Jeni Tennison

Jeni Tennison

Jeni Tennison

I spent this week in a lovely hideaway near Madrid, along with around 40 other people who are part of the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship, as part of their annual Gathering.

We’re not supposed to talk about what happens at the Gathering, so that it’s possible for us to be open during the sessions there, so I’m only going to reflect on it here in the vaguest of terms.

Community-building data

A number of Shuttleworth Fellows work with communities as they stand up to injustice and powerful vested interests, from pharma companies to oil conglomerates to manufacturers who won’t give you the parts you need to fix your dishwasher.

Sometimes collecting and stewarding data is part of this work. This is frequently used as counterdata: data that reflects the lived experience of the communities affected by these powerful organisations, helping them to organise and campaign.

But the act of collecting and stewarding data can also be a community-building activity. It can be a locus around which communities form and that provides an opportunity to build relationships, make joint sense of the world, and create a shared vision for the future.

We need to design data governance that doesn’t just build community data, but builds communities.

Elegant endings

The Shuttleworth Foundation is closing down and this was the last Gathering, so unsurprisingly the joy of spending quality time together was tinged with sadness and uncertainty about the future. Different people were processing this differently and in different stages of grief.

I’ve said that CONNECTED BY DATA is a campaign rather than an organisation and will only run for five years. Recent conversations have made me think about how to plan for that ending, and what might come afterwards. I’m looking forward to working through the Stewarding Loss toolkits to help with this.

Being with people

I am an introvert and in many ways it’s been nice over the past few years not to be able to have much social contact with people. I generally find it draining, especially in large groups and with unstructured interactions.

So going to the Gathering was daunting for me, especially being new to the group, being there for an entire week, and being without a wingman. (I find it a lot easier to cope when I have a good friend with me.)

I was really grateful, then, that the organisers structured the days with plenty of time I could choose to be alone, and with some structured activities that enabled me to get to know people without having to navigate much small talk. And particularly thankful for the people who played Bananagrams with me, or just let me sit and listen and laugh with them. I didn’t participate in everything but I didn’t feel left out by not doing so.

It was a good week. I made new friends and connections, including potential work collaborations. I really appreciated the amazing food and beautiful surroundings. And I both laughed a lot and learned a lot with an amazing group of people.

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