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Open data is an attitude

Danielle Knight from Superflux standing at a lecturn delivering a presentation
I walked away from ODI Leeds after the Northern Lands Data Summit optimistic and overflowing with new information to take back to our Studio in London. The day had flown by thanks to a fantastically curated pace and multidisciplinary line-up. Throughout the event, conversation flowed between artists, ambassadors, academics, data architects and Amazon employees.

My main takeaway from the day was this: open data is an outlook, an attitude, a philosophy. And, it is about people and society. How you practice openness with data depends entirely on your context and what you want and have to share, or learn. Open data is simple: it is about a willingness to connect and share with others.

Even though opening up to the outside world can make us feel vulnerable, transparency often brings more possibilities than problems. On top of that, intentionally sharing data is a way to radically counterbalance corporations often opaque access and commodification of our personal data. Collectively, we can change the future culture around data by behaving intentionally: sharing data with others who can use it for positive progress. Open data works because of social cognitive evolution; psychologically we have learned it makes sense to share.There are many reasons why we have learned to be open and cooperate with others: mutually beneficial cooperation, reciprocal altruism, and the indirect benefits of altruistic cooperation.

What data you choose to be transparent with, is up to you. You can take the radical route like Netherlands non-profit Radically Open Security who share everything publicly on GitHub their projects for reuse, invoicing and client communications. This level of transparency has helped them build trust and engagement. Or, you can share very specific data like Kenny Pool from Dell and the Big Data Innovation Hub who advocate open data for smart cities, such as smart rain barrels on flat Dutch roofs to store water and prevent flooding.

Beyond open data in business and society, Leeds-based artist Akeelah Bertram introduced us to the idea of being more open with personal data. Akeelah uses data in the form of audio, video and images to present her family history through an interactive map. Her installation Depart/Return on show at the summit sensed and collected movement data - a portal for attendees to step through. The work represented the Door of No Return in Ghana where centuries ago millions of Africans slaves were shipped away from home and their families.

During breakout sessions in the afternoon, my favourite example of open data was the Mapping Mobility in Stockport project from Open Data Manchester, who crowdsourced data about accessibility issues in Stockport to update Open Street Map and help people with mobility issues get from A to B more easily to fill the user gap left by Citymapper and Google Maps.

Big thank you to ODI Leeds for inviting me to speak and participate. And for the most delicious Punjabi pudding at lunch from the infamous Manjits Kitchen.

The Northernlands Data & Startup Summit was made possible with generous support from amazing organisations:

  • Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • Amazon Web Services
  • KPMG
  • Leeds International Festival
  • Leeds City Council
  • Oakland Group