It's increasingly insufficient to think that more information leads to better decisions, or even a better informed public.
My entry into this world of tech, data and social good was via campaigning for the right to information. I still believe that’s a core and necessary part of what we do, but I also think we need to invest more into the layers after just accessing the information, and think more carefully about what skills we’re advocating for in data litearcy, and how.
I went to see Hidden Figures last week after being excited about it for a long time. There are a lot of reasons I loved it. Loooooved it. Go and see it. But it also made me think about the harder-to-tell parts of that story - insecurity, uncertainty and flaws.
When somebody asks me how I got to where I am, there are a few words I use generously: luck, serendipity and kind people. I want to give credit where it’s due, and acknowledge the people who helped me and supported me to get to where I am. If I’m honest, it also makes for a better story, too.
Part of me wants that tale I tell to be engaging and modest-sounding (I’m British! Boasting is Terrible). But that mythology I find myself trying to build up is probably harmful to others as well as myself.
Telling a story of finding a job in Berlin through luck, settling in here through the help of kind people, being in the right place at the right time through serendipity - that all gives a much easier impression of my career, of not trying too hard but finding my way. It’s charming, but not threatening. It’s also an incredibly gendered approach to talking about myself.
This year, I loosened my resolve to read only books by women, partly for practical reasons and partly to see if I could notice a difference when starting to read books by men. (Spoiler: most of the time, I can - if only thanks to terrible descriptions of women’s feelings or bodies.) I just about read fewer books than in previous years, but more pages, according to Goodreads.
I’ve put *s by my favourite picks, and lists of the books I read are under each section. Recommendations are always very welcome.
Inspired by my friend Lisa Rost’s ‘year in review’, here’s a summary of what I’ve been thinking and writing about this year.
A few weeks ago, I received the unexpected news that I’d been awarded a Shuttleworth Flash Grant - one of the Shuttleworth Foundation’s “small grants to a collection of social change agents, no strings attached, in support of their work.” They’re given to people nominated by existing fellows, and really do come with no strings attached.
I was happy to get it, and naturally it made me ask: what’s the most useful way of spending that money?
A few months ago I was talking to a (white, male) friend about the current political situation in Bangladesh. I was explaining how there had been crackdowns on freedom of expression, and that I knew of people who weren’t being as forthright with their opinions as they would otherwise be.
He said: “Wow- self-censorship. That’s terrible, that’s the first sign of an authoritarian state.”
I agreed. It is a bad sign - but what I didn’t say then, is that in reality I know of lots of people working in the sector I do, who regularly self-censor. People of colour, and women. Not for fear of a government or a politically restrictive state, but for fear of their future career development. The irony doesn’t escape me - we’re all for freedom of information, equality, social justice - but here we are.
It’s been just over two weeks since the US Presidential election, and like many around me, I’m still gathering my thoughts. At some point, I think I’d like to think more carefully about some of the things running around my head - but for now, here are some main thoughts, in no particular order.
“You cannot take what you have not given, and you must give yourself. You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
One of our great strengths is our ability to adapt to almost any situation, no matter how unusual it might seem at the start.
I’m coming up to two months in my fellowship at Data & Society, and I’m trying my best to appreciate it, and not take any of it for granted. The fact that I’m getting paid to read, learn, discuss and debate is still a little bit surreal!
One thing that I have been thinking a lot about is the privileges and the opportunities that the fellowship grants me. Along with the fantastic Data & Society network and community, it’s been such a nice break to be assigned reading lists and books in preparation for discussion groups, debates and seminars.
With that in mind - and as someone who thoroughly appreciates when others make curricula public - here’s everything that I’ve been assigned to read over the past two months.