Open Data for the common good: The Services4Migrants hackathon

Government data is often mentioned as a commons, a public resource to be made freely available for all goodwill people willing to create real value out of it. During the week-end of 10th&11th March 2018 at the premises of Politecnico di Milano, Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, a live demonstration was given of how government data might be exploited for the common good, notably the delivery of better services to regular immigrants applying for family reunification.

Read the story of of the Hackathon held in Milano, March 2018.

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“According to Socrates…” Using High School Philosophy to Create Better Open Data Policy

Remember those tedious high school philosophy classes? Trying to distinguish ‘a posteriori’ from ‘a priori’? Figuring out what actually is a deductive argument? What’s the deal with Kant? Those classes were hardly the highlight of the high school week for me. Hence, I left the philosophers where i thought they belonged; on dusty shelves.

But I have rediscovered philosophy in the most peculiar place: open data and policy.

To begin with, in the dawn of the 2010th, one of the things that drew me to open data was actually it’s philosophy. The concept of promoting transparency, accountability and value creation by making as much data as possible public. Simple, appealing and yet a little provocative.

Throughout our second Hackathon cycle — as the O4C-team in Karlstad ventured beyond the data-sets, API:s and metadata standards in the health care system — into the realms of policy; I found four lessons from my high school philosophy that helped me better understand and explain how to promote, and not to promote open data as a goal and tool for policy.

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Designing a workshop series to build and improve citizen data literacy

Suggesting an activity concept to supplement the current Open4Citizens project and the future aim of establishing Open Data Labs. This story is based on a semester project within Service System Design studies at Aalborg University in Copenhagen.

Through the hackathon format, the Open4Citizens project is bringing together a variety of stakeholders and citizens to collaborate and develop solutions for the future by applying accessible open data sources. However, when it comes to the question of helping citizens to become more data literate, the hackathon format on it’s own might have some short-comings. The following article presents one of the hackathon’s held within the Open4Citizens (‘Hack the Outdoors’) and suggests an additional workshop activity that can be included in the Open4Citizens project or in its’ future goal of establishing Open Data Labs in each pilot of its’ operation.

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Park Makers: A Digital platform that supports citizens communities using open data

An inspiring concept example of a graduation project, Delft University of Technology.

The Dutch Open4Citizens pilot focuses on public parks in Rotterdam being self-managed by citizen communities. In doing so, these communities face all types of challenges, that could potentially be addressed using open data. One such possibility could be through proving and documenting their added-value to the municipality. This is a post describing my graduation project at Delft University of Technology. I’ve worked closely with the Dutch Open4Citizens team while researching the park communities around Delfshaven, a district of Rotterdam known for their active citizens and its experimentation with democratic innovation.

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The Open4Citizens Platform: A digital child of many small steps and collaboration experiences!

The #O4C Featured Story kickstarting the new updated platform:

A conversation about incorporating new responsive technologies and developing a platform able to serve a “five-headed beast” of 5 different project contexts across Europe.

Just now in early October, the release of the 2nd version of the Open4Citizens platform is due! This will be a platform to be used for 5 upcoming Hackathons. The first will be held in Aalborg (DK) — the rest in Milano (I), Rotterdam (NL), Karlstad (SE) & Barcelona (S).

Sharing a glimpse ‘behind the scenes’, I convinced two of the hardworking programmers at the Danish company Dataproces to take time for an informal talk about insights and challenges as they construct the platform and prepare the code!

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To all my fellow nerds: What community can teach us about teaching open data!

I love data. I’ve spent most of my adult life collecting, analyzing and visualizing data. Today I work with creating, promoting and understanding data-driven service innovation. Saying I’m a nerd, especially when it comes to open data, is not an overstatement. My conviction is, or at least use to be, that data can solve any problem.

Being a nerd is not necessarily something bad, and if you only hang around other nerds life can tend to be kind of uncomplicated. And especially within the open data community nerds like me tend to flourish. Numbers and technology makes for a fertile nerd-soil.

But being a nerd sometimes limits your ability to convey your passion for the subject to people outside of your bubble. It also give you a birds eye view on matters you need to be close at heart. This is something that our work with the Horizon 2020 project Open4Citizens, the local health care system and the Open Data Lab at Kronparken in Karlstad, Sweden has made me, sometimes painfully, aware of. There has been more than one occasion at civic center, local library or the primary health center when I, in all my well-meaning nerdyness, have gone on rants on SDK:s, PSI:s and API:s, only to realize that I lost the crowd at “Let me tell you about open data”.

But thankfully for me, our partners and friends at Kronoparken don’t give up on people — even if they are far-off data nerds. And through dialogue, trial and error and a little common sense, the amazing community organizers, civic leaders, doctors and nurses of Kronoparken has taught me some important lessons on how to teach open data.

Or in other words: how to operate outside of the bubble:

1 . Remember that data is information — not technology

Open data is information. It’s information about the tenement houses, the public transportation and, at heart for our part of the project, the health status of the community. This is something that people care about and want to learn more about. So if you talk too much about the technical aspect you exclude those who have no or little experience from the technical realm. Save the tech-talk for the “techies”.

2 . Promote data literacy as a social movement

When public schools were introduced 120–150 years ago, one of the main objectives was to teach the general public to read and write. Promoting literacy was a way to protect workers and the commons from being tricked and cheated by opportunistic factory owners and profiteers. In the same way, promoting data literacy is a way to address the inequalities within today’s digital age. A lot of big companies own and use our data, and data is starting to become a commodity. The more people who get involved in the discussions around data and open data, the bigger the force to challenges the existing paradigm. And if data literacy becomes a social movement, we might shift the paradigm all together.

3 . It’s OK to be a nerd — but not to be a jerk

Let’s face it: nerds can be a pain in the butt. We are condescending and we think that we know better than everyone else. But when it comes to understanding life in the local community, nobody knows it better than the people within said community. No data can change that. So whenever the urge to show off your god-like data skills: resist. Even if your nerd-self screams for self-affirmation, the key to working with the community is to be a part of the community. And although the most tolerant people can put up with a nerd every now and then, nobody likes a jerk.

4 . User-centric beats data-centric every time

When you work with data, everything tends to start and end with data. But out there in the real world, in health care (), in schools, in NGOs, putting the user as a focal point for the process is key. If there is no need to address, then there is no problem to be solved. So be sure to start by asking the community what they want, need and feel inspired by before you start accumulating data. You have to leave your birds eye perspective and move into reality. Because otherwise you’re just going to stand there in the end with a fine looking spreadsheet and no-one to show it to.

5 . If data can’t solve the problem — don’t panic.

In the Karlstad part of Open4Citizens, we focus on healthcare and preventive health. And there are may challenges and never enough data when it comes to healthcare and preventive health. And more and more people and organizations are realizing open data’s potential for improving both personal health and the healthcare system in general. But the more you learn about the healthcare system, the health care professionals everyday situations and the needs and idéas of patients and the general public you understand that open data won’t solve all the problems. It can perhaps make for better services when it comes to preventive health. It can for sure help the healthcare system of the best urgent care clinic to better understand the general public. And it most definitely can help empower citizens. But in the end, your health comes down to the basics; exercise, socialising with friends and family, enjoying the good things in life with moderation and finding meaning in your jobs or everyday activities happiness. Data can perhaps measure these things — but not ensure and provide them.

Petter Falk is a strategical project manager and service designer @RISE Service Labs. RISE ServiceLabs is an operations project partner for the County Council of Värmland and ExperioLab in the Horizon 2020-project Open4Citizens. Read more at

Learn more about RISE ServiceLabs at

O4C Methods empowering the citizens of Casablanca, Morocco — at a recent Open Data ‘Creathon’!

On May 19th 2017, the Open4Citizens project co-organised the first Open Data Hackathon for citizens in Morocco. The event was labelled a ‘Creathon’, since it was shorter in duration than a standard Hackathon, and was focused on the non-technical development of attractive open data based concepts.

The aim was to invite citizens who had registered in advance on an open Internet platform to reflect on the possibilities of using Open Data to address some of the city’s problems and challenges within the fields of globalenvironment, mobility and health. The goal of the event was to arrive at a set of proposals and solutions that would improve the quality of life of Casablancans.

The overarching topic of the creathon was citizen sensitization and education to the environment. The hack event tried to build upon the momentum generated by the 2016 Marrakesh climate conference, to help empower the citizens of Morocco as digital social innovation leaders in the field of environment protection.

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Milano@Work: A new ‘Hackathoned’ Service for Milano

As a Featured Story from the Open4Citizens project, the team in Milano shares some of their successful post-hack achievements:

The rationale of the first hackathon cycle of the Milano pilot was related to the citizens growing need for transparency on urban transformations. These were turned into three challenges, being the outcome of the repeated interactions between the Politecnico di Milano’s “policy entrepreneurs” and some of the most active citizen groups. These were also used to feed the hackathon event:

  • avvisaMI (“I want to be warned!”) — or, how can the timeliness and completeness of the information disseminated by the Municipality and the companies in charge to the residents in the areas affected by the public works be improved by an appropriate use of open data?
  • cantieri che disastro! (“What a messy construction site!”) — or, how can the citizens living nearby be reassured and better informed/documented about the (low level of) impact of the existing construction sites on urban environment (air pollution, noise, etc.) as well as on the same people’s lifestyles (cycling lanes, green areas, traffic diversions etc.)?
  • parliamo di Milano (“Let’s speak about Milan!”) — or, how can the quality and effectiveness of civic participation in decision making on urban transformations be improved thanks to the use of open data and the development of new applications?

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