When Sumerians created cuneiform, a system of writing, about 6,000 years ago, the ruling priest-kings were responsible for creating and saving records on properties, taxes, and commerce. The people of Sumer trusted their priests to correctly record and store data about their lives. Sadly that was not always the case. Even in the earliest days of record keeping, those who maintained data wielded power. That remains true today.
If we want to make our world a more equal place, we all need to be data literate and have access to data.
Recently, Data2X, a group committed to improving the production and use of gender data, published a report: The data value chain (PDF). The report covers how data evolves from “collection to analysis, dissemination, and the final impact of data on decision making.”
Here are the 12 steps the report outlines (PDF) to help us produce, use and share data to enable us to make informed decisions.
- Identifying: The natural first step is to identify the kind of data we need to collect and why we need to collect it.
- Collecting: Once we have identified what we are going to collect, we need to establish how we are going to do it.
- Processing: The way data is processed (“recorded, classified, and stored”) determines how useful or meaningful it will be.
- Publishing: Data is inherently a public good. When published in a machine readable format and made available both online and offline, data can do good. A lot of good. Offline publication of data is especially important in many parts of the world where Internet penetration is uneven or low.
- Disseminating: They say there is no fun in organizing a party without inviting people to it. Similarly, what’s the use of data when nobody knows it exists? We should disseminate data widely after publishing.
- Analyzing: Data needs to be analyzed for trends or gaps that might help us understand more about a particular issue or help policymakers make informed decisions.
- Connecting: Data is about people. Data can tell powerful stories about our lives. That’s why it is important to connect data with users. Users can be the general public, private companies or officials in public agencies. Through stories, data visualizations, trainings and seminars on data portals, we can connect data to users.
- Incentivizing: Let’s face it, we often base our views on the four I’s: instinct, inertia, ideology or ignorance, as Iqbal Singh Dhaliwal of J-PAL at MIT has said. Globally many of us still make decisions based on these. It’s up to all of us make changes. We need to create incentives for our governments and institutions to use data. Governments around the world are starting to adopt and implement Open Data Policies. Companies use data to inform their choices. But there need to be greater incentives to use data across the board.
- Influencing: Even when there are incentives to produce and share data, we need to ensure politicians and decision-makers value data and realize the potential benefits of evidence-based policy making.
- Using: This is simple, we ought to use data to understand our society, our own lives, and our problems, and then make choices to tackle those.
- Changing: If data can successfully change the outcome of our project or help us tackle a problem, we can build a habit of using data. As the report notes, positive change can also “increase the trust in the data, incentivizing further use.”
- Reusing: Everything is connected. For us to understand a larger problem and context, we need to be able to reuse one set of data with another set, and use it in diverse contexts freely.
What do you think? I welcome your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter: @ravinepal