I joined DAMA UK to connect and exchange ideas with other data specialists. The DAMA EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Chapters conference was an opportunity to turbo-charge that goal. When some of my committee colleagues suggested I go to present the findings of the UK chapter’s survey, I jumped at the chance.
This year’s meeting was a hybrid event, hosted in Bologna, with about 1000 virtual and 200 in-person participants, representing 60 countries, hundreds of organisations, and all kinds of data, technology and business functions.
The first day covered a wealth of big ideas in data practice. They were organised into three parallel streams, and the only grumble I heard was that everybody wanted to go to everything at the same time!
I started with a panel discussion featuring experts in the health sector, each effecting deep, and genuinely inspiring, transformation at very different stages of their organisational lifecycles.
I dropped into a great talk on socialising AI into our organisations: how to engage business-experts, especially the decision-makers, to frame the questions; and how to find ‘friendly’ ways to get them hands-on with the technology itself.
I went to see my friend, Ole, who literally wrote the book on Data Catalogues, walk us through the synergy with knowledge graph (spoiler: it doesn’t get you off the hook of data management; you have to organise your data first to unlock the power of any catalogue).
Then another panel discussion, looking at the democratisation of environmental data. Then another presentation, on what to expect from the impending EU AI Act.
By the end of the day I needed a lie down in a darkened room just to digest the dozens of new ideas (and quite a lot of tiramisu) I’d already consumed.
Day 2 brought the focus, largely, onto the work of the DAMA chapters themselves.
We heard from groups translating the DMBoK into their native languages, and the significance of that work in growing awareness of data management beyond the professional community. My mind was blown by hearing that the Finnish language has a single word meaning ‘data’ AND ‘information’ AND ‘knowledge’; that’s a challenge!
We had an exhilarating presentation from our youngest chapter, DAMA Egypt, who have really hit the ground at a sprint. It’s just two months since they were officially recognised by DAMA International, and already they have set up study groups, schools outreach, and are engaging with regulators to offer expert input into Egypt’s singular data protection laws.
I’ll admit, I was proud to hear my committee colleagues, Nigel Turner and Mark Humphries talk us through how DAMA UK has grown into far-and-away the biggest chapter in the EMEA region, and how we are having to reorganise our operations and provision to keep pace with our growing membership.
I spent the first half of my afternoon in a fantastic workshop, exploring the implications for data management of AI law. While it focused on the EU AI Act, this exercise gave a structure to help unpack data management’s role in the ethics and effectiveness of AI, as well as in the international race to regulate. If anyone would be interested in a DAMA UK version, I would love to hear from you!
Finally, I dropped back into the DAMA coordination meeting in time for a session on defining our shared objectives for the coming year. The UK delegates split our focus across themes: I chipped in on curriculum development and engagement with education; Mark on an ambitious vision of data maturity assessment at national scales; and Nigel on plans for the next conference…
Yes, there will be a next DAMA EMEA Conference, although that’s really as much detail as we have for now. It might be in 2024, or maybe 2025. We don’t know where, or by which chapter it will be hosted; possibly France or possibly even the UK. What I can say with confidence is that it will be worth going to.
Most strikingly, in its content and atmosphere, this was a community event: very different from the huge, commercially-oriented data conference we see filling our LinkedIn feeds and London’s exhibition centres.
Everyone, including the corporate sponsors, came willing to participate as equals. I arrived with just a handful of social media contacts, and left having established some wonderful friendships across continents!
As I said in my talk - more than anything, in our mission statement, and even on our logo - we are a community, working together and learning from each other to promote the value of our profession. The rewards are best – the inspiration and the empowerment – when we engage as a community: by showing up and chipping in at webinars; or making the effort to get to a regional meet-up; or trekking halfway round Italy to be inundated with learning and desserts.
As we roll into a new year, I really encourage you to think how you might engage a little bit more, and get a lot more out of your DAMA UK membership in 2024.