Open Data Hong Kong Co-founder Mart Van de Ven Explains What Open Data is and Why It Matters

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Meet Mart Van de Ven: programmer by trade, instructor at General Assembly and one half of the co-founding duo behind Open Data Hong Kong (ODHK).

As an ambassador for Open Knowledge Foundation, a non-profit based in the UK that promotes open content and open data, Mart’s quest in Hong Kong is to develop a local community that’s passionate about the Open Data movement. Ever since meeting co-founder Douglas Wai-Chung Bastien at Bar Camp in February of last year, the two have been building momentum in the local community through tri-weekly meetups and civic hackathons.

For those unsure why Open Data matters, Mart lends an analogy. As he went to university in Hong Kong, he noticed that sharing his notes with his classmates was met with bewilderment. To these local students, sharing something that would give you a competitive advantage was unheard of – even if it would result in a greater good.

“The same thing is true for data,” said Mart: “governments, academics and companies hold on to their data as if it’s their competitive advantage – but if you’re not able to deliver, such as the government not being able to create services citizens can actually use, the data’s potential is squandered.”  Mart, like all the other members of the volunteer-run ODHK, believes that most government data should be open and available for competition and collaboration.

In fact, at one particular ODHK meetup, speaker Scott Edmunds from the Beijing Genomics Institute, illustrated the benefits of a system using Open Data. In the summer of 2011, a biologist wanted to help decipher the genetic origin of the E. coli virus that infected about 4,000 people in Germany. In a legal process that would have taken days, one team bypassed the wait time by publishing the bacteria data set under a Creative Commons license (that allowed free use of the data) so others could join the international research efforts to help save lives.

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Success stories from the more established Open Data movement in Europe are encouraging but Mart plans on inspiring local change by teaming up with the OGCIO (Governmental IT department), Hacking Health (social organization promoting innovation in healthcare) and LegCo (Legislative Council of Hong Kong) to fuel their civic hackathons, otherwise known as ‘Makes.’

This year’s first ODHK-hosted ‘Make’ is dedicated to the Data.One Competition and will be held on the weekend of 25-26 January. Participants will team up and be encouraged to build apps using datasets from Data.One – the Hong Kong Government’s Open Data portal, are even throwing in HK $140,000 in cash prizes for the winning apps. The next ‘Make’ is coming up in April and will be held in conjunction with Canadian outfit Hacking Health.

So what kinds of apps typically get made at ODHK hackathons? Mart explains that there are different classes of data which will result in different apps. “High potential apps are usually derived from data that affects citizens every day, such as Google Maps or the Hong Kong Observatory app,” said Mart. “Other categories, such as accountability and government transparency, rely on the good will of the government to publish this data. Where the government is lacking, LegCo is making a great effort.”

The ‘Make’ to round out the upcoming trilogy, will be the LegCo hack in late May, where ODHK will collaborate with LegCo to build accountability and transparency tools.

Want to join the Open Data movement? Their next meetup is on January 22nd, and you can find more information on ODHK on their website.

Mart Van de Ven on Startbase.HK: Mart Van de Ven

Open Data Hong Kong on Startbase.HK: Open Data Hong Kong 

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