houston voices

Houston expert: Navigating dark data within research and innovation

Let's talk about dark data — what it means and how to navigate it. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Is it necessary to share ALL your data? Is transparency a good thing or does it make researchers “vulnerable,” as author Nathan Schneider suggests in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Why Researchers Shouldn’t Share All Their Data.”

Dark Data Defined

Dark data is defined as the universe of information an organization collects, processes and stores – oftentimes for compliance reasons. Dark data never makes it to the official publication part of the project. According to the Gartner Glossary, “storing and securing data typically incurs more expense (and sometimes greater risk) than value.”

This topic is reminiscent of the file drawer effect, a phenomenon which reflects the influence of the results of a study on whether or not the study is published. Negative results can be just as important as hypotheses that are proven.

Publication bias and the need to only publish positive research that supports the PI’s hypothesis, it can be argued, is not good science. According to an article in the Indian Journal of Anaesthesia, authors Priscilla Joys Nagarajan, et al., wrote: “It is speculated that every significant result in the published world has 19 non-significant counterparts in file drawers.” That’s one definition of dark data.

Total Transparency

But what to do with all your excess information that did not make it to publication, most likely because of various constraints? Should everything, meaning every little tidbit, be readily available to the research community?

Schneider doesn’t think it should be. In his article, he writes that he hides some findings in a paper notebook or behind a password, and he keeps interviews and transcripts offline altogether to protect his sources.

Open-source

Open-source software communities tend to regard total transparency as inherently good. What are the advantages of total transparency? You may make connections between projects that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You can easily reproduce a peer’s experiment. You can even become more meticulous in your note-taking and experimental methods since you know it’s not private information. Similarly, journalists will recognize this thought pattern as the recent, popular call to engage in “open journalism.” Essentially, an author’s entire writing and editing process can be recorded, step by step.

TMI

This trend has led researchers to open-source programs like Jupyter and GitHub. Open-source programs detail every change that occurs along a project’s timeline. Is unorganized, excessive amounts of unpublishable data really what transparency means? Or does it confuse those looking for meaningful research that is meticulously curated?

The Big Idea

And what about the “vulnerability” claim? Sharing every edit and every new direction taken opens a scientist up to scoffers and harassment, even. Dark data in industry even involves publishing salaries, which can feel unfair to underrepresented, marginalized populations.

In Model View Culture, Ellen Marie Dash wrote: “Let’s give safety and consent the absolute highest priority, with openness and transparency prioritized explicitly below those. This means digging deep, properly articulating in detail what problems you are trying to solve with openness and transparency, and handling them individually or in smaller groups.”

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

A Houston expert outlines what startups and small business need to know about their communications strategy. Photo via Getty Images

Startup founders often focus on outward victories. However, if they look inward and get internal communications right, this can prioritize, inspire, and retain talent, which is the heart of the company.

Consistent internal communication helps employees to understand the company's core values and mission and the evolving internal policies and procedures — health care benefits, reorganizations, remote work — that accompany a young business. Investing in internal communications also supports external public relations efforts because the best company storytellers are well-informed employees.

Consider these tactics for effective internal communications.

Prioritize messaging

In any startup, internal procedures evolve as the company grows. Take control of the narrative while easing employees' minds by prioritizing internal messaging.

Whether transitioning to a more flexible work schedule, updating healthcare benefits, or rolling out a performance review process, planning messages in advance can help team members understand the change, the impact, and how they can contribute positively to the development.

Well-informed employees help mitigate uneasiness and tend to achieve business goals more quickly. Make sure to allow the employees time to reflect and react.

Support managers

Leaders and mid-level managers play an integral role in internal communications by cascading information throughout the organization. They regularly engage with their employees, so it is important that managers feel confident and supported in their communication skills.

Managers can benefit from a common company language, talking points, or communications training for more effective and productive conversations. By identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing common goals and key objectives for managers, companies can strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion, especially if the company changes teams' roles and responsibilities.

Be consistent

Make sure that the drumbeat remains steady, whether this includes a monthly town hall meeting or weekly CEO emails. Since communication is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, use a communication approach tailored to the workforce.

For example, there might be more effective communication methods than email for employees not behind a desk. As a smaller company, take that time to connect with the team directly because as the company swells, that one-on-one experience will become increasingly difficult to manage.

Listen to employees

Delivering top-down messaging that resonates with the workforce remains critical. However, internal communication is a two-way street.

Allow team members to give valuable feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts about the company, concerns, and how to improve communications. Issue internal surveys or hold face-to-face meetings to gain useful insight.

Understanding these critical proof points will enable more effective communication and quick action on any issues.

Be a human

Keep humanity at the heart of internal communications. Amid the company's transition, maintain transparency and recognize the emotional toll some changes can have on teammates. The best talent will remain when they feel connected, informed and listened to.

Greater employee engagement can help build a strong company culture of accountability, authenticity and communication, setting up the business for bigger success.

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Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.

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