Open Data in Latin America

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Evan doing work on open data in Latin America.

Ciudando intelligente: Hack day organizing with support of OSI, etc.


David K: Grantee of Pierce Foundation doing work in Latin America David E: FreeGeek interest in Latin American tech Ben: Comparison of open data efforts with American vision of open data, which lacks power analysis. Can we learn from Latin America? Caroline: How has open data worked or not? Dan Amanda: Accountability journalism project -- what does real data access look like?

Role of civil society and politics in Latin America

Political actors tend to be better informed with ideological positions that are strongly held -- different from party system, Latin Americans have several strong political tendencies. More direct conflicts over power, but also better understanding by citizens of political discourse. The right and center have adopted those models.

Three political camps:

  • Right wing/center-right: Chile and Colombia, but not the predominant ideology lately.
  • Center-left / pro-market: Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru -- a "western"/"north" model. Effective at building middle class (20 million
  • Populist-left: Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela. State ownership and wealth redistribution.

Same dynamics in all countries, but different outcomes:

  • Populist countries tend to be very against open data -- center-left and right wing fight for open data.
  • In center-left, pro-transparency, open data. Often very naive. Uruguay has naive law that says all non-personal data should be released, but no machine readability requirements (PDFs). Uruguay and Chile, strongest economies in terms of GDP per capita, best about releasing data, etc. Brazil is moving to intellectual property rights before developing copyright laws. Brazil's issues come from enormous population. (Aside about Brazil: changing really fast -- money from commodity exports, especially oil, being rolled back into main economy, basic wage policy imported from Mexico... worker's party plus historic currency controls).

Open data groups that are most interesting work are in oppositional countries:

Garage Lab in Argentina doing crowd sourced data collection because Argentine stats agency numbers are deeply cooked. Another key question is about inflation data -- what is the real inflation rate? Move away from use of dollars freaking people out. People have a lot of reason to collect this data in oppositional countries.

Paraguay has project collecting food commodity prices in each community, published as open data.

Economic issues: 6-10% annual growth, capital is pouring in, so inflation is major risk.

Other data questions: companies getting contracts, influence.

In Argentina, journalists had axe to grind in seeking out contract data. In Uruguay, more data but people have less impetus to get useful data. Uruguay uses proportional system that tends to converge political will.

Amanda: What might come out of upcoming hack days?

Uruguay: social issues pressing (gay marriage, abortion). Hack days working with left-wing press (pitfalls: deep connection to current power structure). Main point: getting journalists involved and excited about using open data.

(Aside: Google maps can't look up a street address, and can't do directions. In Uruguay: Street map data IS available via OpenStreet Map and bus maps have been worked on).

Amanda: There are dangers inherent in transport applications.

Ben Sheldon: There's a question of models here -- like crime mapping heat maps -- is open data oriented towards change or is it more mundane?

Evan: No public crime data in Latin America. Crowd sourced crime reporting tends to be wealthy angry about crime and safety.

Open street map correlates to local wealth.

David E: Is there dialogue about problems with open data's effect on the poor

Evan: There's strong dialogue about digital inclusion with "poor neighborhood first" orientation -- start in poorest, move to richest. OLPC took three years to get to Montevideo from countryside.

In Uruguay you get internet with phone lines, and youth get free laptops, so everyone (multi-generational homes) gets computers. So issues are participation gap and not necessarily access-related.

Ciudnano intelligente in Chile -- student protests arguing for free education and funding reforms. Transparency people were mapping student demands to government demands via graphic visualization to show progress (or regress) in negotiations. Students used government data to help make their case, but in conjunction with on-the-ground actions. Didn't necessarily help students understand their own fight, but did help make the case in public.

Skye: What about politically sensitive data?

Evan: Lots of corruption is under the table.

Skye: But that's us, too.

Evan: What data is available, typically not machine readable.

Skye: What about simple committee data, vote data?

Evan: That's a desire, but decisions are often made by small groups from ruling families.

Amanda: Poderapedia -- power mapping of Chilean structure of influence.

Evan: Other countries where people are doing similar.

Evan: Both more capable of moving forward quickly yet several steps behind the "west". Less sophistication around technique and practice (like expectation of diff and change history of documents).

Evan: Working with political party in Uruguay, asked to implement CRM. But memory of dictatorships is very fresh, and so tracking party members was off the board.

Partisan journalism makes it easier to use the data, but people are still trying to catch up.

Ben: Powerful use of open data is naming and shaming political targets for fraud, gross waste/inefficiency.

Evan: Similar interest, but open data is not how you pursue it.

Amanda: If it isn't news, it isn't news.

Evan: Also, Latin American newspaper industry is thriving, not collapsing and European model strongly represented. TV is fairly consolidated and programming is Cops-esque/Celebrity-focused. Less staging and production value which makes less authoritative.

Community radio is also a crucial tool, both licensed and pirate radio.

Ben: So why shouldn't I move to Latin America?

Evan: South America has very clear structure -- you can see "good guys" and "bad guys", though politically that may not change anything, really. Legacy of byzantine rules, rigid class hierarchy, endemic corruption. Piling on method of legislation -- crazy rules on top of crazy rules.