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Dennis Nguyen & Rhied Al-Othmani

Data Professionals’ Views on Challenges to Value-Driven Data Practices and Critical Data Literacy in the Public Sector

The increasing use of data and artificial intelligence (A.I.) in the public sector raises important questions about how digital technology changes the ways organisations operate and engage with their stakeholders. While public organisations aspire to reap diverse assumed benefits from datafication and automation, it is not always clear how they define the exact purposes and expected positive impacts of technology use. Central to these considerations are public values as a framework for adopting data-driven technology. However, more research is needed to better understand how organisations define and operationalise public values in their data practices as well as what practical factors play a role here.

This concerns two dimensions. First, how public sector organisations introduce, discuss, and formalise data practices internally. Second, how they communicate about their data policies to their stakeholders externally. To critically explore and chart current practices for both, the present study conducted a series of interviews with data professionals in a variety of Dutch public sector organisations. The main research questions are 1) How do they define (public) value in the use of data and A.I. for their contexts of operation? And 2) What challenges do they encounter in informing about data policies and introducing data practices to their stakeholders (internally and externally)? Respondents (N=20) hold different positions of varying seniority in local and national bodies of public administration, and all have mandates for implementing data policies for their organisation(s) and/or are involved in communicating about data practices to diverse stakeholders (e.g., chief data officers, chief information officers, advisors, project managers/leads, senior researchers, communication officers).

The study contributes to critical data studies research on data discourses, data cultures, and the role of values in the public sector. It opens the path for further critical discussion of how the making of meaning of data-driven technology can become more inclusive, transparent, and democratic.

The project’s findings will be presented at the 9th European Communication Conference, which will be held in Aarhus, Denmark, from October 19-22, 2022. Rethink Impact is the Conference topic. “Under the theme Rethink Impact, ECC 2022 will aim to draw attention to the questions how research insight is translated into tangible outcomes for society, how it can be quantified and validated, and how teaching, community building and outreach as core academic practices are assessed.” Visit European Communication Conference for more.

Photo by ─░rfan Simsar

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