Making Data Less Scary

Happy Halloween,

We thought it appropriate to highlight the *scary* side of data — especially because we’re in the business of making data more approachable, less intimidating, and ultimately more human. But if the goal is to get more people to use data in their organizations and programming, should we really focus on the less-than-appealing side of data? Absolutely. Because by building awareness of scary data practices, we can move into a more critical, thoughtful place as we consume, collect, share, and use data.

So, what are some instances of scary data? Although there are plenty of ways data is misused, intentional or subconsciously, our team reflected on some of the primary ways we see data used in un-boo-lievable ways.

  • Forgetting to include the community or stakeholders in the process
  • Drifting away from the primary questions and collecting data about something else
  • Not pausing to consider one’s own positionality or perspective and how that influences the process from start to finish
  • Missing the ‘why’ and ‘for whom’ of the research endeavor, evaluation project, or strategic planning exercise
  • Communicating findings and action items in ways that don’t appeal to the intended consumers or users of the information

You’re probably thinking of a few more yourself. But starting with this list, we see an opportunity to: 

  • Be intentional about partnering with stakeholders — especially those who have the most to gain (and lose) from the research or evaluation. Instead of an extractive process, serve as a conduit to float meaningful insights to the top.
  • Sit in reflection to identify the primary research or evaluation questions and taking it a bit further and asking why these questions have value and for whom they are being explored.
  • Pause. Instead of removing ourselves for the purpose of unbiased research, recognize that as participants, researchers, evaluators, and facilitators — we’re having an impact on the process and outcome. Name it. Embrace it.
  • Pause some more. Remind yourself why you’re engaging with data — regardless of whether you’re collecting, analyzing, or consuming. Who is it in serve of? You’ll learn a lot.
  • Communicate findings with intention. This means a dashboard for some and an infographic or technical report for others. And in the process of determining the best tool, asking yourself whether you’re serving yourself or the primary stakeholders through the findings.

For our team, this is built into our processes across applied research, evaluation, and organizational development. It means stopping. Reflecting. Asking the hard questions. Otherwise, we find ourselves in scary places — one where data becomes less friendly, more commercialized, and overall less people-centered. 

Instead of finding ourselves contributing to scary data practices, we are challenging these data practices through coaching, project consultations, engaging courses, and casual chats over coffee or a beer. Each are small steps towards making data more human, less intimidating, and more approachable. Drop us a line and tell us about a scary data experience or how you’re making data more human!

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