Exactly one month ago I casually noticed that Michel Bauwens was about to give a talk in Helsinki, an initiative of Pixelache and the University of Helsinki (along with the online journal  and Helsinki Timebank). It was worth attending, the conference was dense with information and examples of cooperation from all over the world: e.g. The Nutrient Dense Project, from Tasmania  or Wikispeed  (US), a collaborative process for car making.

While US prepare for presidential elections, in this small country like Finland today is municipal election day. Also the Pirate Party is present, with a high number of candidates. A good moment for talking about Peer-to-peer and the Commons.

Tasmania Sheffield

Bauwens is the founder of Foundation for P2P Alternatives: ex-entrepreneur, he has been developing a thought for “a new mode of civilization, where the core of decision-making should be located in civil society, and not in the market or in the State”. In the actual crisis of representative democracy there is space for new forms of horizontal egalitarism, on the model of computer networking, alternative to the classical hierarchical mode of organization. Renewing with the forms of cooperation of the past, of workers and peasants, a new economic thought can be developed.

According to Bauwens, the current system is based on a false idea of abundance of resources, supposed to be infinite, underlying the ideology of infinite growth. And on a false idea of scarcity, which makes us believe we always need to buy more. As we realize day by day and globally, sustainability is more and more necessary. The cost of this relentless expansion is the current stagnation.

New modes of production are being invented, such as peer production: “a for-benefit model” opposed to the “for-profit one, with a more positive impact on social happiness”. “A bottom-up mode of participative decision-making”, complementary to the democratic institutions but working for a “convergence between individual and collective interests”.

In a rapid and fascinating historical survey, Bauwens pointed out that the Roman Empire tried to get out of its crisis by re-localizing the productive resources. The emerging new system was fostered by the young Catholic Church, an open-source movement anti-litteram! Well before the Renaissance, the Templars in 12th century “moving money for pilgrims, invented the first bank accounts”.

While in capitalism the market relationship is based on unequality, in gift and/or exchange economy the relationship is more balanced, involving individuals voluntarily contributing to common projects. Even new currencies are being experimented, such as BitCoin  (valid to buy a Wikispeed car) and other alternative currencies

With open-source softwares such as Wikipedia, Linux and Arduino, shared property forms are increasing their weight (being in the US already 75% of the total). The underlying idea is universal availability, which implies the free circulation of knowledge. Under the pressure of the Internet, our world is becoming more and more controlled, copyright laws becoming more and more restrictive (the same fear which closes our frontiers?)

According to Bauwens and others, knowledge should be comprised among the Commons, that is a resource belonging to everyone. Intellectual property is a resource exactly as forests, atmosphere and ecosystems. New forms of licenses are already existing, such as General Public and Creative Commons Licenses.

“We need an entrepreneurial coalition to sustain the Commoners (…) Open business models go hand in hand with sustainable living”.

As it happened “with the Industrial Revolution, the arise of capitalism came along with a social change, the main system being in crisis. As at the end of the Roman Empire, when the pressure of Germanic tribes compelled to rethink a local strategy, in an emerging new system of values (Christianity); farmers were expelled by their lands, there were massive exodus: then peer-to-peer activities permitted to survive”.

Nowadays countries as Brazil succeed thanks to “a new way of thinking, solidarity economy”: Lula, as a ministry of Culture, encouraged open logistics projects, e.g. small coffees in the favelas with music, cinema and so on. Open research and crowdfunding make these experiences grow.

Bauwens wonders what the future political impact of this all will be: if sub-cultures need politics to defend themselves, a young generation of social entrepreneurs is emerging, “turning capitalism upside-down for social goals”. An ex. is the French Fair Trade Electronic, processes which imply “a direct intervention in the productive system”. As in the cases of the Greek potato movement, or the musical network in North-Eastern Brazil, its poorest state, with its internal currency.

With the end of welfare state and the subsequent devastation of civil society, good public infrastructure are needed; an ethical market place may be an answer to the decomposition of society, as capitalism was an answer to three centuries of religion civil wars.

We need to shift from the idea of scarcity to that of balance, optimize the resources, as in eco-villages or car-sharing agreements.

Nowadays it´s evident that “national States are uncapable to deal with the problems, a global orientation is needed, to p2p energy and technology”. We need to “manage the existing resources instead of fighting for scarce resources”, which may lead to “big social upreavals” in the near future. 50% of German energy is already produced cooperatively. With the support of the State the change may go double fast.

This process will lead to a transformation of the State in perspective, institutes for the Commons are needed, as Tommaso Fattori points out.

According to Bauwens, even “the invention of money has been a political choice, depending on a decision. In Middle Ages taxes did not depend on currencies. Money is design, not something given, and we can redesign it!

The challenge is to create new practices (as the Time Bank), de-monetized activities where people and nature come first. Creating an alternative circle to the current financial system.

If you are still curious, you can watch Bauwens´ talk here.

The OKFestival week closed on September 22nd with an inspiring side event, the Good Map Summit, a seminar organized by Cindy Kohtala and Helsinki Green Map at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. As the organizers put it: “Whether they are interactive location-based technologies or beautifully hand-drawn cartography that captures a place’s uniqueness, maps are everywhere“. Designers, geographers and thinkers gathered in Kiasma to discuss how to use technology to enhance local business, environmental quality and a new sense of community. A special guest was Wendy Brawer from Green Map System, a featured speaker at the OKFest as well.

Good Map summit Helsinki 22.9.2012

The first project presented was Green Riders, a platform which makes possible to freely share car rides. Founded in 2010 by Željko Bošković and his team, this online and mobile service helps people to easily find car rides, with the aim to reduce CO2 emissions. Free for private users, it also has a business edition for companies, which is increasing its activity. One would expect Finland to be one of the less motorized countries in Europe, but it´s not the case: the number of vehicles is rapidly increasing, in 2011 being almost 3 millions over a population of about 5.4 millions (car density per capita is anyway lower in the most inhabited areas of Finland, as this Europe motorisation rate map shows). Italy was the second country with most cars in 2010, after the US. It´s a poor consolation to see that it also has the highest amount of natural gas cars in Europe. France is doing even better than Finland; the less motorized European areas are between Northern Germany and Denmark and the lest ones in Eastern Europe. There is more and more need to track emssions, which in many countries is becoming also obligatory. Instruments are being developed, such as Global Reporting , or the company targeted Carbon Disclosure Project, and Green Riders might be of help as well.

Pekka Sarkola, geodata expert and entrepreneur, guest programme planner for Open Geodata at OKFest, talked about different kinds of socially useful online mapping: Blindsquare is a derivation of Foursquare, the site which helps you to locate services and exchange points in your neighbourhood. It allows people with sight handicap to locate for ex. cafés or post offices by maps they can hear. Other useful ideas are the Light Map,  showing the concentration or scarcity of artificial lightning. Or noise level maps, showing how noisy a place is.

Green Map discussion at Kiasma

But the most interesting platform is Open Street Map, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2005, with more than half a million volunteers worldwide. Using Google Map as a basis, OSM activists tag the maps with all sort of useful information. In emergency situations OSM proofed to be an important tool, locating in real time the collapsed buildings, but also schools, hospitals and so on. In OSM anybody may add his/her own information, add the maps attribute info tags (highway, cycleway, building, residential etc.) – “a democratic, but also an anarchical idea”, according to Pekka. Contrarily to what we may think, “there is a huge work left to do, there are many missing areas, streets, paths” still waiting to be mapped.

Pauliina Seppälä presented Cleaning Day, a citizen initiative “for friends of flea markets and recycling”. A worldwide event, it took place for the first time in Helsinki in May, and a second time on September 8th. The town´s streets, parks and yards filled in with people selling whatever unnecessary they had at home: the idea is to clean up your home and enhance the culture of re-use in the place of that of endless consumerism. Cleaning Day too would not be possible without a customized Google Map, where you can see (and add) the nearest available marketplaces. Second-hand culture is quite popular in Finland, in many Helsinki districts (as in Töölö or Kallio) you can find cozy shops with furniture, clothes etc.

Green Map local food icon

But the funniest moment of the day was a practical one, a walk in Kiasma area to find out where are the points of environmental interest: the task was to tag them on a mobile map, using the Green Map icons, a set of icons developed by Wendy Brawer and her team: an international platform founded in 1995, Green Map gathers people of local communities to make them more conscious about sustainable everyday choices. Map making is not limited to internet users but it is also encouraged as a manifold handicraft activity, by drawing, painting, sewing and so on. Our action too was carried out with non conventional means: we used blueberry organic colours to tag the places of green interest! Thanks to Elissa Eriksson, from Multicoloured Dreams, who provided the colours, and to some patient architects and designers, we cropped and painted the icons on the ground in front of the shops. An ephemereal idea, considering the autumn rains, but the results are still visible on this web map.

Icons making at Lasipalatsi, Helsinki

Part of the idea was also to tag outdoor places suitable for new artworks: the Multicoloured Dreams art group invites people to find their town´s places in need of a more coloured look. Whoever may become a street artist, previously contacting the City Architect for permission. Contributing to own town´s outlook is also a way of caring about it, hopefully diminishing the acts of vandalism and indifference (such as throwing litter on the street, an increasing problem in Helsinki).

As reported at OKFest Sustainability Stream, Green Map initiatives multiply in Europe: Four Bees Hive (4BsHive) is a transnational project involving four river cities, Bristol, Berlin, Budapest and Bistrita. It was made possible thanks to Grundtvig, an EU programme supporting non-vocational adult education. For a recapitulation of OKFest Sustainability Stream have a look here.

Open Knowledge Festival third day (Thu 20.9.) opened in a controversial way and closed up with a wave of sheer enthusiasm.

The morning first talk was held by Finland´s former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki, presently working at the EU Parliament: her visit was an unexpected one for this kind of audience and a courageous choice on her part. Jäätteenmäki´s career has been spotted by an act of lack of transparency, known as Irak-gate: elected in March 2003 for the Centre Party, she had to resign in June, accused to have used confidential Foreign Ministry documents for political purposes during the election campaign, against her rival Paavo Lipponen. The documents contained diplomatic information from a meeting between George W.Bush and Lipponen, where the latter would have offered Finnish support to the international coalition, a breach against Finnish official policy of neutrality – in a country where most of the people considered the Iraq war an illegal war of aggression. Jäätteenmäki had to resign rapidly, having lost the trust of both her party and the Paliament.

In spring 2003 Finland was probably the only country in the world where both Prime Minister and President were women. Some inferred that Jäätteenmäki´s conduct was heavily sanctioned also because of her gender. The affair showed indeed a mixture of lack of transparency and political clumsiness.

Her talk at OKFest didn´t convince either. If it may be true that the European Commission has moved forward since 2008 to nowadays, with its growing interest in open data, quoting ACTA ´s rejection as a victory of direct democracy sounded quite demagogical. A couple of provocative questions about EU´s lack of transparency came from the audience: “why farmsubsidies (about 55 billions € per year) are not published anymore?” On the contrary “in Latvia if you get any cent from EU it is instantly of public domain”, someone commented. And: “what do you think about the process leading up to EFSF and ERM and other European financial stability instruments? The process has been very closed”. She answered as she could,  pleading for more transparency in financial instruments and the European Central Bank ´s conduct, without anyway saying anything substantial.

Hans Rosling ´s evening speech contrasted sharply, with its combination of experienced brilliance and an impressive amount of facts. A professor of global health at Stockholm Karolinska Institutet, he spent two decades in rural Africa as a physician, tracking the causes of a rare form of paralytic disease. He is among the founders of Médecins sans Frontièrs (Doctors without Borders) in Sweden and of the Gapminder Foundation, a non-profit venture which aims to increase public conscience about how the world is changing and make statistical information widely understandable.

With a mixture of pragmatism, understatement and irresistible sense of humour, Rosling ranged over some major subjects, from population trends and their supposed impact about the environment, to poverty, new political balances and climate change.

But he especially insisted about one thing, the need to break clichés which circulate at large: “save all the poor children, and the environment will be destroyed”, “all Chinese cannot have a car” or “rainforest people live in balance with nature”. What´s wrong in these catch-phrases?

Data in hand, he maintained that “the demographical bomb” will not explose, due to facts that balance each other in the decades: if it´s true that Africa will double its population before 2050, and Asia will grow of another billion units, on the other hand the combination of prevention and difficult life conditions (e.g. in crisis areas) is already causing a shrinkage of the births. Frequent question like “why are there more children per woman in muslim countries?” prove to be totally wrong, as this is often not anymore the case: prejudice, ideology and ignorance often veil our eyes. Rosling affirmed that population in history has always been a constant, balanced by many concurrent factors. If it will take a certain time to decrease, it won´t certainly increase exponentially, as we fear. Followed the funniest scientific demonstration I ever attended! If you´re curious have a look here (starts at 56´37´´):

The modernized world is “no doubt a better world“, e.g. compared to the Middle Ages, when infant mortality was still dramatically high (as in the rainforest today), still “it is not good“. If China has the largest foreign exchange reserve in the world, with a consistent minority of new riches, 60% of the world population lives with 2-10 dollars a day, while 20% (in the so-called Western world) ownes 74% of the wealth. An unbroken silence filled the auditorium, as Rosling displayed the most dramatic data about poverty and child mortality, sharply contrasting with the laughters we shared a minute before.

The atmosphere changed again, with a brilliant commentary of the photo of the leaders of G20 summit 2008, during the blast of global financial crisis caused by the US:

Bush, the advocate of democracy, stands near Lula, not exactly a democrat (and moreover lending 30 billion dollars to the US); Sarkozy finds himself between a muslim and a buddhist (!), and so on. Rosling found many examples to support his opinion, the Western world is doomed to sink under its “toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance“. The term developing countries is a false one, they will be very soon the world, concentrating the most of the world population. “There is no such thing as we and them, and even less in the future”.

OKFest auditorium

The only hope is recovering from ignorance, fill the gap in our minds between what we think to know and what the data tell us, to accept and realize how the real world is changing (look at the beautiful interactive graphs, available together with the data, on Gapminder´s site). He anyway affirmed that open data and infovisualization are wonderful tools, but will not solve the problems per se: communication is central, to make data comprehensible and useful, and enhance global conscience.

And also environmental conscience, “climate is a too serious issue to be dealt with environmental activists” (!) Climate change is a fact, “we can observe daily the dramatic diminution of the ice at the poles: not only the area diminishes, but the ice grows thinner every day, will absorb more light, melt even faster and so on.

How our countries should report? We are not investing seriously in green technology, renewable energies. We need a serious debate about energy and resources, less emotional and more fact-based; look less at details and consider more the macro situation“.

He concluded, “watch The magic washing machine video, think about it: 7 billions people, everyone 1 washing machine!”

After Simon Rogers´ talk, combining equally classical journalism and data expert skills, the day continued with a number of interesting presentations.

Farida Vis talked more about Reading the Riots, a research about the role of rumours during the London riots in 2011: it is also a research about people´s behaviour in social media, a study case about Twitter (which would deserve further investigation, what Farida promised to do in the future). A fundamental contributor to this work was the Italian data journalist Jacopo Ottaviani, working at Il Fatto Quotidiano and The Guardian. Jacopo´s work focuses on sensitive social issues, such as prisoners´conditions of life in both Italy and the UK: the study in Italy shows prisoners´ main causes of death during the last decade, that in UK focuses about the rate of suicides in British prisons. An example of how data journalism may increase social conscience.

Farida Vis at OKFest

The next speaker was Esa Mäkinen, one of Finland´s prominent data journalists, working for the only daily national newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (by the way the main one in Scandinavia). It´s interesting to note that HS wants to be a pioneer in data journalism, on the model of The Guardian and other much larger international newspapers. HS has been organizing Data Journalism Hackathons [1] in the last two years, with the idea to find people with technological skills, keen to collaborate for their website: journalists, programmers and designers, meet for a day, working at their own project; the best ones get the possbility to be developed and published on HS website. The next HS hackathon (no.6) will takes place today at the OKFestival!

As it was more times pointed out on Tuesday, data journalism is drawing more and more attention among the readers, who are eventually both attracted by the visualizations and the interactive possibilities (choose freely what to look at, at which country, age group and so on). So it is becoming more commercially appetizing for news agencies, while more traditional reporting forms are rapidly disappearing (see art and music reviews!) Mäkinen said that the HS website has about 1.4 million visitors per day, a remarkable number. Finland is a highly technological country, online apps such as the election machine (helping you to find the candidate more near to your views) have been existing since at least 15 years.

Mäkinen´s team next project is an interactive poll about the brand new building of the Helsinki Music Centre, with questions about its aesthetics and functionality, utility/need for citizens and so on. Looking forward to the results!

The Hungarian Júlia Keserű presented K-monitor, an internet portal aiming to detect corruption levels in the press: she reported about a couple of censorship scandals in her country, where journalists were fired for having revealed links between the finance world and first-row politicians (the Prime Minister or his entourage). The portal aims to detect media ownership control and measure advertiser´ influence.

An inspiring talk was that held by Maya Indira Ganesh and Emma Prest, from the Tactical Technology Collective, an NGO founded in 2003, based in both Germany and India, with regional staff in South Africa, the UK, Jordan and the Philippines. The organization aims to give technological support to rights advocates who work about sensitive social issues, such as sex workers´ conditions in Asia. The research, Sex worker voices, illustrates the acts of violence sex workers endure in West Bengal and Cambodia. In such marginalised communities modern devices as cell-phones are the only means to let others know what happens. The data collected include locations, display of the facts in time (how frequent they are and so on), and especially who are the people involved: in most cases police officers were among the offenders, in first place along with madams, and only in minor percentages customers and landladies. Thanks to this programme sex workers became more aware of the scale and nature of the violence within their communities. They found out that some of the data contradicted their own beliefs. The data also revealed how the stigmatisation of sex workers is reflected in the kinds of violence they face.

OKFestival newsroom

The American researcher Lesley Kadish showed that a dataset may also be composed by historical, archive material, such as diaries, account books, photos from the XIX century (A Christmastime Ledger Book, 1862). The video visualization showed the same landscape (Fort Snelling, Dakota) as it was supposed to look through different historical times.

There were also a couple of open geodata presentations, by the Finnish team Ali Kaapro and Tiia Palvimo, and by the Dutch team of Juha van ‘t Zelfde and Maurits de Bruijn: the latter project, Shippr, was started a few months ago and regards the tracking of ships all over the world. A kind of FourSquare for ships, the idea may have economic, social, environmental implications – as 90% of the world trade happens on the seas. Through dynamic data and locations the application may help to understand better the tangible global economy, in its real time changes. Shippr is now looking for partners, e.g. telecommunication companies such as Sonera. Shipspotting may also be important as a form of citizen journalism, a chance to report facts on a free, voluntary basis. As it came out from the numerous questions, the world of ship traffic is anyway not always a transparent one: if on one hand ship are registered and it´s not so easy to change their names, containers may transport anything, their content does not need to be specified, which gives space to illicit trafficking. One question was also: could you track military ships?

Last but not least, Victor Miclovich from Uganda, talked about the use of technology in developing countries: in extreme situations nets of mobile phones are fundamental to detect the most violent, dangerous areas; or help in case of epidemies such as the Ebola fever, which recently killed many people in Africa in a short lapse of time. Applications such as u report – voice matters or rapidFTR, are useful to find children lost in war areas. Miclovich collaborates with various NGOs, UNICEF and so on.

Miclovich conducted also another project of social relevance in Uganda, to encourage girls and young women to use technology and programming. Girl Geek Series is a series of workshops where girls learn to code and design open-source software: in a male-dominated area, they learn also to work in teams, gain self-confidence and hopefully start a business on their own later on. In spite of their families´ opinions, often not so positive, as in many other areas of the world.

[1] Term combining the words hack and marathon

The following day was dedicated mainly to cook, in a truely professional large kitchen, Aromi. We anyway divided ourselves between our computers, to check out the last data, and the kitchen. Shortly after it was time for presentations, carefully documented in photos and videos. A fast, almost immediate passage between reality and its virtual duplicate!

In the process some aspects had to be abandoned, for both lack of time and need to reasonably limit the research and make communication and visualization possible: I had to drop the hypothesis about the decrease of energy consumption, as a complex element which would need further investigations (in some cases no clear decrease is registered, even though the industrial production diminishes). Also the idea of saunas lay on the ground, with the puzzling question of how many they actually are in Finland (waiting to be answered in the next project!) The two aspects were eventually linked, in the case that sauna were used for both cooking fish and personal hygiene, with a reduction of energy consumption.

The task of the day was much more visual-oriented than I expected, as someone used to express mainly in sound and words. It was nevertheless extremely interesting to try to change perspective, to consider a totally different approach. Finally the composition of the dish was a pleasantly silent moment, voiding the mind from the strict data comparisons.

In this respect the idea of the workshop was really good: cooking food is putting one´s hands back into the real world and one´s feet on the ground, after all the hypothesis and speculations arisen from the data. And the task, using data (as any other abstract material) to generate something utterly concrete and physically enjoyable, was a meaningful one. As it often happens, more ideas came after everything was over, such as visualizing in the dish the dimensions of the three factories considered (from Western Finland, Ostrobothnia and Lapland), the relations between number of employed/unemployed people, the impact of the loss of the factories on the regions (more dramatic in less industrialized areas, as in Kemijärvi, Lapland), and so on.

The tasting was another nice social moment, in certain cases a challenge – not always amazingly visually presented food tastes as one would expect. The most éclatant case was Rossana´s cocktails, a study about suicide rates in Finland, Germany and Italy, where the proportions of alcoholic drinks depended on the most consumed ones in the three countries. In general the dishes were really tasty and colourfully multicultural, and finally even the cocktails found their estimators! Check out here for the final results.

The moment implied the rapid destruction of the works, in a merry mixture of creativity and destruction – a mark of the transiency of life. In this I feel much less pessimistic than Bauman[1], who complains that nowadays works of art are not thought any more to last, but to be rapidly consumed, as everything else. If this may be partly true, on the other hand using perishable or recycled materials goes on the contrary in a more natural direction, dropping the Romantic idea of art as eternal. As the ancients said, panta rhei (everything flows). A wiseness also Oriental philosophies teach us again. Without necessarily attaching to this natural phenomenon a negative sense.

[1] Z.Bauman, op.cit., p. 186

The OKFestival, which is bound to be a success, with its 800 tickets per day sold out, opened last weekend with a tasty “satellite event”, the Open Data Cooking Workshop. An idea of Pixelache and Berlin Prozessagenten, the workshop has drawn together a varied bunch of people: we were asked to bring a favourite, meaningful ingredient, with some cultural or affective importance.

Ingredients Table

And to choose a field of open data interest, among the many options collected by our open data magician, Miska Knapek: from environmental data, such as the levels of radioactivity still present in Finland after Chernobyl (1986), to energy consumption; crime statistics, social housing, elections and so on, from the 15 topics of the Statistical Yearbook of Helsinki 2011, and many more. Mostly local data, from Helsinki and its region, but also from Finland at large, with wide possibilities to put them in comparison and/or in contrast with similar/different situations in the world. Something Moritz Stefaner (one of our hosts, with Susanne Jaschko) considers the main point: find out something unexpected from the initial hypothesis. Something which makes us reflect about aspects of reality we didn´t know or considered much less crucial.

What does this all to do with food culture? The local approach is one of the keys. What is the relation between what we eat and our habitat, food and society? Here some reference projects.

All this was yet even more about visualizing data with food: exploiting the coulours, textures, temperatures and so on to refer to sets of data, ranging from suicide rates in Finland to the quantity of city rabbits populating green areas in the centre of Helsinki.

The brainstorming continued during the lunch pause, which saw us sit around an old wooden table, with a countryside touch: making concrete the ideas of togetherness and “open collaborative society in a global village” of which spoke Miska during the introduction. The global village was well represented, with people from Russia, U.S.A., Hungary, Italy, France, Greek, Denmark, Finland… hope not to forget anybody!

After lunch we continued in a playful way, we were asked to draw lots from a bunch of subjects and ingredients and put them in connection to get more ideas about the project to realize.

Brainstorming Table

Here we got fundamental help from Antti Nurkka, our culinary expert, and Miska and Moritz, in quality of data wranglers. It was fun to learn something about both subjects, cuisine and data! Quite a surprise to discover, beyond the classical four basic tastes (sweet, sour, acid and salt), a fifth one, umami, the new magic word of nowadays cuisine (actually about one century old but coming known at large much more recently).

Looking for a sense through the hazardous, sometimes pretty absurd combinations we got, was quite a compositional game (not far from an artist´s path during the realization of a project): this mostly drew us to consider totally different subjects from what we initially were interested in. From the nuclear pollution start idea, I began to work about deindustrialization in certain areas of Finland, where the closure of traditional factories, such as the paper productions, has caused large unemployment, with subsequent empoverishment and possible rise of crime rates and sense of insecurity. And it didn´t end here: I was asked to consider also the number of saunas! Quite impredictable data, I bet they are countless and most of the owners wouldn´t be keen to reveal their locations (a quite private and “sacred” affair for a Finn).

This made me think about the possible diminution in energy consumption in these areas: while having dramatic consequences when it happens, deindustrialization may also be an opportunity to reconsider the virtually endless productivity growth we live in. Making us remember that limits exist, enhance us to take more individual responsability on our environmental impact (from having less learning to need less, consume less and so on).


Welcome onboard, this is going to be an (almost) daily journey to discover what “open” means, in the many senses this magic word can assume.

From the Open Knowledge Foundation webpage, the main organizer with a tenth of other open movements of the first Open Knowledge Festival (Helsinki 17.-22.9., also in streaming/video), it reads that “a work (music, films, books, but also scientific, historical, geographical data) is open if its manner of distribution satisfies certain conditions, among which: free accessibility, redistribution (no copyright restrictions), possibility for anyone to reuse it, open data format, no discrimination against persons or groups, no restriction of endeavour (business, genetic research or any other possible field)”.

Open philosophy and action involve many fields of human activities: information technology makes available huge masses of data, “released by governments, local authorities, agencies, or any combination of them – even across national borders” (Data Driven Journalism).

Open data looks like one more flood of information, as we daily experience in this complex and “liquid” (sorry Bauman again!) world. What can this be of any use to ordinary mortals?

Lists of “budgets, timetables, costs, crimes, births, deaths” and so on, if filtered and compared may be useful to understand ” How much does the army get if you compare it to health services?” (We Love Open Data)

Or simply, if cities open up their public transport data, citizens may easily figure out which is the fastest bus itinerary to a certain place (or the fastest cycling route! As it is the case in Helsinki since this spring).

Open data may also enhance transparency, “shed light on intra-governmental processes, raise awareness, incite discussions about government decisions, and improve the level of public discourse” (Open data in action). Some wonder would such a case as ILVA in Taranto (Corriere 15.8. 2012) have arisen if risk and pollution data had been transparently available? (Ernesto Belisario)

Open data seems to be journalism´s new frontier: not only a possibility to enrich reports with often beautiful statistically based data visualizations, but also bring to the front not generally reported issues, such as Milwaukee´s area child mortality (surprisingly high, the article also investigates why and for what causes, JSOnline Data Journalism Awards candidate). Or show how many journalists have been in Afghanistan in the last two years and in which areas (Violece Against Journalists in Afghanistan). Or show in real time how many Syrian officials, politicians and diplomats have fled abroad up to now (Tracking Syria´s Defections).

Environmental data, such as those collected by ARPA are crucial to build a green consciousness and improve the quality of life. Being free to reuse a shared knowledge is a parallel to recycle a material, what needs to be done more and more if we don´t want to be drowned in waste.

In Open Design sustainability is a central issue. More on this in next posts!

Check out the OKFestival Topic Streams to get an idea of what is happening. Countless subjects may be approached in this way!

Alla scoperta dell´Open Knowledge

Benvenuti a bordo, questo sarà un viaggio quotidiano (o quasi) alla scoperta del mondo open e dei tanti significati che questa parola magica può assumere.

Dalle pagine web della Open Knowledge Foundation (il maggior organizzatore dell´evento di settembre, insieme con una decina di movimenti open) si legge che un´opera (musica, film, libri ma anche dati scientifici, storici o geografici) è open se le sue modalità di diffusione soddisfano certi criteri, tra cui: libero accesso, redistribuzione (senza restrizioni di copyright), possibilità per chiunque di riutilizzarla, formato open data, nessuna discriminazione verso gruppi o persone, nessuna restrizione di utilizzo (dal business alla ricerca genetica, nessun campo escluso).

La filosofia e l´azione open includono molti settori delle attività umane: l´informatica permette di avere accesso a enormi masse di dati, “rilasciati da governi, autorità locali, enti governativi e non – anche oltre i confini nazionali” (Data Driven Journalism).

L´open data ha tutta l´aria di essere un altro fiume di informazioni, che si aggiunge a quello che quotidianamente ci sommerge in questo mondo complesso e “liquido” (Bauman ha colpito ancora!) Di che utilità tutto ciò può essere a noi comuni mortali?

Liste di “bilanci, orari, spese, crimini, nascite, morti” e così via, opportunamente filtrate e messe a confronto tra loro, possono aiutarci a capire “quanto va all´esercito e quanto alla spesa sanitaria” (We Love Open Data). O semplicemente, se una città diffonde i dati dei trasporti pubblici, il comune cittadino può calcolare in un attimo qual è l´itinerario più rapido per raggiungere un certo posto e con quali mezzi pubblici (o persino con che pista ciclabile, com´è possibile fare a Helsinki da qualche mese a questa parte).

L´open data può anche aumentare il grado di trasparenza negli affari pubblici, “far luce sui processi intergovernativi”, aumentare la consapevolezza dei cittadini, stimolare la discussione sulle decisioni dei governi e innalzare il livello del dibattito pubblico” (Open data in action). C`è chi si chiede se un caso come quello dell´ILVA di Taranto (Corriere 15.8. 2012) si sarebbe mai verificato se i dati sui rischi ambientali e l´inquinamento fossero stati resi pubblici fin dall´inizio (Ernesto Belisario).

L´open data pare che sia la nuova frontiera del giornalismo: non solo per la possibilità di completare i reportage con ricche visualizzazioni di dati statistici, spesso esteticamente attraenti, ma soprattutto per l´opportunità di portare all´attenzione generale argomenti spesso trascurati, come ad esempio il tasso di mortalità infantile nel distretto di Milwaukee (sorprendentemente alto, e questo articolo, candidato al Data Journalism Awards ci racconta quanto e per quali cause: JSOnline). Possiamo venire a sapere in tempo reale quanti e quali politici, ufficiali o diplomatici siriani hanno deciso di andarsene all´estero fino a questo momento (Tracking Syria´s Defections).

I dati ambientali, come quelli raccolti dall´ ARPA, possono contribuire a creare una coscienza ambientale e a migliorare la qualità della vita. Poter riutilizzare un materiale intellettuale è un gesto equivalente al riciclo di qualunque altro materiale, un gesto che diventa ogni giorno più indispensabile, se non vogliamo soccombere a una massa di rifiuti. La sostenibilità è al centro dell´ Open Design. Ma per questo vi rimando alle prossime puntate!

Nel frattempo date un´occhiata alla lista di argomenti (Topic Streams)  dell´OKFestival: gli argomenti che si possono avvicinare da questo punto di vista sono davvero tanti!