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Jeni Tennison, Chief executive officer, The Open Data Institute

Path to power

 

I trained as a psychologist, gaining a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Nottingham. I then worked as an independent consultant and practitioner, specialising in open data publishing and consumption. This included being the technical architect and lead developer for legislation.gov.uk, working on the early linked data work on data.gov.uk and helping to engineer new standards for the publication of statistics as linked data. I have contributed to several international standards through the W3C and was appointed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee to serve on the W3C’s technical architecture group from 2011 to 2015, during which time I chaired the W3C’s HTML data task force. More recently, I co-chaired the W3C’s CSV on the web working group. Having joined The Open Data Institute (ODI) as technical director in 2012, I was appointed CEO in 2016 and sit on a number of boards, including the advisory boards for the Open Contracting Partnership and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data; the Board of Ada, the UK's National College for Digital Skills; and the Co-operative's digital advisory board. I was awarded an OBE for services to technology and open data in the 2014 New Year Honours.

 

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

 

The highlight of my career so far has to be the launch of legislation.gov.uk. It was brilliant to be involved in a project that could demonstrate how to publish data well on the web, both from a technical perspective and a licensing and policy perspective. It was also the start of a move towards a more collaborative way of maintaining that data through an expert participation programme, which has made a real impact on the quality and utility of legislation data in the UK and been a model elsewhere. I’m still proud to have been involved in that work.

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

I have learned so much from other people. The advice I’d give to my younger self would be to engage with people, make friends, go to meet-ups and conferences. Ask other people questions about the challenges they are facing and how they’re approaching them.The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal really changed the way in which people engaged with questions about who should have access to data, how it should be used and under what circumstances it should be shared. I went into 2018 thinking that people would see the new data portability power under GDPR as an opportunity, but the FB/CA scandal turned that ability to share data with third-parties into a risk. It’s moved the role of data in our societies and economies into everyday conversations and highlighted the importance of getting this right.

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

It looks like there’s a real possibility that there could be an election or a referendum this year. We now have a greater understanding about the way in which data is used to influence voters. I expect that will add to the existing intense interest in how to ensure data is used ethically and that those who misuse it are held to account. We will have to justify the way we collect and use data to our customers and to citizens. I expect to see more organisations highlighting their ethical handling of data as a selling point.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

The people who join ODI are motivated by our mission to work with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data eco-system. The more good, interesting and influential work we have done, the easier it has been to find talented people who want to work with us. For us it’s all about offering a place to work that matches people’s values and where they can make a difference.

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

I’m cautiously optimistic that the growing emphasis on ethics, equity and engagement around the use of data will mean that we’ll see fewer harms arising from poor data being used poorly.Data and analytics technology/service provider

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