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Introduction to data

Learn what data is and why it is important, and learn about some of the related terms, principles, and frameworks.

Introduction to data e-learning [PDF 1.5 MB]

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What is data?

Data is a type of information (especially facts or numbers) that is collected to be categorised, analysed, and/or used to help decision-making.

(Adapted from the Cambridge Dictionary definition)

Important data-related terms

Like many topics, data practice has its own language. Here are some of terms it is useful to know:

  • Dataset - A particular collection of data, gathered for a purpose
  • Re-use - Using data for a purpose different to the original one
  • Metadata - Data that describes and gives the context for the data (allowing discovery and re-use)
  • Discovery - Through good metadata, being able to find the data you are looking for.
  • Statistics - A type of result from analysing and interpreting raw data.

Why is data important?

Data is important because it:

  • supports good decision-making and problem-solving
  • informs research and policy
  • enables an organisation to measure performance and success
  • results in products and services more aligned with customer needs
  • supports better policies and strategies
  • provides a record of business activity.

What are the three different forms of data?

Open data

Data that anyone can access, use, and share, with full permission to use any way they like.

Shared data

Data that can be shared with a specific group of people for a specific purpose.

Closed data

Data that can only be accessed by those who collected it or are accountable for it.

The Open Data Institutes's Open/Shared/Closed: The World of Data.

What are the principles of responsible data usage?

Data is a valuable resource. Unfortunately it can be used inappropriately on purpose or by accident.

To help avoid this, a number of different principles exist to ensure that data be as accessible, usable, and ethically governed as possible.

Examples include:

A good international and well-recognised set of data principles are the FAIR principles:

  • Findable - data and metadata should be easy to find for both humans and computers.
  • Accessible - once you have found the data, it should be easy to access, and authorisation processes should be clear.
  • Interoperable - the data should be easily combined with other data, and easily work within standard applications.
  • Re-usable - data and metadata should be well-described so that they can be re-purposed.

Fair principles

How is data managed?

The best way to manage data is by creating and using a data management plan. A good plan outlines how you are going to:

  • collect data
  • check its accuracy and quality
  • store it
  • use it securely and efficiently.

Having a plan means others can understand a lot about your data without having to ask you, saving time and effort.

A plan can be simple, or complex, depending on the amount and variety of data you may have.

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Content last reviewed 23 April 2021.

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