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TOR161 — Supporting The Open Data Movement with Pavel Richter of Open Knowledge International

Pavel Richter

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According to the May 6th, 2017 issue of the Economist, data has officially displaced oil as the world’s most valuable resource. If you’re like me, the most surprising part of this declaration is that its taken until now for it to appear. Data drives the business models of most, if not all, of the world’s most valuable companies, governments rely upon data for safety and security issues and data availability is something so many of us take for granted when we’re driving from our homes to an unfamiliar destination. As the world’s most valuable resource, you’d think that data would be locked in safes, or hidden from view or, basically, hoarded whenever possible. And you’d be correct. However, what we also know is that there is an absolutely mind boggling amount of data that is publicly accessible, or “open”, for anyone to access and use. And there is a powerful movement, which continues to gain popularity, that seeks to unlock, set free and make useful as much of the world’s data as possible. My guest for the 161st Terms of Reference Podcast, Pavel Richter, sits at one of the focal points of open data movement. He is is the CEO of Open Knowledge International, a worldwide non-profit network of people passionate about openness, using technology to unlock information, and enabling people to take action on pressing social problems. And, Pavel is no newbie to open data, before joining OKI, Pavel was Executive Director of Wikimedia Deutschland for 5 years, and pioneered the internationally acclaimed Wikidata project which is now the fastest growing project for open structured data. I’m sure you’ll enjoy our conversation, where we discuss topics such as what open data means, the ethics of open data, where open data “lives”, if open data used for “evil” and even how different cultures interpret what “open” means. You can connect with Pavel here:


  • How open data brings about transparency, empowers civil societies, and fosters innovation
  • What open data is, what it can do for you, its challenges and applications now and soon enough
  • Technicalities and costs of handling free open data and making it accessible
  • Is data free speech? Dealing with nefarious uses of open data (without sacrificing our liberties)
  • The politics of open data in issues such as national expenditure budgets or land ownership
  • Pavel’s career in open communities. Spoiler: it all started as a volunteer Wikipedia contributor hobby




  • Open Data, business models
  • Open Source, Movement
  • Information society, empowerment, civic engagement
  • Private data, closed data environments
  • Data science, databases and hosting, data processing, APIs
  • Data and free speech
  • Terrorism
  • National government finances
  • Data literacy, skills
  • Risk management, consulting
  • Volunteering, Wikipedia contributors
  • Coworking, spaces
  • Data openness, world ranking


  • Berlin, Germany
  • Nepal
  • Australia
  • Taiwan
  • Barbados
  • Myanmar
  • Denmark


Download an automated transcript. Berlin, June 2017   03:16 Open Knowledge International UK-based Nonprofit (Pavel is CEO) OKI global network Empower civil societies to use open data “to improve people’s lives” Customers (other organizations) have an interest to use open data “We try to be reflective” about openness   06:18 So, what is Open Data? Any kind of data set free to access and use It can be combined with other data sets Google Maps is free, but closed data OpenStreetMap is also free but it’s also open data If Google Maps ever gets shut down, Google can make the data disappear If OpenStreetMap is out, the data will survive in its users OpenStreerMap is always free OpenStreetMap works even without commercial value proposition Mapping Nepal is complicated and not worthwhile, C\B-wise Open Data is everywhere, apps and web services use it all the time “It probably is part of your life already, or it should be”   10:20 Is Open Data fathomable? There is a technical aspect We’re talking databases, APIs, logs, data extraction and processing Open Trials Initiative about medical trials for pharmaceutical information OT has to extract data from PDFs into statistics-ready series It’s about increasing quality, transparency It could potentially trigger academic productivity, innovation We give people access without a specific reason or purpose in mind The important thing is that it’s usable, and that people use it   13:52 Open Licensed lasts longer Hosting data is cheap The expensive is giving access Wikipedia’s business model: fundraising drives The bulk of  the funds come from small donors The model is trying to be spread by other information businesses A large user base is key OKI looks for grants from large foundations But other models are being tried   16:41 How many open source projects were opened since this conversation started ISIS reportedly uses Mappr, based on OpenStreetMap Reality is, if use can be controlled and prohibited, data is not really open (How) should government police the way data is accessed and used? Data is free speech “There’s a price for openness” But this does not mean openness is the problem Stephen: Closed data can be just as nefarious (ISIS uses Facebook too) In Sweden, everyone’s tax returns are public “It was a choice by the citizens” “In Germany it would not happen” The definition of open is cultural   21:36 How is open data being used to help A&D? Also in Nepal 20% of national budget comes from foreign aid It does not come without strings Open Data tracks spending data It takes a lot of effort to build the datasets, make them understandable and useful Who is providing the aid? Where is it going? A challenge in giving data skills to people, journalists in particular How can data turn into information, stories, news for the public?   24:46 The German Wikipedia Experience A complex journey Pavel started as a risk management consultant 12 years an analyst Soulsearching strikes Decides to do a radical shift He knew he wanted to go non-profit Joining Wikimedia was no accident Pavel spent his evening editing 5 years Moving to OK was logical Wikimedia DE is small, OK is global OK is world, coworking-based Dealing with the nuts and bolts of data It’s meaningful   29:05 An open-sourced crystal ball “I’m careful about giving a prognosis” There are large, looming issues OK, similar organizations are still finding out who the open data user really is OpenStreetMap is finding its way, even in mobile How is data used? How can we show its benefits? Costs involved: Maintenance, removing obstacles Civil societies must be emphatic about the values of open data Big challenge Keeping the world open is just as important There’s not deliberate movements against openness, but… Initiatives could be better organized Scientist coming together to take open data away from current US executive   33:16 What’s the state of openness in the world? There is a risk, maybe a trend against openness in Western governments as of late But in a more general trend, there’s optimism Open Data Barometer tracks progress As does OK’s own Global Open Data Index 4th installment just released, tracks data dimensions for 94 countries Australia and Taiwan are leaders in national openness Barbados, Myanmar on the tail end In national budgets, there’s variance but good news Land ownership is the opposite. Except Denmark, no other government shares info (Not even Australia and Thailand) Most likely not a coincidence So sometimes data is available and sometimes it’s not Citizens need to engage more Join organizations Support open data journalism Ask not what open data can do for you but what you can do with open data   37:44 Open is not free Grants will always be significant sources Organization are starting to understand the impact of supporting this “utilities”, for their own missions and as a whole OK owns a commercial services provider based in open data to companies and governments Hosting and consulting Software development   39:56 Is data science the ‘it’ skill? Please don’t say yes “I don’t necessarily agree schools should replace classic Greek literature with computer science” “I can’t write code” “You do need to be data literate” Understand, read, talk data Not scientist status necessary Some parts of open data are too important to leave to experts Open data empowers citizens, only citizens can make the best use More enthusiasm from technical activists Building bridges with citizens OK and civil societies called to bridge the gap

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