D.A.T.A. and opening up Latin America

Photo: D.A.T.A.
Photo: D.A.T.A.

GovFresh 2013 Civic Organization of the Year, Datos Abiertos, Transparencia y Acceso a la información, or D.A.T.A., shares its work and plans for the future.

What is D.A.T.A. and how did you get started?

Formally, we are an organization that “promotes human development through the creation, use and innovation on open data based technology to improve our societies and governments.” Beyond that, we’re a group of six volunteers that, with the help of people and organizations open enough to listen, try to create tools for people to learn and participate, foster public debate, advocate for open data, access and government, freedom of information and such.

We got started as a reaction to open data being available in Uruguay but little stuff happening with it. We were all tech-friendly and previously involved in some form of activism but we come from very different backgrounds (political science, law, communications and coding). Most of us met through the creation of D.A.T.A. (which, by the way is a spanish acronym for open data, transparency and freedom of information) and that multidisciplinary group has worked incredibly well ever since, both among ourselves and through collaborations with organizations in Uruguay and abroad. Right now we’re looking into ways to make the whole thing more sustainable and solid by studying models that don’t rely so heavily on our voluntary contributions.

What were your 2013 accomplishments?

For sure our most “popular” project was ABRE LATAM, a regional unconference in Montevideo, Uruguay, on open data and a parallel event on open data for business that we co-organized with Ciudadano Inteligente and the World Bank. It was the first time that the Latin American civic tech community got together and it was a huge hit. We’re still amazed at how much the idea grew, the commitment of the participants and the fact that we were able to pull it off.

That happened along a regular conference on open data that we also co-organized with the local eGovernment agency (AGESIC), Omidyar Network, World Bank, IDRC, ECLAC and W3C Brasil. Both events along other stuff made up an “Open Data Week,” and we’re hoping that the whole thing happens this year in Mexico. With that in mind, we created ABRE LATAM in an open format, hoping that it travels around Latin America being “adopted” by local organizations.

Beyond that we started a national network of organizations to advocate for open government that’s working around Open Government Partnership commitments, continued the development of¿Qué Sabés? (our implementation of the online FOI software Alavatelli), had an extremely good response to our first try at data journalism, managed to grow our annual hackathon to a month-long event (OktoberDATAFEST) including Data Expeditions and Desarrollando América Latina contest and achieved our first grant through Lab Cívico (Avina+Omydiar).

What advice do you have for other civic organizations?

Try very hard not to appropriate your projects. This has worked extremely well for us and allowed us to get much, much more done than what the six of us could actually manage by ourselves. Every single project we ever did was in association with other organizations that were already working on that topic or some government entity. This does not mean we had less work, by any means, but since open data allows us to work on any subject, we always look for the people who are already doing stuff and could benefit from our help and technology.

The same goes on among ourselves, we are a consensus-based organization but we take leadership of projects and trust each other in a manner that saves us from long meetings and lengthy discussions. This allows us to work remotely (we should say we have no office), even as it happened a couple of times through 2013 when not two people in the team were in the same country.

What do you have planned in 2014?

That’s actually something we’re discussing over our annual “retreat,” and we promise that both our assessment of last year and our future plans will be published soon in case anybody is interested. Anyway, we already know our biggest project will be “Por mi Barrio” which is a local implementation of MySociety’s FixMyStreet (to which we plan to contribute some features thanks to that grant we mentioned). We also hope to launch a monthly event (working title is DATA café) to strengthen the community of friends around DATA and try to get more volunteer work, something that we’ve failed miserably at for the last couple of years.

Elections are coming this year in Uruguay so there’s for sure some projects to do there and we’ve been working on an ambitious idea for a hackspace with a social inclusion twist that we’d love to get funded and turned into reality this year. Besides everything else, we hope to keep working with like-minded friends we’ve made along the way both here in Uruguay and around the world.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. He is also co-founder and CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

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