(Mid-)weeknotes – 1st June 2022

[Cross-posted from Connected by Data blog]

These weeknotes are falling a little late, but as the Jubilee double bank holiday in the UK means it’s now a really short-week, I’ll cover two weeks for the price of one, while trying to focus in on just a few themes from the last 12 days of CONNECTED BY DATA work.

Narrative, Policy & Practice

A big focus of last week was our first team day. Besides being fantastic to properly meet my new colleague Jonathan, and have the day working face-to-face with Jeni and Jonathan, we were able to take a deep-dive into some of our Theory of Change, and to think about what it means to frame CONNECTED BY DATA as a campaign.

One of the key insights for me from the day was to more clearly articulate our position as a ‘bridge’. It’s not that there is a shortage of great thinking and experimentation out there about taking more collective approaches to data governance, nor that there is an absence of policy appetite for addressing data governance challenges. The gap to be addressed is arguably around testing, translating and communicating how data can be done differently. As Jeni has explored in her weeknotes, this involves being able to better articulate both the manifest harms from current data practices, and less tangible impacts that come from the data traces of our lives being treated as a natural resource for commercial exploitation.

I have the feeling that focussing on this bridging role will be really important to scope our future research work, and identify the kinds of activities that fit well within CONNECTED BY DATA , and those that we might support and work on with partners, but not directly lead on.

Framing governance & decision making

In a couple of conversations in the last two weeks, including a research design session with the team at Research ICT Africa, I’ve been feeling the need for a clearer conceptual map of where data governance decisions are made. In short, I’m looking to have a clearer articulation of the activities that data governance addresses (data collection, design, analysis, use, sharing, etc.), and the particular tools of governance, such as setting principles and policies, operational decision making, oversight, scrutiny and evaluation.

In thinking about what it means to make decisions more participatory, I’ve spent a bit of time looking back over my past work on youth participation: in particular a 2008 Open University Study Guide that accompanied a chapter in Leading Work with Young People. One of the study activities we included there was to ask youth workers to document every decision made as part of a recent event or session, and then to work out which were the decisions that mattered. The point was to emphasise that empowerment does not come from simply sharing every decision: but involves working out which decisions need to be shared, and what kind of participatory process there needs to be around them.

I was also struck reading Katya Abazajian’s critique of the use of Open 311 data (which, incidentally, hints at many broader issues of collective data governance) by the discussion of how the way questions are framed significantly shapes the outcomes.

We also touched on this point a little at our team day when Aidan Peppin from the Ada Lovelace Institute joined and shared insights from the public dialogues and citizen’s juries that he has been involved in. While some dialogues have led to participants adopting quite collective language for thinking about their _data, others have taken a more individualistic tone. As Jonathan has explored, some of this seems to be to do with how people feel about the _institutions behind the data. It also appears related to the framing of the subject matter being considered (health data vs. location data for example). However, I’m curious as to whether there are particular ways to sensitively offer collective language into public dialogues on data.

I had a go at thinking about this in providing some asynchronous feedback into the stakeholder group for a Data Stewardship Dialogue being run by the Open Data Institute for the NHS AI Lab, where I tried to draw out the distinction between ‘collective decision making’, in terms of decisions made by a group (but where participants may still be making their decisions based on individualism and self-interest, and the outcome might be based on simple majority voting for example), and ‘decision making for collective benefit’, where the process encourages greater thinking about our interdependence.

Building on all of this, in the next few weeks I’ll be seeking out, or sketching out, some sort of small methodological tools that might help with better mapping out and describing the detail of data governance decision making, to sharpen up how we both research existing practice, and how we frame our vision of what future policy and practice should be.

Other things

  • I was left scrambling a bit on Tuesday when my main work computer, just about to be used to webcast a community meeting hosted at the lovely Stroud Brewery, had a run-in with a pint of ale. It’s at the repair shop hopefully drying out – but thank goodness for backups (apart, frustratingly, for five hours worth of data governance literature review write-up).
  • I’ve submitted our proposal for a session on Collective Data Governance at the Internet Governance Forum (thanks to everyone who contributed!), and have been in conversations about a few other convening opportunities around research and policy, including chats with Christian Perone from ITS Rio, and Preeti Raghunath from Monash University.
  • It was great to connect with other Datasphere Initiative fellows for our monthly meeting on Friday – where we were also hearing from Martin Pompéry of SINE Foundation on some of their work deploying both technical and organisational approaches to govern data sharing for carbon emission reporting across supply chains.
  • I’ve been listening to this interview between Divya Siddarth and Douglas Rushkoff on Team Human, which offers some great insights into how tech communities are drawing on concepts of co-ops, commons and the pluriverse, including weaving it into the Declaration on the Interdependence of Cyberspace.
  • I’m looking forward to being a delegate at RightsCon next week, and have been starting to put together a list of sessions to tune into over the week, as well as planning to keep my diary a bit more open for ad-hoc remote-conferencing connections.

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