CCT Unlocks Open Data: A Recap of gnoviCon 2015!

This past Friday, gnovis hosted its fourth annual gnoviCon conference: “Unlocking Open Data”. The event was a huge success with students, faculty, and interested parties gathering to explore the complicated world of data and its political and social implications.

Provost Robert Groves tells us about "open" data.

Provost Robert Groves tells us about “open” data.

The event began with a thought-provoking address from keynote speaker Provost Robert Groves. The Provost recounted his own experiences with big data while working with the US Census, the challenges of organic data (the data incidentally produced as part of the processes we engage with everyday in our increasingly connected world), and the rapid growth of data that has, in some respects, superseded its researchers. Following his presentation, Groves fielded a number of questions from the audience including CCT’s very own professors, Leticia Bode and David Lightfoot, on the ethics of big data.

Following Provost Grove’s Q&A, our illustrious panel, which included Pew Researcher Mary Madden, GW Professor and author Dr. Matt Hindman, Georgetown computer science professor Dr. Lisa Singh, and Sunlight Foundation Editorial Engineer Jacob Fenton, discussed the effects of big data for the future, particularly questions on privacy and the American public. It became very apparent that one of the biggest issues concerning “open data” is the term openness: Who has access and control? Can open data be a social good? And most importantly, how do we shelter our citizens, while also advancing socially and technologically?


Our amazing panelists (l to r): Mark Macarthy, Mary Madden, Matt Hindman, Lisa Singh, Jacob Fenton

While these questions remain controversial, our panel did an excellent job of bridging the gap between protection and progress.  What reverberated through the room was both a need for more transparency from those in control and a better understanding from each citizen about what big data is, how its being used, and the risks and affordances associated with our personal information.

Joining forces, the panel of four (moderated by Professor Mark McCarthy) answered queries with both humor and candor.

As a final wrap up, we hosted a “data jam.” Facilitated by gnovis Editor-in-Chief Zach Schalk, the jam gave conference participants the opportunity to look at a data set and apply real world solutions to everyday problems. The responses from our guests were creative and highlighted the ingenuity that can result when researchers use big data while thinking outside of the box. Everything from decorative parking meters to a rat tracker called “Ratabase” (soon to be trademarked by Mr. John Hanacek) showed how massive data sets can be used in innovative and challenging ways.

Thank you to all that participated. gnovis would like to send a special thank you to Provost Groves, our wonderful panelists, and the faculty members and students who came to support our event! With this conference we hope that CCT and gnovis have made open data a little more open.

We hope that you will all join us next year!

Tyler Goodridge

Tyler Goodridge is a second year MA candidate within Georgetown's CCT program. Her academic and professional interests include popular culture and social justice, specifically pertaining to marginalized groups within the US. She currently works as a media analyst for a women's reproductive rights organization.