• Opinion
  • January 21, 2019
  • 6 minutes
  • 3

Open data, open source, open government… connecting the dots in openX

Opinion: We’ve built the beginnings of a searchable, interactive, living network graph


This piece was written by aimee whitcroft, a long time openX advocate and senior advisor at Stats NZ, working in the Open Data NZ program. You can find her being enthusiastic about #openX on Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogging on govworks.nz. For more like this, see our digital government newsfeed.

There are so many people out there and so many amazing things in what I call the “openX” ecosystem — open data, open source, open government, civic technology, open access, open science and so on.

But there isn’t a good picture of who’s doing what, where. The information’s stuck, piecemeal, in our heads and in the networks close to us.

So we’ve started changing that. Together.

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We’ve built the beginnings of a searchable, interactive, living network graph of how everyone’s connected, powered by a database that anyone can access and use. Something that will provide fertile ground for understanding the ecosystem better.

The openX ecosystem map.

As it grows, we can see where the strongest connections are — and where the gaps are. We can use it to find people and groups by their location, their interests, their connections with other groups, their sectors, and anything else for which we collect data.

We can even (and more on this later in the piece) use it to watch how the ecosystem and its components change, grow and evolve.

And it’s open.

Anyone can access it, and anyone involved in openX is welcome to add themselves to it.

So much open

People from all over the world have been joining in to add nodes to it. It’s really fun to see oneself appear immediately and fascinating to see how one’s linked in with everyone else.

We’re already seeing some patterns emerge, too.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, open data and open government are quite heavily connected. But they’re not necessarily very strongly connected with open source. And it’s mirroring what I see every day — while the tech, government, humanities and academic sectors may all be working on “open”, there isn’t necessarily nearly as much crossover as there could be. I’m sure this means lost opportunities, wheel reinvention and, perhaps, lack of context when building things.

There are also more openX flavours than I’d dreamt of — it’s wonderful to see!

Government, IT and education feature large, and I’ve a sneaking suspicion the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector, as well as science, will start to feature more commonly as the network grows.

The map’s certainly not comprehensive, but I believe the patterns it throws up are nonetheless interesting and often indicative. As it grows in size and complexity, it’ll become ever more useful as a tool.

But wait: there’s more!

Of course, this is a prototype. A proof of concept.

There’s so much more we could do with it.

For example, I’d love to move it onto open source software at some point — ideally something still user-friendly enough for us non-experts to be able to use.

I also want to make it 4-dimensional. As nodes change, the system captures those changes, and one can then watch those changes over time, noting how the ecosystem grows and evolves. I’ve had some fascinating talks with a data scientist here about how to do that at high resolution, rather than simply having snapshots people can walk through, and we think we’ve cracked it.

We could also start looking to do more sophisticated analyses, and adapting the data model.

That’s the beauty of a living proof of concept — it’s ours to adapt as we want and need it to.

This is only the beginning

Add yourselves and your peeps (although I do ask that you don’t add any individuals without checking with them first), and let’s keep working on this!

Let’s use it. To find likeminded people, or to reach out across gaps to learn about and collaborate with groups with whom we’re not (yet) strongly connected.

And please do get in touch if you’ve got ideas about how to improve it, or want to work on the technical side of it.

We’re all part of the ecosystem, after all. — aimee whitcroft

(Picture credit: Flickr/Travis Isaacs)


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