Democratisation of Data

It’s been 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was passed into UK law allowing women (or rather some women) to vote in UK elections. It was a landmark act which today may seem rather perplexing that it was even necessary, but all the same, it was part of a continued progress towards full democracy; government elected by the people, run for the people.

But, for democracy to work in practice requires accountability and transparency. If we don’t know what our representatives are doing, or we don’t have a free press to bring transparency to their actions, how can we, as voters, make informed and judged decisions?

Why, you may think, am I talking about universal suffrage in relation to media, and indeed data? Well, the same applies ultimately. The media world in which we operate now offers so many new ways in which to measure and track our audiences, to understand what content people like, where, and when. For planners, we are able to to use new 3rd party data sources to efficiently target and evaluate campaigns against those we want to actually target. We should be in a new golden age. But what happens if the data in which we plan, in which we measure, in which we trade, is not transparent, is not accountable? How do we know we are seeing and interpreting what we think we are seeing and interpreting?

Well, back to the world for democratic accountability, the parliamentarian Tony Benn famously posed five key questions to anyone in positions of power or responsibility.

  1. What power have you got?
  2. Where did you get it from?
  3. In whose interests do you use it?
  4. To whom are you accountable?
  5. How do we get rid of you?

They were a litmus test if you like on how well your elected representative served you as a voter and in who’s interests they did this.

So, shouldn’t we in the same vein apply that similar criteria to our data, especially if that data on which we rely is 3rd party, owned and delivered by another organisation, perhaps with other interests to our own?

The answer is of course a categoric yes! New audience data, are a wonderful thing, but unless we ask of it the right questions, we may not always be sure of the purpose or what it actually represents.

  1. What data do you have?
  2. How was this data collected?
  3. In who’s interest was this data collected?
  4. How is this data accountable, validated or verified?
  5. What alternative data is available?

So, whether you’re buying a campaign or wanting to understand your audience better, perhaps start by asking these simple five questions of the data you have or receive. If you don’t like the answers you get, or indeed don’t even know the answers, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate the virtue and value of the data you are receiving and whether it really serves the purpose you would like it to.

If, of course, you’d like any help with any of these questions or with audience data in general, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.