Viva la open data!

'Lightning' talks and flashes of inspiration at OKFN Open Data meet-up in Scotland.

Quirky and unexpected

It's not often that you find a digital arts student, a computer scientist, a GIS mapping specialist and a nanotechnologist engaged in lively conversation over an evening beer - but that's precisely what you would have found had you dropped into the Ghillie Dhu in Edinburgh one evening in March 2012.

 #OpenDataEDB, Scotland's first ever Open Data meet-up, was a prime example of the kind of quirky connections, unexpected conversations and flashes of inspiration that Open Data meet-ups are all about.

Whilst we all appreciate the value of online networking, there's nothing quite like a physical meet-up. That moment when you walk into a room, shake hands with a half-familiar face, and suddenly realise 'ah, you're @McDawg!' is worth many thousand tweets.  Meet-ups provide an invaluable opportunity to confirm existing ties, to meet new friends, and to exchange ideas far more efficiently than any email exchange could allow. Above all, they're fun! But for me, their real beauty is in the unexpected connections that always seem to blossom.

Open data meet-ups - open to all

The format of an Open Data meet-up is simple. First principle, everyone is welcome. It doesn't matter whether you're interested in art, science, government or software, history, space or gene technology; if you turn up, you're a part of the event. Some attendees have been working on open data projects for years, others aren't too sure what open data is. Whatever position you come from, every individual is a valuable addition to an Open Data meet-up.

Once the room is gathered, the evening kicks off with lightning talks - short 2-3 minute presentations on any topic. Some people bring slides, others bring demos, many just talk on the spot. At #OpenDataEDB we had a full complement of six talks, ranging from semantic web projects to the public domain. The supportive atmosphere often inspires impromptu talks, and we were delighted to welcome both Etienne and Wilbert to the floor following the ‘official' talks, for an insight into their work on Iconclass and Kasabi.

After the talks, Open Data meet-ups became even more relaxed. After a brief round of introductions, people are free to mingle with the speakers, to ask questions and to chat. Thanks to the generosity of DevCSI, conversation at #OpenDataEDB was further fuelled by a delicious array of snacks and drinks.

Sparking ideas

As people congregated around the tables, there was an almost palpable buzz. Groups formed and re-formed as people caught snippets of other interesting conversations, chiming in with challenges they'd encountered and solutions they'd found. Ideas were sparking, and it was clear that everyone had something to offer and something to learn. This, surely, is how innovation takes place.

This #OpenDataEDB was so successful that we are already planning the next one! We hope that the next meet-up in May will attract a still larger audience, and that even more people can take part in the hubbub of enthusiasm and the exchange of ideas. If you're not in Edinburgh, don't panic! Regular meet-ups already take place in both Cambridge and London, and are increasingly being hosted in cities across Europe. 

For more information about meet-ups, or work by the OKFN in general, please contact Other resources of interest include and

Laura Newman works for OKFN as the Community Coordinator for Working Groups and Open Data in Research.  She oversees the OKFN Working Groups, particularly those related to science and research. She also coordinates the Panton Fellowships and is the main point of contact for the School of Data and the Open Data Handbook. Laura believes that open data has the potential to bring about real social change.

Graham Steel also attended the event and has blogged about each of the presentations in detail.  He had been aware of the Open Knowledge Foundation since 2007 and was a regular virtual attendee of the monthly Open Science Working group meetings.  His blog post, which includes photographs of the evening and links to more information about each of the presenters and their projects, concludes with the comment 'Viva la open data!'.  We loved his comment so much we have used it here - with his permission of course.

Picture taken at the event used with kind permission.