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A Day to Strengthen Portugal's Open Data Community

A typical rabelo boat from Porto carrying the open data flag for the #OpenDataDay. Banner by Transparência Hackday.

A typical rabelo boat from Porto carrying the open data flag for the #OpenDataDay. Banner by Ana Carvalho / Transparência Hackday.

[Disclosure: The author of this post was one of the organizers of the event.]

Pro-transparency and tech for citizenship enthusiasts from different cities in Portugal joined in the global Open Data Day celebration with a gathering in Porto hosted by the Transparência Hackday collective on February 22, 2014.

Designers, programmers, hackers, communicators and public servants dedicated a Saturday afternoon to sharing their experience with transparency issues as well as to opening some data to the public.

Hands-on tasks included the Local Open Data Census by Open Knowledge Foundation, which aimed at putting together data sets at the local level, from transport timetables to annual budgets and air quality:

We know there is huge variability in how much local data is available not just across countries but within countries, with some cities and municipalities making major open data efforts, while in others there’s little or no progress visible. If we can find out what open data is out there, we can encourage more cities to open up key information, helping businesses and citizens understand their cities and making life easier.

By the end of the day, the cities of Coimbra and Porto had quite a full range of information available in a collaborative document that will be used to update the Open Knowledge instance for Portugal once it has been setup by the international organization.

A different group took on the yogurt cataloging challenge launched by Open Food Facts, a free, open and crowdsourced food products database. The idea behind “What's in my yogurt?” project was to gather nutrition facts, ingredients and other dairy data from as many countries of the world as possible in just one day. So did the Portuguese

Data ‘visualinspiration’

The cherry on top for this fourth anniversary of the International Open Data Day was the presentation of the designer and researcher Pedro Cruz from the University of Coimbra of his work on data visualization.

The association for cultural intervention Maus Hábitos (Bad Habits) opened its door for the open data venue.

The association for cultural intervention Maus Hábitos (Bad Habits) in Porto opened its door for the venue of the #OpenDataDay in Portugal.

The journey started with Pedro's data visualization of the evolution of the decline of the maritime empires of the 19th and 20th centuries by land extension. In the timeline of events, British, Portuguese, French and Spanish empires dissolute in a fluid way as “some kind of soft bodies”. Other works by him include the traffic of Lisbon condensed in one day – or portrayed as a metaphor of living organisms with circulatory problems – as well as text analysis, public transport exploration, and much more.

“An ecosystem of corporate politicians“ - interactive visualization at pmcruz.com/eco.

“An ecosystem of corporate politicians“ – interactive visualization at pmcruz.com/eco.

But his most recent deed, the interactive visualization ”An ecosystem of corporate politicians” – on the relationships between members of Portuguese governments and companies for the period of 1975 to 2013 – was the one sparking more debate.

The powerful visualization shows the companies where ministers and secretaries of state have had positions and allows for the exploration of what appears to be a parasite ecosystem, given the form of the designed organisms:

Data is approached as an ecosystem, where each set of interdependent relations are regulated by physical conditions—each politician has a sequence of companies to visit, chasing them and jumping between them, in order to restart the sequence each time it is completed.

The data was collected from a study on politics and business carried out for the documentary “Donos de Por­tu­gal” (Owners of Portugal).

Getting to know the community

Improve Coimbra was another project from the third main city of Portugal that participants had the chance to meet on #OpenDataDay in Porto. Alike the organizer in Porto, Transparência Hackday, Improve Coimbra promotes monthly meetings that anyone can join to help solve the problems of the city. In little more than one year of activities, Improve has already created several websites and mobile apps for the citizens of Coimbra, such as a platform for crowdsourcing home rents, a map of cafes with available wifi, and Burocracia which makes the minutes of Coimbra's city government assembly available and easy to search. 

Also the northern municipality of Alfândega da Fé was represented in this #OpenDataDay. Ranked in second place in the Index of Municipal Transparency [pt] launched in October 2013 by the watchdog Transparência e Integrigade, Associação Cívica (TIAC), this small municipality of the region of Trás-os-Montes, with less than 6,000 inhabitants, has been showing positive signs of willingness to open local governmental data

That was the ultimate aim of the event, after all, to encourage governmental data openness, and thus the #OpenData in Portugal has grown a bit stronger with more grassroots organizations and individuals dialoguing with each other and the world.

You can check out the agenda of the #OpenDataDay in a pad available in Transparencia Hackday's blog, and read more about the global event in the official website [all links in Portuguese]. 

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