Weeknotes – May 13th 2022

[Cross-posted from Connected by Data blog]

It’s been a busy week, not least because on Wednesday the project I was working on just before joining the Connected by data team, the Global Data Barometer, had its launch event. Alongside sharing, celebrating and reflecting on the Barometer, I’ve been digging deep into the development of a schema for our work to gather examples of collective data governance, and I’ve been thinking about potential events and convenings Connected by data might be part of in the coming year. Plus writing up some thoughts on what the implementation of social audits for India’s rural employment scheme in Andhra Pradesh can teach us about data governance, an initial bit of work on fundraising, and sending the first of many emails out to set up conversations with researchers I’m hoping to get some input from.

Cases, components and templates

I’ve been going through daily iterations to develop the structure for our case study database, taking a couple of different approaches to explore the right prompts, categories and structures that might create a useful library of collective data governance examples. I’ve been exploring:

  • adding the classification categories, and library of methods, from Participedia as lookup tables, and using them as a starting point, but adding/expanding categories when needed. This has been particularly useful when it comes to methods, as when I’m considering coding a case against a given method I can check the detailed Participedia description to check whether the code is appropriate. I’ve also set-up one-click searching so I can see if the way I initially think a category should be used matches how it has been used by Participedia contributors.

Case database draft schema

  • coding up one case each day, and, if needed, modifying the case database schema to capture it better, before going back to re-code existing cases with the modifications. This has led to a ‘case’, ‘component’ and ‘method’ separation, so that any case of collective data governance might involve multiple components (e.g. design workshops; citizens jury & opinion polling), and these are each treated as particular cases of applying one or more participatory methods.
  • drafting user stories (‘As an X I need Y so that Z’) to get a clearer sense of who the case database is for, and why. Thinking about the categories and data that users might actually want provides a useful counterbalance to the temptation to keep adding fields and more nuance when starting from reading diverse individual cases.
  • writing out a templated summary paragraph for a case, and then working out the different variables needed to populate it. I’ve found it particularly useful to then frame the prompts in the case database around these sentence components, making it easier to think about how each category will be used when the case database is made available to others.

Screenshot of templated summary paragraph

Next week I’ll be trying to get a few more cases documented, and then to start exploring strategies to make sure we cover a wide range of kinds of examples. Right now, the examples I’ve coded up, and those in the pipeline, have a strong leaning towards participatory processes that generate quite general recommendations, rather than processes that directly shape or make specific data governance decisions.

Events and outreach

I started the week by registering forRightsCon, which is taking place online from 6 – 10th June. It’s a long time since I’ve been able to focus on attending a conference, rather than juggling logging into one or two virtual sessions between other work, so I’m looking forward to that.

On our discord I raised the possibility of proposing a workshop to the 2022 Internet Governance Forum on Collective Data Governance, and I’ll be sketching that out more next week and looking to see if we have potential collaborators.

We’ve also been starting to think about other potential events or outreach activities we might want to plan for, and I’ve done some initial work on research fundraising strategy: although realising I’ve got quite a bit of work to do in order to identify how to best track research funding opportunities that are well-aligned with what we want to do.

Participation, pluralism and the public good

I put out a thread of reflections on the launch of the Global Data Barometer, but want to pick up in particular on one in these notes. The Barometer study is framed around “data for the public good”. One of the big conceptual challenges for the design of the project which was taking place in 2019/2020, was balancing demands for cross-country comparison, with an openness to diversity of data governance, provision and use practices.

In the introduction to the report we wrote:

“Fundamentally, our approach to the public good recognizes that the construction of public good is an ongoing, unfinished and contested process. “


“There are many publics, many different visions of how society should be organized, and there are many views on the goals we should individually and collectively work towards.”

But, particularly after starting to read a copy of Pluriverse – a post development dictionary which arrived last week, I’m not sure the more pluralist ambitions of the project were fully realised (understandably so). With hindsight, and the framings of Connected by data, I suspect some of that might have been addressed by giving greater prominence to questions of participation in metrics on data governance.

However, the Barometer method also required each metric to make reference to globally agreed norms or principles that would support country assessment on that point. This raises the interesting question of which global norms can already ground a collective and participatory model of data governance, and where there are significant policy gaps that might need addressing to put communities at the heart of data governance.

Other reading this week

  • Bussu, S. et al. (2022) ‘Embedding participatory governance’, Critical Policy Studies – a compelling case to talk about embedding, rather than (or in addition to) institutionalising participatory governance, considering temporal (sustained over time), spatial (including presence of participation in different decision making spaces) and practice (habitual recourse to participatory process) dimensions of embeddedness.
  • Van de Velde, L. (2022) Gender and Beneficial Ownership Transparency– paper from Open Ownership that explores some of the tensions in designing datasets, particularly when it comes to the potential for data collected for one task (beneficial ownership transparency), to be used for other public goods (e.g. promoting greater gender equity in enterprise). I’m curious how a more collective and participatory data governance lens might help address some of the issues the paper explores. But – ran out of time to explore that in depth.

New role & weeknotes: we are connected by data

[Summary: new role focussing on participatory data governance, and starting to write weeknotes]

Last week I started a new role as Research Director for Connected by data, a new non-profit established by Jeni Tennison to focus on shifting narratives and practice around data governance. It’s a dream job for me, not least for the opportunity to work with Jeni, but also because it brings together two strands that have been woven throughout my work, but that I’ve rarely been able to bring together so clearly: governance of technology and participatory practice.

You can find the Connected by data strategic vision and roadmap here describing our mission to “put community at the centre of data narratives, practices and policies”, and our goals to work on challenging individual frameworks of data ownership, whilst showing how collective models offer a clearer way forward. We’ll also be developing practical guidance that helps organisations to adopt collective and participatory decision making practice, and a key focus for the first few weeks of my work is on building a library of potential case studies to learn from in identifying what works in the design of more participatory data governance.

Jeni’s organisational designs for Connected by data include a strong commitment to working in the open, and one of the practices we’re going to be exploring is having all team members produce public ‘weeknotes’ summarising activities, and most importantly, learning from the week. You can find the full of weeknotes over here, but in the interests of trying to capture my learning here too (and inviting any feedback from anyone still following this blog), I’ll try and remember to cross-post here too.

Last week’s weeknotes (6th May)

Hello! It’s the end of my first week as Research Director (and with the May day holiday in the UK, it’s been a short week too). I’ve been getting stuck into the research strand of the roadmap, as well as checking off some of the more logistical tasks like getting different calendars to talk to each other (calmcalendar to the rescue), posting my Bio on the website here, and setting up new systems. On that note, thanks to Jeni for the tip on logseq which seems to be working really nicely for me so far as both a knowledge-base, and a journal for keeping track of what’s happened each week to make writing up weeknotes easier.

The week has been bookended by scoping out how we’ll develop case studies of where organisations have adopted participatory approaches in data governance. I’ve started an AirTable dataset of potential case leads, and have been looking at if/how we could align some of our data collection with the data model used by Participedia (an open wiki of participation cases and methods). Over the next few weeks I’m anticipating an iterative process of working out the questions we need to ask about each case, and the kinds of classifications of cases we want to apply.

The middle of the week was focussed on responding to a new publication from the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data’s Data Values Project: a white paper on Reimagining Data and Power. The paper adopts a focus on collective engagement with data, and on participatory approaches to data design, collection, governance and use, very much aligned with the Connected by data agenda. Not only was the paper a source of a number of potential case study examples, but it also prompted a number of useful questions I’m hoping to explore more in coming weeks around the importance/role of data literacy in participatory data governance, and the interaction of what the paper terms ‘informal’ participatory models, with formal models of regulation and governance. Some of those thoughts are captured in this twitter thread about the report, and this draft response to the Data Values Project consultation call for feedback.

I also spent some time reviewing Jeni’s paper on ‘What food regulation teaches us about data governance’, and reflecting in particular on how the food analogy works in the context of international trade, and cross-border flows.

Finally, I’ve been helping the Global Data Barometer team put some finishing touches to the first edition report which will (finally!) launch next week. Although I handed over the reigns on the Global Data Barometer project to Silvana Fumega in the middle of last year, I’ve been back working on the final report since December: both on the data analysis and writing, and, trying (not always successfully) to have a reproducible workflow from data to report. Data governance is one of the key pillars of the report: although in the first edition there is relatively little said about _participatory _approaches, at least on the data creation and governance side. I’ll aim to write a bit more about that next week, and to explore whether there are missing global metrics that might help us understand how far a more collective approach to data is adopted or enacted around the world.