A data user group should create an open, comfortable environment where residents feel invested in contributing their perspective. Encouraging members to foster their creativity, share ideas on an equal playing field, and provide constructive feedback are all key pieces of this. With that in mind, the following are a few guiding principles to keep in mind as you plan your data user group.
Everyone is welcome
User group meetings are not just for “data geeks” and “tech nerds.” Anyone who has an interest in the topic should be welcome. These meetings are for anyone who cares about local issues to identify ways to use data to do good.
If you are organizing a data user group focused on environmental issues, for example, consider inviting local conservationists, gardeners, hikers, and fellow water drinkers. Choose a date, time, and place that will be reasonably convenient for these participants.
Focus on facilitation
A thoughtful, active facilitator can greatly improve the outcomes of data user group meetings. If you are not a natural facilitator, seek out someone who is and ask them to join the project. A facilitator's most important role will be working to keep conversations positive and productive — "no shaming or blaming," as Bob Gradeck of WPRDC likes to say. Data user group meetings only work if community members feel safe and comfortable expressing their opinions and an active facilitator is a crucial part of creating that space. We talk more about this in the Facilitate your event section.
Plan to stay involved
Like any community improvement effort, long-term involvement is a key part of success. In-person meetings are a great opportunity to meet and brainstorm ideas. Continued relationships over time between data providers, intermediaries, and community members are how those ideas will be put into action.
Data user groups at their best are playful and creative — an opportunity to let people's imaginations run wild about open data and how it might be used. Remembering to have fun, and finding a facilitator who helps others do the same, can help newcomers and experienced data users alike feel at home.