Who are we? Why are we trying to do this? Why spend our free time on starting a nonprofit?
Aubrie, Lisa, Rayna and I haven’t known each other all that long either; about a year now. We were brought together during an interdepartmental project where we each played a role in leading the work – some of us on the program development side and others on the evaluation side. From March to June 2016, we spent a LOT of time together and we clicked. We come from very different backgrounds and have different perspectives on the world. But, we really enjoy hashing out challenging problems together. We work well together and laugh a lot.
But why use our free time to start this organization you ask? The idea came from a number of conversations that Aubrie and I initially shared about open data, design, public policy and democracy. These conversations evolved alongside a stunning US election result, and Brexit.
We also recognized that increasingly governments around the world were opening up their information vaults to release large swathes of raw data; all to increased transparency. We began to see the opportunity that the open data movement has given business, academics and others. Unprecedented access to public data that could be used to inform the creation of data stories and data products (data visualizations, infographics, maps, apps, etc…). Surely, these events might be game changers in the age of information.
At the same time, Aubrie and I also had big questions about the open data movement and who was best positioned to benefit? We wondered whether the benefits of increased access to open data would be shared equitably across society? We were also interested in understanding whether broad based access to open data might help people get engaged in decision-making, in their own organizations and more broadly? Better yet, how might the open data movement translate into transparent participatory decision-making for multiple sectors? But are there sectors being left out with open data? Are there sectors that don’t have resources or time to locate the data in the open data portals, to analyze it and to engage their stakeholders in conversations about it? Does the data resonate with them? Is there inherent value to be leveraged or extracted? Is there a way to make it easier to access the data and to use it to engage people in making sense of it? And could we do something to facilitate this?
At the same time, Lisa, Rayna, and I were engaged in a human-centred design course. We were exploring social enterprise and the benefits of intergenerational connections to increase success of those enterprises. But more importantly we were learning about a design process that focuses on people. The process collects and uses data to test hypotheses and prototypes to create tangible products and services that make a real difference in people’s lives.
Question after question; debate after debate, eventually our conversations converged. As a team we landed on a few insights. First, we think that transparent participatory decision-making is a good thing. Second, we think that data and engaging people to make sense of the data is central to transparent and participatory decision-making. Third, we think that data visualization and visual interfaces are a key step in the development of knowledge – we think a map makes the most sense (at least initially). Fourth, we think that data used in the decision making needs to be contextualized by human experiences; while data can be fantastic starting point for important conversations it needs to be viewed, understood and interpreted in its human context. Finally, we think we can create a platform where by users can transform visually appealing data into contextualized intelligence through a transparent engagement process.
We are embarking on a journey to make data and engagement accessible and we want you to come along with us. Subscribe and share our blog, follow us on twitter or contact us directly. We want to hear from you. You’ll be hearing from us again soon! Together we can do this!