Call for Papers: “Digital Methods for Public Policy”, International Conference on Public Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, 28-30th June 2017


I’m involved in organising a panel on “Digital Methods for Public Policy” at the International Conference on Public Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, 28-30th June 2017.

If you’re interested in using digital methods for policy research, then you’re welcome to apply. Further details about the panel can be found on the conference website, in this PDF and copied below. The deadline for abstracts is 16th January 2017.

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Open Data and Citizen Data Meetup in Barcelona, 7th December 2016


If you’re currently around in Barcelona and interested in open data, citizen data and related topics then I’ll be joining people from the EU H2020 funded Making Sense project for an informal meetup at the bar of the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (Montalegre, 5, 08001 Barcelona) at 7pm on Wednesday 7th December 2016.

Another good reason to come along is to catch one of the last days of this interesting looking exhibition at CCCB on The Thinking Machine: Ramon Llull and the “ars combinatoria” to mark 700 years since the birth of Llull (if you’re interested in this area, I also coincidentally recently wrote an article on Llull’s legacy for the Public Domain Review).

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Piece on “Leibniz, Llull, and the Computational Imagination” in the Public Domain Review

The following piece was originally posted on the Public Domain Review on the 10th November 2016.

Three hundred years after the death of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and seven hundred years after the birth of Ramon Llull, Jonathan Gray looks at how their early visions of computation and the “combinatorial art” speak to our own age of data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

Leibniz calculating machine
Drawing of Leibniz’s calculating machine, featured as a folding plate in Miscellanea Berolensia ad incrementum scientiarum (1710), the volume in which he first describes his invention — Source.

Each epoch dreams the one to follow” wrote the historian Jules Michelet. The passage was later used by the philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin in relation to his unfinished magnum opus The Arcades Project, which explores the genesis of life under late capitalism through a forensic examination of the “dreamworlds” of nineteenth-century Paris.1 In tracing the emergence of the guiding ideals and visions of our own digital age, we may cast our eyes back a little earlier still: to the dreams of seventeenth-century polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

There was a resurgence of interest in Leibniz’s role in the history of computation after workmen fixing a leaking roof discovered a mysterious machine discarded in the corner of an attic at the University of Göttingen in 1879. With its cylinders of polished brass and oaken handles, the artefact was identified as one of a number of early mechanical calculating devices that Leibniz invented in the late seventeenth century.

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Analysing Amnesty International’s Urgent Action Database

Amnesty International Urgent Action Outcomes

Amnesty International have just published the results of a data sprint about their historical database of Urgent Actions, which I coordinated as part of the Digital Methods Initiative Summer School 2016. A selection of outcomes published by Amnesty International can be found here. A selection of further materials from the Summer School project can be found here.

The database gave a fascinating insight into both the more recent digital practices as well as the longer history and development of one of the world’s biggest and best known human rights advocacy organisations. The Urgent Actions database can be understood as a form of “data witnessing” – about which I’ll be writing more in the coming months.

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Digital Methods Winter School 2017 on “Data Infrastructures: Database Stories, Dumps and Query Driven Narratives”, University of Amsterdam, 9-13th January 2017


I’m involved in co-organising the 2017 edition of the annual Digital Methods Initiative Winter School which is on the theme of “Data Infrastructures: Database Stories, Dumps and Query Driven Narratives”.

I’ll be speaking at the event alongside Professor Geoffrey Bowker (School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine), who is one of the pioneers of the social study of information infrastructures.

If you’re interested in how digital methods can be used to study or tell stories with data infrastructures, then we’d love to see you there. Further details about the theme are available on the Digital Methods Initiative wiki (excerpt copied below).

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Short Video on Reshaping Data Worlds for AoIR 2016

The following is a short video on Reshaping Data Worlds prepared for the 17th annual meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers – AoIR 2016 on “Internet Rules!” – which takes place in Berlin on 5-8th October 2016. It is part of a session on Big Data Meet Grassroots Activism organised by the DATACTIVE project. The transcript of the video is included below.

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Who Will Shape the Future of the Data Society?

This piece was cross-posted on the blog of the International Open Data Conference 2016, which takes place in Madrid on 6-7th October 2016, as well as on the Open Knowledge International Blog, the LSE Impact Blog and the Institute for Policy Research Blog.

The contemporary world is held together by a vast and overlapping fabric of information systems. These information systems do not only tell us things about the world around us. They also play a central role in organising many different aspects of our lives. They are not only instruments of knowledge, but also engines of change. But what kind of change will they bring?

Contemporary data infrastructures are the result of hundreds of years of work and thought. In charting the development of these infrastructures we can learn about the rise and fall not only of the different methods, technologies and standards implicated in the making of data, but also about the articulation of different kinds of social, political, economic and cultural worlds: different kinds of “data worlds”.

Beyond the rows and columns of data tables, the development of data infrastructures tell tales of the emergence of the world economy and global institutions; different ways of classifying populations; different ways of managing finances and evaluating performance; different programmes to reform and restructure public institutions; and how all kinds of issues and concerns are rendered into quantitative portraits in relation to which progress can be charted – from gender equality to child mortality, biodiversity to broadband access, unemployment to urban ecology.

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Panel on Data Infrastructures and their Publics at “Evidence and the Politics of Policymaking” Conference, University of Bath, 14th September 2016


As part of my new role as Prize Fellow at the University of Bath, I’m organising a panel on data infrastructures and their publics at a conference on “Evidence and the Politics of Policymaking” this coming Wednesday 14th September 2016.

The panel will feature new research and reflections on this topic from:

  • Liliana Bounegru (University of Groningen + University of Ghent), who will be talking about her research on data work and data infrastructures in journalism (including examples from the Changing What Counts report and her work mapping journalism code ecologies on GitHub);
  • Tommaso Venturini (King’s College London), who will be talking about sprinting with data as means to engage different publics around data infrastructures – including the fantastic Climaps project, his work with Bruno Latour and a preview of some material from his forthcoming book on controversy mapping;
  • Sabine Niederer (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences), who will be talking about “reclaiming data” with the Citizen Data Lab – including through participatory design sessions, visualisation initiatives and digital methods for mapping cities.

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Prize Fellowship at University of Bath


This month I’ll be starting a new Prize Fellowship at the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath. The Prize Fellowships mark fifty years since the founding of the university in 1966.

This is a fantastic opportunity for me to develop the research agenda that I’ve been working on around the politics of data – including at the University of Amsterdam and the médialab at Sciences Po earlier this year. This includes a book project on Data Worlds; several associated papers and research projects; and a new initiative engaging researchers, civil society groups and public institutions around public data infrastructures.

I’ll continue to be involved with policy and research activities at Open Knowledge International (albeit in more of an advisory capacity), and will continue to be active around many of the topics that I have worked on over the past decade – from civil society data and democratic engagement around data infrastructures, to tax justice and the transparency of clinical trials. I’ll also remain involved as a Research Associate with both the Digital Methods Initiative and the DATACTIVE project.

If you’d like to hear more about these research plans, or if you’re potentially interested in collaborating, please do get in touch.

50th Anniversary Prize Fellowships from University of Bath on Vimeo.

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