Data as Opportunity

SymbolismData is a landmine for intuitive people like myself. Actually I should probably recuse myself from any data judgment because I will most likely ignore what it has to say anyway. Yet, I have spent years trying to make data my friend.

Any herein lies the problem. Data could care less about being my friend. Or about being friendly at all. Data doesn’t care one iota about anything. Data is. It’s up to the user to interpret what she will with the data. And, as Saint Sam always reminds me, “Numbers are numbers. What do you want to do with those numbers?”

Most of us will say we want the numbers to tell us. And then the data dudes, like Saint Sam, patiently ask us again, “Tell you what?”

All this and we haven’t even gotten to the other real issue: What am I really going to do with the data I have? I was reminded of this after reading an article about the Roman Catholic Cardinals gathering in Rome to discuss issues facing the church, like contraception, marriage equality, and whether or not divorced and remarried people may receive Communion.

Pope Francis asked for the hierarchy in each country to provide feedback about the attitudes from their churches on these issues. It doesn’t take a computer scientist to know that Pope Francis is interested in learning about the mass reality of his flock. As the hierarchy has learned, the blunt responses so far have already made public the sort of views that many church leaders would prefer to ignore or only speak about privately.

It’s a classic case of wanting to ignore what the data suggests because the data is revealing what we don’t really want to know. In this case, congregants are not adhering to the teachings of the Church. Congregants are using contraceptives. Congregants do believe and will participate in marriage equality. Congregants are cohabitating. Divorced and remarried congregants are receiving Communion. All eyes are on Rome as we watch to see what the Cardinals and Vatican are going to do with this data.

I’ve learned to appreciate that data creates opportunity. If I let the data be data and let the data inform me, I am free to humanize my response to that data. My guess is that Pope Francis is going to do just that. He’s inviting the Cardinals to let the data inform them and, from there, create a response strategy. The data reveals that their congregants are not doing as they are told or believe as they are instructed to believe. The data gives the hierarchy a new starting point.

If only the process for a purposeful outcome was so clear-cut!

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