diagram representing the Data Inquiries approach

With the support of the EU project SoBigData++, Data Inquiries proposes a new way to do research with data and to teach data literacy. It suggests, in particular, to shift the attention away from data and technologies and to the social and political implications of data research.

The usual approach, based on test cases, standard datasets and pre-defined challenges effectively hides the complexity that lies upstream and downstream most data projects:

  • Upstream, in the task of matching the data available (or obtainable) to research questions and social interventions that are actually useful for society.
  • Downstream, in the consideration of the political consequences of managing social phenomena through their computational representation.

Bracketing out of such complications facilitates the development of technical solutions and the learning of technical skills, yet it also disconnects data sciences from its social conditions and consequences.

Data Inquiries draw attention to the social life of data both conceptually and practically:

  • Conceptually, it proposes to connect the practice and teaching of data research to the transdisciplinary literature on critical data studies and its description of the implicit assumptions and side effects of data infrastructures.
  • Practically, it suggests experimenting and teaching data research not in abstract challenges, but in actual social situations, that is in collaboration with civil society groups using data in their projects.

Data Inquiries is a Public Data Lab initiative to support the encounter between students, data scientists and social actors:

  • To teachers and students, it offers a combined training in data literacy and critical data studies, as well as occasions to engage in real-life data projects.
  • To data scientists, if offers occasions to put their skills and ingenuity at the service of societal causes, not in abstract but in the context of actual social interventions.
  • To civil society groups, it offers a platform to promote their initiatives and open them to external contributions.

This website is meant to grow into a resource center for the Data Inquiries approach and to host a clearinghouse for socially relevant data projects.

Data Inquiries is a project by SoBigData++(http://www.sobigdata.eu)