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Articulating Values as Technologists: the Data Together Reading Group

By Kelsey Breseman


Heather: What is it we go into decentralization wanting, and what is it capable of doing?

Kelsey: When we talk about decentralization in terms of social structures, it is almost entirely about increasing individual trust. But when we talk about it in a technical context, it is almost entirely about removing the need for trust, through technology.

Matt: From what qualities or associations does decentralization acquire a kind of moral authority for people like us?

Brendan: We were sucked into “decentralization” for political reasons. And then the cryptography keeps us connected, because it seems to make good on some of those promises. But as soon as we hit the implementation layer, this stops being the kind of decentralization that we showed up for.

— from the Decentralization discussion, Data Together


Data Together sites itself at the intersection of high-level ethics discussions and practical technical implementation. The group’s premise is to articulate values in the space of data stewardship– primarily as people actively engaged in the care or rescue of data.

The group has been meeting for two years, in thematic six-ish month arcs termed “semesters”.

For the most recent semester, the group’s discussions were released in a more condensed blog post form:

Readings range from pieces by political economists like Elinor Ostrom; to blog posts from technologists such as Vitalik Buterin and Paul Frazee; to more socially oriented writings from sources like the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition.

The blog-post forms of these conversations serve to highlight and contextualize key aspects of the readings, hopefully making them more engaging to a broader (and particularly a technical) audience.

Much of the key work of the semester is in identifying and curating reading selections. This is done in a participatory way: anyone can suggest a piece, then the facilitator selects around thirty pages of core reading to organize around central questions and themes.

We encourage you to use our work and adopt these readings for your own discussion group! You can find a full syllabus for the semester at datatogether.org/reading/semester_2/.