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CKAN at OKFestival: raw data now!

Mark Wainwright - September 27, 2012 in Data, Events

Last week’s OKFest is finally over, after a hectic week of talks, workshops, films, hackathons, and more. You can read about highlights such as Hans Rosling’s brilliant talk over on the OKFN blog. The biggest challenge for me was being in two places at once on Wednesday afternoon, with both the CKAN workshop and a panel discussion, including me, in the Open Science stream on ‘Immediate access to raw data from experiments’, where I was on the panel, running in nearby buildings at overlapping times. (Happily I more or less pulled it off.)

The CKAN workshop was a surprise hit, with over 30 people crowding round to hear about CKAN’s latest features and future directions. Some went on to ask questions of CKAN developers about installing, using the API, writing extensions, and more, while others joined a discussion with Antonio Acuña, head of, about starting a users’ group and about’s experiences and recommendations.

The experimental data session led to a lively and interesting discussion, chaired by Panton Fellow Sophie Kershaw. From the panel, I spoke about the advantages of publishing data as soon as possible. Researchers are the biggest re-users of their own data and stand to benefit most from publishing it – provided the publication platform chosen is simple to use and provides added value.

[IMG: Panel discussion]

L to R: Sophie Kershaw, Mark Wainwright, Joss Winn, Mark Hahnel

Next, Joss Winn of the Orbital project spoke about the platform they are developing (based on CKAN) to enable immediate access to various kinds of experimental data. He stressed that immediate access need not mean immediate publication – it may not be possible to publish the data now for various reasons. However, a good management system should help the researcher rather than be an extra burden, and makes it trivial to publish later at the flick of a switch. Finally, Mark Hahnel of Figshare pointed out that funders will increasingly look at all outputs from research they fund, not just publications – and increasingly this may mean that researchers are required to publish data.

Researchers often have reasons for not publishing data – some good and some bad. But this week Ben Goldacre’s new book provides a timely reminder that data left unpublished can lead to research that does not forward the cause of knowledge, and even actively retards it. Surely almost all scientists starting out in their career hope to expand the frontiers of science, and there couldn’t be a clearer demonstration that one simple step will help: publish the data!

A weekend at DDC: mapping water scarcity in South Sudan

Mark Wainwright - September 4, 2012 in Events, News

Last weekend saw the Development Data Challenge, a two-day hackathon to develop projects using international development data organised by PublishWhatYouFund. The event was expertly chaired by the excellent Mark Brough, research officer at PWYF, and kindly hosted by the Guardian. About twenty people attended, with programmers and non-programmers present in about equal numbers.

A range of excellent questions had been submitted in advance by Guardian readers and others, and proceedings began by discussing these, grouping them, and winnowing out a few on which we felt we might make some headway in a couple of days. As well as other sources, a number of potentially useful datasets had been collected on the DataHub.


Mapping water in South Sudan

The group I found myself in included my new colleague Dominik Moritz, a student from Germany who is showing his mettle as an intern developer with CKAN, and mapping expert Sam Larsen, among others. Our brief was to look at the effectiveness of aid, originally in Malawi – because someone had a good source of Malawi data – but we changed course dramatically with the arrival of Sara-Jayne Farmer (above), a Brit now based in New York who has worked with UNDP and had some data from the world’s newest country, South Sudan, that she was keen to explore. The data included location of settlements and of wells and other water sources, so a natural question was: how close are the settlements to water sources? As Sara pointed out, if you are 6 miles from water, then walking to fetch it is a 4-hour round trip – which probably means that if you are a girl you don’t go to school.

A low-cost intervention?

While our coders worked on plotting the data we had, I searched for hydrological data that we could use to enrich the results, and Sara researched licensing conditions that would enable us to publish the data. A demo of the resulting code shows how much can be done, as well as how interpretation inevitably shows up gaps in the data. With it you can view, for example, settlements over 5000m from a water source (in a single state, Central Equatoria). But how many people live there? We did not have population data for the settlements, so we can’t say. Overlaying a hydrological map (the image layer) shows that these most affected villages are all sitting on aquifer. On the surface, it certainly seems that drilling wells here would be a low-cost way to improve access to water for those who most need it. (On the other hand perhaps, for example, water there is so accessible that the villages have hand-dug wells that are not recorded in the data.)

[IMG: Water map]

The real challenge

Dominik has written up the technical aspects of the coding process on the School of Data blog, and Laura Newman has written an overview of the other projects on the day. The take-home message from all of them is simple: for development projects to deliver aid effectively and reliably, we need lots of data – financial data, health data, demographic data, economic data, even, as we’ve seen, geological data. As more and more data becomes freely available, the real challenge is to make full use of it.

CKAN at OKFestival

Mark Wainwright - September 3, 2012 in Events, News

For those of you who haven’t already heard about the awesome OKFestival, there is still time to book your tickets. OKFestival is in Helsinki from 17-22 September – only a couple of weeks away now.

On Wednesday 19th, the programme includes an afternoon workshop on CKAN, introducing the platform and covering technical issues like theming and customisation as well as case studies, deployment and support available. Hope to see some of you there!

Open Repositories: CKAN at OR2012

Mark Wainwright - July 16, 2012 in Events, News

A quick post about the Open Repositories conference in Edinburgh that I attended last week. This is a big annual event for the ‘institutional repository’ community. Many universities now have repositories where researchers can deposit copies of published research papers and other material.

The main repository platforms are DSpace, EPrints and Fedora, all open source projects. They have some things in common with CKAN, in that they allow you to deposit material and add metadata, and of course they are specialised for bibliographic and research metadata (author, department, funding body, supervisor, ….)

These systems have been developed with long-term archive needs in mind, but there is another need that researchers have: somewhere to keep data that is being actively used – where it can be searched, queried and organised in ways that help get results from it. This is an area where CKAN may have something to offer. So I had submitted a conference poster, which was accepted, to raise awareness of its possiblities. This got quite a lot of interest at the poster session, and it was good to meet so many people passsionate about making research more accessible.

It was also great to hear Cameron Neylon‘s brilliant opening plenary keynote. He explained how 400 million people on Twitter change not just the size but the structure of the global network, enabling many new connections to be made – but only where research outputs are open for all to see.

Online meetup: Scientific data in CKAN

Mark Wainwright - July 13, 2012 in Events

The next CKAN community Skype meetup will discuss using CKAN for scientific data. What are the advantages, opportunities and/or obstacles? As usual, anyone is very welcome to join the call to share their views, ask questions or listen in.

The call will be at 5pm UK time on Thursday 2 August. To join it, please add your name to this etherpad. Please also feel very free to add any questions or discussion points to the agenda.

Next meetup: previewing with Recline, 31 May

Mark Wainwright - May 24, 2012 in Events

The next online community meetup will be on CKAN’s Recline Data Viewer, on Thursday 31 May at 5pm UK time. Recline lets users do simple data exploration from within CKAN, including graphs and map views, without having to download the data. See this recent blog post on its latest features.

Anyone with an interest in data previewing is welcome to attend – whether you have questions, points for discussion or would just like to listen in. To sign up, add your Skype ID to the Etherpad here.

Cities, CKAN and Open Data

Mark Wainwright - May 1, 2012 in Events

A quick note about the Open Data Cities Conference in Brighton a couple of weeks ago. I attended with my colleagues Ira, who’s CKAN’s Product Manager, and Laura James, who was one of the many excellent speakers. My write-up of the day is over on the Open Knowledge Foundation blog – it was an interesting day so take a look. The distilled essence is that there is a lot of interest in Open Data at the city level at the moment.

By good timing, CKAN’s entry to the Living Labs award was a proposal for an Open Data package for cities with CKAN at its heart, and is one of the shortlisted entries – final announcements are due later this week!

News from the CKAN team 19 April 2012

Mark Wainwright - April 19, 2012 in Deployments, Events, Extensions, Feature, News

Here’s an update on what the CKAN team have been doing lately. It’s been a while since the last one and we’ve been busy, so there’s plenty to report.


  • Adrià has implemented a great map view in Recline, CKAN’s built-in data viewer. If some structured data resource contains latitude and longitude information, this will enable it to be viewed on a map from within CKAN. A sneak preview is here (select the ‘map’ view).

  • Ross has done some work on a ‘Related Stuff’ extension, to allow you to link a dataset to other things (an app, a news article, etc) that use it. (We’re not sure about the name – suggestions welcome!)

  • Ross has been improving CKAN groups (which are becoming ‘Organizations’). These will link together both users and datasets to give fine control over access to datasets within a group, and enable better workflow for data publishing organisations.

  • David has finished working on a CKAN extension for Google Docs, allowing users to upload, download and edit CKAN resources from a Google Docs spreadsheet. More info on this coming soon!

  • Ian has been getting ATOM feeds working, enabling users to get updates on changes to datasets or groups of interest.

CKAN sites

  • Adrià’s also fixed some problems with the IATI extension, used to run the aid data registry by the International Aid Transparency Initiative.

  • We’ve done various bits of work for the forthcoming EC portal. Among other things, Toby has fixed some internationalisation issues, John has worked on the theme and user interface, and Ross has worked on importing and exporting records in RDF format.

Other news

  • Mark and Ira went to the plenary meeting in Vienna of the LOD2 project – a research and development project on Linked Data, of which CKAN is a small but important part. There is a post on the overview session on the OKFN blog.

  • The next release of CKAN will be version 1.7. We hope to be able to release it on 2 May.

CKAN @ Open Data Cities conference

Mark Wainwright - April 16, 2012 in Events

The first Open Data Cities conference takes place this Friday, 20 April, in Brighton – and the Open Knowledge Foundation is one of the organisations supporting it. Cities are the new frontier for Open Data – there is more and more government data online, but a wealth of data at city level whose release will unlock huge potential. In the organisers’ words, the conference will focus on how to “engage with citizens to build more creative, prosperous and accountable communities”.

Greg Hadfield, founder of Open Data Brighton & Hove, has put together a terrific schedule, including a talk from the Open Knowledge Foundation’s own Laura James. The many other excellent speakers include Emer Coleman of the Government Digital Service, Ian Holt from Ordnance Survey, and MySociety’s Tom Steinberg.

Tickets are still available – and OKF supporters can get a 25% discount by using the top secret code ‘OKFN’ on the booking page. If you attend, be sure to come and chat to us at the CKAN stall, ask questions, tell us your ideas, or give us feedback (or chocolate).

Online meetup: Drupal integration, 26 April

Mark Wainwright - April 12, 2012 in Events

The next CKAN online meetup will be on Drupal integration, on Thursday 26 April at 5pm UK time. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend.

Drupal is a powerful and very widely-used content management system. It’s already integrated with CKAN’s data management system in some deployments, notably at What needs to be done to make this easier to replicate? What features would help? Come along to discuss, add your ideas or just listen.

To attend the meeting, sign up with your skype id on the etherpad here. Please also add any specific topic areas you’d like to discuss!