Monday, 16 January 2012

A Londoner’s Experience of the First Open Knowledge Meetup in Finland

Community Coordinator of Open Knowledge Foundation, Kat Braybrooke blogs about the first open knowledge meetup in Finland.

Last month in Helsinki, four Finns, a Russian and a Canadian huddled anxiously around a desk at Aalto University's School of Economics with a fleet of glowing laptops, finishing last-minute prep for the first Open Knowledge Finland meetup and hoping a few brave souls would show up. A few hours, 80 participants and many intriguing discussions later, I stopped in the midst of a conversation to reflect upon the inspiring Finns around me - and I realised I had witnessed the start of a movement.

I work as Community Coordinator for the Open Knowledge Foundation, an NGO that builds projects, technical tools and communities that promote open knowledge. A specific focus this year for the OKFN is to help enrich *regional* understandings of openness, which we do through building chapters, meetups and conferences that bring locals together in new ways. We have incubating open knowledge communities in over 10 locations, from Brasil to the Czech Republic, and this October's Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw saw over 400 members of 40 nations come together to build new projects and share ideas. I’m a Canadian from Vancouver, but I grew up in Las Vegas and now live in London, so I’m no stranger to this newly muddled form of international consciousness. And, like many other hybridised young people with roots around the world, I see myself first as a global citizen - and I believe in the potential of integrated digital and physical networks to support newly participatory civil societies.

While I was in Finland (my first trip so far north in my life), I found that the greatest advances in open knowledge and transparency are often introduced by citizens themselves, and that these concepts are especially strong in nations built on egalitarian principles of equal access and opportunity. I finally understood how fitting it is that Helsinki beat out 46 other cities to be named the World Design Capital for 2012 - a move that has spurred a multiplicity of new projects combining design, art, academia and technology with key concepts about openness (as seen in the neighbouring - and brilliant - Alternative Design Capital event). The city is in the midst of a key moment in its contemporary history, and I saw evidence of this everywhere I looked.

A few months ago, the first Finnish FABlab (a small-scale workshop for digital fabrication originated by MIT) opened at the Aalto University Media Factory - and over drinks last month with locals in Helsinki and at the Finnish Institute's 20th Anniversary dinner, I heard about countless other initiatives that had been started through new collaborations between public and private sectors, from OpenStreetMap Finland to the Centre for Open Source Solutions to Helsinki Hacklab to Sähköautot.

The decision of our talented Helsinki-based organisers to start working with the Open Knowledge Foundation to create a chapter in Finland was based on an observation - while positive legacies were already being built in earnest (as seen by the highly successful Apps4Finland campaign), existing initiatives often did not represent the full diversity inherent within the region's open data and open knowledge practitioners. The first Open Knowledge Meetup aimed to fill that gap by providing a welcoming space for individuals of all backgrounds and experience levels to meet in-person and collaborate.

After witnessing the results of last month's Meetup, a night buzzing with positive energy and new ideas (see photos, videos and notes from the event here:, I believe these aims were achieved. Participants started off by talking about the current status of open knowledge in Helsinki, and then broke into groups based on specific activities and ideas, with much discussion breaking out amongst listeners about how to best go about those actions, and how to succeed at such goals. Many of us met afterwards and continued to jam on ideas together, debating data and bytes until the early hours of the morning.

The next Open Knowledge Helsinki meetup is on the 28th of this month, and in the meantime participants are sharing ideas through the popular Open Data Ecosystem Facebook group, #avoindata hashtag on Twitter and mailing list. I know I speak for all of my colleagues around the world at the Open Knowledge Foundation when I say that I'm extremely excited to see what happens in the future.

Kat Braybrooke 
Community Coordinator of Open Knowledge Foundation


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