NOI Data and Technology’s “Unconference”

July 22, 2014

NOI logoA few weekends ago I found myself surrounded by people bound by two commonalities: our love of coffee and a willingness to wake up extra early on a Saturday morning to discuss all things data.

As a member of Ketchum’s Global Research and Analytics group (KGRA), I was thrilled to attend New Organizing Institute’s Data & Technology “unconference,” a workshop where all material is created and presented by the attendees, on the spot. This means that there was no set agenda when I arrived, but rather, participant-led sessions that evolved throughout the day.

In essence, we were all teachers and students, as we all had something to give and gain. Lessons ranged from being silly (pie charts are the worst charts) to serious (data can mean the difference between life and death). 

The session that most intrigued me was one that focused on exploring data collection and analysis through a human-rights lens. Researchers are constantly segmenting data by demographics – gender, race and income level – which conference attendees agreed provides a great challenge and opportunity to avoid reinforcing systems of power. We challenged ourselves to create data collection tools that are accessible and avoid assumptions about the audiences and issues we seek to understand.

We discussed how to reach segments of the population not typically accessible through online or phone surveys. We contemplated how to avoid assuming we understand an audience so well that we overlook the potential for them to change their behavior over time. By thinking more creatively and inclusively about the data we collect and how it’s collected, we are in a better position to understand and address the realities of the audiences we seek to reach.

Data collection can play a powerful role in shedding light on issues that must be addressed. When society at large agrees that certain issues are worth measuring and tracking, it’s no exaggeration that data can be life-making or life-breaking. The data we collect, and the manner in which we collect it, has very real repercussions.

For example, the standardization of data collection on death certificates shed light on the maternal mortality crisis in the U.S., which caused healthcare professionals to more effectively prevent and address this crisis in vulnerable women.

I left the workshop excited by my new set of data tools and tricks, and my role as a data-crunching storyteller. I’m eager to apply all that I’ve learned at my first “unconference” to our work here at Ketchum, and take pride in KGRA’s pioneering work in the field of meaningful, measurable data and analytics.

Elizabeth Stoltz is a Sr. Research Associate and is working out of Ketchum’s Washington D.C. office. Connect with her on Twitter @liz_stoltz.