Support us

You are browsing the archive for Velichka Dimitrova.

Introducing OpenOil

- December 13, 2012 in Announcements, Extractive Industries, Featured

This blog post is written by Zara Rahman and is cross-posted from the Open Economics Blog.

About OpenOil and transparency

I work for a transparency organisation and small publishing house, called OpenOil. We work on resource curse issues: trying to ensure that citizens of resource-rich countries can reap the benefits of their natural resources. Since our beginning – just 16 months ago – we have run projects on site in Colombia, Iraq, Libya and, as of last Saturday, Uganda. All our work is released under Creative Commons License and is created using open-source software.

Telling people I work for an organisation called OpenOil always provokes some interesting and varied reactions, e.g.:

  • “Has an oil company paid you to come here?”
  • “But it’s time to move away from hydrocarbons, oil has terrible effects on the environment!”
  • “Wow, you must have a lot of work to do, surely improving the way the oil industry is run is a lost battle already”

In answer to the first – no, all of our funding is from the public sector – including the UNDP, the German Agency for International Cooperation and NGOs like Revenue Watch Institute and Internews, amongst others.

Secondly – yes, we know. We take the pragmatic approach that even by best estimates, we will not have a post-hydrocarbon economy for at least another 30 years, and until then oil will be generating huge revenues. This money could (and should) be used for the benefit of the citizens of resource-rich countries: not to fuel wars, or keep dictators in power, but to improve citizens’ quality of life, and ensure a smoother transition to greener energy.

The focus should indeed be on renewables, but in many oil-producing countries, it is the money from oil that will be funding the development of other energy sources. If this money is being wasted or lost in corruption and anti-transparent practices, it only reduces the amount of money that can be invested into better, long-term solutions to providing energy access.

And thirdly – yes, we do have a lot of work to do, but it’s most definitely not a waste of time. Recently, we have been working on oil industry contracts and there have been some questions about the aim of that project and the ideal outcome. We calculated that if African governments were able, on average, to increase their take of their natural resource revenue by just one percent, that would be the same as increasing development aid funds by 20 percent.

The gargantuan size of the oil industry means that even the tiniest increase in transparency and improvement in management could have huge effects on the lives of millions: we and other NGOs and initiatives think this is definitely worth a try.

Addressing issues of transparency: Oil wikis

OpenOil also acts as a publishing house. This happened almost organically – in 2009, I worked with the founder of OpenOil, Johnny West, on a UNDP project creating a wiki on the Iraqi oil industry. It was written using Media Wiki software, following Wikipedia editing guidelines – no original research, more of ‘digital curation’, pulling together information that is out there but is somewhat inaccessible. When OpenOil started in 2011, the idea of creating oil wikis came up again, and together with it, the concept of self-publishing: pulling out pages from the wiki to create hard copy books, or “Oil Almanacs”.

We developed a larger project based on the wikis and the idea of using the wiki to create a wider knowledge community around the extractive industries on a country by country basis. First we create the structure, as well as a few articles, then we run workshops in country for journalists or civil society on how to add to and edit the wiki, as well as a few of the more complex issues in the oil industry. At the end of the project, we hand over ownership of the local language wiki to their institute or organisation, based on the premise that it is easier to maintain if it is housed within a stable organisation than within a group of individuals.

So far, we have developed wikis (see ) for Colombia (also in Spanish), Ghana, Iran, Iraq (also in Arabic), Libya, Niger (also in French), South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria. Work on building a Uganda wiki began just recently, as my colleague Amrit is in Kampala for the next 3 weeks, working with journalists from the Uganda Radio Network. All of the wikis are available on the internet, and we have printed out and distributed books in almost all of the relevant countries (except Iran and Niger so far).

Understanding oil contracts

Another main project has been around understanding oil contracts. As contract transparency is emerging as a norm of best practice, we wanted to provide people with a key tool to help understand complex contracts. The book was produced using the booksprint method, facilitated by Adam Hyde, founder of, which involved bringing together a group of 10 experts on the topic of oil contracts, and writing the book from start to finish in just one week. It has now been released under Creative Commons, and is free for download from our site.

We are now looking for ways to take this generic book forward, including running low-cost training courses, partnering with local organisations to produce country-specific versions, and expanding the scope of the book to include mining contracts. Next week, it will be distributed in Beirut to members of the Yemeni and Iraqi Publish What You Pay coalitions, as part of a workshop session on understanding contracts.

Other publishing ventures include a guide on publicly-available oil data, entitled Exploring Oil Data – A Reporter’s Handbook, which includes summaries of good blogs, Twitter feeds, consultancies and think tanks producing free materials, and a glossary of oil terms, also available now for download.

Ongoing projects include looking into the use of the flat rate dividend as a way of distributing oil wealth to citizens and getting rid of anti-poor fuel subsidies, as well as research papers on the Libyan oil industry. Through all of these efforts, we hope that combining an ‘open’ way of thinking to the secretive oil industry can have a positive effect on management of the industry, with knock on benefits to citizens of resource rich-countries.

To find out more about OpenOil, please go to or email zara.rahman(at) 


Launching the Open Sustainability Working Group

- December 6, 2012 in Announcements, Featured

This blog post is written by Jorge Zapico, researcher at the Center for Sustainable Communications at KTH The Royal Institute of Technology and Velichka Dimitrova, Project Coordinator for Economics and Energy at the Open Knowledge Foundation

Sign up to Open Sustainability

Sustainability is one of the most important challenges of our time. We are facing global environmental crises, such as climate change, resource depletion, deforestation, overfishing, eutrophication, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, environmental pollution, etc. We need to move towards a more sustainable and resilient society, that ensures the well-being of current and future generations, that allows us to progress while stewarding the finite resources and the ecosystems we depend on.

Data is needed to monitor the condition of the environment and to measure how we are performing and progressing (or not) towards sustainability. Transparency and feedback is key for good decision-making, for allowing accountability and for tracking and tuning performance. This is true both at an institutional level, such as working with national climate change goals; at a company level, such as deciding the materials for building a product; and at a personal level, deciding between chicken and salmon at the supermarket. However, most of the environmental information is closed, outdated, static, or/and in text documents that are not possible to process.

For instance, unlike gross domestic product (GDP) and other publicly available data, carbon dioxide emissions data is not published frequently and in disaggregated form. While the current international climate negotiations at Doha discuss joint global efforts for the reduction of greenhouse gas emission, climate data is not freely and widely available.

“Demand CO2 data!” urged Hans Rosling at the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki last September#, encouraging a data-driven discussion of energy and resources. “We can have climate change beyond our expectations, which we haven’t done anything in time for” said Rosling in outlining the biggest challenges of our time. Activists don’t even demand the data. Many countries, such as Sweden, show up for climate negotiations without having done their CO2 emissions reporting for many months. Our countries should report on climate data in order for us to see the big picture.

Sustainability data should be open and freely available so anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it. This data should be easy to access, both usable for the public but also accessible in standard machine-readable formats for enabling reuse and remix. And by sustainability data we do not mean only CO2 information, but all data that is necessary for measuring the state of, and changes in, the environment, and data which supports progress towards sustainability. This include a diversity of things like: scientific climate data and temperature records, environmental impact assessment of products and services, emissions and pollution information from companies and governments, energy production data or ecosystem health indicators.

To move towards this goal, we are founding a new Working Group on Open Sustainability, which seeks to:

  • advocate and promote the opening up of sustainability information and datasets
  • collect sustainability information and maintain a knowledge base of datasets
  • act as a support environment / hub for the development of community-driven projects
  • provide a neutral platform for working towards standards and harmonization of open sustainability data between different groups and projects.

The Open Sustainability Working Group is open for anyone to join. We hope to form an interdisciplinary network from a range of backgrounds such as academics, business people, civil servants, technologists, campaigners, consultants and those from NGOs and international institutions. Relevant areas of expertise include sustainability, industrial ecology, climate and environmental science, cleanweb development, ecological economics, social science, sustainability, energy, open data and transparency. Join the Open Sustainability Working Group by signing up to the mailing list to share your ideas and to contribute.

Creating a more sustainable society and mitigating climate change are some of the very hardest challenges we face. It will require us to collaborate, to create new knowledge together and new ways of doing things. We need open data about the state of the planet, we need transparency about emissions and the impact of products and industries, we need feedback and we need accountability. We want to leverage all the ideas, technologies and energy we can to prevent catastrophic environmental change.

This initiative was started by the OKFestival Open Knowledge and Sustainability and Green Hackathon team including Jorge Zapico, Hannes Ebner (The Centre for Sustainable Communications at KTH), James Smith (Cleanweb UK), Chris Adams (AMEE), Jack Townsend (Southampton University) and Velichka Dimitrova (Open Knowledge Foundation).