Home » Deciding “simple numbers” calls for collaboration boosters

Deciding “simple numbers” calls for collaboration boosters

Users of data often ask for “simple numbers.” But the data experts who sit across the table can only clear their throats and reply with a question: Which of the many possible numbers do you mean?

Answering that may be tougher for smart cities than for business, I imagine. In business, both sides of the table are likely to share values and context. But as cities open the data spigots, I expect those answers to take extra bits of “smart.” That calls for tools that give collaboration a gentle boost.

Imagine the scene: From the city might come staff experts, department heads, even elected officials. From the public might come interest-group experts, community activists, owners of mom’n’pop stores, or even the grandmother who’s mad as hell. Each side — there may be several — may have never set eyes on the other before, though some may know each other from decades of work together. Each side could have the most seasoned experts or fresh-faced newbies.

Alation vice president of marketing Stephanie McReynolds makes an analogy with a bicycle. You could walk across town, but it’s a lot easier on a bike. It’s a simple machine with no hidden parts. Like any good machine, it makes more of whatever effort you exert.

If only those who ask the “what numbers” question and those who must decide could all sit down knowing what questions, problems, and issues that each talked about among themselves. Past conversations — rich with context, observations, and ideas — can be preserved and studied. They’d all appreciate the complexity behind simplicity and the need to make the whole mess seem simple. Then those who demand “simple numbers” and those who can provide them might really talk.

Fat chance, you say, that anyone’s going to reveal their discussions. Some won’t. But open data and open discussions are both part of what it means to be “smart.”

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