Gill Lewis at #DataMash

In this last in a series of interview with participants at DataMash, we spoke to Gill Lewis from the Geospatial information team in the Rural Payments Agency about the Ethics of data release, and broadening participation in the conversations we're having.

There's a full transcription of the video below.

My name is Gillian Lewis – commonly known as Gill – I work for the Rural Payments Agency in the GI technical team.

We're at the end of DataMash now; what do you think of these two days, and how do you think it's gone compared to the last conference?

So, yeah...I attended the Birmingham conference – was that in November? – ...last year, so I think quite a lot of similar people or similar faces, but we do seem to have progressed in what we're talking about; I've definitely felt like the sessions are covering new ground as opposed to repeating old ground.

We probably have still got some similar issues as last time, but for example I did a session today on ethics, which is something that we've never spoken about before so it uncovered some very interesting questions... there were a lot of questions and not many answers – definitely some work to do

It's really interesting that you mentioned data ethics; I know it's something that a lot of people do care
about but it almost gets sidelined sometimes – hopefully you got some good conversations in the room?

Yeah, we had some interesting conversations; I think that there's definitely differing viewpoints as to what the ethics are and to what the answers are, and that's part of the problem I think, is no-one's really explored it. Mike had an interesting comment that often when you're approaching open data, the first thing you think about is the legal side: can we do it? Yes or no? – and if it's yes, release it; if not, work on it – but what we uncovered was that even if we can release it, should it be released? And if it should be released, how do we control the manner in which we're releasing it?; for example, do we release all the attributes associated to it or dumb it down? – and what the implications of that is.

That's really interesting.
You mentioned before, actually, that it's a – in many ways – quite similar crowd to last time, how do we widen that out to kind of new people that you need to reach, particularly.......I guess... people who have, you know, the power to change things?

I think that perhaps there was an undercurrent in all of the sessions I've gone to regarding buy-in from people like Directors within Defra and wider; I think that a lot of the ideas that we're coming up with really do require that buy-in and and that we need to get those people along to the conferences; to understand how important it is and what support you need in order to reach the objectives that we have.

Talking about the next unconference – that might be in November, again... I'm guessing, possibly; how do you think we get those people along?

Ooh...that's a very good question. So, I think often when we are doing say spatial analysis within our various organisations we're very much: 'here are the results,' to our Directors – perhaps we need to engage them more in the process of how we get to that point and, as part of that process, what's working and what isn't, and '...oh, these bits that aren't working, we're working with the wider team in Defra, would you like to know more about it, and come along to the conference to hear more about what's going on?' – perhaps, as a starting point!

Yeah, I mean, it's as good a place as any to find out stuff, you know – it's more interactive than just getting briefing notes, I guess...

Yeah, and I think that's often the problem with spatial data; a lot of people they don't really want to engage in it they want to know what the results are, but actually when it comes down to the technicalities, they prefer not to have to understand it. It is a bit tricky at times.

Well, thanks for talking to me; it's really appreciated.


So what's coming next? Well, we have been flat out organising (and delivering) at Civil Service Lives around the country, and delivering Transforming Together with our friends in Transformation and Digital teams. We'll be able to tell you about those, but we're also aware we've promised you the #DataMash plenary and a compilation video, only slightly delayed by how busy we've been. Watch this space for those very soon... ^Stefan

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