I had a busy start to the week with two trips into London, and a frustrating end to it, waking up on Friday morning without any power (or heat) in my house, just as a cold snap hit the UK. The latter made me think a lot about those hit badly by the cost of living crisis, and having to choose between heating and eating. Talking of which, I noticed Stuart Lowe put together a warm spaces finder.
We held a parliamentary roundtable on Monday evening, in part about the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill but also more widely about the role of data in automated decision making, in work and in schools.
I always get really anxious about events, particularly about whether people will show up in the first place, and have a worthwhile time. I’ve learned that things will always go wrong; in this case we had a number of people drop out at the last minute, including speakers, and the tech really didn’t work (the Lords provided an old Windows laptop which didn’t have Zoom installed and whose touchpad stopped working). We’d hoped to get some parliamentarians along but – aside from our wonderful chair Lord Tim Clement-Jones, and Lord Ralph Lucas, we didn’t. (The fact the Brown Commission report launch was the same evening probably didn’t help!)
But we did fill the room, the speakers were fantastic, and I was really pleased that taking the slightly unusual angles that we did (thinking about data in work and in schools) worked really well. A lot of the work we do around data tends to be very general, so focusing on particular topic areas, particularly ones that have such an impact on our lives, helps to ground the discussion. Plus those who work in those areas are so knowledgeable and thoughtful, and often have insights borne of real experience.
For example, one observation about data in schools was that it’s not really possible for individual children to opt out of using particular edtech software such as Google Classroom, but also that individual schools don’t really have the capability to assess the data and privacy impacts of adopting those kinds of tools. In other countries the collective decision making about edtech adoption has been made at the level of the ministry. That might not be the right choice in the UK (particularly given the Department for Education’s poor track record on data), but someone needs to take on that role.
It was great to see the overlaps between the areas as well, such as the observation that edtech gathers data about teachers (who are workers) as much as pupils.
And more widely, we’re getting follow-ups from a variety of people and organisations, because holding the event gave an excuse for getting in touch with them, so in the round it was worthwhile. Expect a write up soon.
D Group lunch
On Tuesday I was in London again as I’d been invited as an expert speaker to a lunch being held by the D Group as part of their briefings programme (check out that diversity!).
I had to speak for 15 minutes and then answer questions. It was interesting because the audience – executives in national and international businesses – isn’t one that we’ve been particularly thinking about or targeting as yet. So this was an opportunity to test out the argument and messages on a new audience.
All in all it went down pretty well I think. The people around the table seemed interested and engaged. There were some questions about the practicalities, and about whether public participation would encourage risk aversion (I argued it would do the opposite; that risk aversion stems from being worried about public response and if you’ve tested and adapted your plans with the public, you have less to worry about).
There was also an interesting question about what software suppliers into government could do to encourage government to be more open and engage the public more, given that the public reaction often rebounds on those companies even when they’re just doing what the public bodies are telling them to do. I argued that suppliers have power in these relationships, and that they could and should use them to act in both their own and the government’s best interests, and lead them through good practice as part of their methodology.
Hopefully I’ll get a chance to write up some of what I said over the next few weeks…