Accessing aid information

IATIInternational Aid Transparency InitiativeThe international development aid sector is starting to get on board the "open data" train. Preparing for the Open Data for Campaigning Day in Oxford in three weeks, and our own Open Data for Development Camp in Amsterdam in May, I had a look at what’s possible already.

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Hacking away on my Zim notebook

Working with open source is fun because it lets me explore software and change little things. If you’re not really into code and config files, you might want to skip this post 🙂

Zim task list (default)Zim task listSince some time I use Zim, a desktop wiki, to take notes in meetings and at conferences. It shares a few good things with Tomboy, the default notebook on Ubuntu (linking pages, immediately saving what you type so you don’t loose anything on sudden power loss) but has a few things I prefer:

  • Notes are stored as plain text: easier to use other text editors, version control, and scripts, and if for any reason Zim fails, I can still access my data quite easily.

  • The main interface makes organising and navigating notes easier.

  • The Task List plugin extracts lines with possible tasks, so it’s easier to keep track of follow-ups or actions in notes by simply typing a line like:

    [ ] Document my hacks in a blog post

The Task List itself is a separate window you can pull up, to see all open to do’s. But I wanted to fix a few things to make it more powerful in daily use.

Let’s build a “Debian for Development Data”

Open Data (photo Jonathan Gray)Open Data (photo Jonathan Gray)I just returned from an intense week in the UK: an IKM Emergent workshop in Oxford, and the  Open Government Data Camp in London had me almost drowning in “open data” examples and conversations, with a particular angle on aid data and the perspectives of international development.

As the result of that, I think we’re ready for a “Debian for Development Data”: a collection of data sets, applications and documentation to service community development, curated by a network of people and organisations who share crucial values on democratisation of information and empowerment of people.

Smarter crowdsourcing

Paul Currion has written a critique on Ushahidi and crowdsourcing in humanitarian crises. I think he misses quite a bit of what actually went on, it’s like me judging the effectiveness of institutional aid based on what I see and hear on TV. Robert Munro has answered Paul’s critique with a more in-depth review of what happened and didn’t show up on Ushahidi.

I do agree with Paul’s (somewhat hidden) observation that tapping into an existing infrastructure (in the case of Haiti: the Open Street Map community) is a next step. I’d generalise that: tap into an existing social infrastructure. Consider the Haitian diaspora as such.

One way to look at crowdsourcing is as "a random group of people connected by technology figuring out processes to address a one-off goal". But that’s still a rather centralised view: an unconnected mass of people coming together like a flash mob.

A better way would be to consider socio-technical architectures: groups of people connected by technology, establishing (new) patterns of collaboration for on-going goals. That’s more a peer-to-peer view: an ad-hoc configuration of groups of people with different skills coming together to address a complex situation.

ResRap 3, 2, 1, Go!

Two weeks ago the #resrap 2009-2010 project kicked off at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the biannual reporting of results of Dutch international development aid. It’s the second time the Ministry works together with civil society (this time at a more ambitious level through Partos 1) to report on our joint Dutch contributions to the Millennium Development Goals as completely as possible.

Earlier, I used the 6-minute film A Case For Open Data In Transit” to illustrate my drive as member of the #resrap web advisory group, to not just collect data for analysis, but also make it available as raw data. Using the approach presented by Joshua Robin at the Gov 2.0 Expo 2010, last May: Focus on 3-2-1.

Tasktop to improve a knowledge worker’s productivity

I’ve been using Mylyn for quite some years now. Mylyn introduced the concept of task-focused work: activate a task in your to-do list, and only see the files relevant to that task. Tasktop, the company behind Mylyn, extends Mylyn as Tasktop, with even more features, and promises “improved productivity, guaranteed.”. It works great when I am developing software, and also could support me as knowledge worker, for instance by managing bookmarks and browser tabs in Firefox. But I’d like to see it offer more support for task management within Firefox too. A bit like this.