To start my work as a School of Data fellow this year, I needed to survey the Open Data community in Bolivia. I wanted to rediscover and meet its members, those that are driving us towards the goal of making the data in our country open, and identify the concerns and the challenges we face.
Bolivia’s first experience with open data occurred in June 2013 with the first Data Bootcamp in Bolivia; this experience was lead by experts, including Michael Bauer, and was attended mainly by journalists and developers. From there, we moved forward (with little steps) on the open data path with a second version of the Data Bootcamp, followed in 2015 by the first Accelerator of Data Journalism. This helped launch several small journalistic and citizen-led projects.
In order to understand the community and how best to promote the results of our joint efforts in this field, although it is not easy to make a radiograph of an emerging movement, we can categorise the Bolivian Open Data community into three groups: citizens’ initiatives, journalism and government agencies.
Marco Antonio Frías, a member of the open software movement, started to make maps nine years ago with Open Street Map (OSM). The project had two main goals: to move away from over-reliance on a single technology, and to gain a deeper understanding of how and where we live, understanding that the maps used are not simple photographs but also are an abstraction, a representation of a social situation, under our social and cultural precepts. It is a form of open data, he has commented, since the Bolivian maps published by the Military Geographical Institute are expensive and of low quality. He highlighted the fact that the OSM community provides recent public maps of Cochabamba, a city in Central Bolivia, whereas the last one published by the city is from 2003.
Mapillary, another example highlighted by him, is a service that enables collaboration and use of photographs taken at street level anywhere in the world, in any form of locomotion.
The challenges faced this year by Open Street Map Cochabamba are related to the work needed to be done on geography and graphical representations workshops in fields related to education. They will also have to bring into the movement a wider array of people beyond cartography and geography specialists.
Mariana Leyton is another person who has followed the rise of open data and open government in the region since early 2015. This is for her both a personal interest and a professional one,as a GobApp communications manager. In August last year, she collaborated with another Bolivian open data activist, Fabian Soria, to add Bolivia to Open Knowledge International’s Global Open Data Index. Using Facebook to call on other volunteers, she got people to participate using a Google Spreadsheet where they could upload information related to the 15 types of databases used to assess each country. Although this call could not get many contributions, the result was a document with centralising this information, which was published in September last year.
Other volunteer groups exist on Facebook, such as DatosAbiertosBo; Luis Rejas, creator of the group, believes that the greater use of open data will be a push on other institutions to open their data.
The project “Cuántas Más” also plays a key role in the open data movement: the team behind it has been monitoring and collecting data on femicide cases in Bolivia for more than one year. Femicides have been recognized officially since the Act 348, a law voted in March 2013. The Cuántas Más team created an open database and visualised the data using timelines, georeferencing, and also produced statistics and media files for all cases. A continuous validation of the data allowed them to produce accurate figures addressing various aspects of the issue of gender violence.
Another volunteer-led citizen project, “Que no te la charlen“, was a winner of the 1st. Data Journalism Accelerator challenge. It promoted more transparency about universities by systematically collecting data from public and private universities in Bolivia, before georeferencing each university and its associated information, allowing comparisons. The other aspect of their project focused on questioning the origins and uses of the budget of Bolivian public universities. For this purpose, they worked with data from 2010 to 2014 to analyze the budget of fourteen universities.
On the journalism side, a key reference is LT-Data, a data-focused section of the website of Los Tiempos,the main newspaper in Cochabamba. Maintained by a team led by Fabiola Chambi, with the support of Mauricio Canelas. The goal of this project is to produce a regular series of data journalism articles. Fabiola says that she began to see examples and implement projects as an autodidact, having as a major reference the Argentinian newspaper La Nación She began with population data from the World Bank, then worked with the 2012 Bolivian Census Data. The results generated were just a way to find out what was available and what could work. However, she notes that a defining moment took place at the second Bootcamp in La Paz, with the “Elige Bien” project. It is a platform designed for citizen engagement, which displayed information about candidates and parties for the 2014 elections. That said, the team is still not fully dedicated to LT-Data, sharing its time with other projects within the newsroom.
Also worth highlighting is the work of ED Data, from the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber, which features a project called “Assets of Evo Morales’ Cabinet during the last decade“.This project required 8 months of combined efforts by journalist Nelfi Fernandez and developer Williams Chorolque, under the guidance of expert data journalists Sandra Crucianelli and David Dusster, respectively from Argentina and from Spain.
A similar project is the DataBo initiative, run by the digital platform La Pública and the NGO Oxfam. As Javier Badani, director of La Pública, explained in an interview with Inter-American Development Bank, “public institutions have not yet fully internalized the culture of information openness. However, Los Tiempos and La Pública have developed research projects using journalism and an open data philosophy.”
There are other challenges related to data journalism and open data, as seen by Tonny Lopez, journalist from El Alto, in La Paz: “Many want to do it, but internet access is still poor in newsrooms, and there is no clear process or means available. Introducing new journalists to digital journalism, is an ongoing effort, and there is a need to train them in the logic of digital tools from the onset. Those efforts currently focus on free internet tools.
Bolivian Government Agencies
AGETIC, the Agency for Electronic Government and Technologies of Information and Communication was created by Supreme Decree No. 2514, on 9 September 2015. It is a decentralized entity but subsidiary of the Ministry of the Presidency. The same decree instructs the creation of the Council of Technology Information, which is part of an open data work-table. This unit, according to Wilfredo Jordan, head consultant of the work-table, will have as main task in coming months to standardize and release of data from the Bolivian State through a web platform. This first phase includes a training component with specific audiences (journalists and researchers, for example) to promote open data, as required by the decree at the origin of the agency.
An analysis of the state of open data by the agency highlighted the fact that Bolivian public institutions, while used to share information under the Transparency Act, usually share it under non easily reusable formats. This is the case for existing open data initiatives such as GEO Bolivia and the National Statistics Institute. It is then necessary to educate civil servants on open standards and work on the standardization of public data.
Bolivia is a newcomer to the Open Data movement, making it important for the country to learn from the experience of its neighbours; there is much to learn, understand but luckily there is a true will to do so.
Thank you to everyone who contacted me and answered my calls and to all who sent information through social networks; not all contributions could be added to this article, but they are proof of the dynamic of this emerging community.