Summer’s almost gone, Climate Watch is back

It may looked like all activity ceased during the summertime for Climate Watch. In some ways for some time and for good reasons, it actually did. But in fact most of this time has been full with activity, so here’s a much needed update.

Summer started with the Low Countries tour, which was incredibly useful in terms of connecting with potential affiliates, collaborators, and customers. Think Greenpeace, think award-winning investigative data journalists, think El Pais and Le Monde. And then there was the Climate Launchpad program, for which work was being done throughout the summertime, and deserves special mention. But first things first.

Keep calm and tackle climate change

Keep calm and tackle climate change

For some people in this space, the thought of a project like this looking for customers and going commercial seems strange, so some clarification is needed. As you may know, this project came along when some of us who work with the media industry were working on finding data to support an investigative article for earth day.

In other words, practising what Data Journalism is all about. Considering there are so many data sources out there, this should be a simple task. Except it isn’t for a number of reasons. So that’s when the thought “maybe there’s something that can be done about it” came along. What followed was a couple of hackathons, with NASA Space App Challenge being the one that made this project known to a number of people.

But here’s the problem: a complex project like Climate Watch requires a number of things to work. Not just on the technical side -not negligible at all- but mostly on the organizational and infrastructure side. Hackathons are nice and all, but if you have the illusion that you can produce complex software like this in a hackathon and it will actually work..forget about it.

Hackathons are a good way of testing an idea, prototyping and getting a bunch of people together, and in that way they worked for us. But to get a production-ready system you need lots of systematic work over time and a solid team in place. And that’s when the problems start. Why? Because these are things that are not easy to get, and there are different ideas as to how to get them.

There was a long round of discussion among Climate Watch members before the summer break about how to continue. Some of the members of Climate Watch wanted the project to continue on an open source basis, meaning that everyone involved would contribute pro bono whenever they have some spare time.

Our thesis in relation to that notion was and still is simple: whatever works. For us the most important thing is getting the work done so that Climate Watch can work in the real world. We have been open source enthusiasts, proponents and contributors for years. We relate to its ethos and its goals.

In our combined experience of over 30 years as professionals in IT, complex projects can only work over time when there is commitment, a skilled team with clear roles and organizational structure. These are not trivial things – they are actually much harder than you’d think. It’s not that it is not possible to have this in an open source project; it is, but it’s even harder than usual.

In our case, well, they are simply not there. And that is proven by the fact that it’s been months after the NASA Space App Challenge, and there’s been zero progress on the platform. That’s not because people are lazy or something, it’s simply because they have day jobs and families and all and it’s perfectly normal.

Plus we are many, diverse in many ways, and even though we have a culture and things in common we have not worked together as a team for long. All those things pose additional challenges. But in the end what matters is progress. And no progress made goes to prove that unless there is the opportunity for a core team to work full time on this, no progress will be made.

Which can only mean one thing: we have to think in terms of getting funding, getting a team to work on this, getting a business plan in place and so on. That does not necessarily exclude open source, but it means that open source or not, it has to be professional if it is going to work.

Climate Launchpad final

Climate Launchpad final

All of the above are under way, and Climate Launchpad was a big push in that direction. Although we did not “win”, in terms of being in the 3 teams that were chosen to participate in the final in Tallinn, loads of work was accomplished.

Business plans were validated, market research was conducted, pitches were developed, teams were built. Oh, and we did get to go on a cruise to Mykonos 🙂 The people organizing this were professional and friendly, the teams participating all grew on the way, and we like to think that everyone both gave and took something in this process, which in and by itself makes it a success.

So now what? There are a number of things going on on all fronts. Climate Watch is participating in the European Linked Data Award, as well as the Social Impact Award and is also active on other fronts, for which news will be provided in due time. There is also the technical development part, for which some progress has been made and there will be a big push in the coming period.

Stay tuned!