19 July 2023

Data & Organizing Are About PEOPLE and POWER

Organizing is about the power of people.
Data is really about people trying to measure something.

This is a double-sized zine about how power shows up in data work and how organizing works as a tool to leverage people power. Big data, data science, AI, and machine learning are often discussed as an almost magical force outside of human control anf objectivity, free from human bias. But these are tools created by and used by humans, just like any other tool, meaning that many of the problems in data science aren’t technical problems—they’re people problems. It’s not a question of slightly tweaking an algorithm, but discerning what it is designed to do in the first place, the baked-in assumptions that come with it, and who gets to decide the answers to these questions.

As part of the Data Science by Design book club, we’ve read a number of books that tackle these important intersections of people and power in data work, particularly Atlas of AI by Kate Crawford and Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein. The group often asked, “Now what? What can we do?” My answer is to meet power with power—and this is where organizing comes in. The theme for the DSxD anthology is “Our Environment.” Technologists often act as if they operate in a separate space that is inherently objective, untainted, and right, but I see data and tech as operating in the same environment as any other tool: in the real-life dynamics of power that exist in our history and society. I hope this zine serves as a bridge between the two worlds that I see as one, and a step toward taking action. Want a copy to fold or share? Check out the printable copy here: http://www.laurenrenaud.com/art-zines


Lauren (Ren) is an organizer, data whisperer, and sometimes art maker currently residing on occupied Ramaytush Ohlone land in Northern California. They enjoy building things that make data easier to work with and understand and maintaining the human parts of data. She thinks the best ways to get around are by foot, bike, skates, or trains. Ren is grateful to the brilliant organizers at NUHW, SURJ, Sacred Heart Community Services, and Silicon Valley De-Bug for all the wisdom and experiences that informed this zine. Find more at www.laurenrenaud.com or @renridescycles.