Le Guin and data questions

Fri Jul 15, 2022
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The Open Data Institute (ODI)’s Public Policy team is undertaking an ambitious 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 Ursula Le Guin and focuses on marginalised communities in North America and Europe as data and digital pioneers. 

This is part 3, which explores the evaluation and assessment stage of data policy and practice, and how innovation and experimentation here might support better questions and therefore better answers.

The right questions

In Always Coming Home (1985), Ursula Le Guin observes: “There’s no right answer to the wrong question.” In Part 3 of this workstream, we explored the evaluation and assessment stage of data policy and practice, and how innovation and experimentation here might support better questions and therefore better answers.

On 21 June 2022, the ODI in partnership with Latinx In AI and the Good Systems grand challenge at the University of Texas at Austin convened an international online roundtable of representatives from government, academia, business and civil society. We explored critical perspectives on evaluation, evidence and valuation in data policy and practice.

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

Roundtable provocations

Introduction – Dr Mahlet (“Milly”) Zimeta, Head of Public Policy, ODI

Some key questions:

  • Is the development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution being shaped by the right questions?
  • What are the questions that we should be asking about or for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Keynote – Os Keyes, writer and scholar, University of Washington

Some key questions:

  • How can marginalised communities in data policy and practice balance critique and hope?
  • How can marginalised communities in data policy and practice adapt or evolve traditional tools of resistance and advocacy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
  • What are the ways in which current data policy and practice might be imposing models of normativity on marginalised communities?

Provocation 1: Evaluation – Davey Jose, artist

Some key questions:

  • What might the particular opportunities be for people with disabilities to experiment with emerging digital technologies?
  • If AI is the ultimate thinking machine, is virtual reality (VR) the ultimate empathy machine?
  • Can VR, as an emerging digital technology, develop on a better trajectory than AI?

Provocation 2: Evidence – Dr Omar U. Flórez, Latinx In AI

Some key questions:

  • Is mathematical space agnostic?  If so, how can this be used to create level playing fields with AI and online spaces?
  • Can digital technology be politically neutral?
  • In data and digital ecosystems, how can we distinguish between things that can be addressed with quick fixes vs things that are deeper systemic issues?

Provocation 3: Valuation – Professor S Craig Watkins, School of Journalism and Media, University of Texas at Austin

Some key questions:

  • How can marginalised populations mobilise around digital technologies?
  • How can marginalised communities that drive and sustain online cultural movements convert this into influence over the policies of digital platforms?
  • How can marginalised communities that drive and sustain online cultural movements convert this into broader economic power?

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 the ODI (for example through an ODI research fellowship), we’d be keen to hear from you.

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.