ODHK.meet.31: Tracking & Transparency

ODHK - meet.31 logoUPDATED 18th September: now including pictures and slides.
ODHK was back on the 16th September after its summer break for our 31st meetup, this month quantifying and throwing light on Open Data and transparency in Hong Kong. Our Mid-Autumn Open Data festival was an interactive affair, as we needed feedback, scrutiny and future participation in two on-going projects: Open Knowledge’s Open Data Index and accessinfo.hk.With the deadline for submissions to the 2015 Global Open Data Index ending on the 20th September, Rob Davidson gave us a quick overview of the index, the various categories we are assessed on, and what is likely to have changed this year (slides here). Anybody currently working on, or would like to contribute to our submission, this is your last chance to provide feedback for the next census. With more categories and datasets under consideration, in the year that it’s data.gov.hk portal finally launched will Hong Kong improve on it’s global ranking of 59th? Helping provide useful scrutiny and pressure on the government to keep improving in their access to “public sector information”, watch this space to see the results. Many other groups around the world will be having events around the census, so check out the handy event guide Open Knowledge have put together on the topic. Check out the portal for more, and with two days to go this is your last chance to start check and contribute to the 2015 census: http://global.census.okfn.org/
The second part of the session was taken over by Guy Freeman who presented on his now up-and-running accessinfo.hk portal. While we had a sneak preview in meet.29 on politics (see the write up), there has been some ironing out of bugs in a soft(ish) launch, and accessinfo.hk is now up to about 30 access-to-information requests. This made it a perfect time to assess how the process is working, how responsive Hong Kong government departments are to these requests (they promise a ten day turnaround), and look to what happens next. With some ideas and goals for longitudinal hacks (watch this space…), Guy gave us insight what can be done in the area of freedom of information and transparency, and how in the absence of Open Data there are things we can to do gather our own. Check out his slides here or embedded below.
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Wednesday, September 16th, 7:30pm
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Location: Good Lab Cheung Sha Wan. L1, The Sparkle, 500 Tung Chau Street
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ODHK.meet.30: Open Mapping Data & Research Data Management Policy

DateFriday, June 12 at 7:00pm
VenueDM Lab, Eliot Hall, The University of Hong Kong
In a world where citizens can 3D map areas with drones, or annotate and improve upon OpenStreetMaps, the HK Lands department still charges “reproduction costs” for PDFs of government maps. It is time for Hong Kong to follow the lead of other countries and open up a resource that will greatly benefit its citizens, far more than charging for these resources.
At this meet we’ll discuss the issue of Open Mapping data, as well as academic research data policy with Professor John Bacon-Shone from The University of Hong Kong.
John is Associate Dean (Knowledge Exchange) of Social Sciences, Director of the Social Sciences Research Centre and will speak on his own experiences of trying to obtain access to HKSARG data for both research and public access, as well as examples of HKSARG data that has been lost. As a long time advocate of Open Access in Hong Kong, he’ll hopefully also cover data management policy in HKU and how to balance research integrity, confidentiality and public good.
Chaired by Darcy Wade Christ, we’ll have data users on hand for an interesting discussion about how to encourage and support the Hong Kong Government to open up their mapping data for free.
This event will be hosted at the Digital Media lab on the ground floor of the JMSC at HKU.
All are welcome!

Also, check out the event on Facebook, and rsvp!

ODHK.meet.29: Open data & transparency for political advocacy

meet29.finalOpen data has many different societal benefits, and in Asia some may be a little nervous pushing it as a tool for transparency and political change, but for meet.29 we threw caution to the wind and tackled that very topic. We had some great visiting and local speakers, helping contrast how activist groups in some parts the world are using open data to strive for political change, with the nascent (and maybe more conservative?) situation here in Hong Kong and China.
IMG_8820We were pleased to have Amanda Meng from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs as our visiting guest speaker. Amanda is a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology where she studies technology and democracy. Her dissertation focuses on the social impact of open government data. Throughout her career as a practitioner and academic she has spent time in the Dominican Republic, India, Ghana, and Nigeria studying or implementing projects in ICT for development or democracy.

Amanda is in Hong Kong conducting a case study on the reuse of open government data. Her investigation includes a qualitative process trace of datasets from government agencies, through civic spaces, and back to public officials as social groups attempt to achieve social or political change. This case study is the first of three to be compared to Chile and the Dominican Republic, and we look forward to hearing her accounts of open data activism. You can get a taster on her research on her recent paper in JeDEM on “Investigating the Roots of Open Data’s Social Impact”. You can see her slides here.

Bringing It All Back Home: FOI and AccessInfo.Hk
After the international perspective, we brought things back to Hong Kong with the second part of the meet focusing on tools we can use here to bring light on the political process, specifically access to information requests and the newly live accessinfo.hk portal. Guy Freeman gave us a quick overview of his handiwork setting up the new platform. With Guy we also had Dr Clement Chen from HKU, a researcher on information rights in China (check out his FOI in China page and see his thesis here), who was on hand for discussion and helped answer questions on the topic of the FOI situation in Hong Kong and Mainland China.

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Check out the portal and feed it with questions:

Tuesday 12th May 2015
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Delaney’s Wan Chai, One Capital Place, 18 Luard Road Wan Chai.
灣仔盧押道18號海德中心地下及1字樓, Wan Chai.
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Oped in SCMP: Open Data to Fix Academic Fraud

SCMPheaderLast week the Open Science Working Group of ODHK had an Oped in South China Morning Post (SCMP) discussing issue of fighting academic fraud through use of Open Data. This is a particularly topical issue at the moment with recent scandals implicating many academics in Mainland China with large-scale peer-review fraud covered in the Washington Post. With kind permission of SCMP we are posting an updated and extended version of the piece here, and being good Open Data purists include links to much of the source material discussed.
The scandal of scientific impact
The idealized view of science as the curiosity driven pursuit of knowledge to understand and improve the world around us, has been tarnished by recent news of systematic fraud and mass retraction of research papers from the Chinese academic system, and allegations of attempts to game the peer-review system on an industrial scale. With much of our R&D funded through government, we all hope our tax dollars are spent as wisely as possible, and around the world research funders have developed methods of assessing the quality of their funded researchers work.  One of the most widely used metrics to assess researchers is the Journal Impact Factor (JIF), a (proprietary, closed access) service run by Thomson-Reuters, that ranks the academic journals that scientists publish to get credit in. While many countries have tried to broaden their assessment system to take account a more balanced view of a researchers impact, in China the numbers of publications in JIF ranked journals is currently the only activity that researchers are judged by, and huge amounts of money are changing hands (often hundreds of thousands of RMB payment for a single publication in the top ranked journals) through this system.
This biased focus on one metric above all others has directly lead to large scale gaming of the system and a black market of plagiarism, invented research and fake journals. Following from previous exposé’s of an “academic bazaar” system where authorship on highly ranked papers can be bought, Scientific American in December uncovered a wider and more systematic network of Chinese “paper mills” producing ghostwritten papers and grant applications to order, linked to hacking the peer review system that is supposed to protect the quality and integrity of research. The first major fall-out from this has occurred last month, with the publisher BioMed Central (BMC) retracting 43 papers for peer review fraud, the biggest mass-retraction carried out for this reason to date, and increasing the number of papers retracted for this reason by over a quarter. Many other major publishers have been implicated, with the publisher of the worlds largest journal PLOS also issuing a statement that they are investigating linked submissions. It takes a great amount of time and effort employing Chinese speaking editorial teams to investigate and contact all of the researchers and institutions implicated, and BMC should be applauded for doing this and fixing the scientific record so quickly [COI declaration: Scott Edmunds is an ex-employee of BMC, and he and Rob Davidson are collaborating with them through GigaScience Journal].
To get an idea of the types of research uncovered and implicated, it is possible to see the papers retracted last month, and Retraction Watch has covered the story in detail. The Committee on Publication Ethics has also issued a statement. Guillaume Filion in his blog has done some sterling detective work providing insight on the types of papers written by these “paper mills” and “guaranteed publication in JIF journal” offering companies still advertising their services. The likely production-line explosion of medical meta-analysis publications coming from China has been well known for a number of years, but looking at the list of publications retracted by BMC in March shows a worrying introduction of many other research types such as network analysis.
Like in J. B.Priestley’s famous morality tale, An Inspector Calls, any evil comes from the actions or inactions of everyone. On top of the need for better policing by publishers, funders and research institutions, there needs to be fundamental changes to how we carry out research. Without a robust response and fundamental changes to their academic incentive systems there could be long term consequences for Chinese science, with danger that this loss of trust will lead to fewer opportunities to collaborate with institutions abroad, and potentially building such skepticism that people will stop using research from China.
While we are rightly proud of Hong Kong’s highly regarded and ranked universities system (with three Universities ranked in the world top 50), we are not immune to the same pressures. While funders in Europe have moved away from using citation based metrics such as JIF in their research assessments, the Hong Kong University Grants Committee states in their Research Assessment Exercise guidelines that they may informally use it. In practice some of the Universities do follow the practice of paying bonuses related to the impact factor of journals their researcher publish in, leading to the same temptations and skewed incentive systems that have led to these corrupt practices in China. From looking at the list of retracted papers fortunately on this occasion no Hong Kong based researchers were implicated. With our local institutions increasing their ties across the Pearl River through new joint research institutes and hospitals, and these scandals likely to run and run, how much longer our universities can remain unblemished will be a challenge.
Can We Fix it? Yes We Can!
If the impact factor system is so problematic, what are the alternatives? Different fields have different types of outputs, but there are factors that should obviously be taken into account like quality of teaching, and the numbers of students passing on to do bigger and better things. Impact can be about changing policy, producing open software or data that other research can build upon, or stimulating public interest and engagement through coverage in the media. Many of these measures can also be subject to gaming, but having a broader range of “alternative metrics” should be harder to manipulate.  China is overtaking the US to become the biggest producer of published research, but ranks only ninth in citations, so there obviously needs to be a better focus on quality rather than quantity.
The present lack of research data sharing has led to what is being called a ‘reproducibility crisis’, partly fuelled by fraudulent activity but very often just from simple error. This has led to some people estimating that as much as 85% of research resources (funding, man­hours etc) are wasted. Science is often lauded as being a worthy investment for any government because the return to the economy is more than that put in. What benefits could be gained if there was an 85% improvement on that return? How many more startups and innovative technologies could be produced if research was actually re­usable?
There is growing movement from funders across the world to encourage and enforce data management and access, and we at Open Data Hong Kong are cataloguing the policies and experiences of Hong Kong’s research institutions. Sadly, at this stage we seem to be far behind other countries, currently ranking 58th in the global Open Data Index (just falling from 54th earlier in the year). One of the main benefits of open data is transparency, which would have made the current peer review scandal much harder to carry out. It is encouraging that the Hong Kong Government is already promoting release of public sector data through the newly launched Data.Gov.HK portal, but it is clear that our research data needs to be treated the same way. ODHK is the first organization in Hong Kong (and 555th overall) to sign the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment that is trying to eliminate the use of journal-based metrics. To help change the skewed incentive systems we would encourage others to join us by signing at: http://am.ascb.org/dora/
Scott Edmunds, Rob Davidson and Waltraut Ritter; Open Data Hong Kong.
Naubahar Sharif; HKUST.
See SCMP for the published version of the Oped here: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1758662/china-must-restructure-its-academic-incentives-curb-research


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For the next ODHK meet we are pleased to cover one of the hot topics in the Hong Kong Open Data scene, the newly launched Hong Kong public sector information portal: DATA.GOV.HK.
We have some of the senior team at the OGCIO (Office of the Government Chief Information Officer) on hand to give us a quick run through of the new platform, and then stick around and answer some of our questions. If there is anything you want to know about the new portal and access to public sector information in Hong Kong, now is your chance to ask. Please bring your questions, or just come along to see the demo, and have a beer and a catch up. Old timers at ODHK may remember some of these presenters from our previous meets, and we’d like to welcome and thank the following OGCIO team members for offering up some of their precious time to present directly to us:
Kimmey Ho
Senior Administrative Officer (Strategy Development)
Jessica Lo
Systems Manager (Strategy Development)
Russell Tang
Executive Officer (Strategy Development)
What public sector information datasets do you want, and do you think is missing? Come to the meet and let OGCIO know.
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For more on the new data.gov.hk platform see the recent piece in SCMP.


Tuesday 21st April 2015

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  • Location: Delaney’s Wan Chai, One Capital Place, 18 Luard Road Wan Chai.
  • 灣仔盧押道18號海德中心地下及1字樓, Wan Chai
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ODHK.meet.27: Birthday.2

11096705_10153268335379379_900183058_nThere ain’t no party like an open data party!

Come along to Delaney’s Wan Chai to help ODHK celebrate our second birthday. For our 27th ODHK meet we will celebrate our second anniversary, looking forward to the year ahead, and as well as looking back at the highlights of the last 12 months. We’ll have a have lots of topical things to showcase in our overview of the year (Budget! New Data.Gov.HK portal!), but come expecting cake, drinks, merriment and more. See the pics of last years event to get an idea of what to expect.


Tuesday 31st March 2015

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  • Location: Delaney’s Wan Chai, One Capital Place, 18 Luard Road Wan Chai.
  • 灣仔盧押道18號海德中心地下及1字樓, Wan Chai
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Comment on the revamped Data.Gov.HK site


The Data.One site was revamped to now be Data.Gov.HK

On Wednesday the Hong Kong Government’s Office of the Government Chief Information Officer unveiled their revamp of their Public Sector Information (“PSI”) portal, taking pride in still making available its 3000 datasets for the public to use for both commerical and non-commercial purposes. Hong Kong’s open data enthusiasts familiar with the old site “Data.One” will appreciate the new “Data.Gov.HK” site’s easier navigation, improved functionality and categories. With this revamp, the government is demonstrating its continued support of availability of PSI and echoing the Financial Secretary’s 2014-2015 commitment to push all government bureaux and departments to:

“[make] all government information released for public consumption machine-readable in digital formats from next year onwards to provide more opportunities for the business sector.” 

The revamp is a step towards this goal, identifying what departments submit what data, and its ease of navigation encourages access and use of existing government data sets, which is good. Through there are some snags and errors in the new site, this is expected of any website update. Surely government is reviewing the problems but as the site doesn’t support a dialogue or connection with the public, that is hard to tell.
While governments around the world are realizing greater policy review through scrutiny, supporting greater civic engagement, and realizing better efficiency by supporting Open Data, the government’s revamp demonstrates that the Hong Kong government is still just catching up with past trends to publish government information data. While there is no debate that government making data available “opens up new business opportunities” as well as “bring convenience to the public and benefit society as a whole”, the site runs short in its approach that it can merely publish a number of datasets without a view of data quality or update a site and that apps and benefits will just materialize. To realize similar benefits as seen by other governments, the HK government should work with open data enthusiasts and also adopt the same open data principles and standards of the international community.
Open Data Hong Kong recommends the government adopt Open Data standards and principles, and reflect that with the Data.Gov.HK site. Namely:
Adopt an open license on the datasets
The Terms and Conditions are problematic for supporting app-building, collaboration, and analysis of government data. The following terms are examples:

  • “you shall reproduce and distribute the Data accurately, fairly and sufficiently;”

Data used for apps and analysis will get reformatted. And inaccurate data will have to be corrected and modified by developers and analysts. Would this be considered breaking this condition? It is unclear, ambiguous, and thus stifling. Although the terms and conditions include a waiver of responsibility by the government, this condition is confusing at the least and overbearing at the most. OGCIO should adopt an Open License such as CCO or copy the UK Open Government License on the datasets.
Improve communication & engagement
Users of the site can’t find out which datasets are new, if there are any. As much as the site would like to see use among the 3000+ datasets (with more to be added regularly), supporting better communication and engagement among users would be useful for information to flow both ways.
It’s not enough just to have datasets available, the data has to be effective, relevant, usable. How can users provide feedback about the datasets and communicate to government about the effectiveness (or uselessness) of a dataset? Or that a dataset is missing? This is not in the functionality of the site. An example of doing this comes from the Government of Canada where they ask for users to “Suggest a data set”, as well as functionality for users to provide a rating on datasets, and the hosting of open data competitions (which are also open to people outside of Canada).
It’s about the data. Data Quality.
Users of the datasets continue to have problems with the quality of the data. This hasn’t changed with the site revamp. Users have reported unclear and inexistent schemas for datasets, inferior data types for the data, and inexistent API support for pervasive connection with data. Although data sets can be very different from one another, the right file type and data connection goes a long way to supporting app development and value for the public, and avoiding severe headaches from app developers and head-scratching from analysts. We encourage OGCIO to provide departments or provide the right expertise and support for bureaux and departments making datasets available.
Commitment to the future
The data.gov.hk update demonstrates government’s support for making data available to support the public. Open Data Hong Kong continues to reach out to OGCIO and the rest of government to improve this, while recommending full support of open data to best realize public benefit.

Research & Communications

The ODHK Research and Communications working group started in March, 2015 with the following objective:

  • Identifying 4-5 active researchers and communication specialists and seeking both local and international funding for open data projects;
  • Identifying participating in conferences and symposia related to the topic of open data (and open government), both in HK and abroad.

If you would like to join this working group, sign up here:

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Towards an Open Government Budget for HK

The HK Budget is out. Open Data enthusiasts, engaged citizens and media are still reviewing the budget. The speech, figures, and now the data tell a story about what happened since last year and what is planned for this year. While others are looking between the lines, comparing totals from previous years, line spending of bureaux and departments, and new “sweeteners”, we are looking at the budget differently: at the format it is in and how everyone can better dive into it, better understand it, and have meaningful insight.
With the budget in a more open data-friendly format, more people can more easily review the budget, crunch the numbers, and get the answers they’re looking for. More is possible when people can get right into the budget without needing to scrape totals and dig up past budget totals and build spreadsheets and databases.
Last year the Financial Secretary’s Office (FSO) released the estimates figures as an Excel Spreadsheet file, and this year the estimates are released in a machine-readable CSV format. These are steps in the right direction to support a more accessible budget for better transparency and oversight of the budget. Open Data Hong Kong supports civic engagement and review of the budget, and part of our efforts is working with Code4HK on a “Hack the Budget Hackathon” for engaged citizen to apply their skills, interest and curiosity on the budget.
Few government documents have as much impact on the public as the government budget. It is important the budget is transparent, supports participation for decision making and policy making, for effective oversight and accountable review. The goalposts for these are changing. With rising levels of public capacity to review the work of government, technological tools to solve problems, and changing methods of engagement between government and the public, there are many opportunities for government budgets to report, engage and react:

  • Budget transparency – use open data formats to provide accurate quality detailed structured data;
  • Budget participation – remove barriers and conditions of use of the budget, and support fora (online and in-person) of public engagement of the budget;
  • Budget oversight – support mechanisms for timely updates, and means to address questions, policy recommendations, and review of government priorities and programs.

Governments around the world are moving in this direction, and so is Hong Kong. Projects like the Open Budget Survey rank and compare countries with links to budgets for comparison.
To better support public review of the budget, we submit the following 3 recommendations:

Unconditional: Remove any restrictive terms and conditions or licensing on budget data.

Currently the budget data is covered by the restrictive Data.One terms and conditions which include conditions such as “The Government reserves all rights that are not expressly granted in the Terms of Use” and “you shall not use the Data in any inappropriate, defamatory, obscene, or unlawful manner”. Even if the government won’t exert their power on this, the looming threat and control is not based on what is likely but what is possible.

Structured: Support structured data for better quality data and greater detail of totals;

A structured data format (ie: provide a schema and provide data in XML or JSON format) is richer better quality data. You can see where the totals come from, how they total up, and what fields are linked from where.

Historic data: provide past budgets in machine-readable format

Past budget data helps to review trends and comparability. Digging these numbers from currently available information is tedious and unreliable, requiring authoritative and consistent figures.
Earlier this month we presented to FSO our set of recommendations ahead of a discussion to realise this. See the presentation material (has some updates). We will continue to follow-up and provide advice and direction to achieving these goals.

Meet.26: Open Science, Hardware and Environment

The 26th ODHK gathering was a “meet the Open Science working group” special, with Cesar Harada as guest speaker on the topic of “Open Hardware for the Environment”. Cesar’s work covers many many flavours of open: open hardware, citizen science, open education, open environmental data collection, crowdsourcing, biohacking and more. Open Science probably is probably a good catch-all for many of these activities, so Scott Edmunds (the ODHK Open Science working group lead) started proceedings with an introduction (or rant) about where these areas fit in the Open Data pantheon, and what the “open” situation is in Hong Kong.

Cesar Harada (31 French-Japanese) is an inventor, Environmentalist and Entrepreneur working in Hong Kong.
Cesar is the CEO of Scoutbots, recently listed by Fast Company as one of China’s top 10 most innovative companies, is building shape-shifting sailing robots to collect ocean data. Cesar developed this new sailing technology on the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, after resigning from MIT where he was a Project Leader. Cesar will speak about his expeditions in Fukushima Japan to collect seabed radioactivity data, his teaching activities, working with young students in Hong Kong to develop plastic pollution sensors, DIY water contamination spectrometers and spectrofluorometers. Cesar is currently busy building Hong Kong’s largest makerspace MakerBay.org: a shared workshop / lab for Artists, Designers, Engineers and Scientists. Most of Cesar work both academic and commercial is Open Hardware, and we were fortunate to get a #101 on that topic, as well as hear about the other amazing work he has been doing. You can see Cesar’s slides here.

For more see this profile on Cesar in SCMP, as well as his TED talk on shape shifting robots and Protei.

Whether you’re already familiar with Open Data or just want to find out what it is, we welcome you all to come to our regular meetups. No technical skills required. Come out and meet fellow Hong Kong Open Data enthusiasts. Meet.27 will be on 31st March at Delaney’s Wan Chai, so watch this space for more details.


Monday, March 9, 7:15pm
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