Data Is A Social Object
In the Open Data arena people often ask if 'the people' are actually 'ready' to deal with the availability of data. Do we have the statistical skills, the coding skills, to make data useful?
In my presentations over the past 8 months I've positioned data as an object of sociality: it becomes the trigger for interaction, a trigger for the forming of connections between people. Much like photos are the social object of a site like Flickr.com, and videos are the social object of YouTube, or your daily activities are for Twitter.
The current best example of how data can be a social object is something John Sheridan showed at the Vienna Open Data Conference last June. All legislation information in the UK has been made available as linked open data. This makes it possible to reference specific paragraphs in laws.
In general law is generally regarded as boring and decidedly un-hip, but the availability of all this legal data as linked open data has a surprising effect: people are referencing specific paragraphs in their on-line conversations, for instance on Twitter. This is what you see in the screenshot below, where people link to specific parts of UK legal texts in the course of their conversation. From boring and useless texts (other than to legal minds that is), to the social object around which everyday conversation can revolve.
Data is a social object. It is a trigger for citizen participation that way, a new way for people to engage with their community. And, the other way around, participation (e.g. existing participatory processes, existing conversations) is a path to data use. From this basic starting point any newly needed skills will grow.