Just Data

The Political Economy of Data in Collective Impact

I’m giving a presentation today on the topic of data in collective impact strategies at the Data Power Conference in Sheffield, UK.

You can view the slides on Google Slides.

Here’s the abstract:

Collective impact strategies bring together nonprofit organizations and governments in a structured way to move the needle on social issues using shared agendas, activities, and communication strategies. A major emphasis of these efforts is on measuring outcomes and impacts. Doing so requires gathering data from the sometimes hundreds of organizations involved and triangulating this data with more specific research studies, as well as neighborhood- and community-level economic impact assessments. Collective impact efforts are rapidly growing in popularity, both in the form of grassroots organizing strategies (bottom-up) and policy approaches (top-down).

Building off previous research on the political economy of data as it affects Social Work in the United States, this paper addresses the discourses around data in collective impact movements. What arguments are being made about data collection and analysis? How are these movements using data to measure and justify activities? Who manages this data and how do they do it? How does data collection, analysis, and visualization shape movement efforts and stakeholder opinions and investments? Perhaps most importantly, this paper inquires into the ways that marginalized people, and especially young people, are excluded, marginalized, and/or pathologized through these data collection and use strategies. These questions are addressed through a discursive analysis of public documents of collective impact efforts, including meeting minutes, official publications, scholarly analysis, and other documents. Highlighted are potential openings and counterarguments for those interested in shifting collective impact movements towards more justice-related data collection and use strategies.

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