Data Drabbles: 30.11.16

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On Wednesday 30th November I facilitated a thought experiment on Data Politics and Markets in response to a research workshop organised by Dr. Rachel O’Dwyer (CONNECT) and Dr. Aphra Kerr (Maynooth University).

The research workshop was framed by the topics of Data Politics, Data Markets and the Internet of Things:

This topic raises critical social questions in relation to dataveillance, civic agency and citizenship. These include basic requests for factual information about a relatively new space, exploratory research questions about data ownership, data ethics, and the politics of automated transactions and trades in data and methodological questions about how we map this space and produce transdisciplinary research.

The research workshop was broken into two parts, morning and afternoon. The focus of the morning session was to outline a ‘State of the Art’ in relation to the topics of Data Politics, Data Markets, and IoT. It was about laying out some facts about these interpenetrating matters.

This research workshop aims to foster interdisciplinary dialogue by bringing together researchers from the fields of engineering, computer science and mathematics who are currently working on IoT projects with researchers from the social sciences, including sociology, geography, business and law.

The underlying purpose of the afternoons session was a framed as a thought experiment that might facilitate thoughtful interdisciplinary conversations within the time constraints of an hour and a half. First, I drew upon Donna Haraway’s philosophy of ‘Staying with the Trouble‘ as a way of framing the relationships between multi- inter- and transdisciplinarity.

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Secondly, I framed a conversational/writing exercise called Data Drabbles. (This is very much in keeping with my research framework for transdisciplinary dialogue called Engineering Fictions). A Drabble is a short piece of fiction (or descriptive writing), usually 100 words in length, whose purpose is to concisely convey information about some scenario in an interesting and meaningful way for the reader. A Data Drabble is the same, except the topic of ‘data’ infuses what is discussed, dreamed up, described, etc.

In any cross-cultural or cross-disciplinary work, language and vocabulary matters. It’s certainly not the only thing that matters, but it’s the aspect I’m interested in. Words matter just as words work. This thought experiment, to write ‘data drabbles’, focused upon the topic of Data Markets. In order to stay with the trouble of data markets, all of us gathered in the room for the research workshop had to come to terms, to share language and meaning.

The rules for devising a data drabble in this instance were as follows:

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The group of 25 or so researchers was divided into groups of five or so. We spent the best part of an hour working on the data drabbles in our groups. Feedback from the drabblers told me that much of the time was spent teasing out some agreement about what constitutes a data market. Only then could any further description/diagramming of stakeholders take place.

Which emphasises the challenge of inter and transdisciplinary work of all kinds very well – the struggle to come to terms with each other in a respectful way that is supportive and generative of communication and creativity.

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This thought experiment was less about writing a good piece of fiction and more about enacting a model of transdisicplinarity. However, some compelling pieces of writing emerged, some of which I will post here later, with permission.

There were many differences at play in the room, as well as many commonalities. The challenge remains to “take our differences and make them strengths” as Audre Lorde advises. Some of the interests and desires at work within the group were outlined in their application to the workshop, collected up as data through the online forms and shared with the workshop organisers and facilitators. I made an anonymous slide of some of these and showed them back to the group, before we continued with the thought experiment.

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