What difference do data make? Data management and social change

Morgan E. Currie (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK)
Britt S. Paris (Data and Society Research Institute, New York, New York, USA)
Joan M. Donovan (Data and Society Research Institute, New York, New York, USA)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Publication date: 4 December 2018



The purpose of this paper is to expand on emergent data activism literature to draw distinctions between different types of data management practices undertaken by groups of data activists.


The authors offer three case studies that illuminate the data management strategies of these groups. Each group discussed in the case studies is devoted to representing a contentious political issue through data, but their data management practices differ in meaningful ways. The project Making Sense produces their own data on pollution in Kosovo. Fatal Encounters collects “missing data” on police homicides in the USA. The Environmental Data Governance Initiative hopes to keep vulnerable US data on climate change and environmental injustices in the public domain.


In analysing the three case studies, the authors surface how temporal dimensions, geographic scale and sociotechnical politics influence their differing data management strategies.


The authors build upon extant literature on data management infrastructure, which primarily discusses how these practices manifest in scientific and institutional research settings, to analyse how data management infrastructure is often crucial to social movements that rely on data to surface political issues.



Currie, M., Paris, B. and Donovan, J. (2018), "What difference do data make? Data management and social change", Online Information Review, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/OIR-02-2018-0052

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