What Data Is and What It Isn’t

“Data are widely available; what is scarce is the ability to extract wisdom from them.” – Hal Varian (Google)

Data. Data. Data.  Our society is so chock-full of data and we love it.  But data can only do so much for us.  Often the words “data” and “information” become confused with each other.  The dictionary says that data is “individual facts, statistics or items of information.” Dictionary.com.

Jeff Stanger, of Center for Digital Information, (see below for link to full article) states that data is simply the result of research.  It does not inform on its own but carries the potential to inform.  Data is anything that can be digitized, such as numbers and text.  An example would be walking outside and deciding it was “hot” and “humid.” Or taking a thermometer and barometer to measure the temperature as 90F and the air pressure.  Both forms are data, just different kinds.  This data, however, only becomes useful as information when it’s communicated.  Without communication, data is only personal knowledge or even useless raw material.  Not only this, but if it is communicated in the wrong language, too softly or in some other form that is not accepted, the data may still be good, but the communication has failed.

The way we communicate is extremely important, therefore.  According to the Center for the Digital Future, 82% of Americans have access to the Internet and 78% of these say that the Internet is important or very important as a source of information.  In another study by Pew Research Center, 85% of American adults have mobile phones, most of which have access to the Internet.

With all of this digital technology, the ability to collect and store data from research is easier than ever.  As non-profits, data is collected all the time for reporting and it’s important to convey this data, not just for legal/financial purposes, but to the general public as well.  The method doesn’t have to be fancy, just so long as the information is getting out there in a manner which is easy to understand.  Here are some great examples of interactive data on websites:

CIA World Factbook
ProPublica: How the Heart Rhythm Society Sells Access
What will happen to the world’s population?

For the full, original article, visit here.


This article was featured in the July 2011 issue of our monthly newsletter, CDP Press.
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