2016: what I've been writing and thinking about

27 December 2016

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.

How the things we take for granted matter a lot: From physical infrastructure, to communities, to rights. I wrote about how the open data movement depends on the right to know - which is where I got my entry into this whole world of tech and data, nearly ten years ago, with Access Info Europe. More recently, earlier this week I wrote about how we need to support communities we trust, and people with skills we depend on, like Global Voices.

What our responsibilities are: I was in the UK for Brexit, and then in the US for the aftermath of the US Presidential election. Both made me unbelievably sad. I wrote about how I think the civic tech movement could have done a lot better when it came to helping people understand the issues behind Brexit, evolving from pretending to being “neutral” to standing up for the politics that we believe in. I went to the AWID Forum in September, where I realised that for lots of people, personal responsibility is part of a much broader narrative. I heard from climate change activists who connected their activism with a sense of responsibility both to their ancestors and the next generations. As I wrote, I find that inspiring, but daunting too. After the US elections, those feelings of responsibility went more micro for me, thinking about what our own personal responsibilities are against normalising terrible behaviour.

How data can practically affect (or even change) power structures: Early in the year, I wrote for the Guardian’s Global Development network about how women’s rights initiatives around the world are gathering their own data to measure what matters to them. I worry that data/tech social change initiatives ignore the systemic issues underlying the topics they’re addressing, which often have to do with power structures which are much harder to change. How can data + tech actually go deeper and affect systemic issues rather than superficial ones?

Information accessibility and visibility: It baffles me that so much work goes into, for example, investigative journalism - on the investigation and research side. But on the communication side, it might just go up online, in a long article, just like lots of other pieces. This year I thought about how to communicate information in a useful way. This also made me think about how I, myself, get the information that I want to see - so I wrote about being intentional about what’s in my own network. Along those lines, I focused my reading (as with the previous two years, 2015 and 2014) on books by women, and minorities. I created this list of Women tech critics, with lots of crowdsourced suggestions, after realising how many of the ‘critical’ tech perspectives I came across, were by men.

Different information formats: I got more interested in newsletters and podcasts, and I wrote about the role of newsletters as a ‘safe space’ in community building. Personally, I started a newsletter on Responsible Data topics, Mission:Responsible. I also started listening to podcasts more this year. After producing various research pieces this year, I prioritised producing posters, slidedecks and offering to do webinars explaining them in an effort to make sure they reach their intended audience.

Insecurity, vulnerability and strength: I realised that feeling insecure or “imposter syndrome” is actually a pretty logical and rational reaction to years of patriarchal systems.- which is in part why I think my tolerance for unfair behaviour also decreased (see previous piece on personal responsibilities against normalising terrible behaviour. Recognising that took me a while, though, and earlier this year (after conversations with many women, especially my good friend Danna) I thought a lot about how the image we project differs from how we feel, and why. Essentially, displaying vulnerability as a way of displaying strength - admitting weakness and imperfection, sharing hurt and pain, as I wrote about here.

Over the coming months, I’m especially interested in thinking more about immigration and the experience of immigrant families, technology and its role in patriarchal power structures (strengthening? weakening?), and what actually changes people’s minds - comedy, satire, art? Watch this space!


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