Jonathan Smith

Jonathan Smith

Jonathan Smith

So this was my first week as the new Advocacy and Campaign Director at CONNECTED BY DATA. It’s also my first set of weeknotes. Writing a weekly reflection on what’s happening is relatively new to me, and then publishing it for all to read is completely new, so I’m just (slightly trepidatiously) working out how to best use it. Jeni was clear, it’s a very open thing and not to worry, so I’m going to go with that and see what happens!

Meeting the team

The highlight of the week was actually meeting Tim and Jeni in person at our first strategy day together. As I’d only talked to them both online, even during the interview process, it was great to finally put some flesh and blood to their pixel forms. It was also a little nerve wracking as it was actually only Day 3 and I had to run two sessions on ‘our people’ and ‘our story’ (which ended up as one with a bit of collective in-flight reprioritisation)

One of Jeni’s main aims was to use the day to start our team building, so talking through who we are, how we work and our collective values was massively useful and already felt incredibly open, supportive and aligned – surely a good sign of things to come! I also appreciated Tim and Jeni’s candidness about their own strengths and weaknesses which made it much easier for me, as the very newest, to do the same.

Our people

The one exercise I ended up having to lead, came after discussing Jeni’s initial proposed theory of change. This looked at Our People: those who need change; those we want to influence; those we want to work with.

These were key questions we’d spent a lot of time on at Shelter, where I worked previously, particularly from a community organising perspective. They ask who it is we are here to serve, what are the problems they face and how to drive change alongside them.

For all of us, it prompted some interesting debates, especially on how we bring the people, injustice and emotion to the heart of the work we do and from that build the core story we want to tell about the need for collective community governance of big data and AI. Really adding the ‘who and why’ to the ‘how’.

We also began an interesting discussion on who has the power to make change, whether that’s a focus on changing practice within existing structures of power, policy and resource allocation or whether that’s actually shifting those structures. Plus what role CONNECTED BY DATA should play in this, particularly as generous strategists, connectors and conveners. It very much felt like a beginning with lots to do - but totally fascinating to be diving in!

What the public think

As part of the day, Aidan from the Ada Lovelace Institute came and gave a great overview of his work around public understanding and attitudes to data and AI. What particularly struck me is how you can’t really separate the public’s attitude to the ‘tech’ from the institution - for example (as I understood it) trust in the NHS and tech/data sharing is high because people see the NHS as about delivering collective good and trust diminishes as their perception of the collective good diminishes. It was interesting to reflect on what that means and if you need to think about how institutions (government, civil society or corporate) are governed in the future as much as the data.

Data newbie

Finally as I’m new to the ‘data world’ please be patient. It’s absolutely fascinating: I’ve been consumed by a great starter reading list Jeni sent me (happy to share) and working though what’s on the CONNECTED BY DATA web site, but I know I’ve got a lot to learn. Although that does give me permission to ask some of those very basic questions with innocence and impunity… at least for now.