Asimov and data revelation mechanisms

Thu Dec 2, 2021
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The Open Data Institute (ODI)’s Public Policy team is undertaking an ambitious new international project, called ‘Experimentalism and the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. We are exploring how data policymakers and data practitioners can work in more innovative and experimental ways to adapt to, and leverage, the fast-moving societal and economic challenges and opportunities around new data availability and associated digital technologies.

The project runs in three parallel workstreams named after sci fi writers. This workstream is named after Isaac Asimov and focuses on experimentation and innovation opportunities and needs for the UK as it charts a post-Brexit future. 

This is part 2, which focuses on practical opportunities for innovation and experimentation in data policy and practice.

From revolutions to revelations

Isaac Asimov once observed that uncertainty that stems from knowledge – when you know what you don’t know – is different to uncertainty resulting from ignorance.

Part 1 of our project established some key questions for exploration:

When should we experiment?

  • What might be the role of experimentation when we are in fast-changing or uncertain parameters?
  • What might be the role of experimentation when the stakes for action or inaction are high?What might be the role of experimentation when resources are scarce

How should we experiment?

  • How do we define a hypothesis or goal when navigating unprecedented circumstances?
  • How can cross-sector collaboration play a role in the experimental process?

These were the starting point for Part 2.

On 30 November 2021, the ODI in partnership with The GovLab and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Local convened an online roundtable of international representatives from government, academia, business and civil society for candid and constructive exploration of practical opportunities around practical opportunities for experimentation and innovation in cities. For city-level authorities, being closer to communities can generate policy insights and innovations that wouldn’t emerge on a national level. The proximity of local authorities and municipalities to communities can allow for the delivery of more tailored data policies, customised to particular local needs, sensitive to context, and potentially more inclusive and representative of demographic and socioeconomic nuance.

We’re sharing some of the insights from the meeting here to open up the learnings and broaden the discussion.

Roundtable provocations

Introduction: Asimov and data revelation mechanisms – Dr Mahlet (“Milly”) Zimeta, Head of Public Policy, ODI

Some key questions:

  • When might it be appropriate for an intervention to be adapted and to become an experiment?
  • Can a national data/AI strategy be created from combinations of local data/AI strategies?
  • What can multilaterals and regional blocs adapt or learn from localism in data or AI policy and practice?

Keynote: Data as a Generative Good: Possibilities and Pitfalls – Aaron Maniam, Deputy Secretary (Industry & Information), Ministry of Communications & Information, Singapore

Some key questions:

  • Should data products and services be regulated in the same way that we regulate non-data products and services? Can they be?
  • Might there be generative methods for generative goods like data?
  • How can we prevent, mitigate, or reverse ‘the Matthew Effect’ in data ecosystems of more benefit going to those who already benefit the most?

Provocation 1: Experimentation and Innovation in Local Data Ecosystems – Rudi Borrmann, Lead, Open Government Partnership Local

Some key questions:

  • What are the risks of trying to manage cities through dashboards?
  • What are the values and skills that should underpin digital transformation projects?
  • What are the disadvantages to conceiving of data/AI localism only in terms of the Global North?

Provocation 2: Experimentation and Innovation in Sector Data Ecosystems – Jarmo Suomisto, Project Manager, Helsinki 3D+

Some key questions:

  • What is the shift between sharing data and showing what data can do?
  • Aside from digital twins, what other data technologies should we use to help us reach net zero?
  • How could we improve the responsible sharing of data by cities for academic or industry access in the UK?
  • Through what channels should governments be communicating about their strategic goals with their citizens?

Provocation 3: Experimentation and Innovation in Data/AI Governance – Professor Stefaan Verhulst, Co-Founder & Chief Research and Development Officer, The GovLab, NYU Tandon

Some key questions:

  • Who should decide the purpose of AI, and how?
  • What are the questions we should be asking about the governance of data and AI?  How can we tell if these are the right questions?
  • How might AI localism better support diverse local populations and minority communities?

Get involved

We’ve created a short summary note with a distillation of the high-level themes and observations that emerged in discussion. It’s available here as a ‘living document’, and we welcome and encourage reader comments on it, as part of a community of practice, and to inform how the project develops.

The summary note also includes a Resource Guide that we hope you find useful, and that you can contribute to. If you would like to explore any of these ideas and opportunities further with any of the event partners, or in collaboration with us, we’d be keen to hear from you. Some immediate practical opportunities might be around ODI Research Fellowships and engaging with the ODI’s data ecosystems and innovation work, contributing questions to the 100 Questions Initiative by The GovLab, building a repository of city-level approaches to AI governance as part of the AI Localism project, experimenting with collaborative annotation platforms such as Hypothesis with The GovLab, and participating in the OGP Sandbox to be launched in December 2021.

Find out more about the project and sign up to the project mailing list here, contact the team at experimentalism@theodi.org, or look out for our news on Twitter: @ODIHQ