Expanding the (Data) Universe

Expanding the (Data) Universe

The word data is everywhere: it is ubiquitous, yet invisible; it is full of potential, yet overwhelming; it is impartial, yet highly subjective.

We hear it in high-stakes and high-value data discussions: data are the new gold; data are everywhere; we are overwhelmed by data; we are drowning in data; we need a data strategy; data-this; data-that…

Data are here; data are there; we are always surrounded by data! A lot of times, however, this idea of data simultaneously being a valuable commodity and a ubiquitous raw material loses the follow-through when it comes to empowering information- and data- enabled practitioners on how to swim in the data pool without drowning. Oftentimes, the message is couchedand while  the data is simultaneously positioned as a solid foundation to support knowledge as an intimidating obstacle.

The promise is not merely to possess the data, but to confidently comprehend the data and transform it into knowledge. This process cannot be initiated or completed by a single individual; the process requires continual involvement from contributors who possess a multitude of perspectives, skills, and motivations to benefit from data outcomes. Too often, those who might offer innovative or alternative perspectives are discouraged from contributing or they are intimidated by the appearance of the intrinsic high-stakes nature of Data, capital “D.”



Data, however, can be understood as raw material necessary to represent the real world in forms that can be shared, retained, and refined for the  benefit all. It is insufficient to merely remain preoccupied with data as a possession or as an asset. We must be conscientious and inclusive practitioners who help translate data into meaningful decisions that can benefit others. Data, capital “D” can transform experiences for those at ground zero and we can empower those who stand to benefit from the use of data, even if they have previously been excluded. We are using data to represent lived experience as ones and zeroes and we cannot exclude lives from participating and contributing to the process.

There is a tendency for many in the analytics field to become fascinated with the latest and most fashionable form of analysis. It is imperative for the analytics field to remain on the cutting edge, as the synthesis of the latest methodologies and technologies is vital for humanity to recognize new data challenges, identify and propose previously unidentifiable questions, and work toward the necessary collaboration to confidently answer the questions that provide the greatest benefit. However, we cannot and we must not remain content with pushing forward the progress of the analytics field if practitioners are not inclusive or properly translating said data to include true representation.

We must move toward with a holistic understanding of what data enablement means for users of all walks of life: we need to challenge the assumptions that a group of experts must disseminate knowledge post-analysis. We must actively invite diverse participants to the table at all stages of interacting with data: from the points of data collection, to the development of tools and mechanisms used for  analysis, to the channels and media that deliver the message.



We are at the prime time to engage and enable data-minded citizens at all levels: begin the data discussion and ensure this discussion does not exclude others. Analytics education and data literacy cannot begin early enough; it must not end once we feel we are confident practitioners. Engage those around you and invite others to the table: Data, capital “D” must be inclusive and we must ensure we provide space for all voices to contribute.



James Harroun
Senior Analytical Training Consultant, SAS Global Academic Program

James Harroun holds a Master of Science degree in Information Science and Bioinformatics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His interests include data integration, the validation and curation of big data, and aligning organizations’ data structures with analytical and reporting needs. Harroun has worked in data management and analytics for more than 20 years as a database modeler, ETL programmer, data analyst, data integration specialist, and certified SAS programmer for private businesses and higher education institutions. In his current role, he assists higher education institutions in the effective use of SAS (previously "Statistical Analysis System") is a software suite developed by SAS Institute for advanced analytics, multivariate analyses, business intelligence, data management, and predictive analytics.


SAS is a software suite that can mine, alter, manage and retrieve data from a variety of sources and perform statistical analysis on it. The software  provides graphical point-and-click user interface for non-technical users and more advanced options through the SAS language. Learn more...