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OK Fest 2014: Open that data!

Berlin hosted the Open Data community for an overwhelming week of shared knowledge and experiences

July 21, 2014

OK Fest 2014

In one of those rare incursions out of the depths of Brazil, we had the pleasure to attend the Open Knowledge Festival 2014 in Berlin, last week – after all, one of our Dataviz Wishes for 2014 was that “Open Data became bigger than Big Data”, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out what the community is developing on a global scale.

The journey itself was an adventure, but we’ll leave that for another time, and just focus on this event organized by the Open Knowledge Foundation, with the help of an amazing team of volunteers that really managed to assist you and ultimately make the event happen. A great effort that deserves to be properly recognized.

OK Fest 2014, held at the KulturBrauerei complex, Berlin

The event was held the Kulturbrauerei complex. The place was originally a brewery in the 1800s, and has been transformed over the years into a cultural complex with theaters, galleries, clubs, and restaurants. A nice environment to host the 1000+ visitors from more than 50 countries, but perhaps not the ideal venue for an event with so many sessions taking place simultaneously. The main auditorium was great but sound quality was an issue in the smaller improvised rooms – as it was with the WiFi Internet access, especially in the first day. Not so different of so many other conferences and events, I guess, and most certainly not an issue for those who were there mainly for “Networking”. Apparently, that’s the thing you do in these events, and guess what: it works!

Held under the slogan “Open Minds to Open Action”, the festival’s ultra-packed schedule forced us, at some point, to choose between having engaging conversations or attend the next session – and by the looks of the tables outside, we weren’t the only ones facing this dilemma. We were interested in talking with people from other regions of the world, what they were doing in places like Africa, Asia and other Latin American countries, and it was really great to see how vast and dynamic the community is. We hope to be able to bring you more on this, with an exclusive set of in-depth interviews with those amazing folks we met.

As far as the programme itself, a lot as been written so far, and there are many resources out there, as you’ll see below, so we’ll just like to highlight Eva Constantara‘s session “Defining and Designing Successful Data Journalism Initiatives in Developing Countries“, in which participants were able to share among each others some of the success stories – and failures – in data journalism initiatives. Perfect for what we had in mind.

Data visualization was also not that much present, apart from a couple of mapping and tools sessions, which is not that much of a surprise. The focus was clearly on tackling issues such as censorship, training in journalism and exploiting non-visual data journalism alternatives for places where, for example, you only have radio as a medium. But it’s important to bring up the issue of visual literacy at the same level of data literacy, and that’s something that will hopefully grow in upcoming editions of this event.

And before we move on to the resources and suggested links, a final observation. Despite all the excitement and engaging conversations taking place, there was a somewhat controversial topic that we heard being often whispered, about the real reasons behind Google’s sponsorship and association with the Open Data movement. And if we look to what has been going on for the past 12 months involving privacy and internet companies, that’s definitively a legitimate concern that should be at least addressed by the organization of the event. For the sake of openness.

Blog Posts and resources

First of all, the organization’s channels: the OK Festival blog, Storify, Flickr Group and YouTube channel should definitively be your first stop, and you will find notes on pretty much all the sessions, keynotes and workshops in this ‘Pad of Pads‘.


Another excellent resource is the The Open Knowledge Cast set of mini-interviews, including the ones with Boaz Render (CEO of Bocoup), Antonio Acuña (Data.Gov.Uk) and School of Data‘s Zara Rahman.” target=”_blank”>TechPresident also has a flash interviews page with Q&A’a with folks that were at the event – including yours truly.

In addition to these resources, we recommend the following blog posts by those who attended the event: