ISE Strategy for Data

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This document describes a strategy of the Institute for Solidarity Economics.

Data about initiatives within the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE – aka alternative economy) is a fundamental building block towards information systems that empower the SSE. Digital maps are a good example of such an information system.

What is the Social and Solidarity Economy?

Consider two ways to answer this question:

  1. Describe the values and principles of the SSE.
  2. List the initiatives within the SSE.

Currently, we can offer an answer to 1 but not really 2, for several reasons:

  • The data about many of these initiatives is either absent or hidden.
  • Even where there is data available, it is technically challenging to pull it together into a single list, because each source of data is likely to present things differently.
  • Trust: How do we say who qualifies for membership of the list, and how do we communicate that qualification to readers of the list?

Why do we want to list the initiatives within the SSE?

Because the movement as a whole will be strengthened. The easier it is to find participants in the SSE, the easier it is to collaborate with them, or use their services, and thereby make them successful.

The list of SSE initiatives can power applications on the web. The type of application that can be powered depends on the richness of the data. For example, if the whereabouts of an SSE initiative are know, then it can be put on a map. If the services offered are known, then people can find those services. If we know whether an initiative can make use of volunteers, then we can help people find places to volunteer themselves.

What does ISE plan to do?

  • Work with others
    • communities (like TransforMap) who have similar goals,
    • developers working on open source solutions,
    • initiatives who want to publish open data about themselves,
    • re-use existing work. e.g. the application profile developed by ESS global.
  • Follow existing standards.
  • Help those who want to publish data by providing tools and reference implementations.
  • Pull together the available data.
  • Provide tools to convert between representations, to bring more data into the same ecosystem.
  • Provide mechanisms to deal with trust, so that people looking at the data can know the trustworthiness of the source.

Details

Linked Open Data (LOD)

The Linked Data world offers a mature framework for data and the tools and standards to support it. Publishing data in this way is like putting pages on a website, rather than tucking them away on your own computer. While it may be possible to provide documents to others from your own computer, it just happens automatically if they are on your website.

There’s a great video by Eurpeana (also available en Français, auf Deutsch, in Italiano, and en Español) explaining the basic idea behind Linked Open Data.

For more details, see:

Standard Vocabulary

It is much easier to understand one another when we use the same vocabulary to talk about the same things. The same applies to the way data are described, and how it is interpreted by computers. For example, Google is able to provide the opening hours of shops because the websites for those shops use a standard vocabulary for describing their opening hours.

What is the appropriate vocabulary for describing initiatives within the SSE? The task-force ESSGlobal have been working on this problem, as described in the article A DCAP for the Social and Solidarity Economy. We will be using their Dublin Core Application Profile for Web Based Information Systems of the Social and Solidarity Economy (DCAP-SSE). To give a flavour of what this vocabulary allows us to express, it includes for example, the terms “Decent work and Self-Management”, and “Products and Services that use inputs that are recovered or recycled, totally or partially.”, and very much more besides.

Distributed data

We think it is a bad idea for all data to be held in a central database. We want to allow people to take charge of their own data, in the same way that they take charge of their own websites. But we also see a need for some places to aggregate data about many initiatives, in the same way that apex organizations represent their members. This distributed data model fits in perfectly with the concepts of Linked Data and the Global data Space.

Trust

If data is distributed, how can it be trusted? If data is centralized, then we can trust the data as far as we can trust the central body which publishes it. However, with linked data, we need only that a trusted central body publishes links which can be trusted. For example, an apex body could publish links to the distributed data owned by its members, and ensure that all links were indeed to verified members.

Registries

A list of links to data is a Registry. It is important to establish trusted registries, so that distributed data can be trusted.

FLOSS

All work towards these goals will be developed as Free/Libre and Open Source Software.
We are using a GitHub repository.

Discussion

There’s a discussion about this post on the TransforMap discourse. Please add comments there.

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