A couple of weeks ago, I got together with Tim and Jonathan to review where we were and what we want to focus on over the next year.
We met at The Travel Café, which I would recommend as a small meeting space with great free coffee and lots of greenery near Waterloo. And we used a set of exercises from the brilliant Fun retrospectives site, namely:
- About the Work
- FLAP: Future direction, Lessons learned, Accomplishments and Problem areas
- Success criteria
Followed by trying to map out a rough timeline for the year.
This week one of my tasks has been to pull everything together. The biggest challenge and lesson from the past year is the issue of scaling and capacity, particularly growing in a way that enables us each to play to our strengths and have a work (and life) environment that is fulfilling and engaging, and not overwhelming.
One crucial hire this year is a Head of Delivery and Operations who can keep on top of our various commitments and give us a bit more capacity to be in thinking, writing and engagement modes rather than organisation, planning and administration modes. If you are, or know of, someone great at this, please get in touch.
The other reflection that we had was the utility of convening and coalition building.
We’ve had very positive feedback about the convening we’ve done across civil society over the past few months, around the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. I’ve written before about being struck by how many social justice organisations who don’t have a specific data or digital rights remit are nevertheless working on these issues; how invisible they were to me when I was at ODI; and how important their work is.
We want to do more to help bring those people and organisations together into a values-aligned – and powerful – coalition. And we want to see if we can take the same spirit of generous coalition building into other communities where it feels to us there is a need: practitioners, and those working around data governance at an international level.
So our second hire of the year, yet to be advertised, will be a Community Lead, to help us bring these networks together in safe spaces, through regular “Connected Conversations”, output-oriented Design Labs, and a fellowship programme.
During the conversation we had about convening communities, one of the things that we highlighted was our desire to be a generous convener.
Whenever you get people and organisations together in the room, there will be politics between them. Every organisation – and often the people within them as well – needs to think about how they achieve the impact they care about, get recognition for it, and crucially get more funding to enable them to continue to operate. The convener has considerable power to push their own agenda – which of course is one of the reasons organisations do convening.
While we do, obviously, have an agenda, we have an intention to be a generous convener. By this I mean that we will aim to consciously put the needs of the wider community first, and create space for other organisations to shine.
Generosity is a risky behaviour, because you open yourself up to exploitation. I’ve come to realise that we can only be generous because we are privileged. As an organisation we are in a relatively good financial position, thanks in particular to the Shuttleworth Foundation and Mohn Westlake Foundation for their generous unrestricted funding. And anyway we only intend to be around for another four years anyway, so it is more important for us that the field grows through our work than it is that we do as an organisation. (I note that this intention for the organisation to close is one I am able to adopt because of my own privilege – the security and confidence I have personally in being able to find something else to do afterwards.)
A challenge, then, is how to support a wider team, who might not have the same privilege (and should not, given we want to have a diverse team), to be similarly generous when acting on behalf of CONNECTED BY DATA. One thing we’re doing, for example, is only employing people, or engaging them as contractors, part time, which at least for some means they have time to develop other strings in their bow (such as freelance work, or additional qualifications). But I’m sure there’s more that we could do – providing opportunities for the wider team to build their own networks and reputations, particularly outside the convening spaces we hold, for example. These are things we need to work through in our existing team, and as we take on more people.
One last thing to mention is that we had the first meeting with our two current fellows, Kiito and Libby, this week. It was brilliant to bring these two together, and to discuss with them (and the rest of the team) topics like the meaning of ‘personal data’ and how to balance being a researcher with being an advocate or campaigner.
We’re keeping our fellowship programme very lightweight at the moment – we can’t afford to provide a stipend, so it’s really all about the connections, conversations and mentorship that we can provide – but if you’re interested, take a look at what we’re aiming for and do get in touch.