Virtual #thessaloniki

A community summit which begins with travel plans and ends with virtual reality.

This is a transcript of my personal notes from the Virtual Summit on May 3-4, 2018, written on the go. Apologies to readers and participants in advance to any misunderstood paraphrasing or mis-quotes - please contact me with any clarifications, corrections, or additions.

We are very excited now to have confirmation from 17 Open Knowledge groups that they are attending - coming from these countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brasil, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United States. We are looking to finalise the numbers over the next week, so we can start the agenda hacking process based on our initial conversations and notes - to make sure we can all make the most of the valuable time we can spend together in-person.

Hannes Gassert [6:33 PM]
joined #thessaloniki by invitation from Oleg Lavrovsky.

André Golliez [11:14 AM]
joined #thessaloniki by invitation from Oleg Lavrovsky.

Oleg Lavrovsky [11:36 AM]
The schedule posted by Sander above looks good, even if kind of basic. The event will be a group workshop / brainstorming, rather than a conference format.

I would be interested in running a session about hackathons as instrument of activism, sharing data from our activities since 2011, and focusing on collecting best practices and designs from the community.

After a chat with Hannes this morning, I would also very much like to see activities on the schedule regarding the organising principles of OKI and the network. So I’m going to propose that we as a group address ongoing concerns about the changes in leadership and overall uncertainty about the future through concrete steps like redefinition of roles and responsibilities.

Oleg Lavrovsky [12:39 PM]
Wondering “what’s in it for me?” In my mind, you can get exposure to projects from the international network, meet people doing parallel work in other countries, help me represent our chapter, and build a better foundation for Open Knowledge worldwide. Total travel budget including flight and lodging looks to be around 750.-

Oleg Lavrovsky [5:51 PM]
added this Plain Text snippet: Summit will be virtual

Dear Oleg,
Thank you for talking to me about the work in your Open Knowledge group and your ideas and topics you suggested for engaging with the other groups in the Open Knowledge Network.
The conversations with the Open Knowledge groups all confirmed that we agree that it is an important time for the Open Knowledge Network to come together and discuss how we all can move forward together better as a network.

Oleg Lavrovsky [12:05 PM]
I’m not proud of this. I feel like I probably should have done more to help.

Hannes Gassert [3:17 PM]
left #thessaloniki.

Oleg Lavrovsky [1:14 PM]
Virtual Summit starting now. We are kicking off with introductions.

Oleg Lavrovsky [1:35 PM]
Anna (Datenschule), Babis (Greece), Crystal (Taiwan), Denis (Ireland), Dries (Belgium), Francesca (Trento, Italy), Johanna (Sweden), Joel (USA), Karin (Brixton, UK), Mark (UK), Masa (Japan), Matthew (Australia), Natalia (Brazil), Nicholas (Melbourne, Australia), Oleg (CH), Oscar (Mexico), Peter (Austria), Pierre (Chevreuse, France), Rufus (UK), Serdar (Stockholm, Sweden), Shubham (Nepal), Steven (Berlin), Susanna & Teema (Helsinki, Finland), TH (Taiwan), Tim (UK), Tomo (Japan), Maarja-Leena (Estonia)

The annual report was released yesterday

Andreas Amsler [1:37 PM]
joined #thessaloniki by invitation from Oleg Lavrovsky.

Oleg Lavrovsky [1:38 PM]
Mark Gibbs presenting the annual report right now, going over the “time of change for Open Knowledge”

“The team right now is very stable, we are aligned going forward”
Strong board supporting the organization now.
We have not been as visible to the network as we would have liked to be.

Oleg Lavrovsky [1:46 PM]
Rufus apologies for the way things have disconnected in the network, no festival since 2014, missed opportunities, etc.

“Not fulfilling the promise that the network would thrive.”
“What’s been missing for me is a lack of authenticity, not just a lack of communication.”
“A lack of vulnerability and courage. A lack of power, sharing my vision, standing up to what I believe”
“I have learned that I could do better in listening, so that’s what I am here for today”


“the world has changed a lot since OKFN was founded”
“the network wasn’t really a network, because one actor withdrawing or failing to deliver shouldn’t result in the network weakening”
“not hub and spoke this as we rebuild the network”


“I am looking for a career in Open Knowledge. I would like to see a lot more of sharing of knowledge in the network.”
“The ODI looks for opportunities, rather than being purpose driven. Open Knowledge does not seem to construct the ability to monetize the way the network operates, and support…practitioners in the field”


“We should be aware of our competitors. Could we raise money and create job opportunities for smart people driven by the motivation of creating for the common good?”
“We did Open Knowledge Awards with very little resources or funding, but people were very enthusiastic”


“Was anyone else left confused about the lack of support?”


“Let’s move away from the gossip - gossip is for over beer”
“The network still functions as a network when we have our gossip lines”
“Surprised to find out that the outlook was rather negative, going into this call”

Anna had a very different experience, working closely together with people in the network.


“if you have any questions, any concerns, please please direct them to me.”


“I remember a discussion with Sander, if you compare OK with other organizations, like OSM [they have a clearer product]”
“I like the idea of groups and different sectors, but maybe we have introduced too many different things.”
“I see open data everywhere now, and I would like to see Open Knowledge more present”


“Really looking forward to hearing from Rufus how we are going to move forward”

Rufus is asking us to take 5 minutes to write down what’s worked and what’s not.

Oleg Lavrovsky [2:27 PM]
Some suggestions of what’s worked:

  • The network has given a common identity to the open data intelligentsia, a simple set of rules (Open Definition + data standards) to follow, and opened doors to many interesting places
  • It has been great whenever going to a city/country - to ask for support from a local OK person - and getting that personal contact!
  • Applying together for new consortia, having a direct line and outreach to other local organisations that share values
  • Visiting each others conferences (OpenBelgium, Re:publica Thessaloniki, OpenDataSummit Berlin, MyData Helsinki)
  • The School of Data network!
  • OpenGLAM has become a cross-organizational movement working well, although not coordinated currently - an ideology to relate to
  • Having an international network is very powerful. Good optics for any one node. Opportunity to create international projects (to find similar groups and join forces to have more impact)
  • ‘Open’ is now often seen as a user need. So, the momentum has spread into both digital transformation and user centered design areas.
  • It’s good to know more what’s going on in different chapters in order to understand the different contexts and what works for ours. As a network, we were very successful in moving the open data agenda forward in a global perspective.

What’s not worked:

  • Expectations to the chapters and to each other are often misunderstood, leading to a struggle to set consistent milestones - Open Data Day/Index being exceptions here.
  • Understanding of the philosophic and economic implications of opening knowledge are not equally distributed, even in the network - the School of Data is possibly not the right place, certainly not the only place, to ensure this happens.
  • We have so many initiatives to keep track of, we miss the fact that many followers of OK are frustrated by us missing out in some of the most critical shifts happening in information society, e.g. open algorithms, open data for machine learning, blockchain revolutions, privacy crises, leaks, etc.
  • No global, coordinated objectives for the network. There is no clear way to go beyond alignment with purpose for any one group, aside from projects, but the funding for these isn’t shared.
  • Data reuse examples do happen, some with nice economic/ other impacts. But we need more of those to be visible and handy, easy-to-understand for the public, and measured to convince experts.
  • Opening knowledge without distributed infrastructure to preserve this knowledge in verifiable form long term is a ‘half-baked’ idea/effort.


“In the 2014 event we ended up spending ~100K more than we planned. Community events are super hard to break even on.”
“An event is a huge investment, a very worthwhile one. There are maybe opportunities to reduce the cost in some way”
A lot of the complaints are about the lack of events, but also that we are not visiting each others conferences.


“The topic is now mainstream, there are lots of organizations betting big on open data, open banking, …”
“If Open Knowledge took the topic to a major int’l events company…I’d be very surprised if they would not pick it up”
“We shouldn’t be thinking small, how to make it cheaper, but how to make it bigger and with more impact”


“I am more skeptical, in the market we are in, commercialization would be difficult”


Organizing OK Fest was a challenge after a long period of inactivity regarding events but it’s important to continue now that we are together.

Oleg Lavrovsky [2:56 PM]
Rufus is now asking us to go through a Situation-Complication-Question-Hypothesis session.

Oleg Lavrovsky [3:09 PM]
I was having audio issues and lost a few minutes reconnecting.


“Open isn’t done and bunch of organizations with some shared history and shared initiatives. The complication is that the boundaries are not clear, and sharing has not been working well.”


“Japan is focused on domestic issues, the focus of many chapters is local. Not so focused on money- or career-building opportunities.”


“We have a shared good, the Open Knowledge reputation and brand.”


“I have learned a lot from working with School of Data and chapters in the past two years, and believe that OKI could learn a lot and find it’s way to being a real NGO, building public trust behind brand, coming down from ivory towers, and focusing on a clear orientation, around servicing activities, participatory projects, and above all deciding who it is we wish to empower.”


“Some groups do professional services, some people do their own. Then there are activists, people doing advocacy, they are often volunteer. One complication how do those different types get different things out of it. Some people might want partnership opportunities out of an NGO, others for a policy agenda, an event series, leadership.”

Rufus thanks the Taiwan team for organizing his tour, setting up lots of meetups and presentations.

Oleg Lavrovsky [4:16 PM]
I’ve finished the first day of the summit by reaching out to one of the chapters - Estonia - who specifically said they wanted to connect with the others. We are working out details for a Skype call on Wednesday.

The US chapter is running a conference at the end of this month. I like their simple, distributed structure:

Besides this I’ve added all the people I could find who attended the call to this Twitter list:

Oleg Lavrovsky [1:02 PM]
We’re starting the call again, @nikki is with me and we are being hosted by Andreas Amsler - who has kindly prepared materials related to our association’s status in #oki-call

Following up on the comments about understanding the status of the groups, we’d like to ask you to answer a few questions regarding activities, team structure, etc. You can find the questions in the same spreadsheet we already shared with you.

Andreas Amsler [1:05 PM]
Actually, @hannes has prepared the material, thx! :slight_smile:

Oleg Lavrovsky [1:05 PM]
Team effort :handshake:

We are now being asked to fill out a survey about the vision and mission.

Oleg Lavrovsky [1:20 PM]
Something else: Rufus mentioned his book draft several times yesterday, and asked us also by email to read it and provide feedback. I’m about 50% through, and will try to finish it and do this in the next couple weeks. Literature club, anyone?

We have all now filled out a form, Nikki and I collaborating, with questions about the vision and mission of Open Knowledge.

Oleg Lavrovsky [1:34 PM]

“Open [gov’t] data has become business-as-usual. But I’m not sure that is what we committed to”


“sharing a vision is very important. I would say I want Open Knowledge for a more equal society and for the good of the planet.”


“I hear that as visions should have a Goldilocks quality - neither too hot, nor too cold” [he is taking this very strategically]


“We should not make a vision that makes excuses for what we are, and instead communicate goals that enable others to join the parade.”


“We are working within a shifting cultural paradigm, government and corporate interests are involved in designing a world which is allowing folks access to the mechanisms of knowledge and power. Enabling us to make a fairer civil society. We are not only pursuing a vision, but also something more substantial.”

Steven also shares a book tip:

Denis and Matthew agree that

“it’s easy to get government to throw data over the wall, not necessarily in a usable format or sustainably”

Anna made a point about universal cultural values as being central to the vision-building process.

Anna says you would have to be quite generalistic to share a vision with the rest of the world, as long as you support the values.


“Russia was isolated for years, nevertheless Open Data in Moscow was a huge event and we organized others. The biggest difference in our country is that the Russian government puts under great pressure any NGOs which are foreign finances, especially from ‘unwanted international foundations’. Ignoring this leads to certain personal and organizational problems. Russia is active but informal. The only way we can survive is by financing ourselves. At the same time there is a Russian NGO called Infoculture which acts as an umbrella, involved in topics also like digital preservation, language and so on. My personal vision is that it takes a lot of different areas, for example I am one of the experts for the Russian government. Shared values should be high level, not highly detailed.” He starts talking about the Open Data Charter etc., getting officials involved from any level of the government etc.


“there is now more interest with the ODC, and also to work on a more regional level with open data policy, and I see a lot of opportunity there for regional groups to be involved.”

Oleg: mumbles something barely comprehensible involving the Theory of Justification and blockchains…


"Whatever flavor of vision we have, if there is a connection to open, you come to our tent. Our vision has basically been that we are more open. And so our vision splinters into all these different communities, so I think we need something more specific. Another thing that is a risk is becoming something I call the open data ghetto - a technical solution, to what was originally (e.g. Stallman) originally a vision of empowerment. "


“Openness is fundamentally about the economic distribution of power and wealth. If you ever want to have the appeal of a mass movement, you need to have a story that appeals to a mass audience. At the moment open data does not do that - it might when it connects to corruption or transparency and accountability - but that is a substory of that world. The real story is that we are doing something that is going to make the 21st century work for everyone.”


“We haven’t really been thinking seriously about how this will pay…how an information economy would really work.”
“Spotify and other collective societies show how a market could work.”

Anna likes to disagree with Oleg.


“Data and tech is never neutral. You have to take time to understand the context: how is it created, why is it created? We could have a lot of fun with replications and local contexts, and learn how to do these cultural translations of tools like Alvatelly(?) to a national context.”
“I’m not buying into the vision that because it’s data and it’s tech and it’s scalable, and applaud the effort to look for shared values.”


“That’s a great point. I’m not talking about a technology [that will solve some social problem], I’m talking about the rules of the game. Open rules, and a way to pay creators and innovators when they make things open, will be part of the reworking of some of the structure of digital capitalism. Parallel to property rights, which transferred into the information domain are not working.”


OKFI is def beyond “open data only”; agree the vision needs to be larger.


Open Data is infrastructure for the 21st century.
But, we still need to do civil engineering to make ‘places’ good


Open data is now the ‘how’, not the ‘why’. We should be talking tactics, not values.


Isn’t open data an instrument?


Instrument to what though? Transparency and accoutnability? or a fair, innovative, dynamic info society/economy – at a fundamental level.


Tech is also, to a degree, a privilege that not everybody has; at least at this stage.


Transparency is not accountability. Who benefits from openned up data? Those who have resources to process it and to put it in use (e.g. google, FB, MST etc). Data needs to be seen as a digital public infrastructure of the 21st century. It needs to be permanent, linked and exploratable. Open Data, Technology and Government 2.0 – What Should We, And Should We Not Expect – Open Knowledge Foundation blog


@rufus No, open data is just a medium of change, or instrument as Anna mentioned.



witness how we all use Wikipedia by default… what kind of knowledge commons can we help stand up that becomes the de facto source of usable open knowledge


I think it’s more correct to say that blockchain is created to “prove” something; to categorically verify historical truths. I’m also not an expert, though.


@Denis: we have no sustainable funding model for open - that’s why we need remuneration rights

Is control of personal data really an issue?


maybe, a knowledge commons that uses renumeration rights that shows that system in action One example that comes to mind is the Brave Browser


“If you wanted to touch a mass audience, the concern about the future of work is really major, and something we can speak to very directly.”


I do not agree non political because every thing what we do is political: we are on the side of democracy, inclusion, value creation, transparency


Currently I use the mission OKFI has as a “working prototype”:
“We facilitate the development of a fair digital society by means of open knowledge and open collaboration.”

Oleg Lavrovsky [2:41 PM]
We have shared some Complications, e.g.:

  • Without active working groups, the network “feels” empty and people move to different initiatives/organizations
  • Every chapter has its own bookkeeping and systems, which makes global analytics and shared accountability of the network challenging. (Oleg, CH)
  • Local groups have developed a behaviour of working locally, so we’d need to both respect this and expand the collaboration opportunities over time. (Steven)

And are now addressing this Question:

Within the next 8-12 months, how can we (re-)align on a shared vision, purpose, and principles in the network that would lead [longer-term] to a global movement for a free, fair, democratic open information economy (where the Open Knowledge Network plays a core role); and where the Network (i.e. its members) are aligned, engaged, clear and excited about the future both now and going forward (so with processes and resources for sustaining and evolving this);
Of course we also have agreed values in our MoUs - same from the website: Open knowledge / Respect and tolerance / Collaboration not control / Pragmatic not fanatic / Making & talking / Change-making

Oleg Lavrovsky [2:49 PM]?

“Financial sustainability is important. So is psychological. I’ve been in activist communities where people really burn out. It’s really a crucial thing that people are sustained. Part of that is community. I’m really touched by everyone on the call taking time. It was really moving and inspiring to see you take time like this.”
“We overestimate what we can do in a year, but underestimate what we can in 10”


+1 to being able to manage burnout and sustainability! OKau Melbourne burnt out last year, unfortunately; some of us are still here, but we have lost energy and focus, sadly. I’m hoping this will improve though!
My comment is also to the point of this quarterly meeting: it maintains momentum, and focus, and energy. I know that having that deadline or goal helps keep me motivated to make time in my busy schedule for Open Knowledge

Oleg Lavrovsky [4:03 PM]
Well, that’s a wrap. I invited everyone to St.Gallen, several people said they would love to come, and everyone thanked everyone.

Later that evening, Babis sent me a link to the Thessaloniki Concert Hall, where he was hoping we would visit together - had our original plans for the conference materialized. I put on my Virtual Reality headset and walked around for a while. There was no music player, no sea breeze, and no Babis there.