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Who Will Shape the Future of the Data Society?

- October 5, 2016 in data infrastructures, Events, Featured, Featured Project, iodc16, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, research

This piece was originally posted on the blog of the International Open Data Conference 2016, which takes place in Madrid, 6-7th October 2016. The contemporary world is held together by a vast and overlapping fabric of information systems. These information systems do not only tell us things about the world around us. They also play a central role in organising many different aspects of our lives. They are not only instruments of knowledge, but also engines of change. But what kind of change will they bring? Contemporary data infrastructures are the result of hundreds of years of work and thought. In charting the development of these infrastructures we can learn about the rise and fall not only of the different methods, technologies and standards implicated in the making of data, but also about the articulation of different kinds of social, political, economic and cultural worlds: different kinds of “data worlds”. future-data-pablo Beyond the rows and columns of data tables, the development of data infrastructures tell tales of the emergence of the world economy and global institutions; different ways of classifying populations; different ways of managing finances and evaluating performance; different programmes to reform and restructure public institutions; and how all kinds of issues and concerns are rendered into quantitative portraits in relation to which progress can be charted – from gender equality to child mortality, biodiversity to broadband access, unemployment to urban ecology. The transnational network assembled in Madrid for the International Open Data Conference has the opportunity to play a significant role in shaping the future of these data worlds. Many of those present have made huge contributions towards an agenda of opening up datasets and developing capacities to use them. Thanks to these efforts there is now global momentum around open data amongst international organisations, national governments, local administrations and civil society groups – which will have an enduring impact on how data is made public. Perhaps, around a decade after the first stirrings of interest in what we know know as “open data”, it is time to have a broader conversation around not only the opening up and use of datasets, but also the making of data infrastructures: of what issues are rendered into data and how, and the kinds of dynamics of collective life that these infrastructures give rise to. How might we increase public deliberation around the calibration and direction of these engines of change? Anyone involved with the creation of official data will be well aware that this is not a trivial proposition. Not least because of the huge amount of effort and expense that can be incurred in everything from developing standards, commissioning IT systems, organising consultation processes and running the social, technical and administrative systems which can be required to create and maintain even the smallest and simplest of datasets. Reshaping data worlds can be slow and painstaking work. But unless we instate processes to ensure alignment between data infrastructures and the concerns of their various publics, we risk sustaining systems which are at best disconnected from and at worst damaging towards those whom they are intended to benefit. What might such social shaping of data infrastructures look like? Luckily there is no shortage of recent examples – from civil society groups campaigning for changes in existing information systems (such as advocacy around the UK’s company register), to cases of citizen and civil society data leading to changes in official data collection practices, to the emergence of new tools and methods to work with, challenge and articulate alternatives to official data. Official data can also be augmented by “born digital” data derived from a variety of different platforms, sources and devices which can be creatively repurposed in the service of studying and securing progress around different issues. While there is a great deal of experimentation with data infrastructures “in the wild”, how might institutions learn from these initiatives in order to make public data infrastructures more responsive to their publics? How can we open up new spaces for participation and deliberation around official information systems at the same time as building on the processes and standards which have developed over decades to ensure the quality, integrity and comparability of official data? How might participatory design methods be applied to involve different publics in the making of public data? How might official data be layered with other “born digital” data sources to develop a richer picture around issues that matter? How do we develop the social, technical and methodological capacities required to enable more people to take part not just in using datasets, but also reshaping data worlds? Addressing these questions will be crucial to the development of a new phase of the open data movement – from the opening up of datasets to the opening up of data infrastructures. Public institutions may find they have not only new users, but new potential contributors and collaborators as the sites where public data is made begin to multiply and extend outside of the public sector – raising new issues and challenges related to the design, governance and political economics of public information systems. The development of new institutional processes, policies and practices to increase democratic engagement around data infrastructures may be more time consuming than some of the comparatively simpler steps that institutions can take to open up their datasets. But further work in this area is vital to secure progress on a wide range of issues – from tackling tax base erosion to tracking progress towards commitments made at the recent Paris climate negotiations. As a modest contribution to advancing research and practice around these issues, a new initiative called the Public Data Lab is forming to convene researchers, institutions and civil society groups with an interest in the making of data infrastructures, as well as the development of capacities that are required for more people to not only take part in the data society, but also to more meaningfully participate in shaping its future.

Registration to the Open Exchange for Social Change – IODC unconference is now open!

- August 8, 2016 in Events, International Open Data Conference, iodc16, Open Data, Open Knowledge, unconference

We are excited to announce that registration is open for ‘The Open Exchange for Social Change’. This event has been referred to in the past as ‘The Unconference’ during the flurry of pre-event IOCD Madrid announcements made over the past few weeks.   The response has already been amazing on social media, and we have received many inquiries about the event itself. We decided to name it The Open Exchange for Social Change so we can be open and transparent about our goals for the event  The name ‘The Open Exchange’ reflects the guiding principles along with the activities that will take place during in the event.  We aim to create space where participants will be able to exchange knowledge, understanding and build solidarity that will lead to better outcomes for IODC and beyond.  It is open space where you will be able to propose topics for discussion that are most relevant and urgent for your work. iodc16-basic-verticalThe theme that we chose for this year is ‘Social Change’. We want to more than just “open data” and reflect on the change we are all passionately involved in.  By ‘social’ we mean different and diverse aspects of our lives – from politics, the communities we interact with, to our relationships with the environment, the financial world and even space. We want to explore how open data creates, contributes and supports social change. How do we create positive or negative change and what we should do next?  Your ideas and actions will serve as content for the main conference, and help us to set the goals for the IODC roadmap.    To have a successful Open Exchange, we created the ‘Buddy system’. Buddies are participants who take an active role in contributing and shaping the event to assure its smooth running and success. Buddies can do following parts:
  • Leading/Facilitating a session
  • Supporting new facilitators to run sessions
  • Help to document the event and session outcomes
  • Making sure that the unconference will feed the main conference by using your social media skills
To support your contribution as a Buddy, we will be providing an online session where we will give an overview of The Open Exchange, and tips on Facilitation. OKfestUnThe lead facilitator of the unconference is Dirk Slater from Fabriders. Dirk has years of experience in facilitating participatory events, and leading successful workshops that focus on civil society and technology, and we are excited to have him on board and share with us the secrets to successful events focused on collaboration. Anyone who comes to The Open Exchange will be able to facilitate a session.  We invite you to register as a buddy ahead of time so that we can prepare and support you as best we can. If you are interested in joining to The Open Exchange for Social Change, please register to the event in advance on http://open-exchange.net/. You can also find on the site all the information you need about the event. Didn’t find what you are looking for? Write to us on the forum – https://discuss.okfn.org/c/iodc-unconference   Looking forward seeing you on the 4th of October, 9:30 at Centro de convenciones IFEMA NORTE, Madrid!