CONSEGI 2011: Digital Inclusion and Open Data


After the good start I already reported, CONSEGI continued well.

Besides many talks on specific, often philosophical, political or administrative themes, there are plenty of workshops still ongoing, on a wide range of topics related to Free Software and Open Government: traswhare, e-government, promotion of Free Software both in general and in development of Brasilian IT industry, and labs introducing visitors to Plone, LibreOffice macros, Python, InkScape and many others applications.

Speaking of Open Government, the SERPRO director Marcos Mazoni described in the opening sessions some of the Brazilian initiatives that led the USA to propose Brazil an Open Government Partnership to stimulate adoption of Open Government policies in all countries, from fiscal responsibility law to online contract monitoring systems. Mazoni also acknowledged that (as any other country!) Brazil has a long way to go, for example to define practical, detailed procedures with deadlines and sanctions in every field of Public Administration.

Rufus Pollock explained another reason why, besides activists, several officials in many government, are starting to realize that Open Data is part of the solution to their problems: we live in “information surplus”, there simply is too much information to process and manage it in any other way.

Of course, the road to Open Data isn’t free of obstacle. Issues that (luckily!) pop up in several discussions are questions like ” How can we prepare the society for this, and how can we talk about democracy if schools have no teachers or computer labs?”. The problem of how to make understandable to the majority of citizens the meanings hidden inside big bunches of raw data is serious. Other speakers acknowledged that sometimes it also exists inside government offices, which of course is another reason to open data, to make it possible to understand them better together.

Personally, one thing I haven’t seen discussed enough yet, here at CONSEGI, with the exception of Rufus’s keynote (but it may simply be due to the fact that I couldn’t possibly follow all talks and workshops!) is the acknowledgment that Open Data are really open when they can be always reused. Otherwise you “only” have full transparency, which of course is great anyway, but not really Open Data.

The afternoon

My talk about Digital Citizenship Education, a need of society caused enough interest that I kept discussing some points with a couple of people in the audience when we left the room. The discussion was so interesting that I realized only 20 minutes later that I had left my laptop in the room! The talk was also considered interesting enough to generate two articles on the CONSEGI website about it: O que eu tenho a ver com software livre? and Vivemos a cultura do software.

After recovering my laptop, I had some time left to follow a small part of the workshop about the Brazilian National Infrastracture for Open Data (INDA). I’ll talk about it in a separate article. Later, I went to hear Rufus Pollock speaking about the big picture of Open Data. Here are the most interesting points of his talk and the following discussion:

  • CLosed Data Doesn’t Scale! (My comment: the same point applies to cost of transparency, and to the cost of keeping data closed between government offices!)
  • the Many Minds Principle: the best things to do with your data will be thought of by someone else
  • data are a platform, not a commodity: you build on them, not sell them.
  • Licensing is boring, but without licensing nothing else works

During the following discussion, a student said she’s concerned about Open Data and, in general, digitization of public services because, she said, in India digitization of land records was used by rich people to claim ownership of lands owned by poor people. But this is the same example that I had made a couple of hours earlier in my talk about Digital Education! So I stepped in to remember another positive example of the same type, also mentioned in my slides: it was just the usage of computers and Internet that helped indigenous people in Bolivia to successfully claim a great part of their lands. The difference between the two cases was that the people in Bolivia knew that computers could help them, and got the right assistance to learn how to use them to protect their interests.

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