down Solutions: Donor-funded strategies that bring technologists together with NGOs, journalists, activists and other interested groups.
2. Bottom-up solutions: Workshops that develop political autonomy and engagement at the grassroots level.
3. Realistic Solutions: Engage deeply with niche groups.
In conclusion, we are sharing a quote from the blog of Raquel Camargo, a Brazilian journalist who attended the event and also presented the project where she works, Movimento Minas [pt]. After writing about the initiatives that impressed her the most, she reflects the following:
A mensagem que fiquei com todos esses projetos é que, quem quer faz. A grande parte desses projetos contam com poucas pessoas, mas muita vontade. São independentes, são alimentados de determinação e ideologias. Dinheiro? Nem sempre rola. Mas tem paixão no meio. Isso é, para mim, emocionante e faz total sentido ao momento do Brasil. A gente quer mudança? Então vamos fazer a mudança. Esse pessoal aí sabe o que é isso.
The message that all of these projects gave me is that, whoever wants to, does it. A big part of these projects have very few people, but a lot of will. They are independent, they are fed by determination and ideologies. Money? Not always. But passion is in the middle. That is, for me, exciting and makes a lot of sense in Brazil's present moment. We want to change? Then let's make the change. These people here know what that is.