More than Quantified

One of the major pushes I had to have this binary set etched on my center-back is how development work has deteriorated to the point of treating people as data.

Development and research organizations have turned to datafying people. While curating a database is essential for a number of reasons, a database is not an end to it all. Communities are more than the data they produce; they’re more than the quantified versions of themselves. Farmers are not equal to their harvest data every season. Women are more than just numbers being counted in community events. Children are more than just a certain percentage of beneficiaries. People are not data; data can be parts of our beings, but we are more than the dataset we can get out of ourselves.

Development work, while in a continuous pursuit to improve, must also embrace a certain humility. That kind of humility that acknowledges that no amount of quantifying the past and present can help us conquer the future exactly the way we want to. That kind of humility that acknowledges that no amount of quantifying people can ever make us feel satisfied with the work that we do.

We are more than the binaries in an excel sheet. We are more than our guesses in likert scales as we try to quantify our preferences. We are more than variables and correlations.

Why don’t we give faces to the people we work with? Poverty has endless faces, and as we try to comfort ourselves with big data, we miss out the details. We miss out the short story how a community would value social relationships more than technologies. We are more than emerging patterns if only we give ourselves a chance to be.

I fear that we’ll reach a point when everyone will be reduced to data. I fear that the government can sell data for whatever gains. I fear that we’re just waiting for datasets to mature; mature enough to enable governments to manipulate people.

This is a call for development workers and researchers to take a step back. Our development work is more than data. It is more than log frames, and bottlenecks. We are fluxes. We are fragments trying to live in unity.

“What we don’t know, we don’t count.”

Charles Eisenstein, Climate: A New Story (2018)

We are unknown even to ourselves that even the quantified versions of ourselves don’t event count.

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