Friday, May 29, 2015

GODAN Discussion Paper presented at IODC 2015

Things are not always like this; I usually get involved in typical tasks that have impact within a research project or a community.

However, this time things were different: With some help from the Agro-Know team (that provided me with the time needed for working on that), a great collaboration with many people in a short time (about 20 days!) and really hard work we managed to deliver a decent GODAN Discussion (ex-White) Paper that was presented yesterday at the Open Data Conference 2015.

This morning I checked out what has happened during the 1st day of the Conference, mostly browsing through tweets. This one draw my attention - the first slide of the presentation about the GODAN Discussion Paper, presented by Liz Carolan from the Open Data Institute.

This was more than I expected: Seeing my name in a slide presented to the participants (which btw are really important stakeholders of a global community) of an International Conference like this one was a great honor: I have presented papers and concepts myself in similar cases, but seeing my name as one of the authors of the GODAN Discussion Paper was something much more than that - priceless I would say! :-)

That's it; I am sold!

Big thanks to everyone at the lovely ODI team but mostly to Fiona Smith for the excellent management & organization of the work that needed to be delivered in such a short time & Liz Carolan for believing in me. Big thanks also to Martin Parr (CABI) for his help whenever needed and the rest of the GODAN Secretariat (Ben and Ana), as well as to everyone who responded to my requests for input to the report. I know that there are things that could have been different in the paper (I already have some points in mind) but taking into consideration the tight deadline this was what could be delivered in this short time...

I hope that this will be the first step to something even bigger, as I saw some really promising requirements coming out of the related discussions during these days :-)

P.S. The Discussion Paper is now publicly available for download through the ODI website. Feel free to download, study and comment.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The GODAN White Paper is (almost) ready to go public

It has been more than one month since I started working as an external consultant/researcher for the GODAN White Paper, after my application for the corresponding GODAN/Open Data Institute call was accepted - this work is now over.

Since then, there has been a lot of work (and I mean a lot!) in the context of this report: I identified more than 30 use cases making use of open agri-food and nutrition data (less than half of them made it in the final version of the paper - I admit that some of them were weaker than the others), drafted additional parts of the paper, collected more than 40 related references (including publications, articles, blog posts, reports, presentations etc.), interviewed several people looking for substantial feedback in terms of insights and quotes for the potential and current issues of open agricultural data, compiled lists of open agri-food datasets, data sources and other types of resources (like repository software, data management software and other tools), collected quotes and other bits from the preliminary GODAN survey results  - this was a time-consuming analysis that was reported in about 35 pages, including text, lists and tables (also some images and screenshots at some point). Use cases were elaborated, revised & re-written, additional drafting of text was required in some instances, details were needed for vague use cases, formatting of text and so on.

What I really appreciated throughout this process was the fact that I had the opportunity to get close to some really important people working with open data, such as Dr. Daniel Jimenez from CIAT (The leader of the winning team of the United Nation's 2014 Big Data Climate Challenge), Dr. Glenn Hyman & Andrew Farrow from AgTrials, Gerber Roerink from (the last three through the precious introduction and help from SemaGrow partner Dr. Sander Janssen), Graham Mullier (Head Data Sciences, R&D IS at Syngenta), Christopher Brewster (an old friend from Aston University, with experience in open food data) as well as Dr. Shaun Hobbs, the Director of CABI's Plantwise Knowledge Bank (I hope I am not forgetting anyone here!). All of them have made a significant impact in their fields so I felt honored to have the opportunity to get in touch with them.

I also felt really glad to have the opportunity to work with the ODI team on the development of this report; Liz Carolan had the overview of the work and was the person connecting the team working on the report with both the GODAN Secretariat (CABI) and the ODI Execs, Fiona Smith was my project manager, ensuring that my contributions would always be according to the (tight) schedule and acting as my contact with the rest of team (and the GODAN partners several cases); on top of that, ensuring that all bits and pieces would nicely fit in the report, Anna Scott did her magic with copy editing - transforming typical text into high-quality, catchy and easy to read one, Ellen Broad contributing her open data policy parts and experience and there were even more involved! As you understand, this was a great collaborative work, which also included previous input from Tim Davies, and help from Ben Schaap and Ana Brandusescu (WUR/GODAN Secretariat through CABI). Big thanks to everyone for their contributions and help!

All work took place through a GDoc where everyone from the team was invited to work by drafting text, editing, suggesting and commenting; I found this to be a really efficient way of developing a document. Additional (and frequent) communication took place through emails and Skype calls; this allowed to stay connected with the rest of the team and ongoing work, despite the fact that I was remotely working (I didn't manage to visit the ODI headquarters, even though I'd love to).
The White Paper (which has now been renamed to Discussion Paper) is currently open for comments to the GODAN partners (sorry, not publicly available yet!) and is almost ready to go into printing; it will be publicly announced and presented during the Open Data Conference 2015, in Ottawa, Canada in less than one week (28-29/5/2015)!

If you ask me, it was a great experience that allowed to me to get in touch with some really nice and interesting people and contribute to a report that will have significant impact at a global level; what more could I ask for? :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A discussion about CABI's Plantwise

Plantwise is a global programme, launched back in 2011, working to increase food security and improve rural livelihoods by reducing crop losses. Plantwise is led by CABI, an organization with over 100 years of experience in agricultural research. The Plantwise team is working closely with national agricultural advisory services and establishes and supports sustainable networks of "plant clinics", run by trained plant doctors, where farmers can find practical plant health advice. The whole approach is innovative and seems to have a significant impact so far.
At the core of Plantwise there is the The Plantwise Knowledge Bank: a huge database containing a wealth of knowledge related to plant pests (mostly in the form of factsheets), which provides country- or region-specific plant health information. What is interesting is that this knowledge is constantly updated; not only from the CABI side, which adds new resources related to plant pest infections, but also from the plant doctors who actually create new factsheets on a regular basis based on the incidences that they meet and address as part of their work

About one week ago I had the pleasure to get engaged in a really interesting discussion with Martin Parr, a man with many hats: he is the 
Operations Director for the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition Secretariat (GODAN), he also works in CABI’s Knowledge Services for International Development and last but not least, he is the Head of Open Data at CABI. Martin is a long time acquaintance (we first met during the RDA 3rd Plenary Meeting in Dublin, Ireland in March 2014, and then again one month later, during the CIARD/GODAN Joint Consultation in April 2014). Martin was kind enough to bring me in contact with Dr. Shaun Hobbs, Director of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank. The reason for this discussion was for me to get some information about the data sources of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, the transformation of this data into Factsheets and then the sharing of the data with the plant doctors and farmers, that I could use for the research I was conducting in the context of the GODAN White Paper.

Plantwise + IPPC side event at CPM9 in Rome- April 2, 2014 from CABIslides

During the discussion I had the opportunity to get a lot of information on the sources and the use of data, the licenses, the agreements with governments for the use of governmental data and the combination of publicly available data with private ones, a fact that raised some issues for sharing the processed information. I was also guided through the process including the development of the Factsheets, their use by plant doctors in the plant clinics, the role of the tablets in the process (replacing paper and computers at the same time), the collection of data produced by the pant doctors and how they are used for keeping the Knowledge Bank updated and many other interesting things.
However, what impressed me most about this discussion was how passionate both of them were about their work and Plantwise in general and how knowledgeable they were, explaining every little detail to me, adding pieces every now and then, going into even more details and being excited about sharing their work with me. I felt really glad to be able to meet both Martin and Shaun and to be engaged in this interesting discussion.

If you want to learn more about Plantwise, you can check out the Plantwise website, Plantwise blog and social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) - you can also check out the Plantwise Android app as well as a recent report on the use of digital technologies in the processes.