People and communities should be able to participate in the data economy meaningfully to shape positive outcomes for society, the environment and the economy. All too often, we are in the dark about the ways that data about us is being used. Once we’ve signed the infamous, seemingly endless “Ts and Cs”, we have very little agency over what happens to data about us that is collected by online platforms, and whose hands it might end up in.

Recently, we’ve heard stories about how health services have shared personal data with big technology platforms, and many of us are suspicious about how data about our preferences and interests might be being used to manipulate or mislead. All this leads to distrust and prevents us from realising the full potential that exists in data.

Access to data can also help tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society, like the climate crisis, the increase in hereditary diseases and societal inequality. But those of us impacted by these challenges should be meaningfully involved in collecting, using and sharing data to help tackle them. Participation in the current data economy is often far too passive.

To address these effects, we need to build trust and collaboration. That’s likely to come through a range of different interventions - technical, regulatory and cultural. The ODI is working to explore how more people can participate actively in the data economy. At the same time, we’re looking at how a range of new technical tools called Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) might be able to help unlock greater value from sensitive data that organisations and individuals may otherwise be reluctant to share.

Beyond the cute name, these PETs hold a lot of potential to increase the utilisation of sensitive data in a way that preserves the privacy of the data itself. This can be particularly helpful for identifying new drugs to treat diseases and tracking health trends amongst populations. These novel technologies are, however, not quite yet at the stage of maturity in which they are widely used in practice and there are still lots of questions surrounding how they can be used, for what purposes and by whom.

These technologies are currently relatively inaccessible for smaller organisations and individuals, which raises the prospect that their benefits might be primarily commercial, rather than societal. We’re keen to see where these can be steered towards public benefit, with appropriate governance and safeguards.

As part of our work on these topics, we’re excited to be taking part in this year’s London Data Week from 3-9 July, which has the aim of getting Londoners to “learn, create, discuss and explore how to use data to shape [their] city for the better.”

The ODI at London Data Week

Over the years, the ODI has explored this theme - and more - through its art programme, Data as Culture. By working with data as raw material - and artworks as storytelling devices - we’ve engaged a wide audience of people who aren’t experts in data but who are interested in understanding its impact on the world. In ten years, Data as Culture has featured 108 artworks by 77 artists in 14 exhibitions.

We have a range of artworks on show in our Central London offices, where we showcase pieces that explore how people can, or do, interact with data about them while going about their daily lives. We’ll be opening our doors to Londoners on Thursday, 6 July - to come, see and interact with our works, have a guided tour by our curator, and take part in a very special performance.

Works on show include:

  1. Mood Pinball by Ben Neal, Edie Jo Murray and Harmeet Chagger-Khan, playfully reimagines how city-wide data might be used by an individual to find their comfort zones and improve their experience of a city.
  2. Our 2022 commission One Hundred Thousand Suns by Rohini Devasher explores the relationships between observation and experience, and information, data and truth.
  3. We Need Us by Julie Freeman is a living artwork, powered by people, and influenced by data. It is a live, online, animated artwork that explores both ‘life data’ and the life of data. The work concentrates on metadata – data about data - which it draws from the activities of citizen science project, Zooniverse, to create sounds and animation.Our latest commission, also by Julie Freeman, Allusive Protocols, looks at how the power behind all modern infrastructure resides in functioning networked connections, the complexity of which is continually growing beyond human comprehension. It results from a collaboration between the ODI, Invisible Dust Forecast 2023 and Data as Culture. The prototype of the work will be on display at the ODI offices this July, to coincide with London Data Week.
  4. DoxBox Trustbot by Alistair Gentry a hot-pink puppet-robot hybrid is an interactive performance, a film and a static exhibit. It starts with the premise that data is telling tales about us! Through face-to-face or online conversation, DoxBox builds impressions about us based on what we do or don’t share and which organisations do or don’t collect data about us.

What’s on?

For the first time since before the start of the pandemic, the ODI is opening its doors to the general public for a whole day of exhibition tours, performances and talks - all as part of London Data Week 2023.

Join our team of researchers, the Director of the Data as Culture programme, and the fully operational DoxBox - along with its Operator - on a day of live, immersive events and activities on Thursday 6 July 2023. You can join as many or as few sessions as want - they’re all free - but spaces are limited so don’t delay! To make it even more appealing, you can enjoy tea and pink biscuits during the day, and pink drinks after our evening event, as part of the deal. “Why pink?” I hear you ask - well, just take a look at DoxBox!

In our sessions, we’ll explore how people can get more involved in decisions about data and what they can do with that involvement - to improve the lives of all Londoners.

The day will wrap up with one of our live Canalside Chat events, In the pink? How art and data is driving London forward. In this discussion, we’ll explore how people might participate more broadly in London’s data economy. We’ll ask what it might take to overcome barriers and increase trust and explore how new technologies, and legislative and regulatory measures - not to mention culture - could help.

Sign up now - for the events you want to attend!