As Open as Possible, as Closed as Necessary: RELIEF collaborative workshop on data collection and publishing practices by Institute for Global Prosperity


An informal conversation on the ethics of Open Data, this Saturday 21st September 2019

The meeting will take place in the garden of MACAM – Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, situated in Nahr Ibrahim valley near Byblos; a 40 minute drive from Beirut. Families and children are welcome. Transportation and meals will be provided.

There are limited places. To attend, please RSVP by noontime Friday 20th Sept to Please also indicate if you require transport from Beirut, and if you will be attending the dinner in Byblos after the meet-up.

Against the backdrop of MACAM’s 2nd Biennale of Contemporary Art on the theme of Universal Data inspiring us to interrogate our digital lives, we invite artists, media practitioners, data scientists, and rights activists in a self-reflective meeting on data collection and publishing practices. Open Data is data that is searchable, accessible, useable and replicable.

This is the first in a series of moving workshops for people who do any kind of data related work with the aim of building a data ethics community, a space to interrogate practices, their consequences, to support each other and build solidarity.

In this first meet-up, we will be asking: What data should be ‘open’? Who is it ‘open’ for? What known risks surrounding openness must we take into consideration, and what known unknowns should we prepare for.

There will be critical and informative talks lead by different facilitators on the following key issues:
• Politics of mass digitisation
• Politics of open data
• Surveillance and privacy

Plan of the day

10:30am — leave Beirut
11:30am — arrive in MACAM
11:30-1:00pm — tour of Universal Data exhibition followed by Q&A with curator Sara Schaub
1-2pm — lunch
2-3pm — short presentations by experts followed by discussion
3-3:15pm — coffee break
3:15-5pm — projects and discussions
5-6pm — wrap-up
7-9pm — dinner in Byblos (optional)


There is a techno-optimistic assumption at the outset of most digital initiatives, whether governmental or NGO-based, that data is made necessarily ‘open’, that this openness leads to positive social impact in a linear correlation between knowledge production/accumulation and social policy change. The same is ‘digitalization’: from smart cities, to e-governments, and the mass digitization of the our physical and analog archives.

In addition, there are now a flurry of Western Open Data initiatives that are navigating the new politics of mass digitization through privacy, regulatory and technical dimensions. In order to grasp the stakes of open data, we need to approach open data not purely as a technical issue or a continuation of existing politics but as an emerging sociopolitical phenomenon the consequences to date are not yet fully understood.

In the Middle East, there are few examples of large open data sets, and almost non-existent open government data initiatives. Data registers hide in their obscurity and data is heavily curated when published. Many of these states deploy the advanced digital surveillance and censorship tools in the world.

Researchers from universities, the media, international NGOs and civil society groups who carry out data collection in the region are under increasing pressure to make this limited research open. The pursuit of open data promises us more original scholarship and better funding opportunities, and seems like an inherent radical endeavor in the face of restrictions on academic, media and civic freedoms. It also promises entirely new ways of reading, viewing, and structuring knowledge, new forms of value extraction, and new infrastructures of control.

This workshop will explore these issues in a set of suggested sessions to be decided on the day. The series will aim to explore some of the following issues:

// DATA FOR ADVOCACY // How can data help communities who seek new tools to change conditions of inequality and injustice in their communities. How can tech projects be co-developed closer, in collaboration with, and for communities?

// DATA RIGHTS // What does consent, privacy mean for those without national laws to regulate, enforce and report to? Should there be corporate and institutional accountability and how can it be enforced or regulated? Should a law similar the GDPR be campaigned for in Lebanon and other Arab countries?

// THE BIG DATA GOLD RUSH // Big data has emerged as the frontier of understanding behaviour, spurning innovation and generating profit. Whilst there is a dearth of research on this topic in the Middle East context, big data is being used by banks, social media platforms, governments in ways we do not yet fully understand. This session will discuss where we sit in the global conversation on big data.

// RISKS OF OPEN DATA MISUSE // Opening up data may also have negative and perhaps unintended or unexpected consequences. By focusing on too much on opening up the data and not the use, the purpose of opening up the data in the first place could be undermined. What kind of due diligence, risk assessments, and ethical consideration should be done before publishing data?

// OPENWASHING // Which is to have the appearance of open-source and open-licensing software for PR/marketing purposes, while continuing proprietary & extractive practices. If we push for corporations, NGOs and governments to be ‘open by default’ does that provide a smoke screen to hide these practices?

// CROWD-SOURCING // What kind of projects could benefit from the power of crowd-sourcing? What kind of best crowd-sourcing practices? Hasn’t crowd-sourcing become a euphuism for acquiring free unpaid labor?

// BEING FAIR // Open data is increasingly defined by the FAIR Data Principles which are a set of guiding principles in order to make data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (Wilkinson et al., 2016) are for all stakeholders in the current digital ecosystem. We will discuss the challenges of these principles as they apply to our individual data sets.

This event is organized as a collaboration between Relief Center (UK) and MACAM (Lebanon), and with the participation of Arab Digital Expression Foundation (Egypt), SMEX (Lebanon) and many others.

For more information, please email us at

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