The conventional way of looking at data is very effective at keeping the complex and messy lives of people as far from power as possible. It says that the highly educated and wealthy define the problems, solutions, and measures of success. Everything that falls outside of these pre-definitions is unreliable, un-measurable, unverifiable, or untrustworthy. That way keeps wealth in the hands of philanthropy and industry, decisions in the mouths of policymakers, and knowledge in the academy. That way maintains the status quo.
But what if we don’t maintain the status quo? What if we challenge these ideas about data? What if, instead of using our methods to create and use reliable datasets so people can trust in our analyses and make data-driven decisions, what if we start with trust and see what happens? What if we start by trusting the people in the communities we work with, and then create the conditions that lets them trust us? What if they're the ones making decisions based on their lives, witches and all? What happens when everything they say and do is valid, trustworthy, verifiable, and measurable?
Over the years, Nora and I have generated a series of statements we rely on to guide our data inquiry. These are still a work in progress.
Question: If you’re rethinking your data practices, how will these ideas take form in budgeting, coding, analysis, or reporting?
Connect: A. Rafael Johnson is the Vice-President of Inspire to Change. A novelist, he also teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Loft Literary Center. His novel The Through was a finalist for the 2018 Minnesota Book Award.