First, a confession. I have been really struggling with writing weeknotes, as have Tim and Jonathan. Fitting them in amongst everything else is difficult, especially when only working part time. We had our monthly meetup this week (more below) and decided we’d set the bar too high. Our weeknotes have been a place for exploring ideas, and sometimes writing those ideas up just takes longer than a week. It also means that content is not very findable. So we made the decision to experiment with a shorter and simpler form of weeknotes: three brief takeaways in no more than 500 words (and preferably much less).
Here’s mine from this week.
We spent our monthly meetup at the Ada Lovelace Institute offices (thank you!) and were joined by Melis and Anna from their team, as well as Libby and Josh for a workshop in the morning. Libby talked us through some research she’s been doing for us about data stories in the media and the degree to which they reflect collective impacts. I found it particularly interesting how the framing of the story can prompt particular types of action (eg stories about errors in data might prompt the idea of correcting data or the idea that systems should be designed with an “innocent until proven guilty” assumption).
In the afternoon, we analysed six data stories that we like and examined the messages that could be drawn out of them, as well as their narrative structure. Our discussion coalesced around the idea of a “missing middle” in the prescriptions made by these stories: they either focus on exercising individual control, or calls for greater transparency. We think there’s a third thing: contextual collective action by and with affected communities.
Then we wrapped up with a fun, if sobering, exercise of listing all the arguments against the collective, democratic, participatory data governance approaches that we’re trying to advocate for, which we need to address.
The busy body challenge
I had a few conversations this week which picked up on one of those arguments, namely the practicality of participation, particularly in resource-restricted settings. Put simply, organisations with experience of engaging with communities, for example through open forums, often find the experience a fractious one where loud, non-representative, voices dominate and distract.
Unsurprisingly, there are techniques that have been developed in participatory practice that can handle this phenomenon, in particular through more structured processes that go out of their way to bring together a more diverse set of voices in a more deliberative frame. But it highlighted this as an important topic to put some guidance around.
British data protection
Our work around the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill (DPDIB) both progressed and stalled this week. We published a write-up of the workshop we held last week, and arranged some follow-on conversations about it. But then Michelle Donelan’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference sowed a great deal of confusion about whether DPDIB would even be going ahead in its current form. Pieces have been written by Jon Baines and Pinsent Masons. I enjoyed myself getting argumentative in an op-ed which we submitted to the FT, but they get a lot so I don’t know if it’ll be published there or we’ll find another venue.
Dammit, that’s more than 500 words.