We want the freedom to access all information quickly, without permission and to be able to do what we like with that data, when we want to and for the reasons we decide

I had only been at the data futures workshop for an hour when this string of words caught my attention and held it for the next five hours.

Data for me is a personal thing. When I go to the ATM and withdraw money, that transaction is between me and the bank. Similarly, if I were to search on google, watch videos on youtube, send txt messages to whanau and call friends, all of that data should be private.

Should be.

But it kind of isnt.

And thats what brought me along and had me thinking when attending the New Zealand Data Futures Forum workshop in Wellington a few days ago.

photoThroughout 2014, the NZ Data Futures Forum met with communities across the country to korero about the risks, opportunities, challenges and benefits we as a nation face when it comes to data. Data is the lifeblood of governments, businesses and community groups but has only come to be of recent importance to Maori as we tend to see information in different forms with different values placed upon them.

When the NZDFF visited Rotorua last year, the talk was around data but the words used were whakapapa, whenua, matuaranga, maramatanga, kaitiaki and rangatiratanga.

Maori conceptual thinking defined the wairua ecosystem in which whanau data existed. This was a point of difference in that we had knowledgable guardians to safeguard the mauri of the collective information which was handed down from one generation to the next. What hadnt been anticipated was the rapid growth of social media, digital connectivity and the ownership of economic data by private companies.

One of our rangatira noted that Te Arawa whakapapa is sourced within each whanau and hapu, and by that same thinking, all Te Arawa data should be considered and sourced back to the whanau and hapu, which would mean that Te Arawa had to build better relationships with government departments like Statistics New Zealand, and form strategic alliances with companies like Google, Vodafone, Facebook, Spark and 2Degrees, who share data insights into our iwi.

So at the Data Futures workshop, there was concern that often people felt trapped behind a one-way mirror, in that they were being watched yet had no way to control the data being collected about them, nor had any control over what that data could be used for.

The take on the table was around whether a New Zealand Data Council was even needed, and at the start, the kaupapa roopu wasnt that receptive of the idea. At the sharp end, some people did not want to help set up yet another ineffective government agency creating unnecessary regulation, hindering progress and causing undue delays. This seemed a fair enough point.

The greater issue in my mind was how Maori data had been treated (or neglected) for some time and that it wasnt until recently that mainstream society had even bothered to consider what we were doing.

As small groups we discussed points around access to data, permissions, the value of data eco-systems, data traceability, data standards, evidence-based decision making and the need for an agile, iterative, open & transparent data culture. Security and privacy issues started to surface and by lunchtime, these 2 issues were to become the elephants in the room.

And then someone said those fateful words: The GCSB.

gcsb-1200For many, the government spy agency is a raw and sensitive subject, with the broad understanding that our online lives are being watched and monitored for some governmental purpose, and that information is somehow shared with the US, the UK and Australia and other strategic partners. I think it was here that the idea for a Forum seemed to turn more favourable, and where I started to row in unison with my fellow participants.

If nothing else, my thinking was that we needed more advocates who could challenge the state and big business in an open effort to protect the data of our whanau. Right now, no one is doing that.

The idea that started to form in my mind was that more korero had to be had at all levels of Maori to encourage the active engagement, use and shared understanding of what exactly data is for whanau, hapu and iwi.

Right now, much of our land information is held by the Maori Land Court, our medical records are held in DHB databases, the cellphone companies know who we contact and when, Facebook and Google have a deep insight into our lives and all of these groups make vast amounts of money from our information.

Data rangatiratanga starts with the individual and with the whanau.

On a side korero, it has been with great interest that these past few we have tracked the development of a Whanau Database Tool that will help capture essential data like contact details, educational quals, land shares and link it all together with mapping and whakapapa tools. What excited us about this project was the ability to harness the collective energy of whanau and hapu through the power of numbers. If an entire hapu collectivised its data and controlled how, when and where its data was used, a transformational event would take place. Imagine if the 5 largest iwi built a local data centre and stored Maori information here at home that could be utilised to leverage new opportunities? That though, to me, seemed ground-breaking.

Anyway, the NZ Data Futures Forum had reported back its findings earlier this year and amongst their recommendations was the call for an independent Data Council, to create Catalyst Projects that could harness the value of data as a strategic asset and to base the Data Council on the four foundations of Value, Inclusion, Trust and Control.

We heard about various organisations that currently set and release standards, such as those in the geospatial and archival areas, but there was also a sense that sometimes standards are not adhered too nor are standards-based groups heard. One idea was that the Data Council could fill the gaps and problem solve, where required.

Another idea was to prepare a Thought Stream and a Work Stream, with both working in unison but conducting different roles around our nations data.

There was agreement that this wider korero needed more discussions around framing and that perhaps we all needed to take a fresh look at data.

An emerging area of tension was the view that all data had a commercial element and that online-case-files-and-digital-storage-are-two-goals-for-state-judicial-s_1074_649542_0_14000891_500-500x300the intrinsic value of data could help leverage new opportunities for New Zealand Inc. Some in the group voiced disapproval that all data was tradable and again, came back to the point of consent and whether some communities did not want their information, stats and data sold to the highest bidder. For them, a Data Council would put in place commercial limits and be able to enforce those limits in a Digital Court, much like we have with an Environment Court. That was a fascinating idea.

At the other end, Data Freedom advocates said that data empowers innovation and that if we as a nation wanted to be aspirational, that we needed to see the Big Picture and go fast when we had good ideas; that we had to reimagine our future by supporting Thought Leaders and to unlock the value of our data. In this view, data had huge growth while the capacity to manage data had a more gradual approach. If we truly wanted to be transformational, then we had to be new, original, pragmatic, progressive and future-focused.

When comparing these two ideals side by side, I could easily see both points but still thought it was best to come home to my whanau, hapu and iwi to discuss more before committing us to a larger kaupapa, in recognition that our collective knowledge has communal responsibilities.

In saying that, we will raise korero around the need, or not, for an independent Data Council, and equally, there are a number of data-inspired initiatives that will naturally drop out from this mahi, and we will ensure that we keep you informed.

He waka eke noa.
A canoe which we are all in with no exception.

pbt.

Update: The latest recommendations (29 March) from the NZDFF indicate that a Digital Councilis no longer being promoted; more the idea for Digital Partnerships. In light of this, we will head back to the whare for more korero and take this korero and decision in. More soon…