Goodbye London, Hello Australia

In ten days time I’m saying goodbye to London and moving back to Australia.

My visa expires in early September, and the time feels right to go home. We’ve lived away from Australia for a few years now, and back in Australia friends and family are doing those things people do in life — building great careers, buying houses, getting married, having kids. I’m looking forward to being closer for any future celebrations. And I want to be able to buy a dog and not worry about quarantine restrictions.

This is a Labradoodle. This is the kind of dog I’m going to get (Tarochan, by JD (CC-BY))

I’m sad to be leaving the Open Data Institute, and the UK data community. I’ve made lots of great friends here. From the first event I popped up at (#govhack 2014, I think?), and my first day at the Open Data Institute, people have been warm and welcoming, open to new ideas and generous with their own expertise. Openness and generosity have been the defining characteristics of almost all my experiences within the data community here.

I am going to miss lots of people. I won’t name them here because I don’t want it going to their heads. I’m going to miss the conversations with people whose beautiful brains — the way they think about data and digital and the world and their place in the world — leave me breathless and wanting to do better.

But I will not miss this weather. It’s August and I brought an umbrella to work today. Also: British supermarkets are terrible. If you’re Australian, you know what I’m talking about.

There’s been lots of highlights from my two years at the ODI. I’m limiting myself to five, because that’s a good number of things for a list (and a number in the Fibonacci Sequence, which should make Jeni happy). In no particular order, my highlights:

Building Datopolis: the Open Data Board Game, with Jeni.

What started as a passion project for both of us, squeezed in around the sides of our ‘real jobs’, became a real board game. Chris Wells made it beautiful. We’ve seen people printing and playing it, and buying their own copies not only here in the UK but in China, New Zealand, France, Australia, Sweden, Germany, the Philippines and the US. It’s CC-licensed, so you can share it, adapt it, print it and play yourself.

Working with Defra to transform how they use and share data

I wrote about being then Defra Secretary of State (now Justice Secretary) Elizabeth Truss’s expert adviser on data here. The Secretary of State was inspiring to work for. The Data Programme team members I worked with — Alex Coley, Mike Rose, Andrew Newman, Steve Wilkinson, John Dixon, Simon Wild, Andrew Wharrad, James Cattell, David Buck — made me feel welcome and wanted. They’re a wonderfully inclusive, genuine bunch. Emily Miles, Defra’s Director for Strategy, taught me a lot about pushing through change in complex organisations. And we opened up a lot of data.

Fighting for Taylor Swift to be considered a public good at #OpenTech 2015

Sam Smith told me to ‘be myself’ for OpenTech. Gavin, the ODI’s CEO, encouraged this foolishness. What followed was a talk describing essential data infrastructure in terms of Taylor Swift.

Mainly I think people were confused.

It did spiral a bit out of control.

Getting to talk about openness building trust in how personal data is managed

There’s a common misconception that if you support open data then you think all data should be open. Lots of work I’ve been involved in at the Open Data Institute has been about unpacking and clarifying that perception: explaining the spectrum of ways in which data can be accessed, and who has access (and where open can maximise value); exploring essential data infrastructure; and talking about how greater openness from organisations collecting, storing, using and sharing personal data can build trust, lead to better services and ultimately more efficient and safe data sharing.

I think openness is going to be key to maintaining trust in governments, businesses, and the organisations that shape us, in the decades to come. This work meant a lot to me, and I’ll continue to try to demonstrate its value wherever I go next.

Working with Peter and Jeni every day

I arrive at the ODI each morning with a spring in my step partly because I get to talk to these people every day. (Also, I am writing this in the expectation they reciprocate by saying and tweeting nice things and via expensive parting gifts).

They’re fiercely intelligent and they care about people, and about making sure the future of data and technology works for everybody. And they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Together we do a lot of the ODI’s policy work, made even better by people from across the ODI like Fiona, Jamie, Richard, Alex, Leigh and Emma.

In two years time, I want to see…

I’ve been in the UK for two years. In two more years, when I’m back visiting the UK (on some Datopolis publicity-related world tour), what do I want to see?

I want to see private sector organisations incorporating openness about personal data into their business models. They’d be using the ODI’s openness and privacy principles as part of their data usage policies. In my mind, they’re doing this as part of attracting customers, attracting what are becoming more discerning and data-aware customers, and building better business models. It’s not a compliance burden.

I want to see an open address database for the UK. I know that Government Digital Service and Ordnance Survey are already working on this, and hope to see it even sooner than in two years.

I want to see the regions outpacing London in what they’re doing with data — publishing and consuming open data, developing collaborative local services, building open cities. With initiatives like Data Mill North already bringing together the North of England to support better use of data and open data, this isn’t an ‘if’ but a ‘when’.

I want to see supermarkets making data about their products available in real time as open data, because it is a personal dream of mine to be able to plot a journey from A to B, via a supermarket where I can pick up sour cream or ricotta — rather than spend an hour wandering from supermarket to off licence, bemoaning the fickleness of British supermarkets (I said they were terrible).

I want to see Rural Payments Agency make its field boundaries data available as open data.

I want to see the organisations who are shaping the web of data — helping us use data and information more effectively; helping us be more open; helping us be more ethical and people-centric; and helping us stay informed — with healthy ongoing funding. A world without organisations like Full Fact, My Society, Democracy Club, Projects by IF, and the ODI, would make me very sad indeed.

In the meantime…

I’ll be doing some freelance work from Australia for a little while, and maybe some further study. We’re moving to Canberra, and I’m hoping lots of my UK friends will visit (even after the wombat story this week — honestly it’s not that bad!).

I’ll be spending my first few months learning more about exciting work and projects underway in Australia, and seeing how I can get involved. If you’d like to chat, get in touch via Twitter.

But first, I’m going on holidays. Two weeks in Croatia, here I come!

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