Jeni Tennison

Jeni Tennison

Jeni Tennison

Top three things from this week…

Conflict avoidance

When I started working at the Open Data Institute, one of the things that I recognised about myself was that I really didn’t like conflict and would therefore avoid it, most often by not having a particularly strong position in the first place, or giving way and gently smoothing things over, or by simply avoiding the people that I was in conflict with.

Of course that approach isn’t great for either getting things done or long term relationships. One of the harder lessons I learned while at the ODI was to get more in tune with my opinions, be more assertive about expressing them, and to address conflicts earlier and more directly.

One of the interesting things working with my colleagues at Connected by Data now is that I find I’m not avoiding conflict, in part because I’ve learned not to, and in part because I trust them (and as you’ll know from Five Dysfunctions of a Team, trust is the foundation for constructive conflict).

What I’m less good at is expressing conflict kindly, and stepping out or back from conversations when I find myself getting frustrated. On Tuesday, I watched myself become the kind of boss I don’t want to be: dismissive, rude, and shutting down exploratory discussions. It was only afterwards that I was able to pick apart why: partially because I was carrying tiredness and stress from home (looking after a puppy is exhausting); partially because of legitimate concerns about progress; and partially because of defensive reactions to perceived slights.

I picked this up afterwards and apologised – again learning the lesson not to let these things fester – but I wish I’d been able to step back more effectively during the discussion; this is plainly the next thing for me to work on!

In person chats

On a cheerier note, it was lovely to catch up with Rachel Adams from Research ICT Africa, and with Astha Kapoor from the Aapti Institute, in person in London on Tuesday. This was the first time I’d seen Astha in person, despite working with her on a number of projects over the last couple of years, so that was particularly lovely. She also pointed me to this interesting post about flocking behaviour on social media which is worth a read.

Future of data challenge

Another task this week has been judging some of the entries for the Omidyar Network Future of Data Challenge. Obviously I can’t talk too much about it, particularly individual entries. One observation, though: several of the entries I was looking at weren’t reimagining the data economy so much as they were reimagining the economy (or how relationships between entities in the economy work), with new flows or access to data and information being a large part of that reimagination.

It’s not just that knowledge is power (though it is), it’s that our relationships are mediated by and shaped by data, such that changing those flows modifies and creates new relationships. And it seems particularly powerful when the insights we get when data flows to us are not just about ourselves as individuals, but about us as a collective or community, particularly when that provides new opportunities for negotiation.

We should be careful not to wax too lyrical about this, however. One of the things Astha and I discussed was her experience with a farmer data cooperative, where it really isn’t clear how the value of bringing together data from members gets realised. Ideas here include:

  • use by the cooperative itself to improve bulk purchasing of inputs (eg seeds, fertiliser) with discounts that are passed on to members
  • use by the cooperative itself to provide insights based on collective data (eg benchmarking) back to members in a way that improves their ability to make money (eg their productivity, price setting for their products, individual bargaining for inputs such as fertiliser)
  • enhanced collective bargaining eg for better loan or insurance rates, where the loan and insurance providers use the data as a way of understanding risk and valuing their products; this requires those providers to value the data being provided (to trust it, to find it useful) and for the increased understanding of risk to decrease the price for cooperative members (which doesn’t appear to be guaranteed)
  • enabling the cooperative to get better prices for food products when they are coupled with supply chain data as a value add; there are greater demands for supply chain data so it’s feasible that intermediaries and retailers will pay more for products where they don’t have to gather that data themselves (but this again relies on the data being trusted)
  • direct sale of data to information brokers or other actors, who might use it for market insight or targeting; the issue with this is that once sold the cooperative would have very little control over its use

I would love to see more examples and evidence that data being collected and stewarded by communities is something that third parties trust and value. My hunch is that cooperatives gaining value for their members more directly is going to be a more reliable model; but this requires coops to invest in data analysis expertise as well, which is a big ask too.

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