Open Economics hack day models social progress in Italy


On Saturday 28 January an eclectic mix of coders, researchers, designers, academics and data journalists gathered at the Barbican Centre for an Open Economics hackday, coordinated by Velichka Dimitrova. One of the younger members of the Open Knowledge Foundation family, Open Economics is a group concerned with increasing the transparency of economic data, aiming to tear down - or at least reduce - the barriers between the public and the economic data which has an ever-growing significance for their lives.


The Eurozone crisis has dominated headlines across the continent in recent months, and will not be leaving the spotlight any time soon. Along with Greece, Italy has been one of the biggest causes for concern, and the Italian economy provided the backdrop for the day’s main focus.

Following the success of Yourtopia, Open Economics’ main project to date, the central aim of Saturday’s activities was to develop an application to map social progress in Italy over time and across its 21 administrative regions.

Over the years, different bodies have come up with different methods of measuring social change, from the qualitative - public surveys - to the quantitative - unemployment statistics and income distribution - but none can be considered sufficiently holistic to provide a fully representative overview of the state of affairs.

This new project, Yourtopia 2, will take a wide variety of measures and combine them into a broad model, with the hope of providing an unprecedented analysis of socioeconomic welfare which can then be applied to other countries and regions. All being well, the final application will be submitted as an entry to the Apps4Italy competition.

As with Yourtopia, the aim for Yourtopia 2 is to end up with an interactive tool which users can customize depending on which factors they consider most important to achieving social progress. As a result, Saturday’s focus was on gathering data for the different variables, beginning design of the user interface, and carrying out further research into how the eventual model will be built.

In one corner, a handful of data researchers scoured the web for sources of regional unemployment data and Gini coefficients, in another, coders and designers worked tirelessly to iron out glitches in the model and create a slick user interface, while elsewhere academics debated which factors the model should incorporate in order to be most effective.

The project is ongoing. Anyone wishing to contribute in some way had the possibility to take part in the online follow-up session last Saturday. Should you wish to take part in future meetings keep an eye on the Open Economics website


Photo by Ilias Bartolini