Open Data session at St. Petersburg International Economic Forum

Last week I attended the St. Petersburg International economic forum. I was invited to represent LOD2 and speak in a session about open government data titled: “Open Data: Transparency with a purpose”. Other participants included two ministers of the Russian Federation (Mikhail Abyzov – minister for Open Government and Nikolai Nikiforov – minister for Telecom and Mass Communications), the NASA’s Chief Knowledge Architect Jeanne Holm and UK Transparency Board member Andrew Stott as moderator. Each one of us gave a short presentation before Andrew asked a few questions to some front row participants from NGOs. You can watch the full video of the session (in English and Russian) here.  Its great to see that Open Government (Data) is becoming an important topic in Russia. Mikhail Abyzov was presenting a number of legislative and operational projects which have happened. Russia seemed to have started late (Open Data became a more official strategy only last year), but things are moving very quickly – there is already a large amount of data published and in a way its seems to me that Open Data might be perceived by some government officials to be a way to improve efficiency and effectiveness of public administrations bypassing cumbersome bureaucratic hierarchies. Ivan Begtin, one of Russia’s most prominent Open Data activists, told me after the session, that meanwhile already most of the public tenders in Russia are published already as Open Data and in the last years the situation of corruption related to public procurement seems to have improved already a lot thanks to this measure. Ivan also mentioned, that certain people still try to prevent this increased transparency using homograph attacks (i.e. using different Unicode characters with the same glyphs or injecting special invisible Unicode characters). Anyway, thanks to Open Data it is now much easier to identify such attempts.

Jeanne Holm was talking about some experiences with Open Data and data.gov in the US and the relationship of Open Data with the recent big data buzz. Similarly Andrew reported about developments in the UK. The talks confirmed that although the importance of Open Data is meanwhile widely understood, the individual pain points and sucess factors in every country and region differ quite much. In Russia probably transparent and due process in public administrations is one of the most pressing issue, while its crime prevention or public transportation efficiency in the US and UK or public planning in Germany. In my talk, I tried to make a case that real value can only be generated out of Open Data, if we are able to link and integrate different sources (Linked Open Data). Our session at SPIEF was not the best attended one – looks like the majority of the attendees were organizers, contributors or accompanying people. This might be related to the hefty entrance barrier (if you were not invited by the organizers you had to purchase a 5.000 Euro conference pass). Also, I think that for making Open Data really a success you need to develop the whole ecosystem, of administrations, companies, NGOs and community initiatives to engage in the topic and at least with regard to supporting the last two stakeholder groups Russia still seems to be quite behind.

Was a very interesting experience to attend such an international economic forum. The St. Petersburg one is probably not as exclusive as the one in Davos, still a large number of World-class politicians (Vladimir Putin of course, Angela Merkel, China’s vize premier) and business/finance leaders (Deutsche Bank boss Jürgen Fitschen, IMF’s Christine Lagarde) attended. Whole St. Petersburg seemed to be in the SPIEF fever with thousands of policement dressed up in their Sunday uniforms, bumped up Mercedes S-Class density and quite some locals complained about the nuisances of blocked roads booked out theater performances etc. Due to the skyrocking hotel rates I preferred to stay with Avicom/HSE/W3C Russia’s Victor Klintsov in a student dorm of St. Petersburg’s University of Information Technology, Mechanics and Optics (IFMO) – thanks Dmitry for organizing this. BTW: If you want to visit St. Petersburg for some Open Data Web related event, I can recommend the 4th Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Semantic Web 2013, taking place in October at IFMO.

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