Why is learning about data important?


Data and technology have become a part of our daily lives. At work and at home, we are creating and using more data than ever before. We are also creating data from things we never used to before such as our friendships and emotions. A process called datafication.

Datafication: The transformation of social action into online quantified data. 
MayerSchönberger and Cukier (2013)
The progress we have made with data and technology over the past few years has endless possibilities. It has allowed us to find long lost relatives, stay in touch with friends and track and understand our health better. Within the non-profit sector, it has been used to better evidence impact, help identify high value donors, prioritise and give support to those most in need and allow organisations to communicate with beneficiaries in new ways. 
It has the potential to solve some of the world’s largest problems, from world hunger to climate change.  

How do we choose what we use data for?

With all of the possibilities of how we use data, it also needs to be harnessed with care and attention. How we use data and for what purpose, should be done with intention and integrity. In this way, we can use data to enrich and add value to our lives. Using this incredible resource in ways that we choose. Perhaps, even more importantly, it means we are in a position to choose not to use data for things which are immoral or unethical. 

The world as a whole has the right and responsibility to choose how and why we use data.

The issue with this is that right now, these choices and decisions are being made by too few people, mostly those within the data and technology fields. Both of these industries struggle with a lack of diversity. Whilst some strides have been made to have diverse representation within these fields there is still a way to go.

Women hold only 27% of roles in the Data and Analytics profession and African Americans account for just 3% of the Data and Analytics Community

When it comes to making decisions about how and why we use data, we also need diversity of thought and perspective when making these decisions. We need people who don’t come from these professions to engage in this conversation. The problem is that right now people aren’t in a position to engage with this topic because many of us haven’t had the right training to be able to take part.

How many people understand the data privacy issues of some of the social media sites we use or how recommender systems work to recommend what news we read? Buried in deep within there are some questions about the future of our world that everyone needs to be involved in answering. We don’t need to be able to write complex machine learning algorithms or want to choose data as a career, but we do need the data literacy to be able to engage skilfully and thoughtfully with conversations about how and why we use data.

Most crucially, we need to be able to have these conversations in the areas of data ethics and privacy. This applies to the world as a whole, but also importantly within your own organisation. Each individual should be equipped with the training and knowledge they need to be able to engage in a meaningful conversation about how to use your data. Only then will you be able to harness all of the opportunities available to you as to how data can support you in making change the world, but also being certain that you are using data in a way which follows your organisations on code of ethics and morality. 

Learning about data therefore is about creating choices. Choices for you as an individual and choices for the organisation you work for.
“Life presents many choices, the choices we make determine our future.”
– Catherine Pulsifer


We are producing and using more data than ever before. It has changed the way we navigate the world in a variety of ways and has the potential to solve some of the largest problems we face today. We also need to make sure we choose how and why we use data with care and integrity. This is a conversation for the whole world to be engaged in, as we shape what tomorrow looks like. In order to engage in these conversations (whether within our own homes, an organisation or wider), it is important that everyone has the training and knowledge to  be able to actively participate in and express our own opinions so that as diverse a group as possible can make these decisions.

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