What are digital data?

This is a metaphysical question but one that may help you think about using digital data safely, ethically, and effectively at your organization. I've been mulling over this question for awhile and it seems there are many ways to conceive of the value and role of digital data to you and your organization:

  • As resources, like time or money
  • As assets (and liabilities)
  • As relationships
  • As a context or place
  • As a lifecycle
  • As a multiplier or expansion strategy
  • As ones and zeros, a binary language of representation 
  • ?
I'm bingeing again on the Raw Data podcast (Season 2!) and several of the episodes - plus the reflection on season one - make it clear that there are lots of ways to think about digital data.

Different people think about digital data in different ways. Someone involved in fundraising may see the digital data held in the organization's CRM system as evidence of the relationships they manage. The IT staff may see digital data as a cycle of responsibilities and vulnerabilities. Communications experts may think of online as a place or a context. Program staff may wonder how data can be used for greater reach or deeper insights. (I'm not sure how these different roles line up or not with these different mental maps - might be an interesting thing to ask your colleagues)

How you think about digital data (and how your colleagues do) can inform who needs to do what when you're thinking about your foundation's or nonprofit's data management and governance responsibilities.

This year's Blueprint includes several worksheets you can adapt to your organizational needs - to think about what data you have, what skills you need, and how data can help, or hinder, your pursuit of mission. Check out the worksheets here.

And let me know - how do you think of digital data?

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