by Chris McGivern & SF Team, 26 February 2019
On the 1st of March this year, we said goodbye to Peter Cunliffe-Jones and Mad Price Ball as fellows and welcomed them warmly as Shuttleworth Alumni. Peter and Mad’s fellowship projects are worlds apart, yet both ask provocative questions about information.
Peter worked on public information, checking claims made by public figures and institutions in the media and online. Mad worked with information of the individual on their Open Humans project, querying our relationship with personal data. Both fellows have contributed a significant amount to our learning in their respective fields.
Peter Cunliffe-Jones spent his three-year fellowship working on Africa Check, an independent fact-checking organisation he founded to stem the flow of mis- and disinformation in Africa.
Beginning with a small skeleton team in Johannesburg, he has successfully scaled Africa Check to extend its reach, operating directly in four countries and supporting new fact-checking organisations in 14 other countries, while simultaneously training thousands of journalists in the art of checking the facts.
He has established a strong argument for tackling misinformation from all angles, identifying the need to both expose false claims, and reduce their supply at the source. One of its key successes is reducing Facebook views of false news by an average of 80 per cent, and plans are underway to introduce factual information into communities where myths and urban legends are spread by word of mouth.
Our investment in Peter as an individual has paid huge dividends, too. He has become a prominent and influential figure in uniting the world’s fact-checkers with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and propelled the movement forward into a professionalised field, grounded in agreed principles and practices.
Peter’s fellowship teaches us much about the value of facts, and also how we can better use them as a resource. His holistic approach is centred in science and research, creating deep insight on what works and what doesn’t; not just for Africa Check, but for the benefit of the entire fact-checking ecosystem. And from the Foundation’s perspective, it has been wonderful to see Peter - a constant learner throughout his fellowship - instil openness at the core of the IFCN, carrying our philosophical torch into new territory.
Mad Price-Ball worked on Open Humans, a community-driven project enabling individuals to share personal data and become active participants in research. In a world where everything we do is tracked, traced and measured, Open Humans asked an intriguing question: How can we better use our data to improve our own lives?
At the beginning of their fellowship, the Open Humans vision was that people would contribute and have an influence on major projects for the benefit of themselves and society. There are signs this idea could blossom, still; for example, sufferers of Type I Diabetes can join the Nightscout community and share or donate data sets with studies. However, in the early stages, it became clear that this vision was too nebulous for Open Humans and its community for its structure at the time. Mad’s work over the last two years has been critical in refining and shaping the organisation to something with more purpose and a clearer vision.
Now, Open Humans has diverted slightly to focus on what we think, what we measure, and what is studied around our personal data. They have created tools and enabled environments for people to engage with their personal information, while the platform encourages them to think about data in a positive, more scientific way. People continue to share and donate data in an array of different fields, but on a much more personal level.
We are excited about the potential for Open Humans and keen to see what the result of this pivot might bring in the future. And our investment in Mad has seen them establish themselves as a leader, bring in the right people to thrive, and become an integral figure in building towards organisational sustainability.
Congratulations Peter and Mad - and welcome to the Shuttleworth Alumni!