This International Women’s Day we want to continue our call to our community for action. A few weeks ago we published our first blog in the series “My First Global Conference”, where we want to show why a supportive environment for women in conferences can help their career in the short and long run. We know that proactively bringing first-time women to conferences leads to better inclusion, diversity and participation for women. We know this because we were those women who were new to the field not so long ago.
So this year, our goal is to bring new and more women and genderqueer people to participate at the 2018 International Open Data Conference (IODC), to support the next generation. Realistically, funding for travel schemes is scarce as funders do not always see the impact of them. So, we’re sharing with you Open Heroines’ first conference experiences and how it affected their careers to prove the case.
If you’re as inspired by these stories as we are, help us bring new women on board by either help us to get secure funding for new women or by pledging to send a junior woman from your organisation to IODC18, email us to email@example.com or tweet to @openheroines
, Open Data for Development Challenge (et al) 2014, Montreal, Canada — It was December 2013 when I first got an email from my supervisor about a conference discussing IATI (International Aid Transparency Initiative) in Montreal. I first thought, what’s IATI? And so I had entered a new world of acronyms. I signed up to volunteer for the IATI TAG meeting and the Open Data for Development Challenge conference. I was both excited and extremely nervous to have gotten accepted for a panel session to present and discuss my masters work on crisis mapping and community development, with a slight spin on ‘crowdmapping aid’. It was a great opportunity to link my academic work, which was applied research, to another community: the community of ‘open’. Open data, I then learned, is really about participation and collaboration. A lot of my research was about that, so the two worlds meeting made sense.
I had attended academic conferences before, but never global, non-academic ones — even though this one didn’t require any travelling. Conferences can be scary and overwhelming. Everyone is new. Even if the people joining are local, they’re still new (from new fields). In hindsight, a space like Open Heroines would’ve been great to have and be a part of, active or not, to better understand this whole new world. Nonetheless, I sucked it up and took a chance. Recalling my supervisor’s words: “If you don’t network, I’ll be disappointed.” She was there too, so it’s not like I could lie to her. I tried to be more outgoing than usual. The weather, for once, was a great conversation starter. Who decided to bring all these people from all over the world to Montreal, in January, out of all places? (It was -25ºC.) Coffee and smoke breaks also helped. Later that week at a workshop, I learned about the importance of open contracting (and OCDS), that ignited my ongoing fascination for public procurement. So I thought, isn’t open contracting an oxymoron? Not exactly, yet I still don’t entirely disagree with that statement.
This week of conferences set the scene for another chapter in my life. The beginning of the IODC-like experience: a two day conference with many side events that really lasts a week. Since then I’ve made it to many open data conferences, including the IODCs in Ottawa and Madrid, and the OGPs in Mexico City and Paris. I was lucky to meet many more people because of this first global conference. Out of the people I’ve met, some of them became good friends. We don’t often see each other — such is the nature of this group — but we’re always there. Online, in blog posts, in a book chapter, in a new project or initiative — where geography has no bounds.
2015, Ottawa, Canada — We are not alone! When Cívica Digital got invited to present at the IODC15 we were perplexed. We had been working with open data for only a year and a half and were selected to present about open data and cities. This was going to be our first international conference as an organization. It also meant it was our first opportunity to present our civic tech project and maybe start off an international project.
We did a lot of work the weeks ahead of the conference, including researching the participants, understanding the dynamics, and preparing our schedule to meet the most important partners. We ended up meeting with people from 18F, IDRC, and MySociety. We compared notes with people that were working on open data in Latin America, Africa and Europe, and ultimately created a few alliances and contacts needed for more projects. And we also met our idols from the GovLab. It was an excellent week that ended with the notion that we weren’t alone in our work.
Fast forward to a year later, we applied (and won!) to work with the IODC team to create the Open Data Community Roadmap. As an organization, if we haven’t had the experience in Ottawa, we wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply; we would have missed out on this opportunity that has been pivotal for the organization. We then had the opportunity to work with incredible partners at IDRC, the Government of Canada and OD4D to shape IODC16. We even had the opportunity to present on the main stage about gender and data, a topic that @OpenHeroines is already putting in the agenda for IODC18.
Through our first experience at a global conference, we not only established our brand and came up with great opportunities for projects, we also learned that we are part of a bigger community that we can learn from. A community that is eager to work in collaboration with others, and listen to our learnings and thoughts about the ecosystem. Being a civic tech activist can get lonely — everyday something happens that reminds you of the amount of work piling up, still waiting to be done. Global conferences showed us that our hearts and minds can be expanded by listening and sharing experiences with our community around the world. We can only wish that more people get to experience the same and our community keeps growing, it is important for everyone to know that “You are not alone”.
2017, London, UK
Last summer I had the chance to work at the Open Technology Institute mLab — a collective of researchers, industry, and policymakers aiming to be the world’s largest unbiased database of internet performance data.
With transparency and openness at the forefront of their work, it was no surprise the team at OTI had over a half dozen presentations and workshops at MozFest — one of the biggest healthy internet conferences in the world. With sessions ranging from testing a tech policy game to building open communication tools, the team had their hands full. When OTI’s Director of Technology Programs asked if I could join, I knew I had to say yes.
As soon as I found out about my trip, I headed straight for the Open Heroines Slack channel and immediately heard from over a dozen other women planning to attend the event. We shared proposed sessions, travel schedules, and organized an informal meetup the night before the conference. By the time I arrived in London I already felt welcome and confident walking into my first global conference outside of the U.S.
Over the course of three days, I met and exchanged ideas with people from around the world tackling the same issues as me. From learning game theory to building a progressive web app in 90 minutes, MozFest had a non-stop energy that fueled the entire weekend. Each interaction I had led to more conversations, ideas and spirited debates. And frankly, some of these interactions surfaced my U.S. centric mindset — a set of biases I was naive to prior to this event.
Upon returning to Washington, D.C., I was inspired to keep the conversations going. In addition to spreading the Mozfest gospel among my colleagues, I was able to share insights and ideas back with the Open Heroines group and become a stronger participant in the network. Having the opportunity to merge the online community at an open and inclusive conference like Mozfest left me feeling like the possibilities to contribute are limitless.