4 min

Knowledge for everyone?

Colorful image writing ODI
Written by
Edafe Onerhime
Published on
November 19, 2016

How the ODI Awards 2016 did on gender balance

The Open Data Institute (ODI) is for knowledge; the knowledge to address today’s global challenges and the impact of data on people, governments and businesses. Part of that challenge is bringing people together to collect and use data in ways that supports their goals.

So what does this have to do with gender balance?

Black screen with icons and HealthKit words in it.
Arielle Duhaime-Ross: Apple promised an expansive health app, so why can’t I track menstruation? © The Verge

Data is agnostic right? At least we like to think of data as an agnostic artefact, without bias, without hidden agendas: Facts are sacred. However, data collection and use is driven by user needs. So if we don’t collect data about something, does it matter? What happens when women aren’t part of the decision on what to collect and how to use data? Simple: their needs aren’t met.

The ODI’s commitment to knowledge for everyone is a stance to admire. Their annual awards recognise the people and organisations working to make a difference using open data. The question now is, how well do they walk their talk?

Being invited to judge the 2016 Open Data Institute awards gave me some insight, let’s see how they did.

But there are no women in tech!

Image of an woman writing down notes.
Joe McKenzie: Why are there no women in tech? © InternAvenue.com

To read the press and witness the abundance of “manels” (all male panels), you’d think there were few women in tech in general and perhaps open data in particular. You’d be wrong. There are lots of women in open data but who and where are they?

This year, the awards included a category for women. My first reaction was negative but here’s the thing, if you want more women in Open Data, you need more visible women in Open Data. Having a specific category made sense. To boost the number of women in tech in general and open data in particular, ensure the women already here are highly visible.

How well did the 2016 Open Data Institute awards do on visibility for women working in and with open data? Verdict: Very well.

But all the experts are men!

Drawings of five men and cloud thoughts.
Thinking Together © Frits Ahlefeldt, HikingArtist.com

Kudos to the Open Data Institute for adding a category that recognises women working in and with open data. Now all they had to do was select a group of people to judge the awards. What happens when you only look in the same pool you’ve always looked at for your experts? You might end up thinking all the experts are men (or maybe encouraged to disguise their gender to get their foot in the door). And that’s one way to encourage and entrench groupthink: a pervasive, cohesive mindset of a group that thinks the same and acts in complete consensus even when they are heading in the wrong direction.

This year, the awards had new judges, myself included. The gender balance was 4 women to 2 men with at least 3 new faces among the judges. How well did the 2016 Open Data Institute awards do on injecting fresh blood and boosting the number of women who judged the awards? Verdict: Very well.

And the winner is…

My experience of the 2016 Open Data Institute awards was very positive. The judges were all people I respected working in the field and at the cliff face. The nominees reflected the people and organisations working hard to improve lives using open data.

What could have gone better? As I wrote this, I wondered what the gender balance was like in organisations nominated for the awards. The information is thin on the ground, even from the organisation I work in. Remember, if we don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter. So I put together a incomplete record of the gender balance of the 2016 Open Data Institute awards nominees. I’m encouraging my organisation Open Data Services to publish our diversity data set. You can ask your organisation to do so too.

The Open Data Institute put the time and effort into diversifying their judges and ensuring women were recognised for their contribution. As a woman in tech and open data, I hope the visibility of women at the awards will encourage more women to work with open data. You can do the same: turn down manels, discourage tokenism and be an ally in ensuring we keep finding solutions by having diverse workplaces and groups that avoid groupthink.

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