This is the third part of a three part article about good data. You can find the first two parts here Opening the Door on Data: The Importance of Good Numbers – Part 1 and Part 2.
All data needs to be viewed with the understanding that there may be mistakes. Humans, in most cases, were the collectors or reporters of the information which is being analysed and they make mistakes. A consideration of the keyword definitions, the methodologies and even why the data was being collected can give you a good idea of how the data may not be entirely accurate and what details may need to be checked. In the example of the fake campaign to map all red doors in Phnom Penh, addresses would need to be checked.
Verification is the process of checking the data is accurate. For Urban Voice that happens in two ways: 1) a report about the same issues and location is submitted by second person or 2) the Urban Voice team checks the location in person. The importance of verification is why all the reports on the Map have a little icon indicating whether the information has been checked. Users can also indicate whether they consider a particular report reliable by clicking on the credibility arrows featured in each report.
Urban Voice wants to add more government data to the site. In many other countries, governments collect and publish a lot of information that citizens can then use to analyse their surroundings better. This would be useful in Phnom Penh too: detailed information about upcoming power cuts, where road works are taking place, and proposed large scale development projects, would all help Phnom Penh’s residents in understanding their city and how it is changing. Already, Urban Voice features demographic data taken from the census. While question marks remain over the quality of government data, the Urban Voice Team hopes that more data will be shared over time; through regular public scrutiny of its data, the government is likely to be encouraged to focus on data quality too and everyone’s lives will improve as a result. For large data sets from organizations, like the census data received from Cambodia’s National Institute of Statistics, it is a matter of practicality when it comes to verifying their data. Urban Voice does not have the human resources to do it, but given the importance of that data for the Cambodian government and others Urban Voice can accept it without verification.
Some ministries and organisations “always calculate and estimate in a secret way – not in a participatory approach” said Kem Ley, a social development researcher who works with economic data from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, according to the Phnom Penh Post. The idea of secrecy is counter to Urban Voice’s mission, but it is inevitable that some of the data we have to use has not been collected and analysed in an open and participatory way. One of Urban Voice’s goals is to change that behaviour over time, with more people knowing about how useful it is to share data things will change.
Good data is information that is accurate, verified or verifiable, and in the case of Urban Voice geo-located. But it is also information that is relevant to the rest of the dataset. If all of the information cannot be compiled and compared on the same variables then the information may be useless. At the very least the same variables have to be included, even if the answers are different. For example, with the red door campaign mentioned above, if not all the doors reported are red then Urban Voice can at least say what percentage of doors were red out of the total number reported. However, if the doors are not located on the map or provided with an accurate address using the same system then Urban Voice cannot create a map to display all of the red doors in Phnom Penh.
Good data works well independently and together with other data. Working together is what allows us at Urban Voice to compare and contrast information and from that make a map demonstrating for example the location of all the internet cafes in Phnom Penh against the location of all the schools in the city or the crew at Information is Beautiful to make a map of the International Number Ones. Independently, a piece of good information will allow one to learn a great deal about that specific person, place, thing or idea. Submitting accurate reports with good data to Urban Voice will not only lead to some awesome maps but an improved Phnom Penh.