Jeni Tennison

Jeni Tennison

Jeni Tennison

I took the opportunity at the beginning of the week to review and adjust timelines in our strategic roadmap to better reflect when things are likely to happen given hiring delays. (Top tip, when planning, always expect hiring delays!) The biggest change was to push back when we do work around our proactive stories. I want our new Advocacy and campaign director to lead those; he’ll not be in place for another month and we need time to orient.

Theory of change and strategic focus

This also helped me review where I should be putting my efforts this month, and highlighted that I’d planned to start work around fundraising. The first step for that is putting together a two page concept note that’s easy to share with funders, and to provide clarity on what we’re actually asking for.

To help inform that, I spent a bit of time writing down what’s in my head about our theory of change, so that we have a starting point to critique and refine. I’m looking forward to having other people on the team to bring different perspectives and help sharpen it.

I also spent a bit of time thinking about scope and priorities, prompted by a conversation with Claudia Juech from the McGovern Foundation who asked which domains we were particularly interested in. This question dogged us at ODI as well: when you work on a general purpose technology like data, it’s hard to know what purposes to focus on: health? the climate crisis? transport? cities? Even framing bounds around topics can be hard.

Priorities can come from all sorts of places. They can come from a values-driven imperative – such as a belief that the climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing humanity, or a strong desire to tackle inequalities caused by poverty or racial injustice. They can come from a system analysis – I was particularly struck by an argument Bina Agarwal made at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy Annual Conference last week, namely that focusing on women’s rights would address a bunch of other problems, including health, poverty, and so on. Or they can be more practical: about where an organisation or the people within it has existing knowledge or contacts, or the things it’s easy to get funding for, or to avoid domains that other people are working on.

For Connected by Data, as well as all those factors, I think any domain focus needs to be driven by how it’s going to help us get our larger message across. These obviously have to be domains in which data is useful, and we’d want to work on things that advance one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals, but they also need to be, for example:

  • things that are relatable to by normal people, ie part of their day-to-day experience, so that they’re easy to understand
  • things that are currently inequitable, because again it’s injustices and inequalities that will drive action
  • things where decisions have community-level effects that are easy to grasp, perhaps because they have a local impact or a differential impact

We’ll need to do a bit more work to unpack these and other criteria to help identify domains to focus on (for example in our case studies and stories).

Other things

More outward-facing things this week have included catching up with Matt Davies and talking to Georgia Meyer about her PhD plans. I also presented about Connected by Data at a CDEI Teach-in. This was a similar presentation to the one I did for the Bennett Institute, but longer and with a bit less exclusive focus on public policy. More about that in the write-up.

Other than that, I continued working on my comparison of food and data regulation in the UK, which is nearing “complete first draft” stage. A lot of digging around in annual reports from both the ICO and FSA this week, to understand the different scales of their operations as I examined their approaches to enforcement. I’m hoping to get this into a state where I can share with friendly reviewers next week.

I’ve also been doing a bit of organisational admin, preparing for Tim to join next week, and for our offsite on May 25th, which the Ada Lovelace Institute are very kindly hosting for us. I’m planning that we’ll decamp to the pub at the end of the day, and would love to meet up with anyone who can make it.

Just a final heads up that I’m going to be speaking at the New Statesman / TechMonitor Digital Responsibility Symposium on Thursday next week, on a panel about the Future of the UK’s digital economy, in case you feel like joining.