Northernlands - Explore session

With curious minds fed in both a mental and physical way, the afternoon of the Northernlands Data & Startup Summit was devoted to taking action. People could attend one of three different sessions that all ran concurrently in different rooms throughout the space:

  • citizens, data, and so what?
  • data and technical demonstrations
  • data, trust, and ethics

People were free to move between sessions and everything was kept quite relaxed. Each session was led by an ODI Leeds team member (or otherwise responsible and knowledgeable person) to help guide discussions or organise the demos.

Data, Trust, and Ethics - Led by Jeni Tennison (ODI) and Julian Tait (Open Data Manchester)

The ODI had released their research about data trusts only a few weeks earlier, so Jeni Tennison (CEO of the ODI) was perfectly placed to lead this session. Asking those difficult but necessary questions surrounding data - especially personal data - this group sought open discussion rather than definitive answers. When it comes to data and ethics, there might not even be a 'right answer', but shades of appropriate use. IIf your data could contribute to the 'greater good', would you feel comfortable if other people used it? Is it ethical to NOT use data when it could be life-saving? Are we being told enough about how our data is used? And if we knew fully how our data is used, would we still give or refuse consent?

Data and Technical Demos - Led by Tom Forth (ODI Leeds and imactivate)

Kindly sponsored by Oakland Group, this session had a format similar to the morning, where people with demonstrations and slides could talk for up to 15 mins about their work and then answer a few questions. As varied as the morning, speakers came from a variety of organisations and had interesting things to share. Matt Sweeney from aql - a Leeds-based company that began life providing hosting and domain services and now specialises in telecoms and 'connected things' - showed off one of the experimental projects that they have embarked on in response to the plastic crisis. Refillable bottles and water stations were already on the rise ahead of landmark public engagement with plastics in the oceans but aql were curious to see just how much they were being used. Using IoT sensors fitted to special water fountains, they could measure how much water was passing through the fountain (presumably into refillable bottles). Nathan and James from Arup showed us they have been using game engines to help visualise complex analysis and maintenance of existing spaces. The 'Arup Maintain' application allows contractors to simply update the works that have been carried out, reducing the amount of paperwork and speeding up record-keeping, whilst 'Delta' is almost like a 'light siumlator' for clients. In their example, Delta was deployed to demonstrate the effect of lighting in an airport terminal. Clients could adjust the variables in real time on the app and see the effects.

Dan Cookson talked about his popular data visualisations, particularly about housing in the UK. He is a big advocate for using interactivity or animation to help people better engage with maps, and wants to be an example to other people that you don't need to know how to code to produce interesting work. He didn't write a single line of code to create any of his maps! Tom Forth took a break from hosting to rattle through some of his recent work (in less than 30 seconds no less!) in particular talking about the link to poor transport and a city's potential productivity. From there we moved to Stuart Lowe from ODI Leeds and his hex appeal - yes, we just had to talk about hex maps and how they were involved in the Parliament petition that broke the internet. He spoke briefly about the origin of the hex maps that we use at ODI Leeds and why they can combat a lot of problems caused by visual bias. And then he went through the lightning-fast series of events surrounding the 'Revoke Article 50' petition, from the first share right through to how he worked to alleviate the stress on both the petitions website and our own. He wrote a detailed blog post all about it. Sophie Walker from Dsposal talked about absolute rubbish - no really, she talked about waste management and the need for a data standard to help track waste. The waste management system is remarkably connected but Sophie discovered that it is woefully behind the times with analogue paperwork and very little digital integration. Hoping that simply educating people and helping the analogue system switch to digital would be the key to innovation was a bit naive (Sophie's admission) but the steep learning curve has been worth it to discover the potential. Her focus now is working towards an open waste data standard.

Citizens, Data, and...So What? - Led by Paul Connell (ODI Leeds)

This session was guided by Paul Connell from ODI Leeds, who was there to prompt discussions about the future of citizens and data - engagement, collection, citizen-science, and more. Stephen Blackburn from Leeds City Council and Data Mill North spoke about the often overlooked aspect of digital services - what about those people who can't access or use digital products? There are still a significant number of people who don't have internet access and even more who don't have 'digital skills.' It's easy to think about digital skills as coding, programming, etc, but it now encompasses a lot of the activities that we take for granted, such as managing a utility account online or using a smartphone to stay in touch with family. How do we design products and services that can still reach these people? And is the reliance on charities and tablet lending schemes sustainable? Taking us to high-concept places, Professor Andrew Cooper from Leeds Beckett University started a discussion about data as a 'language of dissent' and a way for people to reclaim ownership and autonomy. He said that data has the potential to be a method of talking about ourselves without defining ourselves simply as 'things that produce data.' With data portability and data trusts becoming integral to discussions about data ownership and privacy, this topic did throw up very interesting thoughts about what it means to own our data, in a practical and conceptual sense.

Mr Gee concludes the day
Credit: Mark Bickerdike for ODI Leeds

Everyone was brought back to the main space for a final performance from Mr Gee, who had created a brand new piece in response to the day's talks and conversations.

A land of many Norths, (healing the hive)
We can become consumers of our own division,
No matter how hard we multiply,
To be another closed mind that simply adds,
To the subtraction of our times,
Yet theories of accommodation,
Require unlocking of conversations,
Adjusting for pause, pitch & syntax,
To understand pronunciation,
Because the climates; they are-a-changing,
This is a Land of many Norths,
A sky of many Northern delights,
With Northern Stars to chart their course,
For who should decide the laws,
To procure the portals of our minds?
Beyond the point of no return,
To keep the bee, lets heal the hive,
Lets be responsible for our own A.I.

As Androids dream of electric Sheep,
As Karma records our orbiting voices,
Drawn to Datas Gravity,
Lets be responsible for our own Northern Stories,
Told with Bolder honesty,
So the intangible value that lies within us,
Connects with broader Synergy,
So can I learn from expertise in Leeds?
Can I keep in touch with the Dutch,
Theres always something refreshing in Yorkshire,
Because London's water sucks(!)
Is that being radically open enough?
It might seem like I'm hacking my own closed system,
But Nobody knows everything.
Everybody knows something,
The futures calling, let us listen.

And with that, the Northernlands Summit was all wrapped up! People could stay to chat and network over a chilled drink whilst the ODI Leeds team - and all of their collaborators on the day - recovered their strength ahead of 'the great tidy up.' We'd like to thank again the support and input of the event sponsors:

  • Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • Amazon Web Services
  • KPMG
  • Leeds International Festival
  • Leeds City Council
  • Oakland Group
But the work is never really done when it comes to an event of this scale and ambition...because the event was never the endgame. It was an output that people could experience and get excited about, a tangible thing for intangible thoughts. With discussions started and ideas sparked, the worst thing that could happen would be for energy to fizzle out.

Our job now is to keep that energy going. We hope you feel the same and want to join us as we explore different futures with new partners and possibilities. #RadicallyOpen