Data leaves us with gaps of knowledge

Data, e.g. from assessments of public schools, needs to be contextualized in order to be used for something meaningful. Associate professor, Christopher Gad investigates how public institutions collect, use and interpret our data.

Christopher GadBusiness IT DepartmentResearchbig datadigitization

What is your current research about?
I’m investigating the use of data in the public sector. I look at how data is used to administer and govern public institutions. For instance, I study how the Danish tax authorities use data and how data is used in the education sector; in the ministry, in the municipalities and at the schools. It can be data on well-being and marks which relates to the national tests and goals for how the schools are expected to perform.

What have you discovered so far?
We have discovered that data often creates gaps of knowledge. Data necessitate a lot of work for everybody involved in order to understand what data tell us and what it can be used for. Let’s say that an inspector from a municipality notice that a certain school underperform in relation to the national goals. In such a case, some inspectors have developed a set of qualitative methods in order to learn more about the local conditions. Perhaps, he or she visits the classrooms to learn more about the teaching. Perhaps, the inspector conducts interviews etc. Governance based on data is often looked upon as a “hard” way of management. However, we can see that data is also a part of“soft” management, which still affect the relations between public organisations as well as between pupils and citizens.

What do you find most exciting about your field?
It’s the various ways in which data is used in the organisations. In many organisations, systematic use of data is still relatively new. Hence, we often see that the use of data is both experimental and open-ended. This means that the concept of the data-driven society gets challenged. Data is often praised as the oil of the digital age. Some tend to speak about it like it’s something essential as a commodity or a driving force. It’s interesting then that data really cannot do something on its own which is contradictive to the ideal of the data-driven society. Human interpretation and the use of data is central here; Everybody, that use the data – from the administrators to the schoolmasters to the journalists, need to make an effort to understanding what the data actually tell and contextualize in an effective way. What do the indicators in an assessment of the public schools really indicate, what are the local conditions at a particular school? It’s exciting to learn more about the methods that people involved develop in order to to collect, understand and use data. Because it is these methods, not the data itself, that make data trustworthy and meaningful.

Further information

Jari Kickbusch, phone 7218 5304, email