icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

The years ahead

About choosing and changing our data future

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2021). The years ahead. About choosing and changing our data future. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 10.1 (January). http://www.icm2re.com/2021-1.html

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2021). The years ahead. About choosing and changing our data future. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 10.1 (January). http://www.icm2re.com/2021-1.html

The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves.
We speak for them. We imbue them with meaning.
- Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise (*)

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (*)

London, 22 February 2021 - The pandemic has abruptly diverted, shortened or crushed all sorts of ambitions and plans for people of all ages. Everybody needs to find new work-life balances or look for new careers, jobs, interests, activities.

First and foremost we all need to see how to stay healthy in our specific circumstances and at all times - for example, for me, while I am finalising this article, this means understanding if I want the Covid-19 vaccine or not and, if I want it, when is the right time to have it. More on this with the next article.

The second main topic on top of my mind for the year ahead is inevitably staying in work and avoid the traps of unemployment.

I sympathise with teenagers and neo graduates because they may have found themselves puzzled with change at a stage of life in which resilience and emotional intelligence skills have not yet fully developed.

Also people of my age, not very far from retirement but still with the will and the need to stay in work, have been facing the sad situation of incredibly demanding, mentally and physically, changing times. There is a sharp rise in unemployment and redundancies all over the world. Women are more penalised than men at this time but nobody is free from anxiety.

We all need to strengthen and reinforce the call for more good engineering in education, in manufacturing, in design, in all sorts of industrial processes and in the labour market so that we can tackle climate change issues - the future of STEM and work is in that direction.

The pandemic has made more evident the state of our world, cracked and fragile. The last three centuries of incredibly fast progresses in science, technology, medicine and education have unfortunately left incredible damage to natural resources.

This is the contingent wide context in which I have decided that this tenth year of icm2re will be the last one. I want to have more time for myself and to work on other projects and activities in the next future.

I have therefore reckoned that the articles of this volume will be about subjects and examples of problems and solutions that ideally review and encompass all the matters I have speculated about for the last ten years.

What such field of speculations would or could be named? Well, that is precisely the main question brought up by my decision! Data science, data management, data librarianship, data curation, data engineering? I do not have a precise answer.

Naming a field of study or practice means taking a normative stance and a position in the world of academic studies, learning societies, publishers, institutions, trade unions etcetera etcetera - a priori. None of the current expressions used to address the problems I have mostly been writing about for the past ten years would be completely adequate at present. All of them have been in use, promoted by one or the other community, to address very specific points in a fragmented world of knowledge and expertise.

When I started thinking about icm2re, in 2010-2011, the preferred and preferable expression used to talk about problems created by the abundant creation and usage of data was still information and data management (a quick look at the Google Ngram facility has confirmed this hunch).

At first I pointed out the need of a specific methodology and called for a data project management approach that would rely on engineering practices of facts finding to anchor and frame all the consequent activities of treatment and usage of data, bonding well, in my view, with a corpus of principles well established in the tradition of librarianship and statistics. The booming sector of software developments for machine learning and AI would benefit from such methodological effort.

Over the years, my main concerns have been on how to ensure integrity, reliability, accuracy and overall usefulness of records in productive activities, against the backdrop of increasing risks of noise, entropy, manipulation and cybercrime caused by the development of the digital economy, the trivialisation of data via social media, the cloud architectures, the attention deficit problems created by the data overload to human cognition, decision making and judgements.

Working with information is like walking on mud or shifting sand. You need, at least, to have soles that grip well on the ground.

For the last ten years, I have often thought I could give up and retrain as a building surveyor or as a cook but I chose to persevere with analysis and categorisation of types of problems I had been working for the previous three decades.

That is not to say that it is always convenient to carry on doing the same thing! On the contrary, the labour market favours those who are brave enough to detach themselves completely from a certain field and restart afresh. But it is also true that there are discoveries and achievements that do require constant, continuous changes as well as a long commitment to a cause. As I wrote in a previous issue of icm2re, these are times in which either we give up commitment or we copyright it. And I am happy I have chosen the second option, even if the financial results of this choice, let's face it, have been quite miserable so far.

Focussing on the way in which we design and build datasets and repositories at first, at the beginning of a new information design cycle, is the main critical success factor to keep data and the whole processes of trade, industry, science, knowledge and education safe. That is why attitudes towards change, understanding, teaching and learning how to change are so important.

The world of knowledge still has to find convenient standardised ways to truly embed interdisciplinary notions and practices of data literacy, data science, data management, data curation, data librarianship - you name it - in education and in professional standards since it has been decided - and it sounds to me fair enough - that data and information competences are too much important for everybody in our age and cannot remain in the constrained, privileged remit of few professional figures.

So, in this last volume of icm2re I will see how to sum up and wrap up ten years of worries and reflections about data and change. I will try to produce the most readable stories.

Finally, I must say that I have certain beliefs: I have been and I am likely to continue to be biased in all my reasoning about the subject of data-whatsoever!

I am excited by ICT developments but I do not want machine learning, AI, or any other technology to take over human beings' jobs.

I am passionate about history and digital humanities but I believe that working with technologies and data is an extraordinary option we all have to make a better use of our resources on the planet.

I wish more and more people, not just algorithms, to be productively and gainfully involved in the creation, treatment, production, analysis and diffusion of data in healthy, safe and enjoyable ways - ways that create wellbeing and happiness.

I like experimentation and field work and I am fascinated by studies on human cognition and social networks but I do not want persuasive technology to overtake on human beings' awareness and consciousness about their own information behaviours, not even when heuristics wagged in the field of behavioural economics are used to advocate the opposite.

In that, I believe that data literacy poses challenges not less problematic than climate change to individuals and organisations. Working with data requires an entire new mindset for a new world.

Let's start then with... the right names and numbers in the right place.


(1) The quotes come from two readings I started the year with and I am happy to recommend to everybody interested in understanding more about the basics of working with data with grounded certainties (and being aware of its constitutive uncertainties) and the continuous, inherently unstable, need to define or conceptualise the disciplines that deal with data and information: (2020) Spiegelhalter, David, The art of statistics: learning from data, Penguin and (2019) Delsey, Tom, Making sense of library and information science : Lectio magistralis in Library Science, Casalini.