Inclusive data roundtable_1
We want a world where data works for everyone

The Open Data Institute (ODI)’s vision

The ODI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) group is a voluntary network of employees, set up in early 2020. Its purpose is to ensure that the work we do at the ODI is diverse, equitable and inclusive, and is committed to making a world where data works for everyone

We’re now celebrating the first anniversary of the ODI’s DEI group, and in this blog, we’ll highlight some of the ways in which we’ve already changed how we work. However, we also recognise that there is still work to be done, and will be sharing some plans for the future. 

We advocate working in the open, and want to share what diversity, equity and inclusion means to us at the ODI in the hope that this might inspire or help those beginning their own DEI journey, or start conversations with those already on their way. We welcome challenges to our work, and embrace feedback on where we could improve. If there is anything in this post which you would like to ask or talk about, please get in touch.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the ODI

At the ODI, we value diversity, equity and inclusion for a number of reasons. We want to reflect the organisation’s external vision – an open environment where things work for everyone – internally. We see inclusion as the result of respecting, supporting, involving and empowering the full diversity of those around you equally, and equity as the belief that everyone must benefit fairly from data. The DEI group was set up to ensure that the ODI embeds these ideas into the organisation.

Action plan

To help articulate our plans and ambitions for DEI at the ODI, and to set our focus areas for activity, we put together an action plan. The action plan sets out how we plan to implement DEI into seven key areas, including HR, business development and ways of working.

The action plan is constantly evolving as we find new ways to embed these ideas into our work, these ideas will come from the wider ODI team survey on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Changes have already been made as a result of the action plan. Some of the clearest examples of this come from our HR team,  who collaborate with the wider DEI group as part of their day-to-day activities. As a result of the action plan, the HR team have: 

  • developed and implemented a recruitment strategy to ensure the processes enabled the best possible diversity of staff;
  • developed a DEI resources list, which is shared as part of any new starters induction;
  • identified the need for DEI sponsors at all levels of the organisation, and presented this to our Senior Leadership Team, highlighting how the ODI could take a more DEI-centered approach to leadership; and 
  • worked with our Business Development team to ensure our DEI principles and activities are part of our narrative when bidding for work.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our work

As part of our action plan, we also want to ensure that our work isn’t just relevant to our immediate networks. In our projects, we’ve made conscious efforts to engage with a broader range of stakeholders in our research, particularly from the Global South. We’ve also included this as a recommendation for others in one of our recent products, the Data Landscape Playbook.

This comes with obvious challenges, like language barriers, time zones, and knowing how to initially find and connect with these stakeholders. We’re lucky to have colleagues who speak a wide selection of languages, meaning we were able to overcome some of those initial hurdles, and we’re continually learning about new organisations to collaborate with. Read about our international open cities roundtable, published in February, which is an example of a project where our aim was to engage internationally, and in the Global South. 

In our wider work, some of our projects are designed to involve people and groups in stewarding data – making decisions about who gets to use it, for what purposes and under what conditions – who may otherwise not be heard. For example, we are working with the INSIGHT Health Data Research Hub to involve the public, patients and other stakeholders in deciding how the eye scans and related data the Hub brings together should be used and shared. Empowering people to play a more active role in data stewardship is an important part of getting data to work for everyone.

Finally we implemented some smaller scale activities, such as using our stand-up meetings during Black History Month or Pride Month to shout out and celebrate our Black and LGBTQ+ idols and inspirations.

Summit roundtable

The ODI Summit 2020 brought together over 1,000 delegates from 72 countries. The DEI group took charge of running a fishbowl-style discussion to explore how different organisations are building data equity and inclusion into their data projects and programmes. We were joined by a variety of participants – including founders, researchers, designers and directors from different organisations around the world. Some of the themes covered by the group included: 

  • The need to, and benefits of, embedding participatory design at the heart of every project – whether that is product design, research or policy making. It’s important that the voices of impacted communities aren’t missing when researching or developing products. This extends to data collection, where incomplete or missing data for marginalised groups leads to misrepresentation, exclusion and misallocation of resources.
  • There are distinct power imbalances in decisions around what data is collected, which areas are mapped, and what services are designed, meaning marginalised groups are regularly left out. One way to tackle this would be working together across civil society to impact policy and strengthen rights around data.
  • We also discussed solutions that are centred around the communities these projects are seeking to serve. Some of the suggested solutions were based around improving communication (which may mean using different channels to meet communities where they are), working with groups and communities directly to embed their perspectives and needs into projects, and building multidisciplinary teams to bring a diversity of perspectives to any project.

These discussions help to raise awareness about some of the main challenges to working on data projects, and the potential solutions. For the ODI, the conversation presented a number of challenges to the way that we work, and has since been used as inspiration to think about how we work, and who we work with.

ODI Writers’ Fund for Black History Month 2020

In September 2020, the ODI published an open call to fund three Black writers to use data to tell a story, or tell a story about data. The ODI has a history of exploring data issues through art with our Data as Culture programme, and the fund aimed to create a space for Black writers to do the same. The three winners tackled the brief from three different angles: 

  • Eleanor Shearer explored the difficult relationship between data and race in  ‘The dividing line: how we represent race in data
  • Anne L. Washington invited the audience to reflect on how well data represents lives with the poem ‘i am A.I. and Thou
  • Danni Youziel authored ‘Facing decisions’, a short story set in a future where facial recognition is used to keep the peace within a kingdom, but data cannot predict everything. 

The ODI Writers’ Fund for Black History Month 2020 is the first writers fund we have organised. The writers were positive about their experience and their work resonated with our audiences in a new, and creative way. However, there was a lot to be learned from the process. For example, it is a challenge for us to ensure these kinds of projects become part of the standard ways we work at the ODI, and not one-off, token gestures. For future funds, we want to think about expanding beyond specific celebratory months; and are considering whether we should continue to ask writers to centre their pieces around issues pertaining to that community.

Inclusive data

In January 2021, the Office for National Statistics launched a public consultation around how inclusive data and evidence are in the UK. The ODI saw this as an opportunity to bring together stakeholders to contribute ideas and feedback, facilitate knowledge sharing and have a broader conversation for developing inclusive data practice. We hosted a roundtable in partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Centre for Public Data, and have since published a summary of the roundtable as well as audio clips and transcripts of our keynotes and provocations. You can read our consultation response here.

Most recently, Jeni Tennison, ODI Vice President and Chief Strategy Adviser, and Dr Mahlet (Milly) Zimeta, ODI Head of Policy, both wrote reflections on the widely-criticised Commission for Race and Ethnic Disparities report, exploring the role of data and digital technologies in understanding and addressing race and ethnic disparities in the UK without being constrained by the report’s limitations, and practical opportunities for innovating in data policy and practice for transformative results.

Book club

In the summer of 2020, we started thinking of ways to include people who hadn’t actively engaged in the working group, to involve more of the ODI in conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion. One suggestion was a book club, which felt like an accessible way to discuss important topics outside of a more formal meeting. The books we’ve read so far are:

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve done something similar, have a book suggestion, or if you have approached internal engagement differently. 

Throughout the last year, we have learnt and taken inspiration from a number of different sources including books, toolkits and other organisations’ strategies. We want to give space to and celebrate the fantastic people and organisations who have developed the foundations for us to embed diversity, equity and inclusion into our work:

Next steps

Over the remainder of 2021, we will be looking to revise our action plan whilst still striving to meet the goals set out in our original action plan. These are mostly based around developing how we embed DEI into the ways we work, and thinking further about who we work with. More specifically, we are aiming to rework our procurement process, include DEI in ODI-wide KPI’s, and to further develop our internal policies to ensure we reflect our external, open vision internally.

We are constantly learning and improving how we most effectively embed inclusivity and equity in our work and we’d love to hear from you about what you’ve done to become more inclusive at your organisation and in your work, what resources you’ve used, and how your organisation has changed as a result. Please get in touch at diversity&[email protected].