Data as Relation: Governance in the Age of Big Data consists of seven subprojects. Each subproject explores how everyday lives of citizens are negotiated in the digitalisation of society. At the same time, the project investigates the question of how the digital society is simultaneously shaped by institutional and social practices.

Click on the headings below to read about each of the seven subprojects:

The Danish public sector has become more and more reliant upon digital technologies for the last decades. Danish citizens are increasingly expected to be able to serve themselves through digital platforms, taking care of requests, casework and administrative forms of labor previously handled by welfare state professionals. As both datafication and digitalization intensifies, new forms of ‘data’ or ‘digital’ citizenship also start to emerge, reconfiguring and recreating the very relation between the state and its citizens. This subproject investigates these new modalities of citizenship by paying attention to the institutional practices, political imaginaries and technological devices that goes into the (un)making of these citizen-subjectivities. Doing so, the project particularly examines how new forms of exclusion and otherness may also be forming around the margins and fringes of the digitalized welfare state. Thinking through these tales of “proper” citizenship and their borders, the subproject tries to open up pathways for enacting other futures.

Project members: Associate Professor Morten Hjelholt, Associate Professor Christina Neumayer, PhD Fellow Jannick Schou

Research question: How are new forms of citizenship produced through governmental digitalization?

Theme: Data-Citizenship

Partners: Citizen service centers (Borgerservice)

The smart city currently appears as an object of dreams and desires in the minds of politicians, technologists and to some extent the greater public. This sub-project seeks to understand how the smart city, and the infrastructure development surrounding and constituting it, reconfigure relations between public and private actors. Data plays a central role in this imaginary, a source of potential for innovation by private actors or for improved efficiency of public services. This is evident in projects such as the Copenhagen City Data Exchange (CDE), a marketplace for exchanging datasets related to the city. These phenomena are investigated ethnographically by attending to the events, workshops and conferences that concern the development of the smart city. The project asks what sort of work these events do in enacting the smart city, speculating on the techniques and reconfigurations that could prime the organisation and the city for the use of smart city data. The sub-project also enters into active rapport with actors in the field, and explores the data sprint as a generative methodology for co-creating knowledge based on data and establishing a didactic relationships concerning digital tools, techniques and processes. In this way the sub-project both studies and provides a space for relational work amongst the organisations and actors active in promoting data as a maker of the future of the city of Copenhagen.

Project members: Associate Professor Marisa Cohn,  Associate Professor Christopher Gad, PhD Fellow Michael Hockenhull 

Research question: How are relations between the public and private sector being reconfigured for the data economy?

Theme: Public-Private Partnership

This subproject interrogates the processes of locating and materializing data through the emergence of the data center industry in Denmark. With a focus on the relations between local government, state actors, and Big-Tech corporations, the project analyses transformations in cultural imaginaries of the future in and beyond the sites where data centers are being located. This includes an attentiveness to questions of energy and infrastructures, as well as the shifting political geographies of data as both stuff in the world and a way of thinking about the world; that is, as both material form and analytic.

Project members: Associate Professor Brit Ross Winthereik, Post Doc James Maguire

Research question: How is collaboration between regions and large tech corporations impacting on center-periphery divides?

Theme: Data geographies

Partners: Municipality of Viborg, Denmark, Municipality of Athenry, Ireland

As an organization, the Danish tax administration (SKAT) currently strives to become increasingly data driven. Simultaneously, SKAT is committed to offering data services to citizens, companies, municipalities and other stakeholder in line with Danish government strategies on openness and digitalization. The prospect is to enable other actors to become increasingly data-driven as well. Data and data use thus becomes a significant organising principle in SKAT.

Drawing on actor-network theory and an ethnographic approach, the project examines work in SKAT towards this end. The project inquires why, how and to what effects data is made a gravitational organizational point for reimagining SKAT and the ecology in which it resides. The project thus focus on hopes, assumptions, implications, and emerging practices related to data modeling, data analytics and data use. For instance, how does heavy investment in new forms of expertise in data modeling, data analytics as well as it- and data management affect professional responsibilities and decision-making in SKAT? And how does making data pivotal affect how SKAT perceives and relates to its context and interlocutors?

The project has three empirical focus points. First, it investigates the interplay between methods used for managing complex IT-projects about data in SKAT and how such development unfolds in practice. Second, the project investigates how an increased reliance on IT and data and thus on computer science rationales influence organizational logics. Third, the project addresses, how data affects how SKAT perceives and relates to its environment, including citizens and companies.

The project thus contributes to reflections on emerging opportunities, challenges, and stakes for the Danish state as well as Danish citizens, as Danish public institutions strive to become increasingly reliant on data-based digital technologies.

Project members: Associate Professor Brit Ross Winthereik, Associate Professor Christopher Gad, PhD Fellow Bastian Jørgensen

Research question: What new organizational logics occur through data modelling and prediction and to what effects?

Theme: Prediction and profiling

Partners: Danish tax authorities (SKAT)

In the Bodies of Data subproject, we interrogate the emerging politics, policies and practices around personal health data in the Nordic region. Using a central interest in the changing roles and responsibilities for data and its infrastructures, we empirically explore three main themes:

  1. The digital longevity and aftermath of controversial events with health data
  2. The problematic area of data storage and deletion
  3. How new platform-based initiatives to move and store personal health data contribute to changing paradigms of ownership and consent within the growing personal data economy

Personal health data – in its contested definitional space – comes with significant individual and societal promise in a time of computational advance. However, how we put it to use responsibly, and who decides, is as yet uncertain. Each of these themes contributes to the subproject’s overall aim of laying out the motivations in play as different sectors navigate the tensions and values inherent in formulating novel data politics.

Project members: Professor Mark Elam, Associate Professor Rachel Douglas-Jones, PhD Fellow John Mark Burnett

Research question: How is big data experimentation problematising established roles and responsibilities within Danish healthcare, and what new kins of data politics are being produced as a result?

Theme: Transnational governance

Data driven management has become a central part of the Danish public sector discourse about digitalization and digital transformation. Well-established ideas that form part of this discourse are, that for the public sector to become truly digital and thus more efficient and more innovative, data must be an integral part of public governance. This implies that not only must new IT systems and infrastructures be implemented and developed and new IT skills and competences brought in, new organizational mindsets and new modes of thinking about data, information and knowledge must concomitantly be cultivated. Indeed, public managers and leaders are determined to develop a new kind of ‘data culture’ in their organization. This subproject dives into these ideas and attempts amongst top managers in Danish municipalities. It investigates the relation between management and data by zooming in on the different kinds of discussions, experiments and proto-typical set-ups that managers are engaged in these days, all geared towards rehearsing different ways of analyzing data and making them count as grounds for strategy and decision-making.

Project members: Post doc Lise Røjskjær Pedersen, Professor Brit Ross Winthereik, Associate Professor Christopher Gad

Research question: How does data become a management objective in the municipality? Partners: Danish municipalities

Project members: Associate Professor Laura Watts, Associate Professor Luca Rossi, Associate Professor Marisa Cohn

Research question: How can fiction and digital storytelling techniques be used to inform government big data practices?
Theme: Interventions
Partners: All above partners, labs and ETHOS Lab affiliations in Paris, Amsterdam, London and Irvine, California