Data Week 13th and Open Data Day 2019

by Offray Vladimir Luna Cárdenas — on  ,  ,  ,  , 

As usual, we celebrate this year edition of the Open Data Day by overlapping it with the 13th edition of our Data Week (anti)hackathons + workshops, this time oriented towards self publishing and open science. Here I'm sharing some of the experiences and learnings of this editions for the Open Data Day and the Data Week.

Is usual for us, at the local Grafoscopio community, to celebrate the Open Data Day (ODD) by overlapping it with our Data Weeks (anti)hackathons + workshops, which help us to escape the solutionist approach of the "one day fashionist hackathon", that has been widely criticized (see Schock, Irani, Scott).

Here I'm going to talk about how it want in three fronts: planning, execution and the future.


Last year we made our first yearly loosely planning and we put the ODD in the radar to access minigrants provided by the Open Knowledge International Foundation (OKI). We have been doing ODD since the begining without any finantial support, except the ones that are already provided by our own pockets and endeavors. But as a community of practice located in a hackerspace in the Global South, those small minigrants can made a huge difference.

We created a shared pad and start to fill out the dratf of the answers in the OKI in a collective manner, which means that one of us drafted most of the documents and others made small contributions here and there.

Once we knew that our propossal was selected by the OKI, we launch the usual public call in the Data Week web page and shared it on Twitter:

Invitation to ODD 2019 and the Data Week 13 in Twitter.

As usual, an interested participant will send a mail telling us:

  • Name
  • Motivations to partipate
  • Previous experiences in the themes of the Data Week, in this case Open Publication.
  • Computer Operative System.
  • Availability to commit for all 6 meetings in the Data Week.

Selected participants got a confirmation email with the details of the Data Week and Open Data Day.

Most ot the inscriptions came from members of two government entities: Consejo de Estado and Instituto Von Humbold, which are dealing with law and biodiversity, respectively. It was nice to see such interest from people in those places about the hacker techniques to documentation and open reproducible publishing and I was pretty curious about the upcoming meeting.


This edition of the Open Data Day and the 13th Data Week was focused on the relationship between knowledge and publishing, with a particular emphasis on Open Science. The idea was to make an open booklet about collective writing and publishing and use the Open Science Panama Declaration as a use case for such kind of booklets.

The first night (March 6th) we had a pretty good attendance with most of the 11 participants there. The second day, we had lost a third of the participants and for the end of the Data Week (March 16th), only 4 participants completed the event (which is kind of usual in this no-cost community events).

We started by shortly introducing ourselves as facilitators and participants and the hackerspace, addressing hopes and expectations about the week. We continue with the introductory video "How the Internet will (one day) transform government" and we try to approach it critically, without taking the solutionist approach on digital technologies for collaboration, but also stating that new ways of building together were available to us and the idea was to explore them jointly along the week.

As usual, we made three indexes: one cronological, with the notes of each day in the Data Week 13; a second thematic index, with the contents to gather and to develop in this week; and a final activities index, used to sync and coordinate actions among participants. All of them were powered by Docutopia, our community owned instance of CodiMD, and showcased the approach to proactive documentation using simple tools and techniques that we use and improve on each Data Week (and their minor counterparts, the Data Rodas). Most of the participants were using Markdown and CodiMD on the first sesion and they became more proactive on such agile documentation techniques along the week.

Our thematic pad for the Data Week 13 and Open Data Day 2019 contents.
^ Up | Our thematic pad for the Data Week 13 and Open Data Day 2019 contents.

After that we introduce Fossil, and alternative to Git, GitHub, GitLab, which is closer to the concerns about infrastructure in the Global South: sane default work flows, non metadata cyberfeudalism and centralizations, high portability, almost total off-line operation, among others. And we started to port our pads from our community hosted CodiMD instance (we call it Docutopia) to our community hosted Fossil repository, increasing the resilience of our community memories, while keeping agility, autonomy and small footprint on tools. Now we were able to collaborate while being almost totally off-line (which is not uncommon in the Global South), and the community memories were hosted on all the computers of the participants, instead of a single centralized server that was available only on-line. This was a practical bridge between on-line and off-line, centralized and distributed, for our documentation.

The time line for the migration of our pads to the Fossil DVCS.
^ Up | The time line for the migration of our pads to the Fossil DVCS. New participants became part of the permanent history of our community creations.

Finally we used Pandoc and LaTeX to produce the first versions of the booklet, which self documents its own production process and is an auto-referential example of how we can write and publish text together in documentathon or book sprint like event:

Documentathon PDF booklet link.
^ Up | The table of contents for our Documentathon booklet draft, developed during the Data Week 13th and the Open Data Day 2019.

That was mostly of our Data Week 13th and the Open Data Day 2019 celebration. As you can see, there is still a lot of work do be done. For example we didn't touch the Open Science Panama Declaration, because we were focused first on how to make any collective writing reproducible in a more general way, so we were not able to address such specific cases (that would be a task for the future).

But this is a pretty good balance for a 30 hours event spread across six days, for a good (anti)hackathon/life balance, with proper sleeping, care and contact with our love ones. We were able to build on community practices (the 400+ hours of previous Grafoscopio community widely documented events), project them into the future and connect them with international related movements, as those dealing with data, science and publishing openness. In fact, in our approach, documents can be seen as reproducible data (particularly a tree data structure), but that's something we will explore in future posts.

Aftermath and upcoming future

Talking about the future, I think that this Data Week and Open Data Day left a good balance, but also points of concern to deal with.

Here is some final balance points and issues:

  • As always, the event serve to introduce new members to the community and they keep their interest after the event has ended. So we acomplish to bridge community past and future as intended and we will with no rush and no pause, as we said here (sin prisa pero sin pausa), slowly building the community, and its symbolic and material repertoires.
  • I like the way long community practices and learning in part of the the Free Open Source Community are taking form and transforming to wider context and civic concerns: openness, digital infrastructure, grassroots empowerment via technology, documentation and so on. Is good also to see them take the form o a book after so many wikis, chat channels, events, and interactive notebooks. Books can be a good bridge for such wider audiences and an amalgam artifact that connects with the previous mentioned digital artifacts.
  • This time almost all seats were occupied by two institutions and while this went fine, if we are running out of places, and more people is still interested, we would need to limit the amount of participants for institution or external community, so we can keep and improve diversity. Such data should be captured on the inscription form and taken into account for participants selections.
  • We need to make more explicit the "infrastructure transposition" (as Susan L. Star would say) of putting was is behind upfront and vice versa (formats, infrastructure, software, data) in the first session, so new comers don't feel alienated by techniques and understand them as a way to approach conceptual concerns by switching the focus.
  • On that issue, I would like to improve the way we meet the people where they are already. Most of our participants are long time users of word processors, and while some get the idea easily and start to write with us in no time, some have a hard time getting this Markdown + real time editing process (which are the advantages? why don't just use GoogleDocs or Office360?), and despite our best efforts to explain the advantages there is still some cultural shock to overcome. I think such advantages will be more visible now that we have our own booklet draft about collective writing. But I would like such booklet to become some kind of "Choose your own adventure" learning experience to bridge better with those who have hard times with all this digital paraphernalia and still want to be part of a collective writing experience. Once we have our first beta draft, I would like to focus on this.
  • There is still a lot of solo endeavors in this community events, particularly in small communities like HackBo and Grafoscopio. I'm putting a lot of responsibility on my shoulders and while I enjoy this, it also can be tiresome. From first drafts and calls, to opening/closing the hackerspace, to write blog post, to be a permanent facilitator, to write software and documentation, to thought about lessons for future workshops. Don't get me wrong, the Grafoscopio community is great and has been instrumental on all the things that we are doing now. We were able to build on the 400+ hours of previous encounters and meetings because of the community, but some members are intermittent as they attend some times and have other commitments, while I have been in each and every single of those hours. I think that, with time, other members of the community will have a more central role, and will take more voluntary responsibilities, but is difficult to not feel almost burnt out, from time to time. For example, now, while I'm writing this blog post, I just hope to meet the deadline to get the funding back from OKI to keep HackBo going for a little bit more. This reporting front, would be a place were I would like to get some community support soon, for example.

Are you dealing with some of the topics depicted here? Are you part of a community working on collective memory and want to build it in a resilient and agile way? Are you struggling with burn out in a community? Do you care about the relationship between publishing and power and how it connects to open science and research? do you want to mobilize and make visible other knowledge subjects and voices in grassroots communities via publishing? are you developing software for open data and/or publishing?

In a complex world, we dealt with multifacet dense problems, which means also that small actions can be read in several connected ways. Let me know if you are related with any of those topics and what are your ideas and actions in such fronts.

Finally I would like to say thanks to the people behind the institutions, communities and places that make this 13th edition of the Data Week and the Open Data Day 2019 possible: mutabiT for their continuous support since... forever, HackBo for hosting the event over the years, the Grafoscopio community for their critical presence and Open Knowledge International for the microgrants, and their fluent requirements, like this blog post, which communicate and articulate what is happening in the global open data communities.