We Have A Moral Imperative to Use the Data We Collect

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And not just to use it, but to use it well.
Too often in development work, there is an expectation that people will supply you with their data but no feeling of obligation to supply something useful from the data in return.
When data collected during the course of a project is used it’s often to create an evaluation report that will wallow away in some internal repository, or be submitted to the Board of Directors, or maybe to be uploaded onto a hard-to-find webpage as a 100 page pdf.
It’s time that more development professionals consider how best to make data and information available and usable to the people they collect it from in the first place. Part of this is understanding the limitations that many people have in data literacy.
Another part is understanding that people may not actually be interested in trawling through your 100 page report (even if they are able to access it online) in order to find the few nuggets of information that can be useful to them.
So what can be helpful?
Dashboards, infographics and single-page summaries can all be useful tools to supply usable information back to the people that supplied their data and improve your reporting.
It can also be useful to actually ask people what questions they have, and then see if the aggregate data you’ve collected can help answer those questions. e.g., what is it that the farmers participating in your crop-yield project desperately want to know?
By answering their burning questions using the data you’re collecting, you’re more likely to get willing participation in the data collection process as well as add value back to the participants beyond the high-level aims of your project.
Beyond this (where appropriate) opening up data completely for other organisations and researchers to use can allow others to add value too. Of course, there are always privacy and security concerns but if these are addressed then there are many benefits to an open data policy in development.
At the basic level, it’s not okay to collect data from people that are participating in your projects and not provide them with something useful from their data in return.
By Sarah Meikle and originally published on Data-Driven Aid.

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