Tag Archives: Spaghetti Open Data

Against all odds: open data in Italy make a breakthrough

Last Tuesday in Rome a wonderful thing happened: OpenSpending Italy — the first Italian contribution to the OpenSpending platform — was launched.

The data were there. They come from a dataset of consolidated public spending by region that the Department for Development Policies started gathering in 1998. They were already published in open format: the Department can rightfully take credit for it. Yet, I would argue that Tuesday’s launch marks an important step forward.

A step forward was made in accessibility to data. A very important, well maintained, comprehensive dataset on public spending is now accessible through advanced, interactive visualization, easy to compare with analogous international data. Even more interesting, it was published in widget form: anybody can copypaste the embed code anywhere she wants, like I did above.

But the more interesting step was made in the scope and diversity of collaboration that lead to this result. The data for OpenSpending Italy have been gathered, cleaned and associated to metadata by Italian civil servants in the Department for Development Policies and the State’s Accounting Service; processed by code written by British and German coders at Open Knowledge Foundation, a third sector organization; and published through the data journalism channels of Guardian Media, a British private business. The idea has been generated in the context of the meeting places of the Italian open data movement, and of a virtual meeting place in particular: the Spaghetti Open Data mailing list, born in September 2010 to provide civil servants and civic hackers with a constructive, respectful environment to talk about open data.

Thanks to this “managed diversity” (in the sense that trolling is not tolerated) SOD — like other places — allows people with complementary backgrounds and skills to meet up, explore each other, and maybe do something together. OpenSpending Italy was born from the collaboration of two wonderful civil servants, Aline Pennisi of the State Accounting Service and Simona De Luca of the Department for Development Policies, and civic hacker Stefano Costa of Open Knowledge Foundation Italy. Stefano got the international branch of OKF involved (Jonathan Gray and Friedrich Lindenberg need mentioning); and the latter enlisted Guardian Media (Simon Rogers, who — just like Gray — happened to be in Italy to participate in the Journalism Festival in Perugia). 72 hours later the data went live on OpenSpending’s first page and on the Guardian’s datablog.

This story, as I see it, has a clear implication: the Italian open data movement has come of age much faster than expected. Available datasets are growing; we are converging on standards of openness; we have visualization tools, physical and virtual meeting places, supporters in several administrations and ISTAT. We have friends overseas in the global open data movement, and we can and do collaborate with them as peers. We even have an emergent leadership: even as OpenSpending Italy was released, Aline was already working on a new project with OpenPolis and Open Linked Data Italy. Codenamed Open Budgets, it aims at making the budgets of more than 8000 Italian municipalities open and accessible. All this in a country perceived as indifferent, immobile, declining — with good reasons.

Me, I’m just happy and proud of the little I can give to the Italian open data movement, maintaining the SOD mailing list (I am the condominium’s janitor, so to speak). All together, civil servants, geeks and simply curious, committed people, we are showing that we can achieve some change for the good here and now, with the available resources and skills, without having to wait for some Global Change or a cultural singularity. May this attitude spread elsewhere in the public sphere. Heaven knows we need it.

Open data: Italia Data Drink, an event in Parliament, and news from America

The week begins under the star of open data. Tonight – Monday, April 18th – the Spaghetti Open Data group meets up for the first Italian Data Drink to enjoy an happy hour together; symbolically, we are going to meet at Mokarabia in Piazza Fiume, where it all began. Everybody is welcome (map). Many of us are in Rome to participate in an event organized by the fine folks at Agorà Digitale in Parliament for Tuesday 19th. As fond of our spectacular mailing list as I am, I look forward to a physical gathering, and to strengthen our links with the global open data movement thanks to the many guests from abroad.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Obama administration is revising its strategy on networked participation of citizens to policy making. Over two years after the famous presidential memorandum, the “open government” denomination itself is being abandoned for a new one: Good Government (official site). Beth Noveck, former deputy CIO at the White House, agrees (I recommend reading the full post):

In retrospect, “open government” was a bad choice. It has generated too much confusion. Many people, even in the White House, still assume that open government means transparency about government [and lose sight of] collaboration informed by data.

On Tuesday 19th I’ll also find the time to do a little thing of my own: I am presenting my book Wikicrazia in Rome, in an event called “Coffee with…”. The format is intriguing: we meet up at 8.30 a.m. and discuss over breakfast, on the spectacular terrace of Reti‘s headquarters. It’s by invitation only: if you want to join us, let me know and I’ll try to get you invited.

Open data: Italian Data Drink, incontro alla Camera e notizie dall’America

La settimana comincia nel segno degli open data. Stasera – lunedì 18 aprile – il gruppo di Spaghetti Open Data si ritrova al primo Italian Data Drink per un aperitivo; simbolicamente, ci troviamo al Mokarabia di Piazza Fiume, dove tutto è cominciato. Chiunque voglia unirsi è benvenuto (mappa). La ragione per cui molti di noi “spaghettari” sono a Roma è che martedì 19 aprile partecipiamo in massa a un evento, organizzato alla Camera dei Deputati da Agorà digitale. Per quanto mi piaccia la nostra favolosa mailing list, sono contento di ritrovarci fisicamente e, vista la forte presenza di esponenti internazionali, di fare squadra con il movimento europeo degli open data.

Negli USA, intanto, l’amministrazione Obama sta rivedendo la sua strategia sulla partecipazione in rete dei cittadini alle politiche pubbliche. Sono passati oltre due anni dal famoso memorandum presidenziale; la stessa denominazione “open government” viene accantonata in favore di una nuova, Good Government (sito ufficiale). L’ex vice CIO della Casa Bianca Beth Noveck approva (vale la pena leggersi il post completo):

Con il senno di poi, “open government” è stata una scelta sbagliata. Ha generato troppa confusione. Molta gente, perfino alla Casa Bianca, continua a pensare che open government voglia dire trasparenza su ciò che fa il governo, [trascurando] la collaborazione informata dai dati tra amministrazioni e cittadini

Martedì 19 troverò il tempo anche per fare una cosa più mia: presento il mio libro Wikicrazia a Roma, in un evento della serie “Caffè con…” organizzato a Reti. Il formato è insolito e molto intrigante: ci si trova alle 8.30 e si fa colazione insieme sulla spettacolare terrazza della sede di Reti. La partecipazione è solo a invito: se volete venire datemi una voce e vedrò che posso fare.