The Open Knowledge Foundation confirmed its relevance and solid contribution to society in 2021. With a senior leader appointed as a CEO for over twelve months, and a global pandemic radically modifying the global financial and social dynamics, the Foundation exceeded its goals and consolidated itself as a stable and reliable actor in the open movement ecosystem, serving its stakeholders with excellence at the hardest moment.
The “digitally - first”, remote work business model from the Open Knowledge Foundation allowed it to operate without any dramatic shift from a ‘business’ aspect, However, the organisation did have to stall some of its planned events and trainings, to readapt the model for remote delivery.
The core team remained stable, with some departures and arrivals but overall, the team was stable with renewed energy in anticipation of a new CEO. The recruitment process was slower than expected but the Board of Directors was determined to find the right visionary to drive Open Knowledge forward and once again create a dynamic and inclusive network and community to impact the stakeholders and create change for a more open world.
The contractors and staffers collaborated extremely well to keep the well oiled engine running, a sign of institutional strength and healthy institutional practices.
A number of continued projects contribute to the stability of the organisation. It is relevant to highlight the additional investment in the Data Literacy program which allowed further development in this area for continued training and resources for the stakeholders. The technology team continued innovating in data management, enabling different stakeholders and building capacities to unlock the power of data, standardised it to make it usable and then transform it into knowledge. The technology team also continued delivering value to organisations and institutions with a global mission aligned with its values.
The new CEO onboarding process took place during the last quarter of the year. At the end of 2020 Open Knowledge closed the last unrestricted grant, and transitioned into 2021 as a sustainable non-profit organisation, relying on continued surplus to sustain the organisation and prepare for the investment required under a new CEO. In October, Renata Avila joined the team as the new CEO. Full of knowledge, energy and passion for the Open sphere and with the drive to lead the team and recalibrate the mission, vision and plans to contribute substantially to the advancement of society.
2021 was a busy year for Frictionless Data: we released four new software products, hosted a hackathon, redesigned our website and documentation, started another cohort of Fellows, finished our 3.5-year grant project from the Sloan Foundation, and more!
In early 2021, we released the Frictionless Framework, our data management framework for Python and command line that provides functionality to describe, extract, validate, and transform tabular data. As part of this work, we were funded by the Open Data Institute to overhaul our technical documentation, allowing us to create user-friendly code documentation through a series of user feedback sessions.
Next, we released three new software products in the middle of 2021: Components, Repository, and Livemark. Components is a set of React components for data and metadata that can be easily integrated into existing data applications. Repository is a Github Action allowing users to validate tabular data on every commit to their repository. Livemark is a static site generator that extends Markdown with interactive charts, tables, Frictionless scripts, and more. These user-friendly tools have received very positive feedback and are already being used by several community members. You can watch a presentation about Livemark by Lead Developer, Evgeny Karev, at PyData 2021 here, and read the blog about Repository here.
The final software product for 2021, Frictionless Applications, was started at the end of the year and is continuing into 2022. Applications is an update to our browser (aka non-coding) tools for describing and validating data. To ensure this tool is user friendly, we held two paid user feedback sessions, and will hold more in the coming months.
We also updated the main Frictionless Data website update. We made several changes, such as better navigation, an improved introduction, more cohesive storytelling that highlights our core software and specifications, new icons, and an inclusive team page. You can read more details in the blog here.
We started off 2021 by hiring a dedicated community manager, Sara Petti. Sara has led an effort to grow and support the Frictionless community, including answering user questions and hosting monthly community calls. Her efforts have increased our community members by 300% last year, and created a welcoming atmosphere. Sara also wrote and oversaw numerous blogs, including community-submitted case study blogs, like: A Short Case Study Involving Table Schema Frictionless Specs at the European Union, Frictionless Open Data Blend, and Libraries Hacked.
Another community success story was our first-ever Hackathon in October. Over 20 people signed up for the hackathon from Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and North America. More than 40% of the participants had never used Frictionless Data before, but are likely to become part of our community now. “I feel pretty happy after this frictionless hackathon experience. We’ve grown in 2 days more than it could have been possible in one month. The knowledge and experience exchange was remarkable”, said the winning team, DPCKAN.
December was the official end of the Sloan-funded Reproducible Research project, which started in mid-2018. Overall for the 3.5-year grant period, the team completed 5 Pilots collaborations, 9 Tool Fund projects, trained 17 Fellows, and created and maintained numerous software products. We set out to train researchers in reproducible data management best practices and test out the Frictionless tools in real-world research scenarios, and we are very pleased with the knowledge and experiences gained during this time.
In 2021, we started a new Pilot collaboration with the data repository Dryad, adding in Frictionless data validation to data as it is submitted, allowing researchers to fix any data errors. You can read the full details here. We also finished a pilot with the last Tool Fund grantees finished, including Schema Collaboration, a tool for data managers and researchers collaborate to write packages and tabular schemas; Frictionless Data Package for InterMine, which added data package support to InterMine, an open-source biological data warehouse; and Frictionless Data for Wheat, which added Frictionless support to the Designing Future Wheat project data portal which houses large-scale wheat datasets.
In 2021, the Second Cohort of Fellows ended, and the Third Cohort began. We were blown away by the work and learnings from the Fellows, and recommend watching their Open Data Day 2021 event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foao4cou5JM You can read some reflections from Cohort 2 here, like this quote from Fellow Evelyn Night: “The fellowship was both exhilarating and educative. I got to engage in Open Science conversations, learned about and used frictionless tools like the Data Package Creator and Goodtables. I also navigated the open data landscape using CLI, Python, and git. I also got to engage in the Frictionless Community calls where software geniuses presented their work and also held Open science-centred conversations. These discussions enhanced my understanding of the Open Science movement and I felt a great honour to be involved in such meetings. I learned so much that the 9 months flew by.”
The 3rd Cohort of Fellows started in October and will run until the end of June 2022. After receiving almost 100 applications, we selected 6 outstanding Fellows from around the world. The Fellows are researchers, graduate students, clinicians, and research support staff studying various domains like disease vectors, air particle flow for health, human hormones, and agriculture. We are excited to be a part of their open science journeys!
CoAct is a European Union-funded consortium of research institutions, NGOs and global networks of open science and open data activism. The project’s goal is to identify and develop a general model for citizen social science that engages citizen bodies concerned with specific social issues in co-research. In the second year of this partnership, OKF coordinated the launch of an Open Call for Gender Equality which led to the selection of 3 NGO working on the topic, in Germany, Bulgaria and Greece. They will be working on: the challenges faced by women of colour founders, the difficulties of LGBQT+ individuals in the workplace and the impact of the rapid transition toward remote online work for women, respectively. In 2022, OKF will coordinate a white paper making use of the insights gained from these projects to produce recommendations for the European Commission on Citizen Social Science and the civic sector.
Continuing our partnership with Transparency International (which includes projects dating back to 2017), we have signed a new partnership framework agreement with the Transparency International Secretariat which aims to support members of the TI network working on the SANCUS project. The support includes three phases: a needs assessment phase, an issue-focused training phase, and a mentorship phase during which we will aim to train data champions who will lead data literacy work within the TI network in the coming years.
Data For Good
In 2021 we partnered with Facebook (now Meta)’s Data for Good team in order to support multiple governments in making use of geographic data in the context of public health and disaster preparedness. The trainings involve open source tools (QGIS), open datasets (high resolution population density maps) and open learning content created by OKF and the School of Data network members in English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Ethiopian, Vietnamese. By the end of 2021, 9 governments across Africa, Asia and Latin America attended our training and the partnership was renewed for a new phase in 2022. A website will be published in 2022 to publicise the case studies and learning materials developed as part of this project.
International Republican Institute
We concluded in 2021 a partnership with the International Republican Institute (IRI) in order to support their Data for Democracy. This consisted in the training of IRI grantees in using data for activist campaigning as well as the development of a data literacy curriculum to be used by IRI for future projects.
2021 saw OKF partner with a funder to support their own internal data culture for the first time. As the Rockefeller Foundation transitions towards becoming a more data-driven funder, they called on OKF’s expertise to help them build their internal data literacy curriculum and identify the staff’s needs in terms of data culture.
In 2020, Open Knowledge Foundation made a commitment to apply our skills and network to the increasingly important topics of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms. The work would include building internal capacities across the team, creating a network of support around the topics and exploring alternative avenues to activate the issues in the public sector. The former CEO decided to allocate significant core resources for that purpose, but also cultivate a pool of independent donors to sustain the efforts.
As a result, we launched the Open Knowledge Justice Programme in April 2020, with the ambition of ensuring public impact algorithms cause no harm. Public impact algorithms are those that involve automated decision-making using AI and/or algorithms, are deployed by governments and corporations and have the potential to cause serious harm to individuals and communities.
The plan was to deliver results in that direction through three strands of activities: advocacy, strategic litigation and training, while continuing the exploration of sustainability efforts for the area.
_Advocacy: _The program did not launch any campaign, its efforts were limited to press presence for the advocacy component. The programme received good press via the Economist’s Babbage podcast and a full article on algorithms in Covid exams in The Guardian in July. In November, the director of the Justice Programme, Meg Foulkes, was interviewed by The Privacy Collective: ‘The future of tech should be fair, transparent, accountable’
_Strategic litigation: _In December 2021, the Open Knowledge Foundation tested strategic litigation as a possible tool to advance its mission. Supported by a generous grant from the Digital Freedom Fund, the team, in partnership with a legal firm, and assisted by a broad network of public interest organisations, initiated the exploratory work to examine the viability of litigation against the UK government for its deployment of potentially discriminatory systems in education, evaluation of language skills of migrants and evaluation of medical students. While the initial part of the exploratory research was completed, the Foundation, upon arrival of its new CEO, decided that it was not the best equipped to sustain litigation efforts in the long run without diverting considerable resources away from its mission.
Training: The organisation invested resources and relied heavily on its data literacy team to design a new set of curricula for the Open Justice area. It started by hosting a series of webinars for lawyers and legal campaigners called ‘AI and Algorithms for Lawyers in the Covid context and beyond’. The webinars secured 70 participants over time. Webinars were also hosted for police officers, which covered an introduction to how AI and algorithms work and a detailed exploration of these systems in the context of law enforcement: Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), facial recognition and automated parole decisions, for example. The Webinars were focused on the risks and harms of deploying AI and algorithms in policing, identifying the serious problems of bias, especially as directed towards people of colour.
After evaluating the investment, achievements, resource commitments and concrete results, the upcoming CEO decided to gradually close the program, and only keep the capacity building and training programme, with funds covered by the litigation grant.
2021 saw the culmination of the process of transitioning the OpenSpending stewardship from the Open Knowledge Foundation to Datopian. The project is now fully managed and maintained by the Datopian team, which includes its original creator Rufus Pollock.
This year we continued our work with the United Nations Refugees Agency by developing their RIDL Platform further. RIDL is a centralised and secure data repository that ensures their team is able to use its valuable raw data to its full potential and make it available externally for operational partners, as well as preserving it for future use.
On Saturday 6th March 2021, the eleventh Open Data Day took place with people and organisation across the world organising over 327 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Out of which, 104 were online events and 104 were in-person events.
Extremely grateful to the generous support of our mini-grants funders - Microsoft, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Mapbox, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, Latin American Open Data Initiative, Open Contracting Partnership, and Datopian, we were able to support 61 mini-grants to help organisations run great online or in-person events.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the open data community was able to adapt to the new normal and organise events to celebrate Open Data Day. The details of the events organised and reports are available on the Open Data Day website.
We also made a basic enhancement to the Open Data Day website to provide the community with a space to search the events taking place in their county and publish the details related to their events. The Open Data Day Google Group now has more than 910 members, please feel free to join the group and get connected with others.
This year we launched Net Zero Challenge, a global pitch competition about using open data for climate action. We received over 80 applications from 40 different countries for the pitch challenge to win a USD 1000 in the first round.
The challenge was funded by our partners - Microsoft and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. 5 projects made it to the second stage and were shortlisted for the pitch within our panel of experts hailing from four different organisations.
CarbonGeoScales – a framework for standardising open data for GHG emissions at multiple geographical scales won the pitch competition of the Net Zero Challenge 2021.
csv,conf is a much-loved community conference bringing together diverse groups to discuss data topics, featuring stories about data sharing and data analysis from science, journalism, government, and open source. Over two days, attendees have the opportunity to hear about ongoing work, share skills, exchange ideas and kickstart collaborations. As in previous years, the Open Knowledge Foundation were members of the organising team.
**csv,conf,v6 **was a resounding success, despite being virtual again due to COVID. We had about 1000 registrants from around the world, and several hundred attendees for the presentations. The conference, held on 4-5 May 2021, was keynoted by Dr. Kadija Ferryman, The COVID Tracking Project, and Simon Willison. You can watch all the talks on YouTube.
The Open Knowledge Foundation remained a key stakeholder in the CKAN ecosystem during 2021, continuing its ongoing involvement in the maintenance of the project and its community. The OKF team helped coordinate releases, handle and patch security vulnerabilities and contributed to the day to day management of incoming contributions and community support requests.
As part of our activities to support other organisations in opening up and publishing data, we use and customise CKAN to adapt it to each scenario. Many of these custom features are designed to be useful to the wider community and ported to the main CKAN repository or released as public extensions.
To share information for a more open world, these are some highlights from 2021:
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Open Knowledge Network continued their activities.
Open Knowledge Belgium hosted their annual conference #openbelgium21, with 24 events and 58 speakers, throughout the month of March. All the recordings are online: 2021.openbelgium.be. They also hosted the open summer of code 2021, where 50 students transformed 13 open innovation projects into powerful real-world services.
As Brazil continues to face very high rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths, Open Knowledge Brazil and six other organisations have denounced the lack of transparency about vaccination data in the country. The Brazilian electoral authority has invited Open Knowledge Brazil to join 11 other government and civil society representatives to assist in planning and auditing electronic voting and open data.
In Canada, the GOOD 2021 conference took place in May online, with a theme of “Open for Community Wellbeing”.
Open Knowledge Germany celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2021. Ahead of their federal elections, the chapter published a series of demands for democratic digital policies that political parties should pursue for the common good.
Open Knowledge Greece, as part of the consortium delivering Entice, worked at bringing together a network of academics, medical educators and industrial content creators to co-create medical experiential content. Find out more here.
Open Knowledge Nepal started a partnership with DataCamp and Code for Nepal to offer hundreds of data fellowships to Nepalis of all data skills and level. OKN also launched the updated identity and revamped website.
The OpenData.ch team in Switzerland organised at least then open data hackathons. They range in themes from boosting GLAM and rethinking journalism, to liberating geodata and decarbonising cities. The Swiss chapter also continued their #datacafe awareness campaign.
To learn more about the activities of Network chapters, groups or affiliates in your country or region, visit okfn.org/network to connect with people where you live who also want to open information and use it to empower individuals and communities.
Join the Open Knowledge forum to connect with people across the world pursuing open knowledge and open data projects. To follow the work of the Open Knowledge Foundation, you can connect with us via Twitter, Facebook, Github, Gitter, YouTube or subscribe to receive our newsletter every month which features updates on our projects, network and events.