Last week I attended Techfestival in Copenhagen. I participated in a day long Public Data Summit. This posting are thoughts and notes based on some of what was discussed during that Public Data Summit.

Techfestival.co Public Data SummitGroup work at the Public Data Summit

Martin von Haller Groenbaek (we go back in open data a long time) provided an interesting lightning talk at the start of the Public Data Summit. He posited that in order to realise the full potential of open (government) data, we probably need to be more relaxed in sharing personal data as well.

There is a case to be made, I agree. In energy transition for instance your (real time) personal electricity use is likely key information. The aggregated yearly usage of you and at least 10 neighbours e.g. the Dutch electricity networks make available is not useless by far, but lacks the granularity, the direct connection to real people’s daily lives to be truly valuable for anything of practical use.

I agree with the notion that more person related data needs to come into play. Martin talked about it in terms of balancing priority, if you want to fix climate change, or another key societal issue, personal data protection can’t be absolute.

Now this sounds a bit like “we need your personal data to fight terrorism” which then gets translated “give me your fingerprints or your safety and security is compromised”, yet that is both an edge case and an example of the types of discussions needed to find the balancing point, to avoid false dilemma’s or better yet prevent reductionism towards ineffective simplicity (such as is the case with terrorism, where all sense of proportionality is abandoned). The balancing point is where the sweet spot of addressing the right level of complexity is. In the case of terrorism the personal data sharing discussion is framed as “you’re either with us, or with the terrorists” to quote Bush jr., a framing in absolutes and inviting a cascade of scope creep.

To me this is a valuable discussion to be had, to determine when and where sharing your personal data is a useful contribution to the common good or even should be part of a public good. Currently that ‘for the common good’ part is not in play mostly. We’re leaking personal data all over the tech platforms we use, without much awareness of its extend or how it is being used. We do know these data are not being used for the common good as it’s in no-one’s business model. This public good / common good thinking was central to our group work in the Public Data Summit during the rest of the day too.

Martin mentioned the GDPR as a good thing, certainly for his business as a lawyer, but also as a problematic one. Specifically he criticised the notion of owning personal data, and being able to trade it as a commodity based on that ownership. I agree, for multiple reasons. One being that a huge amount of our personal data is not directly created or held by me, as it is data about behavioural patterns, like where my phone has been, where I used my debit card, the things I click, the time I spent on pages, the thumbprint of my specific browser and plugins setup etc. The footsteps we leave on a trail in the forest aren’t personal data, but our digital footsteps are, because the traces can, due to the persistence of those tracks, more easily than in the woods be followed back to their source as well as can get compared to other tracks you leave behind.

Currently those footsteps in the digital woods are contractualised away into the possession of private owners of the woods we walk in, i.e. the tech platforms. But there’s a strong communal aspect to your and my digital footsteps as personal data. We need to determine how we can use that collectively, and how to govern that use. Talking about the ownership of data, especially the data we create by being out in the (semi) public sphere (e.g. tech platforms) and the ability to trade for it (like Solid suggests), has 2 effects: it bakes in the acceptance that me allowing FB to work with my data is a contract between equal parties (GDPR rightly tries to address this assymmetry). Aza Raskin in his keynote mentioned this too, saying tech platforms should be more seen and regulated as fiduciaries, to acknowledge the power asymmetry. And it takes the communal part of what we might do with data completely out of the equation. I can easily imagine when and where I’d be ok with my neighbours, my local government, a local NGO, or specific topical/sectoral communities etc. having access to using data about me. Where that same use by FB et al would not be ok at all under any circumstance.

In the intro’s to the public data summit civil society however was very much absent, there was talk about government and their data, and how it needed the private sector to do something valuable with it. Where to me open (e-)government, and opening data is very much about allowing the emergence and co-creation of novel public services by government/governance working together with citizens. Things we maybe not now regard as part of public institutions, structures or the role of government, but that in our digitised world very well could, or even should, be.

Had a very good first day at Copenhagen Techfestival Thursday. After bumping into Thomas right at the start, I joined the full day Public Data Summit, focusing on the use of open data in climate change response, co-hosted by Christian. Lots of things to mention / write about more, but need to work out some of my notes first.

Then I met up with Cathrine Lippert a long time Danish open data colleague, that I hand’t seen for a few years and now works at DTI. Just before dinner I ended up walking next to Nadja Pass, whom I think I last met a decade ago, and over excellent food we talked about the things that happened to us, the things we currently do and care about. Listened to an excellent and very well designed talk (sticky soundbites and all) by Aza Raskin, about the hackability of human minds, and what that spells out for the impact of tech on society. While leaving the central festival area, Nadia El Imam, co-founder of the great Edgeryders network, and I crossed paths, and over wine and some food at Pate Pate, we talked about a wide variety of things. I arranged a bicycle from the hotel, which is much easier to get around. Cycling I found that even having been in Copenhagen last years ago, I still know my way around without having to check where I’m going.

This afternoon, after catching up with Henriette Weber to hear of her latest adventures, I will take part in the Copenhagen 150 think-tank, which is a 24 hour event. However, I will need to limit my presence to 20 hours, as I need to be back in Amsterdam by tomorrow mid afternoon to make a birthday dinner with dear friends in the very south of the country.

Denmark created a diplomatic post to interact with large tech companies in 2017. The world’s first ambassador to the tech industry is a seasoned diplomat who previously led crisis management efforts in Kosovo, and in Afghanistan. As part of the Copenhagen 150 this year I’ll be meeting him tonight for Q&A. Curious to hear more.

Read The World’s First Ambassador to the Tech Industry (nytimes.com)

Denmark appointed him to approach Silicon Valley as if it were a global superpower. His challenges show how smaller countries struggle to influence giant corporations.

Early September the Copenhagen Techfestival will take place for the third time. It brings over 20.000 people together for over 200 events during three days, to together explore, discuss and create the future of technology.

Having had to decline invitations for the first two events, I’m joining the Techfestival 150 during this year’s event. Thank you to the organisers for their tenacity in asking me for the third year in a row. This time I was better prepared, having blocked my calendar as soon as the dates were announced.

The Copenhagen Techfestival 150 is a thinktank of 150 people that convenes during the festival. It created the The Copenhagen Letter in 2017, the Copenhagen Catalog in 2018, and this year the aim is to formulate the Copenhagen Pledge, a set of guidelines for anyone working in or with tech to commit to.

It’s been a good while since I was in Copenhagen last, I had wanted to join the previous Techfestivals already, so I look forward to getting back to CPH and fully submerge myself in the Techfestival (described to me as ‘Reboot at scale’).

With the CPH Techfestival announced I just booked my early bird ticket for this year’s event in early September.
Having signed the Copenhagen Letter in 2017, and having had to miss participating in the Copenhagen 150 to draft the Copenhagen Catalogue last year, I will attend this year.

Subscribe to humans is this year’s tagline. In my information strategies and rss-reading tactics, I always have done just that: subscribe to people, not sources or blogs. I aim to contribute my networked agency work to the mix in September.

Last week the 2nd annual Techfestival took place in Copenhagen. As part of this there was a 48 hour think tank of 150 people (the ‘Copenhagen 150‘), looking to build the Copenhagen Catalogue, as a follow-up of last year’s Copenhagen Letter of which I am a signee. Thomas, initiator of the Techfestival had invited me to join the CPH150 but I had to decline the invitation, because of previous commitments I could not reschedule. I’d have loved to contribute however, as the event’s and even more the think tank’s concerns are right at the heart of my own. My concept of networked agency and the way I think about how we should shape technology to empower people in different ways runs in parallel to how Thomas described the purpose of the CPH150 48 hour think tank at its start last week.

For me the unit of agency is the individual and a group of meaningful relationships in a specific context, a networked agency. The power to act towards meaningful results and change lies in that group, not in the individual. The technology and methods that such a group deploys need to be chosen deliberately. And those tools need to be fully within scope of the group itself. To control, alter, extend, tinker, maintain, share etc. Such tools therefore need very low adoption thresholds. Tools also need to be useful on their own, but great when federated with other instances of those tools. So that knowledge and information, learning and experimentation can flow freely, yet still can take place locally in the (temporary) absence of such wider (global) connections. Our current internet silos such as Facebook and Twitter clearly do not match this description. But most other technologies aren’t shaped along those lines either.

As Heinz remarked earlier musing about our unconference, effective practices cannot be separated from the relationships in which you live. I added that the tools (both technology and methods) likewise cannot be meaningfully separated from the practices. Just like in the relationships you cannot fully separate between the hyperlocal, the local, regional and global, due to the many interdependencies and complexity involved: what you do has wider impact, what others do and global issues express themselves in your local context too.

So the CPH150 think tank effort to create a list of principles that takes a human and her relationships as the starting point to think about how to design tools, how to create structures, institutions, networks fits right with that.

Our friend Lee Bryant has a good description of how he perceived the CPH150 think tank, and what he shared there. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile the results are up: 150 principles called the Copenhagen Catalogue, beautifully presented. You can become signatory to those principles you deem most valuable to stick to.