reboot 2020+

On November 14, 2017, the, Swiss chapter of Open Knowledge, held a workshop at Volkhaus Zürich to discuss the progress of the association since founding in 2012, the challenges in front of us, and possible scenarios in the future. Some rough stats on the workshop participants:

Total: 25
Directors: 7
Female: 5
Government: 6
Academic: 8
Industry: 9


  • The association has done an enormous amount of work over the past 5 years, benefitting primarily from the voluntary contributions of the community and Board.
  • The wider public still does not know what open data is. Though actually this was not a stated goal of the association charter / events - our press log argues that open data is already a part of public discourse.
  • It’s time for more people to have open data as part of their job. Implied are government job postings in St. Gallen earlier this week specifically mentioning open data.
  • We need to continue to better clarify this complex and wide branching topic. More support needed for people in education.
  • Open data needs to be linked to central knowledge bases. Data portals are a good start, but distributed data infrastructures are still at a basic level.
  • Data standards need to be developed with care. Open Data CH community and the research community are running in parallel, also on an EU level we could do a lot to connect the dots.
  • One might think that we have missed our chance. Lots of future oriented needs being discussed. Our top concerns seems to be to „strengthen“, „clarify“, assess „risks“.
  • The core feature is to engage above and beyond the demand of the public.
  • The variety of skills and projects is unique (also among neighbouring countries) and needs to be protected.
  • We need to think about the priorities of institutions, compare and contrast to other associations and companies. This will create space for new pioneering work. But first we need to decide if we are dedicated to supporting the institutions or new ventures.
  • It is a generational challenge that at the administrations cannot be accomplished without more infrastructure, better standards, clearer policy / processes.
  • Open data needs to be more than a „nice to have“, and the industry needs to be involved. There are a lot of government datasets around, but it takes a lot more effort for them to be made useful.


The following scenarios were discussed and debated. They will be further elaborated by the Task Force described further down.

  1. Watchdog // a minimal version of the association. A more intellectual activity, pointing out what is going well / less well over social media and other channels.
  2. Pilot Group // empowerment for private people, pilot projects with government
  3. User Group // what do we need so that we can work with open data
  4. Service Desk // maybe not an association any more, more of a support network
  5. Ramp Down // run the same program at reduced level to cope with demand
  6. Expert network // an extended version of #4

Community of Practice

A combination of User Group and Service Desk seems to be the one favored by most. Our discussion revolved around this proposal. Every member of the board has a clear thematic or functional role. 2 hours per week, 80% of the meetings.

  • As a private person would engage, but employees will need sign-off from management.
  • Questions if the existing members would be willing to step out and make room for a new board, the next generation of participants.
  • We have spoken about this, the same people are active year after year - we need this commune („Gemeinschaft“) but it needs to function.
  • If we are a „hardcore“ bunch of activists, I would say no, but if we are a professional association then definitely.
  • We need clearer goals for this kind of scenario to be meaningful, and probably a clearer split between the political aspects and community.
  • I may not be able to do this in my free time, need to clarify the legal requirements towards gov’t employees.
  • What does it mean to be apolitical? Everything has a political dimension.
  • A new board will need to decide whether it can be and remain a Swiss chapter [of Open Knowledge]. And if not, then there will be a new Swiss chapter.
  • Open does not equal free, it costs money, it needs infrastructure.
  • We need to clearly understand the boundaries between political from technical & social activism. Like the Arbeitskreis OGP in Germany, there is clear precedent for a Community of Practice.
  • We should be more active in the age of lobbies, and have a clear, singular voice.
  • Support community for discussing the critical questions is essential, as we cannot lobby the parliament contrary to our employer’s mandate.
  • No redundancies, working closely with and other projects.
  • Redundancies are acceptable, as long as there is a connection.
  • It’s a problem if multiple offers on contracts are made from people in the community, without chance for recourse or internal discussions.
  • Internal transparency and mutual support through governance about % of work going into the association.

Organisational Reform

In this part of the discussion we addressed the issues of making our association more efficient & effective on a day-to-day basis.

  • Suppose we need three groups: exponents of positions that need to be known, a political arm (Parldigi, SDA), and a watchdog (Digitale Gesselschaft).
  • A key asset is organising the annual conference. But everyone is doing hackathons, so we should be more focused on having an expert role in existing hackathons and making sure that open data is well represented.
  • is a strong brand, e.g. the Tourism hackdays were a success, and we need to keep that in view. Perhaps the hackdays could just have a reduced priority.
  • All kinds of events help build community, and if so they should be well supported.
  • Look at the example of the Swiss Statistics Society, with the chapters underneath and working groups that organize the conference.
  • The underrepresented communities should be prioritised for activism and networking.
  • Could we have a task force (all directors + volunteers) discuss the suggestions and present a concrete proposal in February?
  • The association is a vehicle for people who „want to do something“, so this activity is voluntary. But yes.
  • We will pay for the infrastructure to take part in this Task Force. 7 people have currently signed up.
  • Directors are encouraged but not obligated to take part in the Task Force.
  • Will organise the next meeting in Bern around January.

What’s hot & happening?

Over the past months the group of volunteers that agreed to debate and propose revisions to the association has continued to work through the many topics and questions around the future of Today I joined one of their workshops for the first time, by request.

At the Task Force meeting this evening I was asked to elaborate on the role of Switzerland in the Open Knowledge network, our obligations as Local Group, and what motivations we have to continue being on board. I answered to the best of my ability, attempting to provide fair answers - and shared several numbers (“data points”) to address the last point:


The current version of the Open Definition, a document of fundamental interest to every Open Knowledge Chapter and activist.


How completely available and accessible open government data is in Switzerland according to latest result in the crowdsourced survey by Open Knowledge, the Global Open Data Index.


Switzerland’s position in the Paradise Lost Blacklist, part of the Open Data for Tax Justice Network coordinated by Open Knowledge.


The number of results for a search matching any of switzerland suisse schweiz svizzera svizra in OpenSpending, a flagship data standardisation effort at Open Knowledge. At least there is 1 result at the new DataHub (41 on the old), the central data portal run by Open Knowledge.


The number of followers we reported having on Twitter in our application to become a chapter of OKFN in April 2012. @opendatach has 5’230 today.


The number of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, supported by Open Knowledge through sibling initiatives including the OD4D network, The State of Open Data, and the School of Data.


According to soon-to-be-open data from the Federal Statistical Office, the total percentage of Swiss residents who were members of an association or a group in 2015. Part of the social-cultural landscape of a country with an arguably unique vantage point on international law, data protection and other current affairs.


Today has around this many active individual and institutional members, of which I hope that most will continue supporting both a national and international, accessible but technically cutting-edge, “trusted, non-partisan, pioneering and passionate” agenda for a popular Swiss open data association…and that Open Knowledge continues as a network and organization to rise up to the challenge of being that association’s main international partner.


Thanks to the Task Force for their continued efforts: looking forward to hearing the 2020+ vision presented at the General Assembly on July 3!

If anyone reading this wants to help change some 0’s to 1’s, here is one good starting point:

Running a popular association takes work, but it isn’t rocket science. It begins with listening to your members. And ends when there’s no-one left to listen to.

The recommendations of the Task Force were presented in a meeting to the board members on April 10, 2018:

Reviewing these brings to mind some great feedback we got a couple of years ago, written down by my friend and colleague Antoine Logean, that I’d just like to jot down here as well for posterity:

(1) „During the assembly we had no chance to discuss or take part to the strategy of the association for 2016. It was an unilateral communication“

Antoine writes: „involving the association members in a proactive dialog to define the strategic goals for the future seems to me a must. How can we do this ?“

The 2020+ recommendations from our Task Force of active members of the community described here are one way. An active online community is another. Regular events and meetups like Open Data Day / Beer where the plans and challenges are openly discussed are key as well.

(2) „In general the association status and tranktandum should be sent 10 days before the meeting so that members has a chance to react, to give a feedback.“

This is basically an organizational challenge, that should be addressed with a functioning executive (Geschäftsleitung) that has the support they need to communicate efficiently with the community.

(3) „The association has a too strong political lobbying character. Many opendata activists does no more find in our association the root message/vision“

Antoine cited Simon Chignard, who once gave a nice analogy: he said that the open data movement suffers of the same syndrome that the software development 15 years ago has: (Stallman - free software foundation – Opening as goal in itself as a moral value) versus ( Open Source form O’Reilly – Opening as mean to improve the software development process). „The same is now happening at the OK/OKF and the same start to emerge by us. We have to find a solution here.“

The Swiss Data Alliance founded by André Golliez is well on its way to establishing itself as ground zero for ‚data politics‘. We still need to petition for public and political support, with an Open focus and at the grassroots level that the mentioned activists will enjoy being involved in. It’s a pragmatic, working solution that addresses a fundamental community interest. But it is not supposed to be a split: the two sides do need to complement each other - we need to be active in advocating for economic, social and legal change using every channel available including the lobby

(4) Many people missed an introduction where one redefines again what is open data, why this makes sense etc.

„The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.“ – Mark Twain

What is really needed is stronger orientation around the Open Definition, clearly outlined focus in the association’s MANIFEST and a working scope that is simple and obvious to every participant. A sprinking of data literacy and having a book in hand helps :slight_smile:

(5) We get the reputation to dictate what opendata is, to transmit the message that opendata outside our association is not really opendata, that we are the gate keeper.

Antoine suggests that we really should work to avoid this kind of complaint, encouraging any local initiative that aims to work on transparency with data. And that if we want to go on with a kind of Make label „it should be also clear that this is only one way to do it, that there are many other way, that might be more appropriate or even better.“

Open is the journey, not the destination.

(6) Many persons did not understood why [big corporate] was invited, what it has to do with Opendata.

Antoine argues here that it was a poor presentation and unclear stakes of the company that were the problem. I would argue that in the modern world, corporates are persons too, and if said persons are confused by what they are trying to say, then they should consider looking at the data.

Or just read the book:

Rounding off a year of discussion and planning, we launched a new strategy,and voted in a new board of directors earlier this week at a meeting hosted by the Bern University of Applied Sciences.

We welcomed new board members - Andreas Kellerhals taking the torch from André Golliez, Mario Cacciatore stepping in as new treasurer, Izet Ahmetovic, Beat Estermann, Rahel Ryf, Christian Trachsel and Ladan Pooyan-Weihs - while applauding the efforts of those stepping out.

You can find some impressions of the event on social media, as well as a welcome interview with our new president.


This was followed by today’s announcement of the renewed (2019-23) open government data strategy of the Swiss Federal Council. Aiming to ensure an open data first policy in all federal offices by 2020, the most notable change is the transfer of responsibility for project from the Federal Archives to the Federal Statistical Office. Our association’s statement in response to this is on the blog. The ambitious strategy of, now entering it’s seventh year, is summarized here - with my translation below: - Strategy

Version 2.0

Draft, status 24.10.2018

Mission Statement

The association advocates open access to data, information and knowledge and the free reusability of data (“Open Data”). Through this we are engaged for a society in which everyone has the same chances to be informed about the future, and actively participate in shaping it.

Goals helps to shape the digital transformation of society through active promotion of a culture of openness, transparency, participation and cooperation:

  • supports public and private institutions and organizations in using open data to create transparency, and to exercise accountability duties. This contribution to safeguarding the traceability of conduct should help to solicit and receive the confidence of citizens, customers, etc.
  • supports public administrations and private organisations in the establishment and expansion of a sustainable data ecosystems with cross-organizational collaboration along the entire data value chain, in securing the long-term availability of the data and the promotion of secondary uses.
  • supports the cooperation with organizations, and networking of citizens, e.g. customers, so that - by taking advantage of the constantly expanding technical possibilities - new ideas, new products and new solutions and new services can be developed. Those affected by this should be able to act as participants.
  • advocates that conditions for equal access to data and information for all should be created and maintained. All should have the chance to creatively contribute to the solution of social problems, and to be informed for participate in politics, by exchanging arguments in respectful discussion.

Fields of action and forms of action

In order to achieve the goals, the association cooperates with like-minded partners from the private and public sectors, and is committed to the following focus areas:

  • Promotion of the publication and use of existing databases according to the Open Data principles;
  • Improvement of data quality;
  • Networking of datasets using Linked Open Data;
  • Supplementing or enrichment of open data stocks through crowdsourcing approaches;
  • Coordination among data suppliers and along the data value chain (data producers - intermediaries - data users);
  • Promotion of Digital Skills and Data Literacy to enable people becoming competent in handling data;
  • Creation of suitable legal and political framework conditions.

A range of instruments and forms of action are invoked for this:

  • Public relations and awareness-raising campaigns;
  • Active involvement in the Swiss Open Data community;
  • Organisation of conferences, hackathons and other community events;
  • Conducting training courses and workshops;
  • Providing consulting and support services;
  • Documentation of best practices and help for self-help among practitioners.

Translated with help from

The final document has now been posted and we are working on translations.

A chance to review the initial impacts of our new strategy, share your feedback with the board and community will be on July 4, 2019 at our [un]conference located in the SBB headquarters in Bern.