Data education Quotes


A friend once described me as an “Eater of Books” in the rate at which I consumed them…

Mitch Joel has the right of it when talking about Infovores,  which is another way I’d describe myself

The good

Personally, I have a hard time watching a dance competition on TV knowing full-well that iTunes U is stuffed to the digital rafters with audio and video Podcasts from some of the leading universities and given by the best professors… and that’s just one, small channel.

And the less good

The other side of the challenge is that there is simply not enough time to follow, consume and deeply ingest everything. You will never be able to read every e-newsletter, Blog post, tweet or listen/watch every Podcast or interesting YouTube video. As an Infovore, I’ve become quite comfortable with a diet that consists of both grazing and then taking the time to really enjoy a full and hearty meal (I tried to read one book every week). The mightiest of Infovore’s embrace the “mark all as read” button and take refuge in knowing that it’s not about consuming everything.


Candid strategy Technology Uncategorized

Algorithms : prose written by people

As the ACLU highlights the problem of Algorithms that discriminate we need to remember that Algorithms are only as good as the assumptions that they’re based on.

In reality we’d be better off if we replaced the idea of Algorithms as “clean unbiased maths” with “prose instructions written by fallible people.”

But alongside the potential for bringing about social progress, the Internet also holds the possibility of contributing to unlawful discrimination. An example of this potential negative impact is a patent recently acquired by Facebook that could conceivably permit loan servicers to gain access to the credit ratings of a loan applicant’s social network and then use that information to determine whether the applicant qualifies for a loan. The patent combines the possibility of serious invasions of privacy with the realistic prospect of illegal lending discrimination.

More here.  The Guardian also had a piece on some of these problems two years ago.

Image of Justice via Wikimedia

News and Events People Uncategorized

Yes to equality.

On Friday the Near Future principals Keith and Dermot will be voting yes to equality and we’re encouraging everyone do do the same.

We believe this is a matter of human rights, and that it should be the case that”“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

It is a simple as that.

The Irish Times summed it up well when saying

We devalue many lives by confining them to second class status. We tell children of “irregular unions” they are worth less, and young people struggling with sexual identity that some choices are less valid, trapping many in secret, painful worlds of denial. We tell couples their commitment to each other can never be as deep or valid as the relationships their brothers, sisters, or parents have been committed to. And that the State will not offer them the same protection, the same honour.

That is not who we are as a people. We are generous and open, inclusive and non-judgmental. And we are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage. That is why we will vote Yes.


Communication Digital Transformation Painless Change Technology Uncategorized

Technology and Change in under three minutes

I use this video regularly to highlight some key points on Technology and Change

It has the virtues of being very true and very funny.

change education politics Science

Who benefits from the continuation of culture ?

From something I wrote a decade ago that still seem quite appropriate given the difficulty we have we with change in this country

who benefits from the continuation of culture. “The sanctity of property, the unflinching materialism of farmer calculations, the defense of professional status” were for decades the key values of the Irish State, values baptized by the Church (Lee, 1989 pp 159). These barren virtues were typical of the mercantile cultures that predated the intellectual enlightenment in Europe, and indicate unenlightened attitudes to knowledge and innovation as dangers that can upset the status quo. Innovation does upset the status quo, generating a new dynamic in a non-linear system leads to unpredictable results. Enabling this dynamic to proceed is the essence of economic growth and development. Powerful interest groups tend to block technologies to protect their rents (Mokyr, 2000, 2002); society’s structures, beliefs, and attitudes need to ensure that dynamic change is allowed to occur.

The essential Faustian bargain of dynamic living systems is the recognition that the birth of new things involves the death of old things.

Candid News and Events Uncategorized

Dubunking some of our notions about support for Science

We held our first #debunk in the Project Art Centre on the 9th of April.  It’s the first in a series of free morning Near Future events in Dublin where we explore #debunking some of the truism’s that misguide us all in our thinking and decision making.

After great coffee and pastries our first speaker Barre Fitzpatrick (pictured above) spoke eloquently on the nature and role of funding for basic Science research in Ireland.  This is a topic of critical importance to Ireland as a society and its place in the world. Barre pointed out that before 1999 we lacked a serious policy and investment in Science. This despite significant achievement in Science over many years.

The changed with the foundation of Science Foundation Ireland in 2000 and in some respects the period from 2000-2009 can be seen as a brief golden age for Science in Ireland.  An all too brief period it seems. Despite a decade of work the foundations that were being build are starting to crumble. A letter signed by over 900 Irish Scientists appearing just before our talk served to underline this problem.

A key point that Barre made, and is raised by the letter is that

By their very nature, such discoveries are not predictable and cannot be prescribed by what the Government calls “oriented basic research”. Equally unpredictable are the areas in which important discoveries will be made. Basic research should be funded on the criterion of excellence alone to ensure a credible and sustainable scientific infrastructure.

The Innovation Union Scorecard shows that Ireland

According to the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2014, Ireland ranks ninth on the performance of research and innovation systems in the EU countries.

Sweden tops the list, followed by Denmark, Germany and Finland. These states have balanced research and innovation systems, with very good performance on all aspects evaluated (research and innovation inputs; business innovation activities; innovation outputs; and economic effects).

As Barre noted during the talk most Irish statistics used relate back to numbers for 2009. When the system was at it’s strongest.

Barre took us through some critical points on language and the use of language with regards to research.  The linguistic positioning of research as “pure” and “ivory-tower” and a “blue sky” approach was contracted with the need for a pragmatic “grounded” approach in Ireland’s straightened circumstances. This illustration

Using another metaphor a recent piece in the Irish times wrote that

Making sure we have an SSTI policy that delivers is crucial. The age-old metaphor– “the chain is as strong as the weakest link” – is very relevant here both in relation to RD&I policies for enterprises and for investment in research and development in the higher education sector, since research and innovation are on a continuum.

To thrive in the 21st Century Ireland needs the correct State policies in place to foster local innovation, a system of secondary education that produces a scientifically literate knowledgeable society, a system of tertiary education that generates new knowledge, an industrial system that works with the educational system to produce innovative goods and services, and a system of state structures that provides the overarching framework to support innovation. The system must be dynamic enough to anticipate, pre-empt, and adapt to exogenous change yet static enough preserve the ability to change.

Despite our rhetoric about the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) we are failing badly at this.

Barre’s inspired half hour exposition led into a further animated  half hour discussion amongst the attendees before we reluctantly wrapped up just after 9am.

conference People personal

A sense of #Úllconf

I have copious notes to write up on Ùll. Pages and pages. Eventually

The images below are a sensory fragments of a  “A family wedding without the family rows.”

It is to paraphrase someone in the corridor “Enough technology to qualify as a business event, but to call it a technology event undersells the scale of what it does”.

And yes. The 5K was completed (evidence below).
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Communication strategy Technology Uncategorized

Snails, Systems and Slack

Paul Quigley CEO of Newswhip wrote a lovely blogpost about the great Snail Derby of 1998. Faced with the problem of getting the Snails to race in the same direction, an innovative 6yo came up with Snail Trails.

 Snail trails. Snail trails are not a product you can buy. Snail trails are a streak of water, placed in front of a snail using one’s fingertip.

You see, snails prefer pushing themselves over wet surfaces than dry surfaces. My girlfriend observed that a simple streak of wetness leading directly from the snail’s current position to the finish line kept them on the straight and narrow, so to speak. Snail trails saved the day, and the snail derby of 1988 was a roaring success.

Paul goes on to describe how you create snail trails for customer acquisition for SaaS businesses.

There is a broader lesson for businesses in the use of technology.  Demming said that “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”  A snail trail is a better system. It’s a very clever use of lightweight technology to reduce friction in a process.  Good systems do that. They reduce organisational friction.  They drive better organisational conversations.   And the value of reducing friction in processes and conversations is very very large.

One company that is building organisational snail trails is Slack.  I’m a very big fan of Slack. The value of what it’s is doing is rumoured to be up to $2 Billion. Double what it was worth 12 months ago. That’s part of the value that Slack is capturing. And it reflects a small portion of value that it is creating by building better Snail Trails.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Dermot has extensive expertise in the area of Digital Transformation and Strategy.[/author_info]

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Our featured image is Snail Trails from Luís Estrela on Flickr


Less a conscience provision than bigotry derived from religious principles

The Catholic Church would like to insert a conscience provision around the forthcoming equal marriage legislation. Not one that has an opt out for priests. That already exists.  But they’re looking for one for lay Christians. Asking “does he not have freedom of conscience. Is his conscience different to mine as a priest”.

At one level it sounds almost reasonable. What’s not to like about having freedom of conscience? In the end though religious based bigotry is still bigotry. Its also a power play. If you are member of a religious group and members of religious groups have an opt out from providing certain services there will be an attempt by the church to ensure that none of its members provide those services.

More fundamentally its freedom for bigotry. As with many good arguments when I Googled a few specific phrases, a well written version of what I wanted to say presents itself  on Crooked Timber

Bigotry derived from religious principles is still bigotry. Whether the people who implemented Bob Jones University’s notorious ban on inter-racial dating considered themselves to be actively biased against black people, or simply enforcing what they understood to be Biblical rules against miscegenation is an interesting theoretical question. You can perhaps make a good argument that bigotry-rooted-in-direct-bias is more obnoxious than bigotry-rooted-in-adherence-to-perceived-religious-and-social-mandates. Maybe the people enforcing the rules sincerely believed that they loved black people. It’s perfectly possible that some of their best friends were black. But it seems pretty hard to make a good case that the latter form of discrimination is not a form of bigotry. And if Friedersdorf wants to defend his sincerely-religiously-against-gay-marriage people as not being bigots, he has to defend the sincerely-religiously-against-racial-miscegenation people too. They fit exactly into Friedersdorf’s proposed intellectual category.

This, by the way, is also why section 37 of the employment equality act, which legalises certain forms of institutional bigotry also needs to be removed.



Data education

Minister’s Reply to Primary Online Database Complaint

I received the following reply to my email complaint in relation to the Primary Online Database (POD). Link takes you to the full letter. The fundamental questions still remain unanswered.

My comments are interspaced with text from the Ministers  letter

On retention of data

The current retention policy for Primary Online Database (POD) data is for records to be maintained for the longer of either the period up to the pupil’s 30th Birthday or for a period of ten years since the student was last enrolled in a primary school

The Department’s retention policy is for audit and accounting purposes as pupil’s data is used in the allocation of teaching posts and funding to schools. The policy also serves to trace retention trends in the education system, is important for longitudinal research and policy formation, as well as being an important statistical indicator nationally and internationally.

Aggregate and not individual data is used for the majority of these purposes

This reads to me as “we’ll hold data until the kids are 30 even though we only need aggregate information for statistical purposes.”

There is a clear conflict  in need between aggregate information, information for allocation of resources while children are in school and holding detailed information until the children are 30 (or possibly longer given we don’t know what processes will be in place to remove the information in 18 years time).

On the racist nature of the cultural/ethnic categories

We are committed to reviewing the questions asked in POD. As part of this we have reviewed our question in POD on the collection of information on Ethnic or Cultural Background. We feel that the question used to collect data on ethnic or cultural background should be harmonised across all the education partners and other bodies who collect this type of information. As the CSO is the National Statistical Office, we are taking our lead from them. However, while the question asked in POD is not the exact same as the question asked in the Census of Population, it is based on the question.

I’d describe this as “some of the questions we asked were a bit racist so we’re changing the question and taking our lead from the CSO”.  It’s important to note that the CSO’s questions is problematic

In this regard the Statistics Section of the Department met with the CSO’s Census of Population Division to discuss concerns such as yours. They too accept that the variant of the ethnicity question on the 2016 census may fall short of what could be expected in today’s multi-racial Ireland. Unfortunately, given the no-change’ census approach being adopted for Census of Population 2016 it is not possible to change the CSO question at this stage. However the CSO has indicated that it is considering holding a seminar to examine how the data in this area can be improved from the point of view of maximising the number of write-in responses to increase the variety of ethnic description captured,

As pointed out on Twitter the Religion question on the Census is also problematic and the CSO don’t appear to be anxious to change it.  The Religion question in the POD is similarly problematic.

In terms of the complaints (in italics) I made to the Minister and the Department this is how I’d summarise it

1. Excessive retention of data. The retention of data until Children are 30 years of age is clearly excessive.

Not addressed.

2. Not using data for the purpose it was collected. I shared data with my school for very specific purposes. I have not consented to transferring this information to the Department. As it is not clear why some of this information is being collected at all the is a clear lack of purpose in collection of the data

Not addressed. The answer here seems to be we’ll decide what is appropriate even if we clearly don’t understand why we’re collecting the information.

3. Collection of unnecessary highly sensitive information. Some of the data being requested is highly sensitive (medical, psychological data) and there is no clear grounds for collecting this information

Not addressed at all 

4. Lack of appropriate security and safeguards around the data (including transmission of the data between schools and the department) It is not clear how or where the data is being retained and stored.  And the proposed mechanisms for transmission of data are hard to implement and easy to make mistakes around

Partly addressed in terms of storage of data but not addressed in terms of either access to information or in terms of transmission of data to schools and retention in schools.

5. Data is supposed to be accurate. There will be an inability to contain accurate information in light of free format text data and any information can be held in these fields.

Partially and poorly addressed. 

The “Notes” area is for schools’ use only, it will only be accessible to the school where the child is currently enrolled, and will not be transferable from one school to the next if the child is moving school. It is intended to keep administrative information which is required at school level only.

Its not clear why this data field is here and why if data for schools use only is being held in a central database and will be held until the child is 30.

6. The categorisation of the data on ethnic and cultural grounds is clearly racist and undermines the ability to store accurate information. The usage of the data for state purposes is also undermined by the racist classification scheme.

Partially addressed as discussed above.

7. The Department is acting beyond its power. The Department of Welfare hasn’t been informed or consented to the use of PPSN

Addressed in terms of the formal right to use the information through Dept of Social Welfare. Not addressed in terms of retention of the data.