Town Hall

Openness and Open Data - "A new us" TEDxBrum2014

By: Judith Carr
Published: Thursday, November 20, 2014 - 16:36 GMT Jump to Comments

Judith Carr attended TEDxBrum. She was a little surprised and mightily pleased to find so many speakers talking on themes related to open data.

2014 is turning out to be a year of firsts for me, writing this column for one and now my first TEDx.

I have to admit to being very excited just buying the tickets, especially as it seemed fitting that TEDxBrum 2014 was going to be in the new library. I have been watching TEDs for a few years now, although recently this has tailed off. Mainly, because I find I get carried away and just like it is impossible to have one jaffa cake, I find it difficult to just watch one. Watching a TED is brain food and practically justifies the procrastination!

TEDx events are spin offs effectively of the main events which are huge affairs that last 3 + days, apparently. They (the TEDx events) are run by enthusiasts and volunteers; and it was great! They did a fantastic job. If there were hitches, who knew, to the audience it all went well. There seemed to me to be a great feeling of collaboration, curiosity and generosity between and among the volunteers, audience and speakers.

Disrupt, collaborate, share, do it yourself were messages that came through the talks. In the morning technology featured as a tool for innovation and change. Open data mentioned more than once. Later on in the day though, I was pleased that other talks did not continue on that theme; there was balance; the future is not all about technology but fundamentally people.

The diverse audience will take different things away from different speakers. For me though, thinking about the subjects I write about in this blog I want to mention the talk given by Indy Johar. The message that resonated with me and will stay with me is of connectivity and openness.

In a sense there already was some connectivity for me, for another morning speaker was Rick Robinson whose earlier talk had sparked my interest in open data, referred to in my second blog.

Indy Johar states that, open data, the concept and the actual data, is a tool towards openness. And I think this is very true; I think at present there is a tendency to stay in your particular camp. With government, local and central, continually asking the tech companies and organisations involved in open data; What do you want? What would be useful? Putting more emphasis on usage rather than collaboration and sharing. The underlying message being take and use, rather than collaborate, share, attribute, discuss, improve.

Defining everyone by their roles, whereas it is interactions that ought to be valued. Establishing interactions and a culture of collaboration means that local problems, problems that we don't know exist yet can be addressed, are reacted to more quickly. The data is already there, the connection has already been made or is easy to make. This is openness.

The big problems of today, such as climate change and the growing inequality in terms of wealth but also access to technology,education, etc, (you can't get much bigger than those) require an integrated approach, no one organisation or discipline can solve such problems.

Open data is a stepping stone to 'openness'; and this openness model requires, according to Johar, open protocols (can't get away from tech sounding vocabulary I'm afraid).

Great idea, but one question that should always be asked is who is setting up these protocols? For it is very easy when you work in new shiny tech land to assume that this is how everyone works, that your experiences are the norm. The rest of the world is hierarchical, where people have worked in such environments for years. Sharing and collaboration, valuing interactions with departments you have no direct relationship with takes time to develop.

Ask anyone who has gone on their company's intranet only to find that something another department has would be really useful, but you cannot access; sometimes this is as simple as a  list of departmental roles and names.

Johar mentions empathy. Just as the data a data provider opens increases in value if they empathise in some way with the user, those who take and use and do not attribute or share will not maximise value. Here we are talking about taking such concepts and ideas to the very coalface as it were; to ask those on the front line to engage and think about the other end of the open data interaction, be it data user or provider.

Not asking for much then? Well no, for Johar concludes by saying we need a 'new us'.

I did not attend TEDxBrum thinking that so many speakers would be talking on themes that related to open data, but I was pretty chuffed that they did. It validated my interest and enthusiasm.

Overall the speakers were excellent. Interspersed with performances, finishing with the excellent Lobster and dancing on the stage; I would have gone up there, honest, but my seat was in the middle of a row.

Indy Johar

TEDxBrum 2014 speakers

Listend to TEDxBrum 2014 speakers

TED – Ideas worth spreading -



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