Jonathan Brun

Understanding the Other

Understanding a fellow person’s point of view is often extremely hard, yet it can be extremely powerful. Beyond our opposable thumbs, language and large brains – our ability to coordinate our actions into group priorities is probably the most defining human skill. We are remarkably good at discussing, finding compromise and choosing a path of action for a collective group. Yes, we have a war here and there, but we’re generally good at it.

I recently read three great books on negotiating, discusing hard issues and understanding another person’s moral perspective. Getting to Yes is a quick and easy read on negotiation tactics, it could be boiled down to: discuss principles, not positions. This classic negotiation book outlines easy skills you can employ in any negotiation.

Difficult Conversations is the follow up to Getting to Yes. It explains how to understand another person’s history and perspective on an issue. It walks through how to put yourself in the some else’s shoes and find solutions – or at least communicate better.

The recent book by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, lays out a six pillar moral fondation that all humans use to evaluate decisions. It is an amazing book that is already having an impact in the political world. The six pillars he identifies through various studies are Care for the other (poverty), Harm to others (golden rule), Sanctity of institutions (church), Respect for Authority (father-son), Loyalty to a group (sports team, military) and Liberty and oppression (government, laws). You can read a detailed description of these pillars here and you can see Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk where he summarizes his findings. Haidt argues that Liberals (lefties) put much more emphais on the first two, while social conservatives place an equal(ish) emphasis on all six. There is a lot more meat to it than that, so I encourage all to take a look.

These three books are well written that really help you see where you’re priorities and concerns lie and where someone else might be speaking from. As with many great books, these ones analyse and then systematize many ideas and principles we know in the back of our mind, but have difficulty implementing or applying. I’m personally looking forward to using these tactics in a charged political discussion soon.

If all of us – especially those in the political world – read these books, the world would be a much more civil place. Of course, we will never agree on everything and political parties and opinions are here to stay, but these books paint a fascinating portrait of the human condition and how it alters our perception of the world.

Published on May 20, 2012

Open data is step one

A blog post entitled “Why the ‘Open Data Movement‘ is a Joke” is making the rounds. There are already excellent rebuttals by David Eaves here and Socrata here and frankly, I don’t have much to add. One thing I will say is that Open Data does risk becoming a PR stunt by government authorities, so we must be vigilant. True and meaningful opening up of government (not just data), must be enshrined in law, there is no other option. In fact, government transparency should be constitutional or in Canada, part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that it remains out of reach of closed minded governments with things to hide. It should be every citizen’s right to obtain real-time digital and open data from the government.

Let’s be clear, the ultimate goal of the open data mouvement is simple: transform government from a closed by default position where citizens request access to information to a government that is open by default and which must defend why a non-personal piece of information SHOULD NOT be made public.

Using fluffy open data (transit, sign-posts, wait times at hospitals) might seem dangerous, but I believe it will set an expectation on the part of citizens. This expectation is a foundation to continuously request more serious, meaningful and higher quality data. Time will tell, but I have no doubts concerning the seriousness and intent of the open data mouvement.

P.S. We see more and more access to information advocates at open data conferences, so the future is hopeful.

Published on May 9, 2012