How might the Global Data Barometer promote critical engagements with data infrastructures?

The following is cross-posted from the Global Data Barometer. I’ll be helping to advise the project drawing on my research on the politics of open and public data, including Data Worlds.

I’m delighted to be joining the Global Data Barometer project. My role will be to help to review, write-up and reflect on the implications of the materials, perspectives and insights which have been gathered. I’m particularly interested in exploring questions like:

  • How are civil society groups engaging with public data and around public data infrastructures around the world?
  • What can we learn about the availability and capacity to use different kinds of data sources around the world?
  • What can we learn about the use and impact of open and public data around the world?
  • What kinds of tensions, frictions and emerging issues and opportunities can be identified around data access, re-use and governance?
  • How might the Global Data Barometer broaden public engagement around data practices, policies and governance around the world?

I’m interested in how the Global Data Barometer organises and formats transnational, cross-sectoral civil society engagement around datafication and data infrastructures in particular ways and what we can learn from this. I’ve previously written about how projects such as the Open Data Index may both aim to conventionalise assessment of data around the world as well as surfacing different perspectives, issues and frictions.

My research explores the role of digital data, digital methods and digital infrastructures in the composition of collective life. I’m currently working on a book on Data Worlds and the politics of open and public data for MIT Press.

In other recent research I’ve written about data witnessing, data infrastructure literacy, the datafication of forests, data journalism and/as data activism, research infrastructures and other associated topics. I am also co-founder of the Public Data Lab where we’ve been exploring how to organise collaborative data and digital methods projects with researchers, students and civil society groups.

I also have a long standing interest in open data, public data and citizen data from advocacy and policy perspectives and have previously written reports and white papers about topics such as datafication and democracy, democratising the data revolution, civil society engagement with official data infrastructures, citizen generated data practices, mapping the landscape of open budget data practices, civil society interventions around beneficial ownership data and data infrastructures on corporate tax avoidance.

In learning more about how the Global Data Barometer has been organised, reviewing materials associated with it, and engaging with the people and groups who have shaped it and provided input, I hope to contribute to understanding the role of different methods, formats and processes in facilitating critical engagements with data infrastructures around the world. Of particular interest is the participatory design process that the Barometer has taken, and how it may serve to facilitate collective learning and action around different issues across different sectoral and regional groups.

Science and technology studies scholars have previously written about the politics of how assessment devices assemble particular kinds of collectives and guide action in particular ways. In a study of methods associated with the Eurobarometer survey, researcher John Law writes: “Methods practices are performative. They help to enact the world that they describe.” Noortje Marres and Sarah de Rijcke have recently written about designing indicators as “participatory devices” which may “facilitate interaction among different points of view, data sources, measures, concepts, and contexts”.

Rather than mainly focusing on analytical findings or outcomes, such perspectives may encourage us to attend more closely to processes of collective inquiry and learning. Given the dynamic and changing roles of digital data practices and infrastructures in contemporary life, I look forward to seeing how the Global Data Barometer may promote and broaden critical engagements with data infrastructures. Such engagements are critical not just in the sense of critique or clear-eyed assessment, but also in the sense that they may contribute to critically important democratic oversight of emerging digital data infrastructures, so that they may be more effectively leveraged to address pressing issues such as climate change and economic inequality, whilst also building resilient networks to protect and push back against the various forms of exploitation and harm that they may bring. Such engagements may be enriched not only by the final numbers, rankings and measurements, but also by details, interactions, perspectives, issues, associations and alliances which may arise from the assessment process as a distributed, collective accomplishment.

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