Going Deeper, Beyond Data

by | Nov 14, 2019 | ICT4D |

Across the road a new housing development is being created. Walls are going up and roofs being put into place. We can see progress everyday. It’s only been a couple weeks since all the work vans descended and started.

And yet, work started on this development years ago. First as an idea, then plans drawn, planning permission sought from the local council. Eventually, diggers came putting in sewers, water, gas, and other utilities. Then all of that was covered over again. Finally today arrived and houses started rising out of the ground.

However, without that ‘unseen’ foundational work, the houses wouldn’t work and families wouldn’t eventually move in.

We can talk about sharing and how digital transformation. We can talk about technology and data. But these are a bit like the houses, the things above the ground that can be seen. Under ground are the unseen layers of critical work that continues to be needed – governance, standards, power, inequality, bias, and so on.

Maybe a plant analogy is better. If you take a white tulip and put it in water with blue colouring in it, the white tulip will turn blue. The same is true for our technology and data conversations. When bias, inequality, and power imbalances are in the ‘soil’ upon which we are growing, then our tech and data will be biased, unequal, etc. Just ask people with disabilities, women, people of a colour other than white, and so on.

We can talk about data and technology, but we need to go deeper.

 Data has an air of neutrality that veils the deep structural biases and inequities that give rise to our data-related challenges. The reality is that our data governance challenges are symptomatic of much deeper problems. But talking about “data” is easier than talking about power, inequality, exploitation, predatory business practices, democracy, racism, and misogyny, among other issues.

Elizabeth M. Renieris

Photo by Jamar Penny

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