Small data and open hardware

together, they can bring Open Data for small communities


Open hardware can play a central role in the open data value chain just like the mobile phones boosted the apps industry some years ago.

A lot of work has been made on the so called Open Data value chain. Many researchers try to figure — at least in Brazil — how open data can bring real value to the ordinary citizen by ingressing in a healthy chain of attended demands through apps, made by young developers, sometimes called “citizen hackers” or “makers”.

Forums like OGP and jargons like “smart cities” or “data revolution” are used to reinforce the hypothesis that data, when open, can help us to engage in government decisions by sharing informations. Some cases proved that this scenario would exist, but the Open Data value chain needs to turn in to something global and large scaled to bring benefits in bulk.

Despite the good work of the open data community, the “revolution” is taking too long to take off in some countries. In others, there is so much open data not being used that some researchers now try user-centered methods to tailor data as content to consumer, aiming to improve the usage of datasets (and so that governments can reduce the costs of maintaining all these data). Moreover, in some places public data is being used as opendata, with less effort and in absentia of governments — and with no regulations, btw.

In this constellations of situations, we kind of lost the focus of the whole thing: open data must to make sense for people. I mean ordinary people, not just developers, designers, data scientists and all the available variations. When open data turns in to something that changes peoples lives directy, althought upon an interface (like the web, for example) it acquires relevance.

There is a series of constraints that are not being observed at small and remote communities. Generally products and methods that aren’t designed to overcome this constraints are not useful in this scenarios.

Not a walking distance

In the last month I attended some conferences, all about open data but very different between themselves.

Opendatacon, Ottawa. “Many openess, wow”

The first was OpendataCon. There was a strong presence of the government and third sector. Also a huge presence of development countries, which was very impressive. The questions and panels were all behind the same question: how open data can be relevant to the citizen?

Directly from Ottawa to Tropixel Open Science.

Open Science, Art, Hardware and politics

Contextualizing: [I'am part of the organizing committee of Tropixel Network, which is supported by an Intergalactic Network (Pixelache, Rede MetaReciclagem, Mutgamb, Transmediale, Post-Media Lab, UFJF, UFBA, Auswärtiges Amt) and produced By Ubalab, at Ubatuba, one of the last places of Brazil where one can find conserved Atlantic Forest. This network is somehow connected with the CIGAC, a international conference about collaborative management of the environment, held in 2012 at Sousa -PB (Brazil).

One of the objectives of this series of conferences and talks is to discuss how technology can help small cities and populations to manage their own resources in a more faster and independent way.]

The program at Tropixel was focused in action: working on the OpenScience Guide, showing results of research and software, and also exchanging ideas on how to mix this results in to new projects, aiming to use technology as a tool for empowerment, transparency and micro collective management of resources.

One of the highlights for me was a presentation of the Mosaico Bocaina, made by one of it’s managers, asking for suggestions on tools to assist this area with monitoring systems and Web interfaces to communicate and interact with the small communities that lives at the area.

I also had a brief chat with Maira Begalli, a scientist that is researching collaborative mapping made by the communities to manage their own resources, and some of the points that called my attention:

  • shapefiles must be VERY detailed;
  • lack on internet connection and mobile broadband, no infrastructure;
  • the relationship of people with cellphones is culturally different
  • not too much adequate spaces to put simple cameras (it’s a forest!) — and the same for sensors
  • energy supply is not continuous;

This issues are well known of the guys of the Infoamazonia, a brazilian project that aims to help citizen to keep the track of their water quality. Guima San, or Ricardo Guimarães, a physicist and hardware artisan from USP that works for infoamazonia, presented several experiments using arduino and talked about their open sensors — that are about to be used to track water quality at Pará. They plan is to empower citizen to use, build and collect data in a bottom up approach.

Infoamazonia and the Oxford Flood Network are very similar projects. They can fill the space that is empty between data users from small communities and the data publishers and data consumers from other sources, like scientific data. They could also use small open data to manage their resources and share solutions and data with the world. Platforms like the OpenSensors.io, that is being used at the Oxford Flood Network, could help with the integration. Small data with cheap open hardware can impact positively in the open data value chain.

Revolution means change in all sectors. Open data is part of an entire ecosystem that comprises more than data catalogs. It starts when data is generated and gets in to an infinite loop. Data collection (or generation) is a critic part of the open data cycle because it feeds the ecosystem.

Accessible technology it’s critical to to gather small data. Small data means micro managing resources helping in the protection of endangered areas.