A Kiwi at OpenCon 2016

A guest blog post by Linda Lew, 2016/17 conference attendance grant recipient.

It just so happened the day I landed in Washington DC for the 2016 OpenCon was the day after the US election results were announced. The shock victory of Donald Trump was all anyone talked about. When I handed my New Zealand passport to the border patrol agent, he looked at it and said:

“Gee, I wish I could move to New Zealand right now. So what are you in town for?”

The conference I was in DC for was OpenCon, an event that brings together students, early career researchers, advocates and others who are passionate about making the world’s information, from scholarly and scientific research, to educational materials and government data, more open. The conference also helps the next generation learn about open access, open education and open data and provide training in advocacy, community building and more to catalyse action.


Image credit: Slobodan Radicev

This was my first time attending the conference with the help from an InternetNZ community grant. Before, I led the organisation of Auckland Zinefest, a community festival that promoted independent publishing and alternative media. So I was drawn to work that helped to make the world more open and equitable.

OpenCon began with a keynote speech from Brewster Kayle, who founded the Internet Archive. He had spent his career working to provide universal access to all knowledge. Brewster talked about his work at the Internet Archive, which now preserves 25 petabytes of data, including books, web pages, music, television with cultural significance and works with more than 450 library and university partners to create an accessible digital library for everyone. He also spoke about now that the Trump is the president and consistently uses his position to undermine the press, preserving public information and records is more important than ever.

Other speakers we heard from included Pinkie Chan who works on the Open Development Initiative in Cambodia; Ahmed Ogunlaja who founded Open Access Nigeria and is a fearless champion of open access in Africa and beyond; Chris Hartgerink who won the Next Generation Leadership Award for his work in advocating for improving text and data mining rights in Europe. There were many inspiring speakers who shared with us all the amazing open access projects they were working on, that they’re too many to list here.

A highlight of the OpenCon for me was the Advocacy Day, which is when OpenCon has set up appointments with public officials, think tanks and NGOs in DC for attendees to speak to and advocate for open access policies or practices. My group was assigned Lindsey Tepe of the New America Foundation, which attempts to bring new ideas and voices to America’s public discourse. Lindsey was already familiar and an advocate of Open Educational Resources and the session was actually more of us learning from her about the work that New America Foundation does and how they help promote Open Educational Resources.

All of the knowledge and connections I made at OpenCon encouraged me to think more about what New Zealand can do more to promote open access. New Zealand has a fantastic community of data professionals, technologists, students and more who are already doing great work to make information and data more open, some of whom I’m already talking to and connecting. Some of my goals are to make meaningful progress in areas such as open and transparent government data and providing open educational resources for tertiary students.

Linda received $2,750 in funding from InternetNZ to attend the 2016 OpenCon Conference. For more info about our community grant funding visit our funding page.