In Agro-Know, we are right in the middle of several interesting things that are happening in relation to open data and its impact for research institutions and businesses. We are trying to help research institutions understand better and implement open research policies, by deploying an online service that will have customised offerings to help initiatives and institutions comply. We are involved in national activities that try to open up public sector data for research and innovation. We are active in the global movements that try to open up data for agriculture and nutrition. And we are advocates of the change and impact that openness will bring.

There are several people and opportunities that help me develop my own perspective on where things are expected to go. Very often, by meeting some great personalities or joining very influential events. This was the case with my participation at the Annual Summit of the Open Data Institute (ODI), in London, UK.

Founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, the ODI is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, limited by guarantee company. It launched in 2012, having £10 million over five years from the UK Government and $750,000 from Omidyar Network. It’s team is working hard in order to catalyse the evolution of open data culture to create economic, environmental, and social value. It particularly aims to help unlock supply, to generate demand, and to create and disseminate knowledge to address local and global issues.


ODI Summit 2014: here’s what happened from Open Data Institute on Vimeo.

The 2014 Summit of the ODI  was the 2nd in row and a got together about 400 people from a variety of institutions and countries (although most were from the UK) working on or interested in open data. It practically run for three days:

a) One day was the Training Day where a core open data curriculum was offered to participants.
b) One day was the Summit Day with a gala event where open data awards were given.

c) One day was devoted to a meeting of the various ODI nodes in other countries and cities (like the recently set up ODI Athens).

The aim of this post to give an idea about the ODI and the Summit, together with some pointers to interesting people and talks. What I tried to do there is to understand what ODI does and why it attracts so much attention, as well as to find out more about the open data economy trends and how they may affect our company. From the great line up of speakers, I have selected a few highlights.
The introduction to the event and the ODI work by its CEO Gavin Starks. It was very interesting to find out about how the ODI team reports openly on their targets and metrics, using an online, live dashboard application (that includes a range of metrics such as admin and tech ones).


He explained how making (private, enterprise, public) information discoverable and linked, led to a syndrome of comparative disclosure – simply put, by having companies publishing more information on their products, this led to their competition also being more open. And today, if you don’t have data about your products online, you simply don’t exist. And he highlighted that the direction that we are moving to is from people browsing the web to buy things to machines browsing the web so that they do it on their behalf.
A very interesting panel on what open data mean for business discussed how business models change, with the introduction of horizontal layers where applications work on data gathering, processing, analytics, in order to power other services and applications.

I particularly liked the talk of Herman Hauser on Innovation Challenges for businesses. Herman is from the Venture Capital (VC) Amadeus Capital Partners and talked about the future innovation that he foresees in the data companies. He suggested to remember two things from his talk: that machine learning will be the major  revolution since the Alan Turing time and that the most valuable and important data set is health-related.

Joel Gurin presented the US GovLab, an action-oriented research lab (‘a think tank and do tank’). He talked about the OpenData500 initiative of GovLab with more than 600 companies listed and studied in order to understand the value of open data, showcase examples, and start a dialogue on how innovation may be accelerated based on open data. GovLab also organised organised roundtables with companies and government; it was very interesting to see the agenda and participants of the one they ran with USDA (also very nicely reported on by a blog post by Joyce M. Hunter, Deputy Chief Information Officer of USDA).
I also liked very much the panel on Open data for social good. The panelists talked about open data initiatives that are addressing social challenges and gave particular emphasis on the fact that we should start with the problems that data could help solve, rather than start with the data and think about what can be done with it. Will Perrin, founder of Talk About Local expressed it very well: we need to forget about “I have a great data set, what can I do” and move towards “I have a great social challenge, is there data to help me?”. This panel also discussed about how donors and charities can open their grant data and databases of grants. They mentioned the 360giving project, an open data standard for grant makers to publish their grant data on where they give money for – also with an online grant navigator to see where UK funding goes.
Who Funds Whom: a great visualisation from the grantNav application, using 360giving data.

Who Funds Whom: a great visualisation from the grantNav application, using 360giving data.

It was very interesting to hear Ariel Gold from Amazon Web Services Open Data Programme talk about how they are building communities and tools around sustainable open data sets. She mentioned the 1000 genomes project and the partnership with NASA Earth eXchange to reduce carbon pollution and promote science to understand and manage climate impacts. She explained how they helped deploy 20TBs of data and a number of Amazon virtual Machine Images with pre-installed software on analysis and visualisation using Amazon services. And then that they launched the OpenNEX challenge to get apps that can help NASA researchers solve this challenge.

The talk most relevant to Agro-Know’s international activities was the one by Liz Carolan, International Manager and ODI’s GODAN liaison. Liz talked about the Partnership for Open Data, a project that they run with the World Bank on creating open data leaders in developing countries.