Block 3: Governing with data: Wrap-up

My data visualisations on governing with data represented (1) daydreaming (2) emotions and physical feelings and (3) conceptual space. Daydreaming, an activity sometimes regarded as unproductive and unworthwhile because it is hard to measure, may in fact play an essential part in the process of innovation, one of the central drivers of productivity. I argued that policy-making in education with the intention of measuring performance and productivity may have the unintended consequence of undermining it: even well-intended policies might sometimes have unintended consequences that are damaging. The discussion of the visualisation depicting emotions and feelings worried about the effects of an intrusive ‘database government’ [Williamson, 2017: 73] not only on behaviour but on one’s physical, emotional and internal mental life, where even the most subjective and private dimensions of learning are effectively policed by unaccountable others who take themselves as being entitled to manipulate and push another person’s mental life in one way rather than another.

My final visualisation on conceptual space aimed to demonstrate how the same data on socio-emotional learning processes can be visualised in a different way and recycled for different purposes, raising questions about the trustworthiness of actors who decide to repurpose data that parents for example, have consented to give about their child, to be later used for purposes for which no consent has been given. Williamson [2017, 80-81] observes that the UK’s National Pupil Database (NPD) makes available pupil data, including sensitive data, to third party analysis, some of which is even released to the media.

However, Williamson [2017, 81] claims that the issues stake here are trust and privacy. But this is neither a full nor accurate characterisation of what the targets of concern and analysis need to be. Persson [2016] (also quoted by Williamson) comes closer to the mark, zooming in not on trust but on trustworthiness. She writes:

“The trustworthiness of pupil data collection…depends on the limitation of the future scope of what purposes data will be used for and who will access them. Scope creep is not fiction, but very real, and today’s use of data by government can mean that what we sign up to, does not stay what we signed up to. Data handed into schools by parents and pupils before 2012 are now used for entirely different purposes since legislation was changed to permit the release of individual pupil data…The release of identifiable children’s confidential data without consent to companies and journalists is stunning”

NPD-style data collection processes in education that are shaped by government legislation allowing the use and repurposing of data in this manner are untrustworthy. And this means that it is perfectly rational to distrust them. In addition, trust, including public trust, is not something that others can ‘build’ as Williamson seems to think [Williamson, 2017, 71] but something that is given or refused. If anything is to be ‘built’ it is trustworthiness — the target of intelligent and well-placed trust. And when political institutions, data collection processes in education, and the imaginaries framing them, are trustworthy, and demonstrably so, trust can easily be given, well-placed, and appropriate. Otherwise, it’s rational to distrust what Persson is describing above. Finally, on privacy, it is not clear, as Williamson seems to be suggesting, that it is simply the privacy of individual children that’s at stake here since biometric data, for example, also concerns others (such as a child’s nearest kin). I’ll say more about that in my final reflections.

I’ll sign off this block by leaving you with this talk on trust and trustworthiness by Onora O’Neill. Enjoy.

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