We’ve been finishing off some work we’ve been doing for Natalie Byrom at the Justice Lab (within the Legal Education Foundation) to evaluate the Justice Data Matters public engagement and think about next steps.
One of the recommendations is about looking at participation pathways, which Tim has discussed before. He took the angle of providing a gradually increasing depth of participation for individual participants. So someone might start off with just sending in a comment on what an organisation is doing, but then might get more and more involved in its governance, to eventually become an active member of a governance panel, for example.
Going back to the source meant that I looked at the pathway more from the perspective of an organisation on the journey of enabling deeper and deeper public participation in its activities. There is a progression, from listening to people who speak up, through actively seeking feedback, up to enabling co-creation of some data processes or policies.
Each level requires different kinds of activities. To enable people to comment on what you’re doing with data, you need transparency, contact details and so on. Co-creation requires binding citizen assemblies, or equal participation on governance boards and panels. It’s easy to see this as a kind of ladder or staircase, as if you leave the previous modes of engagement behind as you take on more in-depth participation. But I think it’s better to think of them as added layers of participation methods, all of which are useful because they each require different levels and types of knowledge and commitment from participants.
I was one of the speakers at a roundtable at the Internet Governance Forum 2022, talking about data justice. I as usual talked about communities being involved in data governance, and one of the questions came from Helani Galpaya (with whom I serve on the Board of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data). She noted that she was a member of multiple communities – a woman, Asian, middle class and so on – and in some of those the community decision makers might not represent her interests. So where should her data be stewarded? Who should make decisions on her behalf.
This made me realise a difference between the kind of data trust / fiduciary / consent management models that various people are advocating for, and the participatory models that I’ve got in my mind. In those models, you have to choose a fiduciary to hold data about you, and then anyone who wants to access that data goes through them. Which means you have to choose which fiduciary you trust to make decisions for you – a bit like choosing which Mastodon server to have an account with – and which community (or communities) you want to be part of. In this model, the data springs from the community, and then might be accessed and used in multiple ways.
The models I have in mind when I talk about community participation are much more oriented around the data and its use, and the people who need to participate in governance arise based on that. So if an organisation is collecting and using data to create applications that affect women, then they should include (a diverse set of) women in the decision making about that data and application; if it’s affecting cyclists, then (a diverse set of) cyclists; and so on. This isn’t to say that communities can’t organise to steward data about themselves, just that (as I discussed in my last weeknotes), I believe that the primary reason for doing that should be to create insight for the community, rather than to share on with others.