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Reflections from IODC18 — Do We Need to Re-think International Conferences?

Argentinian women protesting.
Written by
María Zilli
Published on
November 27, 2018

This past September, I travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to attend the 5th

International Open Data Conference

(IODC18), a global event that aims to bring together the open data community. In addition to IODC itself, different groups organized side-events throughout the week, such as the Open Heroines Do-A-Thon, the Open Cities Summit, and others, adding value to the week-long experience.

First, a little context on Buenos Aires, Argentina

Travelling to Argentina was exciting not only because of its beauty and culture but also because of the ongoing #MareaVerde movement aiming to decriminalize abortion in the country. During a historic vote on June 14th, thousands of women took to the streets in Buenos Aires to push Congress to pass the initiative. These women set an example for the rest of Latin America, showed unity for a common cause, and inspired many of us.

However, during the week of IODC, a national strike occurred in response to President Macri’s new deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which aims to tackle the deep economic crisis in the country. As the conference was partly organized by the Government of Argentina, the crisis and the anti-government strike were not highlighted throughout the event. At times, our discussion of transparency felt a bit disconnected from the ongoing context. Further, an event drawing from the Open Contracting Partnership, CoST’s Infrastructure Transparency Initiative, Open Data Services and many others should make all budget and expense data open — which IODC is going to do in the coming days.

“Salario, Salud, Educación, Trabajo, Economía, 25 de septiembre Paro General” (Salary, Health, Education, Work, Economy, September 25th, General Strike).

Getting real

The two-day conference had plenty of panels and workshops of all kinds, with simultaneous programming that allowed attendees to choose the sessions most interesting and relevant to them. Additionally, this setup allowed for a diverse and broad experience, with attendees jumping around different events in the same venue.

Though I had a great experience at IODC, I left with the impression that we need to change the focus of these events and look more critically at the open data movement’s achievements in terms of impact on people and communities. Some sessions criticized the open data movement and its failures (I refer to some of these below); however, I believe an even more realistic and reflective outlook would do the movement much good. A decade of Open Data has passed before our eyes, and it’s time to think seriously about balancing out the positives and negatives of how we view, act around, and think about open data. We must address what can be done better, what is working, and what is not — and incite more movement, controversy, and conversation.

One of the most interesting panels I attended was “Open Data Infrastructure — The Importance of Data Governance.” Carlos Iglesias from the Web Foundation mentioned that open data is more than just publishing websites, it’s about changing the government, and that the way we are leading open data today is not sustainable. I believe that this idea is crucial for reinforcing and pushing the open data movement forward.

Open Data Infrastructure: The Importance of Data Governance Panel at the IODC18

In looking at open data, it is important that we address areas of opportunities and flaws. By recovering failed attempts and shortcomings, we can demonstrate weak spots in project planning and funding constraints. For example, open data use has been widely discussed as of late, and I wonder whether the open data usage threshold has been set too high for general public access. If so, there is a critical need for capacity building across all players.

Looking forward to IODC20

In the lead up to IODC20 in Nairobi, Kenya, I am eager to finding ways to maximize cultural exchange between attendees coming from all over the world, bringing new faces to the movement, facilitating opportunities for conference newcomers to build meaningful connections, and thinking of ways for new attendees can interact. As for session ideas, I would like to see a session dedicated to donor interests, as they play a key role in incentivising the community.

Open Data and the Private Sector: Breaking Down the Walls at the IODC18

As the Open Data ecosystem continues to shift and evolve before IODC 2020, the conference must also evolve alongside it. This year, IODC’s theme was “The Future is Open” — however, how open is it really? With the rise of authoritarian governments, widespread economic crisis, border closures, systematic human rights violations and conflict-ridden societies? Future iterations can benefit from a more context-specific approach, while remaining critical and realistic, such as the idea referred in this session that the next conference should focus on putting people at the center of open data.

All in all, participating in IODC gave me a great perspective on the Open Data movement, and I connected with many new colleagues and voices — particularly, amazing women! Special shout-out to all who ensured that there were no all-male panels during the conference, and that gender was a primary focus of the conference. I found it refreshing and enriching to hear so many new and different voices at the conference — and many thanks to the Open Heroines community for facilitating my travel to Buenos Aires.

This article is written by María Zilli, a researcher at Transparencia Mexicana, the national chapter of Transparency International. Since 2017, she coordinates the initiative #3de3. She served as a consultant for the Open-Up Guide: Using Open Data to Combat Corruption, aimed at offering guidance on the use of open data in anti-corruption. She holds a BA in International Relations and she is currently developing data processing skills using R programming.

The views in this article does not represent the views of Transparencia Mexicana.

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