Tuesday September 15, 2020 |Notes

Drowning in data

Data is everywhere and plays an ever increasing role in everyday lives. Charts and numbers have dominated headlines since the pandemic began as society has worked to 'flatten the curve' to stop coronavirus. While data is more prevalent than ever, it's not always apparent how it's being used and that leads to enormous frustration.

In California, it's become routine to check charts and data each morning for coronavirus updates, as well as fire, smoke and air quality updates. The data is available from a number of different sources and everyone seems to have their own mix of preferred sites. There's no single place, and naturally it's easy to come to vastly different conclusions.

Data-based decisions should not be difficult to explain. The point of data is not to confuse, and when it's being used by a wide-ranging audience, it should be as simple as possible to understand. Over the past month, California changed it's criteria and rating system for counties, leaving many frustrated. Rather than introducing improvements to the existing system, the original system was discarded in favor of an entirely new system.

Naturally, this has left many frustrated. The new data is presented in a color coded spreadsheet, without clear designations of what it will take to move to the next tier. It's not surprising that some counties are making moves to entirely ditch the system and it could have been avoided.

A consistent approach with data establishes an agreed upon baseline. It must be done in a straightforward manner that communicates the message clearly to the intended audience, however wide that may be. When data is inconsistent and reports are difficult to understand, data will be ignored and that's not a good thing.

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