The humanitarian sector, no the social sector as a whole, collects a lot of data. Data about people, about organisations, about locations, about services provided, financial data, legal data, and so on. As we have moved from paper to digital, the amount of data has increased, not decreased. Sometimes we collect data for compliance, sometimes we collect data speculatively, sometimes for research. We collect data because we can.
However, perhaps we should include a new process in our year end or annual reviews. Perhaps at least once a year, we should pause and ask why. Why do we collect this data? Who is it for? How is it used? What question is the data we collect helping to answer? What is the problem we are trying to solve?
Whenever I do this, almost without fail, part of the problem we are trying to solve is something to do with trust and evidence. And often, the trust and evidence factors are the most ill-defined. Therefore, the response is to collect more data to throw at it with the hope that the data will build trust and provide evidence. Weirdly, in many cases we have failed to ask the ‘other’ what would build their trust. Or what evidence they are looking for. So we collect more data with the hope that it works.
Maybe it’s time we do the hard work of defining these things. Maybe we don’t need all the data we collect and there is a different way. Because we do know that the more data we collect and the longer it stays around, the more harm it causes. And maybe, just maybe, what we think is evidence, what we think builds trust, is completely different from the other.
Maybe it’s time for a conversation.