Monday, August 26, 2013

Canada's Action Plan on Open Government Consultation - my comment

Following is the comment that I just posted to Clement's consultation on the Action Plan on Open Government, currently queued for moderation.

Good progress has been made on the Action Plan. However, progress on the details does not begin to make up for overall increasing secrecy and lack of accountability by this government. For example, when the International Monetary Fund "devotes nine pages to the trials and travails of Page’s five years trying to shine a torchlight in the government’s murky budget process — and especially on the toxic responses he got from Harper’s ministers" (from our Prime Minister prorogues parliament when there are major questions relating to accountability that should be answered in Parliament, serious scholars like John Dupuis document The Canadian War on Science: a long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment, Canada engages in secretive trade treaty negotiations like FIPA and TPP, "Open Government" sounds like a phrase straight out of Orwell's 1984. Canada needs to step back and ask, not whether we are making progress on these details (good though this is in itself) - that is to say, not to ask "how much progress are we making towards open government", but rather "are we moving towards open government at all, or are we moving fast in the opposite direction, towards more secret and unaccountable government"? I am really sorry to have to write such a critical comment as I am sincere about the genuine progress made by Clement and those who really are working for open government and would much rather give them the applause that they deserve, but this is far too important and we need to focus on the big picture.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

DFATD Development Data widget generator

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) Development Data widget generator is a tool that anyone can use to create a widget for a website that will search the DFATD aid data. This tool can also be adapted for use with other aid agencies that share data according to the IATI standard. The example below illustrates how someone with an interest in Canada's support for basic health care in Haiti can create a widget like the one displayed at the bottom of this blog that will gather information on Haiti as a recipient country and health as a sector. This tool is a supplement to other search tools for aid development such as aidview, a global search tool for aid data designed for the end user.  

How to use the widget generator

The DFATD data that is searched by the widget generator can be viewed in xml format here. This file adheres to the International Aid Transparency Intitiative (IATI) file standard. The codes can be viewed at the IATI site. For example, the general category for the health sector is 121; sub-categories add an additional 2 numbers. Following is a sample widget. This can be copied and pasted into a website tool such as google blogger's gadget function from the blogger layout menu, that accepts html/javascript. The DFATD Development Data widget generator is a tool that anyone can use to create a widget for a website that will search the DFATD data using any two parameters. For example, someone with an interest in Canada's support for basic health in Haiti can create a widget that will gather information on Haiti as a recipient country and health as a sector.

To create your own widget, simply copy the script and change the parameters that are of interest to you, your group or community.

For example, to search a different recipient country, find the place in the script that says:


and change the country code from HT (for Haiti) to the country code of your choice. The country codes are listed on the IATI codes site here. To change the recipient country to Bhutan, for example, code the piece of code above, replacing HT with BT.

To change the language to french, find the part of the code that says lang=en and change to lang=fr. The IATI site provides a list of language codes; DFATD information is available in english and french.

Examples <script type="text/javascript" src="//"> "</script> <script src="//'homme+n+Chine&lang=fr&country=ALL&border=%23ffffff%7C3px%2C1px+solid+%23999999&output=js"></script&lgt;


Future possibilities

  • GUI interface (e.g. drop down menus) to make it easier for website administrators to generate new widgets
  • more style options
  • Transparency might be enhanced by giving beneficiaries in the recipient countries and other key stakeholders an opportunity to crowdsource their own quantitative or qualitative assessment of the results of a project, and/or suggestions for future projects. 
About this project: The CIDA Development Data widget generator is an early prototype designed to illustrate the potential for enhanced searching of development data created by Team Widget, my group at the Citizen Attaché hackathon.The project website which includes technical information and contacts, is available here.

This post is part of the Creative Globalization series.

♥ Copying is an act of love. Please copy and share according to the principles of copyheart.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Creative Commons and Open Access research: some next steps

Rosie Redfield has posted results of a survey on author perspectives of CC-BY licenses on RRResearch, along with her own comments. This is a useful addition to a question that is very much in need of serious critical research and analysis, a line of research that I am in the process of developing.  In order to make informed decisions about what kinds of uses to permit, encourage, forbid or discourage, authors and others with interests in this area (such as research funders) need to know all of the implications. Redfield's research to date has shown that many authors that have agreed to CC-BY licenses did not realize some of the implications of this decision - for example, authors did not know that their CC-BY articles could be republished as book chapters by a commercial publisher for profit without their knowledge or permission.

Here is my overall perspective on what is needed in this line of research:

Analysis of what might actually be permitted (or forbidden) under CC licenses. With any legal matter, there is the question of what the writer of the law / license intended and how others might reasonably interpret the words. Specific areas that need attention include:
  • permission for re-enclosure for profit, whether accidental or purposive. CC licenses do not imply that works need to be free of charge. The licenses forbid adding DRM to a work, but they do not forbid paywalls before one gets to the work (this is probably impossible, given that most of us have to go through a paywall of some kind to access the internet per se).  From my perspective this is a signficant danger, one that could be a huge setback for the open access movement. For example, if commercial medical publishers moved to CC-BY open access then changed course and decided to release these works as toll access only (CC-BY does not preclude this), and then lobby to remove funding for PubMedCentral and other publicly owned open access archives, then it is feasible that massive amounts of works made OA via CC-BY could very quickly revert to toll access, with no recourse available to authors or their funders. This is the primary reason I argue against CC-BY as a default.
  • author moral rights are stronger under CC BY attribute than automatic copyright. What are the implications for scholarship? I argue that at minimum this is the opposite of the intention of BOAI.
  • What kinds of re-use of scholarly works would actually be desirable and useful for scholarship, and what are the conditions where this would make sense to the authors? Translation is one example - there are obvious advantages to scholarship to making this as easy as possible, but obviously dangers to authors' reputations if poor translations are attributed to the author. There is probably some middle ground. For example, automated translation services are available even for many works not CC licensed for reuse. This does not appear to be contentious, perhaps because the translation services are not portraying the results as authorized versions.
This post is part of the Creative Commons and Open Access critique series

Academically appropriate comments are welcome - by which I mean, state who you are and where you are coming from. For example if you are affiliated with an organization that has a vested interest in or commitment to a particular CC license, this affiliation should be stated in your comment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Open Access class 2013

Some of the final projects from my open access class of 2013 at the University of British Columbia's School of Library, Archival and Information Studies are now posted on the course blog.