Show me the data!

The Open Knowledge Festival 2012, Helsinki: some notes

September 26th, 2012 | Posted by rmounce in Conferences | Panton Fellowship updates

Wow! Where to begin… In this post I shall attempt to summarise some of OKFestival 2012.

Some Background:

I had been to the Open Knowledge Conference last year (in Berlin), where I gave an invited talk on Open Palaeontology and met lots of brilliant people in the Open Science community like Bjoern Brembs, Cameron Neylon & Peter Murray-Rust. But this year the event was even bigger, and even better – teaming up with the annual Open Government Data Camp for a mega-event.

The Event Itself:

It was a little awkward that it was held so far away from most of the conference accommodation – everyone had a 20-30 minute commute before getting to the venue, and some of the talk rooms were fairly far apart. But once the conference goers got used to that it was plain sailing from there, and the Aalto University buildings themselves were wonderfully modern and well equipped for it (inc. great WiFi). I got to Helsinki on the Tuesday, and caught the tail end of the Data Journalism session that day including an excellent, inspirational talk on amongst other things. It detailed the amazing knowledge and insight gained from tracking the movement of ships with open data. I couldn’t help thinking that academics could learn a lot from these open data visualization experts (myself included!).

An interesting example of Shippr data – ships turn off their beacons once they pass the point for fear of pirates…

Wednesday – my chance to make a difference

I really liked the way that the conference had an introductory session to the days parallel events in the morning from 10am – 11am. If one was unsure of which stream to go to – these Morning Plenaries gave each topic stream a chance to pitch their events in a short slot to the awaiting audience. I thought this was very helpful given there were 13 separate topic streams at the conference!

I was involved in two sessions this day. Firstly the Open Access discussion panel, the video for which is here with Tim Hubbard (Sanger Institute), Carlos Russel (World Bank), Peter Murray-Rust (University of Cambridge / Open Knowledge Foundation) and Tom Olijhoek & Mark MacGillivray (Open Access Index):

It’s a long video, we covered many topics, with excellent contributions from the audience including Puneet Kishnor from Creative Commons and Matt Todd from the Open Source Drug Discovery team amongst others.

Then after this there was the research data session with contributions from Mark Wainwright on CKAN, Mark Hahnel on Figshare and Joss Winn of the Orbital project.

Finally we finished with the Panton Fellowships Session with talks from myself and Sophie Kershaw on what we’d been doing in our fellowship work:

The day was rounded off with a hugely inspirational talk from Matt Todd summarising his Open Source Drug Discovery work in the main lecture theatre, with a lovely if expensive meal afterwards in Lasipalatsi Ravintola.


I spent some quality time with Peter working on a BBSRC grant proposal.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Hans Rosling’s fantastic key note presentation which I urge you all to watch – it was brilliant, and thrilling to be there live in the audience for.


If there’s one thing that impresses me most of all about OKFestival, it’s this: it’s not just about talking – they do things here too. Lots of ‘hacking’ sessions on Friday to create new tools and collate awesome new data. Most conferences are extremely boring in that it’s just talk after talk after talk. Things get done here, new collaborations are started, fresh links across disciplinary boundaries are made connecting journalism with academia, economic development with open architectural design, and other incredible trans-disciplinary mashups. It’s a joy to behold.

I’m really glad I came to OKFestival, as ever I got a lot out of it.

Next year it’ll be in Switzerland (?), I hope I didn’t just make that up… I seem to remember that it was announced to be there but I couldn’t find any confirmation from Google. Rest assured I’ll try and be there though!