What does it mean to be a local chapter?

In the aftermath of the summer Opendata.ch unconference, which you can read about here and replay on social media, I’ve been thinking and discussing with my colleagues about our rebooted role to the members of the association. As well as our role representing openness in the wider community.

We had another popular, well hosted, interesting event. The questions remaining are: at what cost, to what impact? The conversations, thoughts and ideas of the day are still vivid in my mind. While we work on collecting receipts, summarizing the learings and outcomes, we acknowledge concerning news from our closest neighbours to the East:

Open Knowledge Forum Austria, the association behind the Austrian chapter of Open Knowledge, decided in its last plenary meeting on 12.12.2018 to dissolve it. This is the end of an ongoing process. We have resisted it in the last years, but the difficult financial environment in Austria as well as in the EU, changes in the living conditions of some members as well as some mistakes on our part have led to the fact that no new board team could be found to continue the association. We are sincerely sorry for this. With this step we want to release the topic of „Open Knowledge“ again, and offer others the possibility to take it up to start their own story - instead of sitting on top of it, or standing in the way of new developments.

How does one go from this…

… to a roadblock? I’m starting to wonder what the message is here. In times when economic openness and information sharing are often at counterpole, the fact that the Austrian government was in part spearheading EU political reforms in part with support from Open Knowledge International just a few months ago, makes me wonder what role our Swiss chapter is playing in similar debates.

The rather independent role of the German chapter, for example, being also one to consider as a counterpole to some of the more chapters. The current list of chapters and their different statuses is available here. I took a look back at some of the original key points from our discussion that led to a Memorandum of Understanding with Open Knowledge, as documented by Christian Laux in 2012:

General thoughts

  • Not just a label or a brand it’s about being part of a community and a network
  • Common purpose and idea(ls)

What does Opendata.ch want from being a chapter

(* = helps making OKFN a sustainable org.)

  • Getting involved into OKFN community
  • Contribute and commit*
  • connect with the wider network*
  • learn from the international network
  • bring in Swiss experience *
  • further opening up information in Switzerland (national, not OKFN specific)
    do that in a way in line with international standards*

What does OKFN (Central) want from a chapter

(i.e. from OKFN Switzerland)

  • OKFN-CH must adopt the General Thoughts (open data, open content, open knowledge)
  • OKFN-CH connects with the wider network contributing and receiving ideas, projects, etc
  • OKFN-CH to become robust and sustainable and to continue to do good work long into the future
  • Have a community to connect with and reach out to in a specific country / region
  • Grow the organization and network internationally

The latest guidelines for the Network are available here:

I am hopeful that one day in Austria, people will step forward to pick up the pieces, that groups and chapters will continue to run around the world. And that we in Switzerland will use the opportunity to consider the lessons to learn, and take steps accordingly to strengthen and refocus our commitments.

Everyone is welcome. Anyone can join the network, both individuals and organisations . No special skills or background are needed — just an interest in open knowledge.

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One of the concerns that has been discussed in the recent past is the fact that opendata.ch (and particularly visible in the program of the conference) is primarily dominated by the political / government aspect of open data. From a certain perspective, this focus is totally understandable, but I think it might drive people away if that is the only topic in focus.

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