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From student cafeterias to the Government Banquet Hall

For a week in September, Finland became the focus of the world's open knowledge experts, who sampled cutting edge technology and governmental coffee...


Ossi Kuittinen

Leading Specialist, Business Development


Reflections on the Open Knowledge Festival

The world’s first Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki was a success, attracting about 1,000 participants from some 100 countries. For a week in September, Finland and the Open Knowledge Festival were a hub of global exchange of open data. The atmosphere was praised on Twitter and in hundreds of blogs, which were also used to share inventions and information on the latest advances in openness.

All of a sudden, the likes of Beth Simone Noveck, the author of Wiki Government, were writing about Finland instead of Great Britain and the United States, which have traditionally been regarded as pioneers of open data.

At times, Finland seemed like a true paradise of open knowledge. For example, the chair of the open traffic data team praised the open interface of Helsinki Region Transport for being “a developer’s dream”. The interface has been documented and can be implemented in five minutes, as opposed to two years in the Netherlands, among other places. The Open Ministry and its project for crowdsourcing legislation attracted global attention in the press and the blogs of open data gurus.

The laser-cut name tags produced at the Aalto Fablab and the horror film about the Kallio district in Helsinki – which was made in five hours using open-access film and cultural heritage materials – were also prime examples of the scope and spirit of the culture of open knowledge in Finland.

In just one day, the open design and hardware workshop built a numerically steered machine tool, which was previously thought to be next to impossible. A numerically steered machine tool is a computer-guided lathe anyone can use to produce practically any parts, nuts or industrial components that can be used to repair, say, a pram. Insignificant as this may sound, the effects are immense in practice.

People will no longer be dependent on engineering works and shops for the parts they need. Instead, the open source machine tool will enable them to produce the parts themselves. This offers excellent opportunities for new global production models. A poor country in Africa will be able to manufacture its own equipment and become less dependent on developed countries. One of the participants even predicted that, combined with a culture of collaboration, the machine tool will eradicate hunger from the world.

This claim is reflective of the atmosphere at the festival. The hundreds of meetings exuded enthusiasm and a culture of sharing, and it was difficult to choose between some of the overlapping events. Fortunately, nearly all of the events were recorded on video or documented in another way, thanks to the participants and about 100 volunteers.

The festival is just the start of an open knowledge culture in Finland, which will be further promoted by the soon-to-be-established Open Knowledge Foundation Finland. Many companies will develop new strategies by using open public data or making their data available to customers.

The work of Finnish open data activists was acknowledged by Minister of Finance Jutta Urpilainen, who invited them for morning coffee in Smolna, the Government Banquet Hall. This means that their cause is now taken seriously even outside the student cafeterias where they used to meet and dream about a more open world.

Read more on the subject: Information society is finally here! by Ossi Kuittinen