Introducing Data User Group Meetings: A Framework for Shared Conversation About Data

by Bob Gradeck

November 17, 2015

One of the things we’ve noticed through our work as a data intermediary is that people usually don’t talk to each other about how they are using or want to use data. Data publishers don’t often have opportunities to listen to data users. Data publishers don’t have a way to talk to one another, especially across institutions. User-user interactions are ad-hoc (at best). As a result, users aren’t able to benefit from a collective approach to informed decisionmaking and are unable to build strong communities of practice.

When users and publishers don’t talk to each other:

  • Publishers don’t receive feedback on the quality of data they release.
  • User needs and community priorities aren’t reflected in publishing priorities.
  • Users miss opportunities to learn more about data they’re using, or data that is potentially available.
  • Publishers don’t benefit from skills and expertise to be found in the broader community.

When publishers don’t talk to each other:

  • Publishers fail to adopt common data and publishing standards that make data more useful.
  • Opportunities to share hardware and software costs and collectively negotiate on price are lost.
  • Opportunities to learn from the experience of other publishers are missed.

When users don’t talk to each other:

  • They often fail to coordinate with each other in their work, which leads to inefficiencies and wasted time.
  • Collaboration on projects or even working together on some of the more basic tasks (i.e. processing data) doesn’t happen.
  • Opportunities to learn from each other are lost. Most of the knowledge developed in the use of data is tacit and never recorded.
  • Users fail to organize, making it nearly impossible to lobby or advocate for broader data sharing.

Communication between data publishers and users is something we’re trying to encourage through the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center. We’re looking to break down silos among publishers and users in a number of ways.  For example, users are able to make an informal data request through the data portal, and post comments related to a specific dataset. We’ve also developed a framework for shared documentation through our Data User Guides. We’re also likely to set-up a slack channel for group conversation in the coming months.

Nothing takes the place of personal interaction. Our Data User Group meetings will provide a mechanism for shared, topical conversation about data. Our User Group meetings are open to all, and provide data users with infrastructure to build relationships with one another, share what they’ve learned about data, contribute to Data User Guides, identify opportunities to adopt data standards and improve data quality, discuss new data publication priorities, and collaborate on new projects. We’ll rotate topics and are interested in learning more about what you want to talk about.

We’re excited to launch the first of many shared conversations about data on December 4th at 3pm. We’ll be holding our first Data User Group meeting to talk about data related to environmental justice along with our partners at the Allegheny County Health Department and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH). The meeting will take place at GSPH (130 DeSoto St.) in room 109. Details and an RSVP link can be found on our event page.

We’re making it up as we go, and glad to have you along for the ride. We hope to see you on December 4th.