The regional partner for the pilot edition of the Global Data Barometer in Russia is Infoculture, a Russian non-profit organization dedicated to open government, open data, digital preservation, and other digital civil projects. Infoculture was founded in 2012 and they have created a number of projects and events related to open data in Russia.
Ivan Begtin, the Director and co-founder of Infoculture and coordinator of research for the Barometer survey in Russia, shared more about their work which includes their open procurement portal; an open NGO platform where individuals and organisations can access information about funding and leadership of the organisations.
Q: Where do you think your work and the work of the GDB intersect?
Our work at Infoculture focuses on open data and the GDB is also about open data. I think that makes our organisations very similar except that the Barometer is global, and our focus is on the national/country level. Looking to the future, we are looking forward to more cooperation, shared projects, and solving similar problems. We have to focus on data and digital preservation and probably availability of digital archives which should be interesting for the future editions of the GDB.
Q: Can you tell me more about some of the projects you are working on?
We are working on a number of projects including ClearSpending, a Russian procurement open data portal and Application Programming Interface (API). The project was created to raise public awareness about public expenditure. The portal is an automated monitoring system that allows examining, understanding and detecting violations through the use of public expenditure data. Additionally, we have OpeNGO an NGO’s portal, where users can explore the non-profit sector in Russia to understand the funding sources, founders, leadership and the work they carry out. This is a move that makes the work and operations of NGOs more transparent.
Q: What is your vision for Infoculture?
Infoculture is a sustainable data driven NGO focused on technology, data, digital preservation and other important technological topics. We hope our work can continue to make an impact across all areas we are involved in.
Q: What are some of the community projects you have worked on and what were the results?
We have two community driven data catalogues, namely NGOData and Hub of data. Our NGO open data catalogue, is where non-profit organisations post information products that are created in the course of their work in Russia. This allows access to a large amount of data that can be harnessed for various purposes, such as research. Another one of our projects is the Hub of data, a catalog and repository of open data for Russian speakers that we created. We also maintain the hub.
Q: Do you have any projects with the Russian government?
No. We collaborated with the Open Government Initiative while it existed from 2013 to 2018 and we have been members of several “civil councils” with government bodies, but we do not have any projects with the Russian government right now.
Q: Some of your work includes data journalism, what do you think is the place of data journalism in encouraging data use for the public good?
Data journalism is an important part of journalism in the world and in Russia. Last year data journalists were under heavy pressure from the Russian government since their work is too close to investigative journalism. Too many investigations last year caused severe scandals in Russia. Infoculture has a tight connection with data journalists, we organize events for data journalists and help them to work with data.
Q: What are some of the data-related projects you have worked on that have made contributions to long term goals of Infoculture Russia?
The National Digital Archive is one of these projects. The aim of this project is to conserve and archive key digital assets—websites and other digital materials—that are at risk of destruction at a time when there is an ever increasing number of materials created in the digital form. Our long term goal is to establish a sustainable archival initiative with a large collection of data.
Q: Looking at the state of data in Russia, would you say there is progress in the state of open data?
Russia made a lot of efforts for more openness until 2014, but since that time open data has been shrinking in the minds of officials. The Russian state data portal stalled, and most initiatives related to open government have closed. However, there is a strong community advocating for and working with open data.
Q: Do you have any projects that involve young people? What are they and what do you think are the benefits of getting more young people involved?
Q: What are some of the data-related challenges you have encountered in your work?
Quality of open data is quite low and officials are unwilling to improve it. In recent years, Russian journalists have gone under heavy pressure for data journalism. Another challenge is that some data which used to be available, is no longer available.
Q: Can you share some of your success stories?
One of our greatest success stories is Clearspending, the open procurement database which is actively used by common people on a daily basis. We are lucky that we have transparency of government spending at the highest level and this project has existed since 2013.