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AbreLatAm: Transparency and Tech Groups “Can Open” Government
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The can opener may not be the most obvious symbol for open government, but for anyone who’s ever worked on transparency issues, the metaphor makes sense: Opening up takes effort and leverage … there’s often good stuff inside … and sometimes you feel like you’re going in circles. Set the scene in Latin America, and you can see why an abrelatas (can opener) would be the inspiration for last month’s conference titled AbreLatAm (Open LatAm), in Montevideo, Uruguay, June 24 and 25.

Lead organizers DATA and Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente conceived the event as the region’s “first open data Unconference,” held on the eve of the Conferencia Regional de Datos Abiertos. The member-guided Unconference format was chosen to encourage groups to “share their strategies and common challenges and opportunities” in transparency and accountability campaigns, especially with open data.

AbreLatAm co-organizer Gabriela Rodriguez, who is also a TABridge mentor and network member, said personal connections and chances for future partnership were the most important results from the gathering. “There were many alliances made,” she said, including with “two big organizations from outside Latin America, MySociety and Open Knowledge Foundation. I think there will be a lot of new collaborations after this.”

About 80 attendees joined from more than a dozen countries, she said, including experts in “hackathons, data portals, apps consuming data, incubators, funders, environmental activism, lobbying for opening data labs,” as well as creators of schools for data and open government hacker spaces.

To help improve parliamentary transparency, groups talked about the most important legislative data to “‘open,” and the challenges of creating culture change from inside governments.

To improve freedom of information across the region, participants swapped lessons in the creation of freedom of information tools and envisioned a new organization that could centralize and accelerate advocacy for stronger freedom of information laws across Latin America.

As the next Open Government Partnership meeting approaches, groups shared ideas and concerns about the role of the OGP in Latin America, and the efforts they agreed were still needed, such as a push for wider civil society participation country by country.

Participant Javier Ruiz of OpenRightsGroup applauded the gathering for its emphasis on citizen participation. “The conference covered the usual open data topics,” Ruiz wrote on the OpenRightsGroup blog, “But quite refreshingly there were also many conversations around grassroots participation and involvement, with a very genuine concern that open data is not just about playing with tech toys.”

Like our own TABridge conferences, AbreLatAm was designed to shrink gaps in knowledge—between policy groups and technologists, and also between donors and their grantees. Rodriguez said she was surprised that the “skillsharing” discussions favored strategy over pure technology skills, and predicted that with a higher number of web developers, future conferences would have a more even balance between strategy, policy and tools. She also said she looks forward to increased dialogue among the donors who attended and local transparency NGOs.

Rodriguez said the regional priorities that mattered most for members as the event closed included:

setting standards for the publication of data
defining good practices for government web sites generally
cultivating more “real participation” in OGP decision-making at the local level
turning the enthusiasm and dialogue from AbreLatAm into specific projects and partnerships
The AbreLatAm Unconference format built on lessons from our own network events—and TABridge co-organizer Allen “Gunner” Gunn worked on site with Rodriguez to support the dynamic shifts in agenda that are the key to the approach.

Organizers say they are now building toward a second Unconference, planned for 2014. To learn more about AbreLatAm, see the wiki of conference notes (in Spanish) and follow updates on www.abrelatam.org. Also check out these event reports from participating groups:

OpenGov Voices: Open Data in Latin America: Here to stay (Sunlight Foundation)

ABRELATAM: the Latin American open data Unconference (MySociety)

Abre Latam: por una región de datos abiertos (La Nacion Data)

Presentación de School of Data en español (Escuela de Datos/School of Data)

Report insights + takeaways

Personal connections
Personal connections and chances for future partnership were the most important results from the gathering.
@TAInitiative
Skill-sharing
“Skill-sharing” discussions favored strategy over pure technology skills.
@TAInitiative