This post originally appeared as part of the Data Values Digest, a weekly update with thought-provoking reflections on current events. Subscribe to it here.

Dear partners,

Data collection and use is something we engage in every day, yet data is often framed as an abstract concept, difficult to understand and access—something for the “experts” to untangle and discuss. Most of us would reach out to friends for recommendations before doing something as routine as finding a new hairdresser. So why is it so hard to convince policymakers to use data when making decisions?

Take pandemic data, for example. There's a dizzying amount of information and misinformation out there. As a result, despite overwhelming evidence showing masks can slow the spread of COVID-19, policymakers continue to bicker over whether to require or even recommend them. Parents everywhere are getting ready to send their kids to school and trying to make sense of the numbers to know the level of risk to their unvaccinated children. So what affects whether (or how) we use data for decision making at the individual level? And what about decision makers in business or government?

The world has a long way to go in terms of improving data for development, but we’ve nonetheless got reams of data that go unused. Much of this information sits in data graveyards. Our partners at Athena Infonomics wrote about this in a new paper on the barriers to data use in sustainable development. They explain that a range of barriers, from inconsistent quality of data to a lack of trust in the numbers, prevents policymakers from using data for decision making.

Steven Ramage of GEO and I published a blog post yesterday about the human side of interoperability, which proposes that human dynamics are important to making data work for development. In a separate blog post, Charles Kimpolo of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) argues that we have to educate people in power about the value of data to convince them to use data for better decisions.

I’d be remiss, however, without acknowledging that data is sometimes intentionally ignored, especially when it doesn’t conform to our values, world views, or political objectives. This plays into “truth decay,” the diminishing role of facts and analysis in public life. I know we’re not going to solve this in the Data Values Project, but—as a conversation among the co-leaders of the working group on sustained data use for development rightly pointed out this week—it’s our responsibility to acknowledge and ask what we can do to mitigate it. This is an ongoing conversation, and we’d like your input. If you have ideas or resources to share on what enables the use of data in development, drop us a line.

Email us at or tag #DataValues on Twitter.

Until next week,