A Letter from WE ALL COUNT Founder, Heather Krause
I started We All Count five years ago instead of quitting data science. I was about to walk away from an industry and a discipline that I saw doing active harm to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Often this harm occurred despite our mandate to help them.
Under a banner of false ‘objectivity’, I was enabling the most privileged people in every system to embed their own worldview into each piece of data we collected. I took the analyses and interpretations we had shaped through our own perspectives and held them up as objective fact. I would have looked people in the eye and said, “I’m sorry your experience doesn’t match up with our results, but the numbers don’t lie”. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t feel good.
So I wrote my resignation letters. As part of my transition out of these projects, I was looking for other data scientists to replace me and that’s where I got stuck. I didn’t think anyone else out there would have a better time with the inequity issues, because they aren’t personnel problems, they are systematic. There were fundamental flaws with how data science (a tool developed for use on things) had been applied to people and with the advent of big data and machine learning, those problems were about to be reproduced at a scale that might be impossible to fix.
I had also seen the good that honest, equitable data science could do. If used carefully, ethically and transparently, data science can reveal injustices and provide solutions. It really can be used to improve everyone’s material well-being and personal dignity. I felt that quitting was a quitter’s response.
So here we are, five years into the We All Count Project for Equity in Data Science and I get to be a happy warrior for fairness instead of a despairing onlooker. I found out that there were thousands of people in the data science community who cared deeply about the people their data came from. I meet more every day.
Together, we found out that if you break down data projects into intentional, manageable pieces, you could see all of the equity holes that were always hiding there. Better still, we’ve realized that you can start patching those holes right away with practical actions. That’s the Data Equity Framework.
We All Count has already had a bigger impact than I could have imagined. We’ve trained thousands of people in data equity basics. We’ve reimagined on the core of entire projects to enact transformative equity structures and we’ve worked on problematic data with teams willing to give it everything they had just to move it an inch in the direction of justice and honesty. We’ve been invited to speak with governements, train whole institutions, and collaborate with industry leaders, while simultaneously fostering a grassroots community of data equity champions.
I’ve never felt better about the future of data. I hope you’ll join us in that feeling.
– Heather Krause
THE PROJECT PIECES
The dedication, creativity, and friendliness of our community members is incredible. Never before have we had such a helpful and kind community of people across the professional spectrum ready to engage with each other and the work of data equity.
We All Count continually develops tools, case studies, practices, and systems to improve equity in data science. We pursue independent research, study our on-the-ground data work, partner with experts, and consult with communities to continually improve and update our understanding of what ‘equity’ means in data science.
This information is the underpinning of the Data Equity Framework, a living, feedback-responsive system for addressing data project equity which is continually updated, added to, and refined.
We All Count trains people in how to bring data equity to their work. Our training is grounded in a philosophy of practical, meaningful change. While the underlying theories around data equity are important, we believe that practical actions need to be the priority, matching the urgency and severity of the effects of data inequity.
We All Count works with a wide variety of projects in the social, non-profit, government, policy, and corporate sectors. Whether it’s a straightforward answer to a single equity issue or a total reimagining of an organization’s data practices, we work hard to make achieving our high standards of data equity a reality for our clients.
1. We offer solutions when pointing out problems.
At We All Count, every time we bring up a data equity issue, we present a concrete action that we can all take to improve it. The world is a little too full of people pointing out problems without offering a better way forward. It’s not that identifying and describing problems isn’t important, we just believe that it is better balanced with something that can be done about it.
2. We see ‘equity’ as a continual goal, not a destination.
We don’t think that seeing the world or data projects as ‘equitable’ vs. ‘not equitable’ is useful or true. The push to improve fairness, inclusivity and transparency is itself the goal of our project.
When we take a training, implement our framework or improve a process, it doesn’t mean we should stop because our work is now ‘equitable’. We don’t offer a stamp of approval or claim the authority to say ‘good enough’. We think that institutions and groups imposing standards and concentrating ‘approval power’ are part of the problem. Instead, we can applaud each step towards equity in each other’s data work and help point out times when it’s just not good enough.
3. We define ‘equity’ as a principle, not a group of people.
We All Count anchors our definition of ‘data equity’ around the principles of fairness, transparency, inclusion and justice regardless of who may be experiencing them. Overt or unintentional racism, sexism, classism, heteronormativity, colonialism, ableism, ageism, and religious intolerance are just a few factors that can skew the equity of any data project.
We’re committed to constantly evolving our understanding of equity by collaborating with individuals of all types of community or identity, but We All Count doesn’t exist to advocate for any specific one of them. We make sure that our frameworks, tools and recommendations are applicable in any situation where someone is getting the short end of the data system.
4. We want everyone to be part of this project.
We All Count exists in a niche space of data workers, but data isn’t a niche anymore. We want every person to have the data literacy that they need to understand how decisions are being made about them, and to claim their own right to be involved in that process. Therefore, we are committed to making our materials and community spaces as approachable as possible. Yes, we will sometimes deal with highly technical problems, but we’ll do it without excessive jargon, without judgement or shame, and will constantly work to expand our community to support more languages, learning styles, technical abilities, resources and perspectives.
The We All Count Project is open to anyone, as long as they are interested in data equity and respectful in their exploration of it. As people working against oppressive power structures, we’re extremely committed to not becoming one ourselves. We don’t exclude people who have a different understanding of data equity as long as they are engaging with the project with openness, honesty and care.
FOUNDER, We All Count Project for Data Equity
If you like it formal: Heather Krause, PStat, is a data scientist with 20+ years in the field. She’s a cross-sector thought leader in data equity issues. She works on government, social sector, education, and corporate data projects. Her first company Datassist Inc. works globally with national governments, trans-national corporations, and the largest players in the NGO space. Her cutting-edge approach to project design, data collection, analysis, reporting and visualization have placed her in high demand as a project lead, a crisis consultant and a speaker on the subject of data equity.
How Heather would put it: I’m someone with the curse of having seen too much and the privilege of getting to do something about it. If you’re like me, you might not put too much stock in degrees and institutions and awards when it comes to equity. The best thing I can say about myself is that I really, really care about data and I really really care about people.
I want my kids (and my dogs) to live in a world where they’re not afraid of data, where they feel like their data is valued and most importantly that they themselves are valued. It breaks my heart to hear stories where data isn’t solving problems but is causing injustice.
The We All Count Equity Advisory Group
We All Count is currently assembling a rotating panel of experts (by which we mean people with a variety of academic, workplace, and lived experience knowledge) in equity issues that they and their communities face across a wide range of identities and experiences. This Advisory Group will help our Project to expand its understanding of what ‘equity’ looks like and avoid pitfalls that our limited perspective might miss.
*INSERT LOGOS HERE
Normally, on an ‘about us’ page there would be the logos of our biggest and most prestigious projects, partners and clients. We’ve decided against doing that. We don’t think it sends the right message about how we think about equity. Our largest clients aren’t our most important ones. We’re proud of our work with small communities and individuals even if they don’t have a logo. We’re here to break down structures of inequality and we’re not going to start by celebrating any institution or company over anyone else.
That said, it’s totally legitimate that you might want proof that we can work at the level or scale or scope you’re looking for. If you’d like a list of our clients (unless withheld for privacy reasons!) or some direct references from people who’ve worked with us in the past, please contact us!