Data-X Development: What’s In A Name?

What should we call the growing presence of data in international development?

That’s a question I posed on the ICT4D Facebook group.

Though #datarev is a popular hashtag, “data revolution …” did not arise, and just as well – it is naive hyperbole to suggest data is going to transform development structures.

The proposed terms fall into four orientation categories.

1. Goal-oriented terms. The main one here is “data for development” which is admirable in focusing on the purpose of the data, and in offering a ready-made acronym – D4D – which I’ve talked about earlier. It’s moderately-popular, partly thanks to Orange’s D4D Challenge, and has a nice continuity with ICT4D.  The term is new, but the main problem is its failure to reflect the changing role of data in development – data has always been used for development purposes.

2. Facilitation-oriented terms, especially “data-enabled development” (DED) (data-facilitated, data-catalysed as synonyms). This has the same problem as D4D: per se, the term gives no sense of the change that has occurred. And DED has no presence in the field as a term.

3. Impetus-oriented terms, especially “data-driven development” (DDD) (data-centric as a synonym). This has some presence in the field, though less so than D4D, with – for example – a World Economic Forum group and report on DDD, and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data having some commitment to the term. I’m guessing this will become more widely-adopted – “data-driven” already has Wikipedia entries for equivalents such as data-driven journalism.  However, it rings many alarm bells in placing too much deterministic emphasis on data as an agent in development – put simply, people not data drive development.

4. Change-oriented terms, especially “data-intensive development” (DID) (data-rich as a synonym). The great thing about this term is that it explains what is new and different – that data is playing a greater role in development decisions and processes – without so-much falling into traps of determinism and value judgement. I think “data-intensive development” is the most appropriate of the terms on offer.  As yet it is little-used, so the only way is up . . .

If you’ve got a better suggestion, you’re welcome to say what it is and why it’s better.


6 thoughts on “Data-X Development: What’s In A Name?

  1. 1. Is this a) an objective or b) subjective exercise?
    2. Is this a) a definition or b) a brand?
    3. Is this about a) data that exists or b) data that is needed?
    4. Is this to meet a) global or b) national and sub-national needs?

    If the answer to all four is b) what is wrong with the data revolution? Governments and those that hold them to account need data disaggregated down to the lowest level of administration so that it can be turned into usable information for development decision making at both national and local level..In many developing countries this data does not exist and under proposed SDG methodologies will continue not to exist for the next 15 years. This is why we need a “data revolution”

    1. Sure – if you’re trying to market either a trend or a need you’ll give it a cool-sounding name like “data revolution”. The same rationale for calling it a Pontiac “Firebird” not a Pontiac “Tin Box on Wheels”.

      But I’m after labelling a current phenomenon with a label that is descriptively-appropriate, in which case “data revolution” won’t do. A revolution is an overthrow of existing power structures – data has not delivered and will not deliver that.

  2. What about changing the focus from data centric to development centric. For example ‘Development centric data management (DCDM)’, or something similar. The main difference between data centric and development centric, in my opinion, is former sounds like data is driving some sort of development (which I am very skeptic of), whereas, the later sounds like data is used mainly based on development needs.

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