IDCC11 Preview: An interview with Ewan McIntosh

22 November, 2011
Kirsty Pitkin

The 7th International Digital Curation Conference is just around the corner and we are anticipating an animated debate about the open data landscape when our international audience gather in Bristol in two weeks time.

In the first of our series of preview posts, our opening keynote speaker Ewan McIntosh, the CEO of NoTosh, gives us his insights into some of the current issues...

Your opening keynote will focus on public data opportunities.  Are there any specific messages would you like people to take away from your talk?

The world of research into data, the world of research full-stop, is still inaccessible for many who are trying to educate tomorrow's generation or simply put into practice some interesting ideas. I hope that the keynote will put forward some stories that help provoke thought in those present about what they can do, individually, to help spread the media literacy skills that are needed to empower everyone to harness what's out there, for the taking, to either hold power to account or just to make their lives cheaper, happier or more enriched.

Lots of people argue for open data but far fewer practice what they preach. What do you think is needed to encourage more data sharing?

Most people don't know what data could be used for and, in ignorance, assume the worst. That would be enough to stop anyone sharing information. The most polemical example would be healthcare, although schools data isn't far behind. This data could be life changing in terms of what we could learn from publishing it and sharing with a larger group of smart people. Sure, there will always be those who abuse the data, who don't 'get' it, but the benefit of a discovery or insight from someone who does is too great to ignore the potential.

How do you think can we encourage 'unexpected' reuse of data - that is, use by communities other than those who originally collected the data?

The only way to do this is to give it away, for free, with some context as to where it came from. We also need smart people, like the journos at New York Times or Guardian, to continue to help us understand contexts of information, and give us inspiration as to what WE can do with it.

We usually see funders, data creators, universities and data users as the typical set of stakeholders for data. Would you add any to that list and why?

Everyone - it's inevitably nearly always the data of the people. It's just that the vast majority of the people need to understand the basic literacies of that data to be able to make anything of it. Once they've got the basics of understanding data, they might make some discoveries with their "non-expert" beginner's eye that those currently in control would not have noticed.

Which of them can do the most to promote a culture of wider reuse of data?

I'd say none of them. The best promoters thus far are journalists touching on areas that matter to "normal" people. Until academia and geeks can find a way to make "normal" people care about what they're doing with data, it's a lost cause in terms of wide-spread reuse of data.

If there was one change that you could make to improve research data management practice, what would it be?

More openness, less snobbery about what is a 'good' set of data. Normally the 'goodness' of a data set is about its technological suitability for remixing rather than its story. Story is all important.

You may be also interested in later interviews from this series with David LynnMark Hahnel and Victoria Stodden.


Ewan will be discussing public data opportunities in his opening keynote at IDCC 11 on Tuesday 6 December.  If you have not already done so, you can still book your place

If you are unable to attend in person, look out for an announcement next week about how you can take part remotely, or track the conference via Lanyrd to be notified about the arrangements.

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open data, IDCC11