So we need data - for what?

This is a second blog post following the launch of the UN report on the ‘Data Revolution’. I'll be exploring my own ideas, and also trying to outline some ways that complexity theory is being used to work in this space. I'll also see if I can illustrate some points from my previous post as well. I am slowly rolling these ideas along, which appear to have first been scribbled in apparent frustration on a post-it below (there were many more). This is from a collaboration and discussion that took place earlier in 2014 at the Open Development Fringe Event at OKFest in Berlin. 

Brainstorm At Open Development Fringe Event 2014
Creative Commons Licensed (BY) flickr photo by tomsalmon: http://flickr.com/photos/fishytom/15185058154

One of the biggest challenges facing policy makers today is complexity, and this relates in interesting ways to ideas about a ‘Data Revolution’. There are quite a few initiatives working out ways to understanding the limits to governing and acting instrumentally to fulfill policy goals. The OECD published a piece on ‘Applications of Complexity Science for Public Policy’ in 2009 and I'll take that as a fairly good indication of it being on the horizon of mainstream public policy debates. I am not particularly familiar with approaches that are established in terms of dealing with 'complexity'. So my understanding is that complex situations might lead people to offer preventative policy approaches, others might adopt resilience terminology while a final group makes up a more transformative paradigm. I'll try to avoid rolling them all into one, as I am sure that not all approaches are equal or have the same notion of complexity embedded in them. I also have not yet come across any 'approaches' that see a particular virtue in making any claims about 'disruption' either, but I will keep my eyes open...

So take the recently published UNDP Human Development Report 2014, which proposes as its central idea the concept of ‘human vulnerability‘ as a paradigm of complexity for development in the future. It goes on to describe the prospects post-2015, particularly of development and growth eroding people’s capabilities and choices, and argues for a sustained enhancement of individuals’ and societies’ capabilities with a particular focus on collective action to counter this.

It puts forward an argument about ‘structural vulnerability’, which as it is proposed in the report seems to go further than ideas of ‘risk mitigation’ or a more limited ‘resilience type’ approaches to generate a clearer picture of how inequality interacts with interventions and actors. So as the report points out, eliminating extreme poverty is not just about ‘getting to zero’; it is also about staying there. It strongly adopts the language of capabilities for individuals, and cohesiveness and responsiveness for institutions and societies describing both how affirmative action and rights based approaches fit in to this picture as well as openness, transparency and accountability initiatives.

A simple message might be that this is one way of looking at adaptation in complex systems going through processes of change and innovation. Discussions around the 'data revolution' also seem caught up in an emerging tangle of efforts around this, although of course there are different takes on the ideas from different stakeholders.

For example one corner there is some interesting work going on with looking at how to solve complex problems better at the Kennedy Centre BuildingCapacity Program and the ODI where they are talking about ‘Doing Development Differently’ (yes: #DDD) and Problem Driven Iterative Adaption (yes: #PDIA).

At first glance some of the language about ‘politically smart development’ from them appears at some point borrowed from programs like the Developmental Leadership Program (DLP). However, the emphasis is in fact more on thinking about design as a paradigm and using design thinking with problem solving approaches like the 5 Why’s, problems trees and fishbone diagrams (the Ishakawa diagram). The Kennedy Center strongly references Hirschman’s ideas and approaches quoting the “Principle of the Hiding Hand” proposed by him:

      “men engage successfully in problem-solving [when] they take up problems which they think they can    
       solve, find them more difficult than expected, but then, being stuck with them, attack willy-nilly the 
       unsuspected difficulties – and sometimes even succeed.”

I have to say, to me this is not so much a statement of approach, but it certainly sums up a lot of my experience of 'problem solving' within large slow moving organisations that are not particularly good at encouraging divergent thinking. Another way to put it, as Matt Andrews does in his blog is that people have strong incentives to opt for 'big best practice type initiatives' and will also tend to 'overestimate the potential results'. So let's imagine upfront that we accept a degree to which path dependency and institutional constraints affect thinking in our organisation. Then the only real 'problem solving' that is really going on is in the attempts to devise a means, at each step of the process, to reconcile 'unsuspected difficulties' with the received 'best practice' methods. In some ways this seems to relate to a lot of the ideas around Agile Development and Open Development as well, but is probably from a different perspective. It also speaks to Easterly's long-standing distinction between 'planners' and 'searchers' in development, which is also championed by many market-based approaches to development work.

Let’s illustrate this in a context which is broadly the one that this blog post is addressing. The UN report is highlighted in a recent economist article on the ‘Data Revolution’, and states that a key problem is simply that there is an ever growing and expanding divide between the data rich countries and the data poor ones in terms of data. The article helps to paint a picture of why some of the slow moving machinery based on national statistics and silos of project data around the MDG’s is unlikely to be fit for purpose to be responsive to the shifts and shocks (like Ebola) that could impact on the post-2015 world. In fact it takes Ebola as a prime example of why real-time data is so important in an interconnected world.

The Economist goes on to explain that Humanitarian action is being hampered greatly by the lack of appropriate data on the location of hospitals, with poor maps of cities. Volunteer efforts with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and charities like MSF and the Red Cross have led the way in creating MissingMaps.org which is trying to create free maps of cities across the developing world, particularly in potential trouble spots before they need crucial data in a disaster situation. Similarly it mentions how call-data from mobile-phone operators in an interconnected world can be put to use by for example comparing data on malaria outbreaks and on people’s movements to make predictions of spread. This seems all the more pressing considering the current situation of disaster around Ebola.

Interestingly the Economist then goes on to describe a role for the private sector as well. It points out that Premise (a startup in Silicon valley) is being used to spot trends such as the fact that as the number of Ebola cases in any one location rise, the local price of staple foods also increases dramatically. As they point out in recent weeks as the number of cases fell, prices also did. The Economist then goes on to say that the authorities already did realise that travel restrictions and closed borders would have this effect, but now they have a way to measure and track price shifts as they happen. The creators of Premise describe a little bit of what is behind their thinking (and success) here. For some of the analysis in the press around the relationship between Ebola and food prices and some of these concerns, there are articles here and here also.

"World Food Programme in Liberia 002" by 26th MEU(SOC) PAO (U.S. Marines) - 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Public Affairs Office. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I think this returns my attention to the issue that I have sketched out in my previous post. That in essence the Economist is celebrating the work of ‘Premise’ and others like them because they will allow food distribution companies to continue doing business without interruption globally despite the Ebola crisis and the subsequent closing of borders and quarantines.I am not entirely sure that is exactly what the creators of Premise themselves envision for their platform, which seems to be aiming to be working for the social good in a very innovative way.

The way the Economist presents this is actually not as an initiative focusing on development per se, although it certainly could be good for the companies involved. A potential benefit might be if we are able to use the data from ‘Premise’ and other companies in an open way, reusing it and remixing it in order to help predict disasters and improve coordination of relief efforts for example. But the fact that people can make money out of this as a business is not the most interesting aspect of it. The question here should be how is it that corporations and businesses could play a more useful role in contributing to the ‘data divide’ in the global south instead of just focusing on a bottom line.

My question is also how much institutions like the Economist and the WEF are presenting a fairly narrow view of open development, and open data here and are actually pigeon-holing it into simplistic streams? The volunteers who map out cities and the companies who need only focus on how much extra profit the emergence of data about the developing world will potentially bring them in the long run.

The point is not that Premise (the Google funded startup) is designed to make a profit out of its analysis of financial data. Or as the FT article puts it 'Premise taps into hunger for real-time data'. The point is this is how the Economist and the FT have chosen to present it to us.

So to return the argument I proposed in my last blog post. At first glance the WEF is fairly comfortable with designating our personal data is a new class of asset, (see the report here) and like the Economist it probably sees that there is nothing wrong with this or with anyone else selling off analytic data on financial markets in order to supply the market with real-time data. But beyond this they are both fairly silent about is what responsibility the private sector might have to help to mitigate the impact of a humanitarian crisis like Ebola.

Potentially it seems quite likely to be hard to predict a crisis and to map out an area in the event that a crisis might occur there. One the other hand, to ask companies collecting data from the developing world to consider broadly that their work could play an important role in alerting people and agencies to things like price increases in the context of a global epidemic like Ebola seems like a very useful and effective measure.  

The role of open source software and open systems is also important here, because it is helping to build systems for data collection, and useful corridors and channels for information to flow. It is showing itself to be of key importance in the current fight against a threat like Ebola. This story from AllAfrica highlights some of the ways that NGO’s and others are using open systems. A great resource is a recently published book edited by Matthew L. Smith and Katherine M. A. Reilly from MIT Press which is digging into what ‘Open Development’ is and may seek to achieve in the future. Also to point out is the long standing work that rOg media in Berlin has been doing in South Sudan and work that that Stephen Kovats from rOg has already done with UNESCO too on this here.

If you consider how much is being done with open software, it begs the question. Why are we not also asking companies that have useful data and resources to think more clearly how they can move towards making them open? Is it really ever going to benefit poorer countries in Africa with less data to work with and less digital infrastructure if in the end all we are doing is focusing on selling food price data on regions in crisis to the market instead?

To return to the problem of complexity here, I think this illustrates why we have to think outside of the ‘boxes’ that we might be at first tempted to approach these problems with. Part of my argument is that this drive to work with open data in development should not only try make sense of the obvious challenges and opportunities for development actors in a post-2015 world, but also to make sure that it is taking on board Hirshman’s call for more lateral thinking.

Seeking to predict and plan for disasters that will require local solutions, and provide maps and data to aid NGO’s, local governments and local actors to act effectively is clearly valuable. However, an equally predictable effect of a crisis like Ebola anywhere is that markets will act in unpredictable ways and may even exacerbate the situation, and will capitalize on their access to real-time data and analysis to avoid being affected by it. Given the digital data divide, it seems that a more lateral approach to the situation would also be one whereby complex problem solving is employed to test out ways to yield benefits by matching up those who can deliver solutions best with those that have the knowledge, resources and data to assist in this. Not by working in silos, or neccessarily by competing with large 'best practice' initiatives and not by recreating proprietary systems that lead us further towards broadening an existing digital data chasm between the richer and poorer countries around the world.

So in my next blog post and will try to take a closer look at the report itself.    


Who is 'data' really ?

I have been listening recently to discussions about data, often in the context of transforming something or often with critical implications for some bottom line, at other times with claims about it being by nature 'disruptive'.

But increasingly I am beginning to suspect that many of these intertwined discussions are fundamentally different ones. Or at least, that people mean quite different things and actually have quite different thought processes behind how they wish to present 'data' in any given case.

For example if I am talking with people about Open Data it is quite a lot easier. The crowd who do this are very clear about what this means for them. Here and here are posts from Open Knowledge advocating for these standards.

Data varies in terms of structure, use, and things like relevance and other qualities in different contexts. 

Then there are different types of data: open data, big data, etc...and the boundaries sometimes get blurred.

In terms of big data for example the defnition put forward by SAP from a business perspective points you to the qualities of the data, eg Volume, variety, velocity, validity.

This is a much more technical and ‘neutral’ definition really compared to the definition of 'big data' from UN Global Pulse for example. From the outset the concern is less about users, sources or use cases for the data.

Does it matter which definition we use? Well, I think it does but often in subtle ways. Agencies like UN Global Pulse are fairly clear about focusing on big data for global development. So it is really looking at a use case or context for application. I think it is also worth bearing in mind that the document seems to locate the construction of this definition at some time subsequent to meetings of the World Economic Forum and also of the G20.

To me this raises another associated question sort of by implication. For any agency or policy mission it is almost impossible to escape this - it is part of the whole business of making policy. In fact it is really hard to talk about something without thinking about what it is for. Inevitably the interests of certain groups become represented in the process.

So for UN Global Pulse we are looking at big data within international development or developing countries particularly with the G20 in mind, so with an emphasis on economic activity. Consider also that UN Global Pulse does not have direct involvement with UN agencies such as the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or the United National Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc). So you might potentially expect a different vision again could easily come from other areas within the UN even.

Robert Kirkpatrick, who is the director of UN Global Pulse , gives a pretty clear interview here about what UN Global Pulse is, as he says it is a sort of R&D lab based in New York, Jakarta and Kampala.

There are reasons why it matters, and what the 'user case' is going to be. For example the issue of privacy particularly is one of the most obvious problematic areas with how big data is being presented and discussed in this document for me. If you look at the diagram from the World Economic Forum white paper that UN Pulse uses here, you can see that privacy concerns do surface at two levels but not at all clearly for private industry:

It simply mentions questions about ‘Ownership of sensitive data’.

In terms information streams relevant to global development it highlights these four:
- Data exhaust
- Online information
- Physical sensors
- Citizen reporting

Recently at the Open Development Camp in Amsterdam, I was able to listen to discussions and work going on around this area particular.  I think it is one that has been overlooked, but partly also crowded out by the language that gets adopted, in exactly the way it has been above. In a way it also has been silenced.

Check out the presentation here from the ODC in Amsterdam on "Responsible Development Data" and also download a copy of the great handbook that was written during the booksprint with the Engine Room and check out some of the discussion going on around this at Open Knowledge.

In case you want to see the other great presentations from ODC, they are all available on Vimeo here

So why does matter who creates the frameworks? Well, although the WEF sees a role for the private sector in the diagram above in terms of ‘managing and collecting’ consumer data, the vision in this document seems to mostly skip over how one huge area of data could really be made use of to protect people from shocks and price changes. That is of course the data produced and held by corporations on their own activities and those of consumers. It does mention how we could make inferences about the prices of food from interactions via mobile phones with banks, but it does not say how we could inform consumers or even small businesses about the movements of global corporations, exchange rates or even of their own government in order to manage price shocks for example.

Furthermore the use of terms such as ‘stock levels’ of data, and the constant reference to measuring things such as school attendance is more suggestive to me of seeking to optimise and work around concerns about human capital, productivity and efficiency. In short it tends to situate human activity and society very much within the gaze of a corporate understanding of the world.

The microeconomic / optimisation of bounded rationality type decision-making  / predicitive modelling and closed feedback loop type solutions all appear founded on a concept of living in a world founded upon a paradigm of inevitable risks and shocks. I personally think this is a dangerous and slightly spurious argument. It serves I think to lead us to default to placing nearly no emphasis on deliberative proceedures or processes. I mean if we are talking about work in 'international development' then really it presents quite limited scope for human agency in the conception of big data for development here.

It really seems to be advocating for a sort of social fire alarm and spinkler system powered by streams of automatic data. But it assumes in a way that we are living inside the machine, and like Sunstein and Thaler’s idea of the nudge, it is not really about choice but about modifying choice architectures that sustain an equilibrium around a volatility inherent in the system, both via feeback loops and millions of automatic corrections. All of this for me almost instantly assumes that forms of consent to this are automatic or simply fundamentally broken or degraded to a virtually meaningless degree.

Today another important document was released by the Independent Expert Advisory Group on ‘data revolution and sustainable development'.

NGO's particularly have been critical of the weak representation of CSO's around the UN 'data revolution' discussions, see here and also here.

The press conference just went out here.

You can access the document itself and also details of the consultation and judge for youself if you think that it represents a fair process or not. Here is the report in full.

It looks at two key areas in terms of the 'data revolution' for sustainable development:
  • The challenge of invisibility (gaps in what we know from data, and when we find out)
  • The challenge of inequality (gaps between those who with and without information, and what they need to know make their own decisions)
I will be continuing to blog about it in my next post. 


Ideas and future projects

In the last few months as I have been freed from schools by the summer holidays and instead have been bouncing in between different worlds. In July I was in Berlin for OKFest and co-facilitated a session there on Open Education and Open Data to which Ottavio Ritter from the OK Ed Working group contributed to immensely and helped to provide details on the kinds of initatives that are on-going in places like Brasil for example. Since then I have been preparing to move to South Africa where I will be starting an M.Ed looking at Open Textbooks and Open Education in Cape Town in January of 2015.

But here is a brief summary of some of the projects and things I have been dipping into along the way:

Mozfest 2014

The mighty rumble of Mozfest glee is gathering pace as people all over the interweb prepare for 3 days of awesomeness in London :)

I am looking forward to helping to work on a few ideas and will be proposing a session or things to work on within another session for the festival. But the idea that I have been playing around with recently is this one. I would love people to get involved and tell me what you think of it as a potentially realisable project for the future. There are more details below on some of the thinking behind this idea as well.

Working With the UNESCO Dataset in the Open

In the meantime I have also been working to help out with another side project proposed to me by Professor David Turner who is particularly interested in the use of data in education within our field of comparative and international education.

Details of this ongoing work are all here . We are looking for feedback and suggestions, and a little help with a few technical problems too. The short version is that we are trying to see how we can take the whole UNESCO dataset for education to make it possible for people to data wrangle it in the open more easily, particularly in order to help graduate students studying international education and education policy to develop skills in this area using open and free software. We will be presenting this work or at least proof of concept at the British Association for International and Comparative Education (BAICE) Conference in Bath in September.

OERs and the Wider Open Movement

In the meantime I have been also doing some thinking about Open Education Resources (OERs) and work around teachers using OERs and how the OER community of researchers also engages with the wider open movement in its work.

In the last few weeks we have been having an interesting debate on the Open Education Working Group maillist around a simple question : Is OER still a movement?

If you have not come across this mailist it is easy to subscribe here and there is an archive of all of our discussions available on the web here.

In the previous posts on the mailist the point was made that work on OERs was something of a 'minority sport'. In fact the 'OER movement' may not really reflect the more informal channels of sharing and distributing knowledge as well as it could, due to this problem. The point came out clearly in the replies too that a lot of work on OER's was driven by funding and academic bodies rather than by other communities. The point was also made that in fact OER's are out there everywhere these days but just often are not recognised as such or do not quite qualify as OER's per se. Evidence of this fact was that plumbers these days are responsible for the sharing and creating of hundreds of OER's on Youtube 'without knowing it' describing asepcts of their work to share with other plumbers.

So I decided to take these invisible OER plumbers as a potential test group for a few assertions. First of all I think there is a danger in potentially assuming that the hypothetical plumbers do not participate in the 'minority sport' of the 'conoscienti' and may not recognise or license their videos in an open format because to them there is no evident need to formally recognise their activity in this way.

In reference to this Coughlan & Perryman's short paper makes some salient and sobering points to curb the enthusiasm of those who see OERs as more widely recognised in less formal contexts. It suggests in the process of working on OERs that we may have too often ignored engagement through groups on Facebook and social media and particularly in terms of considering the perceptions of OERs in different contexts, the importance of barriers to sharing and collective action. So Youtube may hold the rights in regards to our plumber's videos. But possibly the only important aspect of this to these users of course is that they get to share and freely exchange video via the web within their groups and are recognised as such by their peers in the process.

I assumed that it might matter to all plumbers a lot more potentially that they own the licenses to their own videos, but this may also not come to pass without a small group of open plumbers setting out to do this and make it possible. But I am not sure where I stand on the idea in the discussion that we should carry on pushing everyone until it is no longer necessary to make the point about open licenses and standards (which I think may actually never happen). Essentially at face value for many groups of people, this is sometimes a tangential concern. Of course, I think if we are part of an 'open movement' we probably should still be trying to have that discussion with our plumbers at every opportunity, and in fact everyone else, who admittedly also may give us a wide eyed look of concern before rapidly moving towards the door..

But I also worry that we spend too much time in our own communities in the OER world sometimes and not enough time in other communities. I think there is a huge gap between those who approach it from the perspective of the academic theory and these so called 'communities of practice'. And I also sometimes find it a bit distrubing how Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger's term and idea seems so often to have become a sort of stepping stone terminology, masking the fact so often that 'real' communities may at the same time be at risk of becoming broken down into something else in the process. I am not so sure how useful it is, unless of course you are an academic :)

One point that was made in the original post was that the word 'movement'

suggests grass roots action, social movements,
What makes it a movement compared to, say, a favoured funding track of certain Foundations?

I think that one thing that makes it a movement is by virtue of it being distributed, and decentralised enough to reach out and engage with specific areas of interest to engage people from a wide spectrum of constituencies. Another is having clear shared goals and broad aims. The OER 'movement' is not very useful if it remains a 'minority sport'. It may then need both a broadening of the framework for engagement with a tighter focus on the specifics of what matters to different communities. Eg. more effective decentralised work seems a good idea rather than staying within a more abstract or theoretical bubble.

And in reference to this Lorna's blog post made the point that that to often we are stuck with thinking about work on OER's as a 'luxury item'. I think if we are using the term 'luxury item' then it seems unlikely that we will be tapping into the right kinds of questions with other communities.

I think that more effective advocacy that targets specific issues is more likely to come from a clear political concern over particular power struggles between groups or actors, for example over particular kinds of policies or directions taken by government. So questions about licencing and openess that get framed within these more specific campaigns on an issue to me make more sense.

For example, a more targetted approach towards advocacy seems present in orgnisations such as SPARC in the US, targetting specific policies and advocating for particular measures.

And for me in education I can understand for example why many teachers may not see that OER's connect in a relevant way to a host of other issues in how their role as producers and sharers of knowledge is being shaped in the current context.

I mean you can link things in the abstract to a generalised theory of social justice in education but that is again a very academic approach. You can show people how overcoming broader barriers to recognition, redistribution and participation in education requires a focus on specific practices and bring their attention to adopting open practices...

But I am not always convinced - I think it is better to find the ways to frame specific issues so as to highlight why openness matters for them in particular. I mean for example, with the current introduction of performance pay in schools in the UK and the divisions between 'higher performing' teachers and 'lower performing' ones are being directly played out with reference to student results and teacher pay packets. In this context you can imagine that there is a real question for teachers suddenly about who does get to claim the intellectual property over their materials and work, their annotated schemes of work or the end of term practice tests that they individually went off and wrote or paid to download to help their struggling students make the grade...and within that whole system of performance measurement there is very little or nearly no system of credit, attribution or recognition given to teachers who engage in open practices or open licencing that I have seen at least.

Teachers like it or not have no choice but to use the systems they are given to work within and so they seek to do that often, and while they share a common interest in developing good resources and making them widely available this doesn't happen within a vacuum. TES online for example is one of the largest repositories of materials made by teachers in the UK, evaluated by other teachers for teachers in the UK and used by teachers in classrooms. The fact that it has grown into such from being an entirely incidental collection of materials that congregated around the forum page of the Times Educational Supplement, is notable in that this was basically driven by path dependance. And this was at the time also something of a shock to those in charge of the Times when they first noticed it happening.

So it is not clear to me in a sense how people see the whole sort of principal - agent relationship working out in different contexts, and what beleifs may lie behind different forms of agency for teachers for example in open education, and which kinds of mechanisms can be effectively used to align the interests of these agents with a wider 'open movement'.

In most fields people do tend to act and behave as if education and knowledge is a positional good rather than an open commons and a public good, but they often do this particularly because they recognise that others in their own communities and organisations percieve things in this way first. But there is an asymetry of information here, which means that it is very hard to dispute and track any claim to being impartial and open, and so often it is not enough (some might even say it's simply naive) to ask people to stop thinking of education and knowledge in that way by simply telling them that it shouldn't be so.

And in the process I also think it is quite concerning how easy it is for such efforts to get highjacked by the more entrenched interests of capital sitting on the sidelines waiting for their moment to make good on the collapse of one sort of 'openness' to reify it instantly with another, that is simply more instrumental and fit for purpose, a point also made by Eric Kansa here.

So another thing that I think we should consider when people mention that work on OERs is like a minority sport is that we really should be looking beyond our own community in the open movement and connecting with other communities and learning from them. Possibly learning from advocates like Tim Berners Lee and others who have been successful in creating sticky enough and simple enough principles for advocating for change, for example with open data with things like the five star open data deployment scheme.

Similarly it makes sense to see where we within the OER movement can also be part of those other efforts. For example within the Open Government Partnership, to which many countries with strong OER movements have subscribed, there is not really any attention given to OER's at all in the measuring and rating of different country level claims to 'openess' as far as I understand it. But I don't see why there shouldn't be, and maybe we should try to think about how we could engage at least potentially in those kinds of discussions and try to keep in sight also the wider discussion on things like Net Neutrality for example. In this the work of the Open Coalition is of course very important.

As I mentioned above I am hoping to propose a session or to include this within work on another session along these lines for Mozfest in London in October if anyone else is going. A very simple sketch or placeholder for this idea is here. https://etherpad.mozilla.org/mozfest-open-spaces

But for now this is all extremely in beta phase of development :) So Please drop me a line if you would like to be involved or fancy wrangling with any of it :)

I am hoping these kinds of discussion will get to be thrown around the room a bit in October and afterwards and I'd like to see if I can continue to build on them together with others during the next year from Cape Town. As a center for work on OERs and a hub for activities relating to the Open Movement and mobile technology particularly too I am looking forward to it a great deal, where I will be studying at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in the Center for International Education.


Open Education Smörgåsbord at OKFest 2014

In a few weeks I will be in Berlin (from 13th-20th July) in order to participate in OKFest, which is Open Knowledge's big festival and get together - (the first OKFest took place in 2012 in Helsinki) bringing people from all kinds of communities together to work on ideas and share inspiration. The event's offical dates are 15th - 17th but there are a number of awesome fringe events to attend before and after. Check out the great schedule here

The mantra for this year is 'Open Minds to Open Action' which will be interesting to unpack in different ways during the event, which has 3 different streams for the sessions which focus on how knowledge informs change, how tools enable change and how society effects change. The area that we will be exploring in our Open Education Smörgåsbord session will be looking at how to break down barriers to learning and we will try to give you a taste of the many facets of open education. There will be different aspects to concentrate on including changing teaching practice, shifting policy, releasing data and the sharing of resources. Led by the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group, we have planned for it to be an interactive and collaborative session which will challenge people to think about what the future of education could be and how open data particularly fits into this picture.

So the workshop will be running on Wednesday, July 16 from 14:00 – 16:00. We also have a session etherpad so please do take a look, add your name if you’d like to be involved and add your own input to it, so we can help people discover and share a really wide range of ideas about open education, open data and open practices in education.

We have 5 tables planned which will allow participants to freely explore some different areas in two 55 minute sessions. My table / space will be set up to give people an introduction and overview of a few distinct areas that I see surfacing in work and discussions around open education and open data.

These areas of focus will be:

AREA 1 - USING DATA IN EDUCATION: Looking at how we can use open data to enrich teaching and learning, and to learn about data and data analysis within education or lessons.

AREA 2 - METADATA and OPEN EDUCATION RESOURCES: Looking at how metadata and open data can support education, for example through the use of OER's in universities and schools and the role of initiatives such as the learning resource metadata initiative (LRMI).

AREA 3 - GOVERNMENT DATA for EDUCATION: Looking at some of the ways that different governments are making contributions with open data to improve education in Brasil, Holland and New Zealand and the UK as well.

AREA 4 - LEVERAGING OPEN BADGES IN EDUCATION: Looking and learning about how open badges (which leverage different kinds of metadata ) themselves can be used to support and extend formal education, and personalise it in different ways.

AREA 5 - MOBILE LEARNING with OPEN DATA: Looking at how free, open source (FOSS) app authoring tools can be used to build apps that use open datasets with all kinds of applications. These range from improving the effectiveness of early grade assessments in Ghana, to building informal learning journeys in Singapore to how open government datasets are used to create more straightforward apps that inform parents about schools in their local areas. Also this section will look at some prototypes and templates being developed to help people to learn how to make, design and develop apps for mobile devices.

The aim of my part of the session is simply to allow participants to explore and familiarise themselves with some of the projects and initatives out there, also to give people a chance to react and add to this picture with what they see as interesting or new to them and important. There will be a small task for each area which once completed will allow participants to also earn some open badges too, which will recognise their participation and exploration of each of the areas:

1. Open Education and Data Cruncher badge
2. OER and Metadata Explorer badge
3. Open Government and Data in Education badge
4. Open Education and Badges Noobie badge
5. Mobile Learning Traveller badge
6. Open Education Badge Wizard badge
7. Open Knowledge Festival Level Up / Bonus badge
8. Open Education Smorgasbord Participant badge

There will be a few other surprises to add to this, including the fact that we will be bringing along food from our home countries like a real Smörgåsbord should! We won't be delivering a presentation, but want people to come and join in and bounce off some of the ideas on each table and get to drive forward into the areas they want to. So there will certainly be more than one way that participants could choose to engage in the session as there are 5 seperate offerings (of which mine is only one) which will be geared to be participant / interest led, with opportunities to share in groups and surface collective thinking together.

If you are attending OKFest then we would love to invite you to come and join us! However, if you are interested to access some of what I will be doing but cannot make it, I will place links to all of my materials here afterwards.


UNESCO Mobile Learning week 2014

This is a quick overview of a few things that took place in February of 2014 at UNESCO Mobile Learning week in Paris. The presentations and post event materials are now available on the Mobile Learning Week webpage here and there is a quick post about it here detailing some of the presentations.
and post-event materials are now available on the Mobile Learning Week 2014 webpage - See more at: http://en.unesco.org/events/mobile-learning-week-2014#sthash.ikPBb9SA.dpuf
and post-event materials are now available on the Mobile Learning Week 2014 webpage - See more at: http://en.unesco.org/events/mobile-learning-week-2014#sthash.ikPBb9SA.dpuf
and post-event materials are now available on the Mobile Learning Week 2014 webpage - See more at: http://en.unesco.org/events/mobile-learning-week-2014#sthash.ikPBb9SA.dpuf

In short, there were more than 700 participants from over 60 countries, with policy makers, researchers and people from industry. The theme of the week was 'Teachers' and the aims of the week were to think about how to:

1) understand the needs of different stakeholder groups in regards to research findings and monitoring and evaluation data;

2) discuss how research can inform and support the work of teachers by improving the policy environment in which teaching takes place;

3) explore the capacity of existing research to improve policies and programmes and to identify research directions which will impact future policy formulation and programme delivery.

I participated in the research track which dealt with a number of questions:

First Discussion – pilots, projects & their data
Second Discussion – the role of research, and of researchers
Third Discussion – from evidence to priorities
Fourth Discussion - participants, stakeholders & ethics
Fifth Discussion – research-informed research funding
Sixth Discussion – programmes, monitoring & evaluation
Seventh Discussion – dissemination, publication, symposia, workshops

There were many great presentations during the week and for a detailed roundup see Mark Pegrum's excellent blog post here on the whole week. One of the keynote presentations that I thought was interesting was from Singapore. It was on learning design which Chen Keen Tan from Crescent Girls’ School described and discussed in her presentation (called 21st Century Learning by design) in which she talked a bit about the use of the Microsoft the 21CLD framework, which identifies six dimensions for 21st century learning, and can be used by teachers when they are designing learning experiences for their students.

More than 700 participants from over 60 countries
More than 700 participants from over 60 countries
Open Badges and Mobile Learning

In Paris I met Adele Botha from South Africa who is working on a fascinating project in South Africa using badges with teachers engaged in mobile learning. Adele is an academic based in Pretoria. Her project is using badges for mobile learning in South Africa, and they've managed to find ways to issue badges by SMS. This is a large scale project that rewards teachers who earn badges that show they have learned skills to use and implement technology for teaching. The teachers as a reward are given technology to use from the South African authorities. There is a nice description of this project here

A few further details on Adele Botha's work can be found here:

I was also able to talk to some representatives of UNESCO Bangkok, who have put together this app to teach kids about disaster risks and flooding in Thailand. It looks awesome! I thought they might like to think about badges for this, to complement the work they had been doing. It seems a good fit potentially. http://www.unescobkk.org/th/news/article/flood-safety-and-fun-users-review-sai-fah-educational-game/

I also met two AWESOME ladies from the Tennessee Board of Regents (who just lit up my world) who were interested in how they could use badges in their work. They were Nicole Kendall http://www.kendallcubs.org/Teachers.html and her lovely mum Ms Robbie Melton, who do this stuff http://emergingtech.tbr.edu/  they are a pair of human dynamos, really, and ran a cracking session :) 

The Web Literacy Framework

I had a chat with lots of people about Mozilla's work on creating the Web Literacy Framework. I talked to some people from the British Council about this. The British Council is involved in development work and education in many devloping countries. The British Council clearly is interested in thinking about linking English literacy and digital literacy through it's work. http://www.britishcouncil.org/partner/international-development/sector/english-development

The British Council's work in Africa is focusing particularly on livelihoods and English language training. Their projects require them to use basic smartphones that can run simple apps. I mentioned Firefox OS phones just out and talked about the kind of problems facing their organisation working across Africa in many remote locations.

One of the British Council projects involved a simple android app for geo-tagging and data collection for example. In fact I thought there were some clear links between UNESCO's work in mobile learning and the British Council's projects. Certiainly both shared questions about how they might best gear mobile learning towards employability and informal learning for young people. For example:

UNESCO was also involved in running a numbe of mobile learning projects. UNESCO seemed to be focusing on out-of-school youth, building flexible linkages between secondary and higher ed, technical and vocational education and also literacy through mobile learning particularly for women

UNESCO had carried out research on mobile learning projects that were particularly based around reading and literacy. Steve Vosloo's presentation covers it here:

There was a clear focus on literacy at the week, and UNESCO has taken a strong position on making it a key priority by supporting things like WorldReader (Steve Vosloo), and running their own pilot projects in four countries.

Mark West is at the lead at UNESCO on mobile learning now and he has been putting together two policy documents focusing on literacy particularly. Soon to be published are 'Reading Without Books: 15 projects that leverage mobile technology for literacy in developing countries' and 'Reading in the Mobile Era: a survey of mobile reading in 7 developing countries'. Mark West is working to pull together policy cohesion for work on global literacy. Check it out here: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/themes/icts/m4ed/unesco-mobile-learning-week/webinar/mark-west/

Webmaker discussions

I talked to people about web maker lots. In the end there was a proposal to try to run some more hackathon type hands-on sessions during the next mobile learning week. I thought it could be something that the webmaker team or appmaker could work with potentially if anyone wants to do that..

Other meetings

I also met Dave Parsons, who has put together an excellent read on the state of mobile learning http://ignatiawebs.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/future-of-mlearning-inspiring-ideas.html

I was lucky to meet people from SMART who were demonstrating some aamazing work in the Philippines. I talked to them, and I thought the work was really interesting. They have some amazing ideas for using mobile tech with isolated schools on remote islands that they are piloting. As they said, if it works there then these ideas and innovations will probably work anywhere...


I also met Ilona Buchem who is in Berlin working on Digital Media and diversity. She has an excellent blog on mobile learning stuff too http://ibuchem.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/ple-and-smart-cities/

The research track panels were very good and most of it went out onto twitter with the hashtag: #mlw2014

What was clear to me from this week was that many governments and projects need help finding cheaper and more effective solutions for the delivery of mobile learning. If they can overcome barriers to cost they stand a better chance of finding ways to bridge the digital divide in developing contexts, and potentially finding solutions to policy and funding questions for education and for access to information and the internet. In many ways this is still an evolving space.

I was glad to see the diversity in the presentations, the policy space and discussions were not simply framed by the problems or interests of large corporations, but covered a wider spectrum of concerns and issues for people involved in this field and in education.

There also were many projects working more coherently to combine OER's and mobile learning, and this is a powerful vector for 'openess' in this scene and with teachers specifically. Some governments are willing to take more risks because the policy dialogue and tech companies can mitigate some of the political risks at least (for example in Thailand ) which suggests a good situation for a broader agenda.

UNESCO is doing great work to facilitate dialogue and to keep the terms of discussion as broad as possible and to keep people thinking about big picture questions like literacy. Mozilla's many projects are very relevant here, potentially enabling change in so many ways, especially FirefoxOS which certainly has a high potential to act to change the game here, and for change in how people think about ideas for mobile learning.


Oppi Festival 2014

Over the last two days I have attended a fantastic event in Finland this week called Oppi and have been wandering around the beautiful city of Helsinki. So after leaving the beautiful Finlandia Hall I had some time to think over it. 

It was a truly engaging and thought provoking festival with buckets of personality, crazy humour and positive 'let's get it, not sweat it' ethos behind it. Check out the video link if you want to see what I mean! 

The event was a meeting to think about education in Finland and globally, together with a number of partners, leaders and researchers in education from around the world. 

I have been truly touched by the kindness of our hosts in Finland and the generosity and awesomeness of people here. It is a great place to visit! 

Simon Breakspear (@simonbreakspear) did an awesome job of leading the discussions along with visionary innovators like Neil D'Souza founder of Zaya Labs (@zayalabs) and researchers like Pasi Sahlberg (@pasi_sahlberg).

Big picture stuff focused on how we should deal with systems of education, taking Finland as a departure point. An education system widely studied for its rise over 20 years in terms of Pisa scores and for successfully achieving the status worldwide of being a high equity and high quality system. 

Pasi Sahlberg outlined in his talk a number of important paradoxes in how we see Finland as a 'successful system'. In some sense debunking some of the typical preconceptions of Finland's education system being some kind of perfect liberal paradise.

But recent data from Pisa shows that it is unlikely that it will simply continue in this way forever. As Steven put it, without shifting from global education benchmarking to global learning redesign it is going to be a case for Finland of 'extracting diminishing efficiencies from the current education system'. He suggested that we need to start to think about about designing what he described as 'platforms for deep learning'.

Pasi outlined a number of paradoxes, some of which directly concerned Finland:

1. The results show that the more money you spend on education, the results can tend to decline in Pisa
2. There are actually large inequalities within Finland, one of the most equitable of school systems
3. Finnish schools promote high student learning but there is low student engagement and joy
4. There is a low level of use of technology in schools in Finland, in a very technologically advanced society 

However, it was clear that the Finnish educational establishment was taking these matters very seriously. I attended some really amazing research meetings on ideas about resilience and positive pedagogy that focuses on strengths, not weaknesses with Kristiina Kumpulainen. It was a reflection of the need outlined in the previous presentations and highlighted by Pasi Sahlberg that we should think about the motivation "problem" and think about the purpose of education if we want to move towards the future of education. 

Steven and others challenged us to think more about how educators can learn from start-ups and develop agile schools, or agile approaches within education. As Steven put it 'it's time to shift from extensive plans to rapid prototyping'. He suggested that we don't try to benchmark our way to the future but think about how to reinvent education instead 

Following this there was an engaging discussion throughout the Festival on the role of teachers in education. At one end of the spectrum Sugatra Mitra argued that in the past he had been misinterpreted as advocating for reinventing education without teachers at all. 

In some ways, the correction he described to this misunderstanding was that he wanted us to think out of the box and not to 'get rid of teachers but to try and think without them for a moment. To consider how you would reinvent education if teachers were not at the core and heart of it. 

He also suggested that we need to bring back to students the rationale for learning content, the relevance and direction for learning. Teachers are critically required to choose the direction of learning not to mediate access to it. In short we need to consider that learners may in the future benefit more from a focus on guiding relationships and motivation, than from direct instruction

There was a lot of consensus around the idea that new technologies cannot replace teachers though, and can greatly empower them. Neil D'Souza made the excellent point that 'tablets are good, content is better, and teachers are the best educational ICT investment' of all. Listening to how Neil started up his company from working with orphans in Mongolia, to now working with schools across India it was clear he was incredibly inspiring and down to earth. If you are looking to do work in this area there is info also on opportunities with Zaya on Idealist that might interest.

Simon Breakspear highlighted the interlocking nature of different problems. His presentation highlighted how relationships themselves are at the centre of it, declaring them the one 'killer app' of education. He also emphasised that it was not about substituting teachers with technology but it should be about empowerment. However, he stressed that we need to focus more on demand side measures, to increase education demand and the depth of engagement to focus on deep learning. In short rather than just focus on supply side measures which to some extent have been saturated already.
Innovation in the supply of education and its provision is one thing, but it never pays to start designing something and then go about trying to find out what it is that your consumers want afterwards. To me it seemed that although he was advocating for some radical departures, taking start-up culture and agile approaches into education, he was also sensibly advocating for people to do the opposite, to work with the system carefully and design learning around needs and around what does exists that works in terms of supply, while finding the pathways to extend and innovate around demand. I thought that was a well balanced approach. As he put it, "we don't want to digitise kids and put them in the 'learning machine" but create 'learning communities'.  
He also tied this into the debates around learner resilience and grit. He pointed out that you cannot learn on behalf of another person, and we need to teach students to be able to work independently and to really apply themselves to problem solving and tackling challenging tasks in order to develop 21st century skills. In a sense playing safe and delivering mediocrity would end up in delivering more of the same, and would not cut it in a world where informal, personalised and deep learning might shape and deliver at least as much of how learners will come to expect to learn as formal schooling does today.  

Blog posts and presentations

A number of blog posts and presentations are available on the web already dealing with the event. Mozilla's Doug Belshaw's excellent presentation on Webmaker and Web literacy is available via the link below. 

I attended a great Mozilla Open Badges session and got an early sneak peek into what is coming with Badgekit and the Mozilla Webmaker session was a full house. The links from the Oppi sessions below are also available if you missed something or wanted to take part but was unable to clone yourself in time. 

There are some great blog posts available on some of the different topics, from Nesta in the UK here and also from Tom Bennet right here encouraging more debate around the idea that learning should be 'fun'. He debated and presented on the topic himself during the Festival specifically looking at behaviour manangement in classrooms and the notion of whether learning in classrooms should aim to be 'fun'. .

There was a great deal of engagement via twitter also thanks to the innovative and friendly competition using Twitter called 'Oppibug' developed by Matteo Menapace (@badeo) and @metodb and if you want to check out the archive of tweets, thanks to Oppibug they are easily accessible on the web. Otherwise check out these hashtags for tweets relating to the event:


Oliver Quinlan whose book 'The Thinking Teacher' has recently come out,held a really great Teach Meet that was attended on-line virtually by over 40 people as as well as being packed out at Oppi. The livestream of the Teach Meet is available here: 

With Marieke Guy from the Open Education Working group at (now renamed) Open Knowledge we worked on mapping out a number of different types of interventions in Open Education at the level of policies, tools, software, licences, frameworks and also had a round table about definitions and ideas for work and cooperation. The group highlighted work on the Open Education Handbook and the working group itself which has had something of a makeover:

I also attended an excellent session on mobile learning and mobile storytelling with the Finnish government supported agency Omnia (for more information see here) that is working particularly with vocational education providers to help them get mobile. 

I also attended a session on development and education, with Susan Brown and youth ambassadors talking about the issues they were passionate about. The topic of collaboration was discussed, although it ranged quite broadly from the idea of cooperative learning at one level to the notion of international cooperation at the level of NGO's and aid donors steering discourse together with national governments on issues to do with education. There were some excellent presentations I believe on a project in Ethiopia using technology but unfortunately my cloning abilities did not stretch that far :)

It think it is great that there was a strong focus on education, technology and development or at least education in poor majority world contexts rather than it being just about education in European contexts such as Finland. There are always problems when you are trying to span such a wide divide between the kinds of things that might be relevant in such different contexts. However, I think the attempts to deal with issues around technology, learning systems (rather than education systems) in the future and educational reform showed that common opportunities and problems faced in each context can be tackled together to some extent. 

I think that there is also a very valid space for looking at the problems and the context of developing country systems outside of this framework. There is a real need for people to recognise that you cannot always import or transfer solutions or even approaches from one country or context to another.

The good news potnetially is that from the other end of the spectrum those groups who have traditionally represented the status quo in this area, the mainstream in thinking and research at least about education in developing contexts, seem to be progressively reaching out more and more to engage outside of that zone. Today as I write this the World Literacy Summit is taking place in Oxford, and academics, policy people and educators will be tweeting about it on #literacypower.

Crucially they will also be talking a great deal about the role of technology over the next few days. 
To follow updates, check here if you are interested.

Check the topics including new technology and literacy here:

It is great to see how work on this is surfacing here in discussions at a global level, in a wide variety of educational forums. But I am proud to see how the awesome work of leaders and innovators, and 1000's of volunteer fellow Mozillians with the Mozilla Foundation have helped in their way to enable this, tirelessly working to clear the path with tools and energy to turn up the dial on these discussions. Take for example the topic description for the 2014 World Innovation Summit on Education coming up later this year, which is on creativity

Under the theme “Imagine – Create – Learn: Creativity at the Heart of Education” WISE 2014 will explore ways to unleash learners’ potential for innovation and creativity. By supporting their self-confidence and ability to develop talents, think critically, and solve problems we empower learners to design imaginative solutions in their lives and communities.
In order to study how to put creativity at the heart of education, discussions will revolve around three key questions: 

 How do we nurture creativity at all ages, particularly among the youngest?
− How do we design an environment of engaging pedagogies where creative learning and innovative 
   teaching can blossom?
− How do we measure, assess and certify talents and skills in both formal and informal systems?

....This is an area where there's plenty already done, in fact for the last few years people at Mozilla have been developing Open Badges and talking about badge systems. So it is really timely that in order to facilitate issuing open badges Mozilla is just putting the finishing touches on a new tool called Badgekit.
I think seeing these topics get center stage at such events might come as a sort of weird déjà vue sensation, or even a bit of a Wayne's World moment for people in the community working on these things, you could almost imagine the ghostly voice of Morrison explaining: if you book them, they will come

Education, Innovation and Development
Working within or between education, international development and ICT4D I try to stay focused on how all this might relate to a reality within much less 'ideal' contexts. Dealing with Third World or developing country situations is tricky when you talk about innovation and technology. Generally there are no easy answers to problems in education here certainly, there are plenty of experiements but it is as a rule an environment organised around the scarcity of resources. It is a little overwhelming when you take into consideration how innovation and technology might fit into so many diverse contexts for a start. Recognising that the deficiencies of education systems in developing contexts may be diverse and also deeply embedded, (like the barriers to expanding literacy) in one way is at least a good start.
However, there are some ways to break it down, to see how a number of problems bunch up together to lead to these kinds of roadblocks for literacy at least, this Guardian article does a great job of quickly pointing to some key drivers around the specific problem of literacy. 
I would really encourage thinking with this hat on for the future. We (those people thinking from the tech end) need to think a lot more about technology but we also need to think a lot more about people and their contexts. I think we should bring more ideas towards some of the contextual problems at the back of our minds. 
The majority world situations in contexts of education in poverty are pretty intractable. Web-making, badging and web-literacy might seem just as far removed as you can imagine from questions about teacher demand and supply, use of mother tongue languages in education, raising the standards of teachers, expanding into informal and mobile environments, creating more culturally relevant reading materials, creating more links between the world of work and education, making sure that qualifications are more than just pieces of paper. 
But then that is not really true, or at least there is much less of a gap than you might think. Webmaker mentors have trained hundreds of new teachers informally, bringing a platform for teaching outside of the limits of schools within communities, and the localisation of content on the Webmaker platform is incredibly managed by a global network that is distributed wide and far creating materials that are culturally relevant at source. Webmaking mentors and the web-literacy roadmap also provides a potential pathway for teachers and their learners to become much more skilled and to raise their standards of technological knowhow. Furthermore, the links between Mozilla's work on badges and the issues described above is also clear in terms of the need for new qualifications and accreditation allowing people to work and learn outside of institutions and within them. 
My final takeaway from Oppi however was the inspirational presentation given by Marko Vuoriheimo who is the Famous Finnish Rap artist Signmark

He talked to us about his learning journey a a deaf person trying to get a decent education. He also talked about becoming a someone who had to fight for what they believed in to achieve his goals. His music speaks for itself and he was amazing. During the Oppi festival we were asked to consider what we would do if we were to put together a commitment or an action plan post Oppi. For me, it was a promise to myself to do something about this at least personally, so I would at a minimum learn to do basic sign language to communicate :) 
So thanks Oppi for a great festival! I will look forward to being here in the future, and hopefully to another Oppi fest in 2015!