Data Governance Power Struggles are unhelpful

by | Feb 4, 2020 | ICT4D |

When you read Webster‘s definition of governance it takes you to government. And in that definition words like authority, power, control, distribution, and political are repeated. So it is no surprise that when we talk about data governance people squirm a little in their seats, become passionate, or walk out. Or we try desperately to change the subject.

It takes a lot of courage to be able to say: “This is what works for me, but it might not work for everyone else, so perhaps we need to explore options.” It is easy to acknowledge how we manage data is not working or only works for a few. It takes courage to try, actually try, new approaches with the full knowledge that “this might not work.”

The humanitarian sector is full of power struggles over data. We have fully bought into the scarcity view. Erroneously we believe if I ‘own’ and ‘control’ the data, I win and you lose. We seem to have forgotten history and the great stories. Monopolies succeed for a short time, then are broken up. The characters in the stories who want to control everything are the villains (e.g. The Dark Lord Sauron) not the heroes.

The unfortunate thing is, we don’t need to fight over certain types of data. And actually we would all benefit if we did not. And more importantly, the people we claim to seek to serve, would also benefit. We all want to know who needs help, who has special vulnerabilities and need specialised attention. We all want aid to be more effective, not diverted, and fairly distributed. No one wants duplication. Having the data about the people affected in a shared space would help with this. And this is the idea of a data trust.

And don’t worry, even if we did this, there would still be plenty of other things to fight about.

Photo by James Pond

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