Why Open Data is key to teach democracy and citizenship

It has been taking me few days to put into words  what has happened in the country I called home for the last few years, it has been sad, confusing and overwhelming.

Not long ago, with my colleague Leo Havemann (@leohavemann) started doing some research about the value of Open Data as Open Educational Resources, and with a little help from our friends, we published a book and a paper, but until this point this was just an idea in our heads, Open Data is key to teach citizenship skills and to understand democracy, and we did lots of research about it, and we still do (with Chiara Ciociola, Fabrizio ScrolliniTim Coughlan, Francesca de Chiara and Annalisa Manca et al.) and we saw its value at theoretical level, but when I woke up on Friday, in despair, I noticed that as Open Data and Open Education community we haven’t done enough to educate others, because the voters in the UK have been misleading with false claims and manipulated by the right to believe that the root of evil were the migrants (EU, non EU & Refugees) and the axis of evil was European Union.

How could this happen? well, there are certain indicators that can explain this, those who voted for Brexit were mostly over 40 years old, and, Brexiters grew accordingly with age, the eldest were more prone to vote for leave, but, within this group, only 34.8% of the population completed tertiary education (Source: OECD Data), which means (for me) that the most vulnerable and illiterate group of the population were maliciously (mis)led to vote against the migrants and the EU, and were used as an instrument to promote a rather xenophobic agenda and to lead the country into a political and economical crisis, so the politicians can now have another scapegoat to blame, the illiterate and elderly people of Britain.

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But as they say here, we need to keep calm and carry on, however, this carry on, put us, and by us I mean people working in the fields of Openness (Education, Data, Science & Access) into promoting global citizenship, working closer with the civil society  (as the friends from Abrelatam, ILDA, Open Knowledge InternationalSchool of Data and SocialTIC are doing)to create spaces for capacity building for students, teachers and academics towards developing data literacies so people can understand numbers, graphs, statistics and can critically assess the information.

I firmly believe that Open Data is a key resource to teach critical thinking, and used as Open Educational Resources allows us to showcase phenomena and to build understanding of it by critically evaluating and assessing a problem. Since the referendum campaign started we have seen far too many graphs, but graphs are misleading, people cannot read them, and stats are manipulated by the media as big red numbers and letters and shocking images are to construct newspapers headlines, and the illiterate people are terrorised by fake facts and they cannot assess truth from lies.

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I know this is a sad time for many of us, scary for lots of us and probably uncertain for most of us, but I also see an opportunity for the Open Education community to collectively build a more democratic society because today promoting openness is key.  The more Open Access research is published the more people can read evidence-based information. If Open Data is used  in teaching and learning, students will be able to critically assess the media, to question their governments and their policies, and by embracing Open Science principles, students will be able replicate studies to critically construct their opinions.

We need to support the development of a more critical society  to prevent politicians creating a new scapegoat to manipulate the society, but mostly to make sure that the darkest hours of Europe  won’t repeat, because as Niemöller once wrote

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”