As a data scientist and Data Values Advocate, data governance has always been a passion for me. I firmly believe that a balanced approach to technology, process, and people is necessary for effective data governance. While technology offers data management capabilities and processes define how data is handled, people, on the other hand, ensure accountability and collaboration. Yet, despite its importance in the data value chain, the people-centric approach is often overlooked.

My interest in advocating for and amplifying two specific values from the Data Values Manifesto#1: supporting people to shape how they are represented in data, and #2: investing in public participation for accountability—stems from my belief in the power of data governance systems to empower communities and bridge inequalities. As an advocate for amplifying the voices of individuals in data conversations amid the vibrant energy of Festival de Datos, I knew that the event was an opportunity to deepen my learning in pertinent concepts.

I sat in the front seats at the opening plenary of the festival, as inspiring voices from Ghana, Uruguay, and Tanzania showcased how they are leveraging a people-centric approach to their data collection, use, and management processes. This resonated deeply with my own belief in open and responsive systems, where data empowers citizen participation and fosters trust. A stop at the Uruguay Population Census stand, where they showcased their adoption of citizen data to bridge data gaps, cemented my conviction that inclusive data leads to better governance and reflects the true picture of a community.

Making connections

Investing in open and responsive data systems and empowering people to control their representation in data creates a powerful synergy. Why? Openness fosters trust and transparency, encouraging citizens to share their data. Collaboration and participation allow individuals to correct inaccuracies and ensure their data reflects their reality, leading to higher data quality and accuracy. This citizen-driven approach empowers individuals, strengthens data governance, and ultimately fuels the creation of valuable and reliable data that truly reflects the needs and perspectives of the community.

However, there are gaps in people’s and communities' meaningful engagement.

To bridge these gaps, fostering collaboration is key. This involves working with communities, government, civil society organizations, and national and international development partners dedicated to addressing this challenge.

But the festival wasn’t just about learning; it was about building connections. With more than 500 participants from diverse backgrounds, it felt like a global data ecosystem was thriving around me. Unlike fleeting conference encounters, Festival de Datos offered multiple touchpoints—from plenary sessions to the welcome dinner, over a coffee break, at the exhibition centers, in the lunch queue, by the beach, or at the closing ceremony dinner—to forge meaningful connections. These conversations provided invaluable insights, not just for me but for my campaign to promote data literacy across communities. I also had the incredible opportunity to meet my fellow Data Values Advocates for the first time after about a year of working together. A group dinner and a walk across the beautiful city of Punta Del Este gave us the opportunity to bond more and share our stories, best practices, and aspirations after the Data Values program.

Shaping a fairer data future

A question asked by one of the opening plenary panelists that particularly struck me was, "How can we be more human in the era of artificial intelligence (AI)?" This echoed my concerns about AI’s ethical implications, prompting me to co-moderate a fishbowl session on “How do we win on inclusive and ethical data in the AI era?” The diverse perspectives from participants solidified my belief that winning against the risks of AI means putting people at the center of our decision-making processes and investing in robust regulations.”

A visit to the Microsoft AI Lab in Montevideo reinforced my belief that democratizing data skills and strengthening the capacities of young innovators to harness the emergence of AI for greater good will go a long way in creating a culture of ethical and transparent data use and reducing the risks associated with AI.

In addition, my own advocacy for data storytelling received a boost from the lightning talk that brought five speakers together who shared some incredible tips and best practices on data storytelling from their work. 

The power of simple visualizations, the intersection of art and data, and the need for responsible storytelling resonated deeply. Each nugget of wisdom fueled my passion for using data narratives to influence change and drive social justice.

Beyond these sessions, the festival buzzed with discussions around ethical data governance that emphasized the importance of privacy, bias mitigation, and transparency in empowering marginalized groups. The vital role of disaggregated data and inclusive data collection served as a powerful reminder of how data can either include or exclude and the responsibility we hold to leave no one behind. Promoting responsible data practices and equipping young people with data literacy skills is essential in shaping a future where data empowers. This advocacy is a step towards a future where youth can critically engage with data that shapes their world.

The festival closed on a high note, leaving me with a treasure trove of connections, insights, and renewed motivation. My journey to the Festival de Datos—my first time in South America and my longest flight ever —wasn’t just about celebrating data; it was about harnessing its power to create a more inclusive, equitable, and human-centric future.