Jonathan Smith

Jonathan Smith

Jonathan Smith

These notes cover a couple of weeks. I don’t seem to have found Jeni and Tim’s rhythm yet - but fortnightly seems ok at the moment. Otherwise I’ll be in danger of repeating myself, which is something I’m occasionally accused of…

It’s certainly continuing to be a fascinating journey getting into the issues - understanding the nuances around Data, AI, platforms, the politics involved and who runs what and more. Thanks particularly to Renate Samson at The Centre for Public Data for spending her afternoon helping me get my head around things.

It’s also struck me again about what it means to be in at the start of something, especially as someone who has spent quite a lot of time in the ‘big NGO’ world. So when you ask ‘what’s our policy solution for this?’ and you find you need to go and develop it! Or even, ‘what’s our policy on holiday or health and safety or recruiting freelancers?’ and the response is, ‘can you go and write it’!! But hey I think that’s half of the fun.

Not neutral?

Possibly the most interesting thing for me over the last few days has been thinking about and talking to Tim and Jeni about the difference between us being a research think tank exploring problems, or a consultancy providing participation solutions for the tech industry or government, or a campaigning organisation with a clear justice stance.

I’ve been trying to ask these questions so we can collectively get our heads around what it might mean for Connected by Data in practice, but also so I can start to draft some topline positioning and messaging for the organisation to help us frame our comms and campaigns going forward.

My aim with this is to lay out, at a top level, the change we are here to make, the communities we are working to serve and the solutions that involve those communities having more say in the governance and use of the data that tracks, shapes and impacts their lives. Also what role we as Connected by Data see ourselves playing in the ecosystem of that change.

Jeni has suggested I do this very much from a campaigning perspective, and not to hold back on the polemic in the first draft, which is a great challenge. Then we’ll test through with each other and some friends.

Who are we for?

One of the things this has also really usefully dovetailed into and hopefully helped inform, is the thinking we are doing on the societal sectors we are going to focus on over the next year: those that heavily use data and impact on people’s lives such as debt and finance, health, education, etc, as well as the areas of practice in these we want to both document, support and challenge.

This has been particularly interesting for me as these areas will be key to which people we support to tell their stories, as well as providing the evidence around the problems, injustices and solutions we’ll look to share with the world. (You can read more about the criteria we chose to help us select sectors in Jeni’s week notes).

Jeni and Tim both suggested I read the excellent report from the Ada Lovelace Institute on participatory data stewardship. Having recently been very involved in setting up Community Organising at Shelter, this prompted lots of reflection around the need for participation to also consider power and accountability – it’s great to listen to what communities want, but how do you ensure they also have the power to hold institutions and companies accountable, especially where power is often so unbalanced? I went back to look at some community organising thinking around this, where thoughts of power are very central. Suspect I’ll be coming back to this a lot. (Here’s a great intro and tool kit from Action Network if you need one.)

Practical strategy

Alongside our focus sectors, we’ve been talking and thinking about what is happening in the immediate real world that we need to both respond to and help drive. One big area we are looking at strategically is how we engage with the forthcoming Data Reform Bill. It’s a big bit of legislation with some serious possible implications for communities’ involvement in data and AI governance and identifying our focus points, such as Legitimate Interest, is going to be key. That’s something I’m going to be chatting to various people about over the next few weeks and doing some proper planning for. Our aim is to be ready for the autumn when it seems things might start happening again with a possible First Reading – though with politics and the world as they are at the moment, things may just shift, so we need to be prepared.

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