The week started with the backlash following Harry Styles’ win at the Grammys. Obi and I were talking about how these award shows lack democratic legitimacy and why (if so) they remain relevant. Regardless of my opinion on the matter, reading some of the justifications from the Grammy voters was enlightening and concerning. They reveal reasoning processes fueled by individual perspectives and oblivious to anything beyond the voters’ personal background - which helps resonate demands for more representation and inclusivity amongst the voters.
That got me reflecting on the importance of a collective approach when it comes to governance - even beyond data. On how democratic deliberation seems to be the only resource we have right now to challenge power dynamics so deep and naturalised that they might become hard to spot for many. The historic discriminatory effects of the U.S. Intellectual Property Law on Black artists is a well-known example.
These issues go further than the subjectivity of art creation, as they are reproduced in knowledge creation and academia, too. While I was advancing on our case studies database, I was reading about the First Nations Information Governance Centre in Canada and some of the history that culminated in its foundation:
“Between 1982 and 1985, University of British Columbia (UBC) researcher Dr. Richard (Ryk) Ward took 883 vials of blood from the Nuuchah-nulth people under the guise of a $330,000 Health Canada–funded study of arthritis among the nation. In 1986, Ward left UBC and moved to the University of Utah and then to Oxford University, taking the blood samples with him, collecting research grants, and furthering his own academic career. He subsequently published over 200 research reports based on the blood samples in areas as diverse as HIV/AIDS and population genetics. Ward even used the blood samples to support his theories about migration across the Bering Strait, entirely disrespecting and undermining the Nuuchah-nulth traditional beliefs about Creation.” (Wiwchar D (2004). Nuu-chah-nulth blood returns to the west coast. Ha-Shilth-Sa 31(25)).
Without giving too many spoilers, through a cultural framework, amongst other initiatives, they have been making sure that these communities’ values and necessities are put at the centre of research and throughout the whole process: from the research project to the data governance and publications afterward.
These concerns also resonate with the creator of ChatGPT’s main question moving ahead with this trending technology: “How do you govern the use of AI in a way that’s aligned with human values?”. They just pose a follow-up equally important question: whose values?
I look forward to sharing the stories we have gathered in our database. They show how creativity and experimentalism can help challenge outdated structures and build trust in a given system. But they also have challenged me to reflect on these aspects in other areas of my life, from ensuring representation in my data protection course syllabus to questioning the types of content I’ve been consuming myself.
As we often reference at Connected by Data: ultimately, everything is about power.