Valuing data

Why businesses need to invest in data infrastructure, by Louise Burke, Managing Director, the Open Data Institute

It is easy for us to see how data is almost everything to a company like Meta, Twitter or Amazon, and we all saw how ‘the data’ dictated the government’s response during the pandemic. Yet it can be hard for many smaller or more traditional companies to appreciate its value, not least as data doesn’t appear on the balance sheet in the same way that a piece of machinery or a property might. 

This sense of data being something important-yet-intangible can lead to an unwillingness to invest – when it’s not clear how an investment in data infrastructure can be returned both in financial and reputational terms. It’s a bit like recognising the value of the invention of the train and then failing to build any tracks. 

Hiring right and skilling up

For me, this problem with recognition of value can often be reflected in staffing policy. Most businesses acknowledge the need for staff responsible for tech and some of the compliance issues that surround the use of data, yet those roles are often wrapped up in other functions, or are recruited at too junior a level.

This is a risk for businesses, as ethical, secure and, above all, serious care for and use of data has the potential to allow businesses to forge a competitive edge. If businesses fail to realise the value and importance of the data they hold then they really do risk wasting an opportunity, as well as risking their reputation. It only takes one serious data breach to damage brand image with shareholders and customers alike. 

This is just one of the reasons that I believe recruitment for the role of chief data officer (CDO), especially in larger companies, should be treated every bit as seriously as the C-suite roles occupied by HR, finance or marketing. After all, the staff member in that role has the potential to generate (or cost) the business every bit as much as any other senior staff member in the executive leadership team.

They can keep abreast of legislation, ensure that security is maintained and assist just about any other part of the business, from rationalising accounting to making strategic business decisions or providing evidence for media stories. The next decade may see data regulated and audited in the same way that company finances are today, with individuals accredited for their professional expertise and companies certified for data stewardship, in the same way that financial statements are audited. Only those who plan ahead can avoid the kind of missteps we saw ahead of the implementation of GDPR legislation.

Data ethics

Data ethics – which concerns how data is gathered, stored, used and shared – is also becoming an important issue for those who work with data in their business. It is set to become as significant a consideration as diversity, equality and inclusion in HR practice. The more we understand trust in data and data ethics the more it will inform our decisions about anything from who we work for to where we shop. Moreover, some recent research by Frontier Economics for the ODI showed that increasing trust in data has the potential to raise GDP in the UK by 2.5%.

Data literacy plays a part in this, but as we become a more data-aware society the expectation around these issues will become raised. This knowledge  will also allow people to be inquisitive about what your business is doing with data about them and what your company’s data says about you. And this is where being proactive about data and what it reveals comes into its own. After all, it is one thing to publish information about gender pay gaps in your organisation and quite another to show how you have made improvements in business practice to close those gaps the following year.

Data can allow you (perhaps with the help of communications professionals) to weave great narratives around your ethical and business practices, but it also leaves you as a hostage to fortune should you fail to follow through on promises made or truths revealed. Social media thrives on data and you can be sure that there will be someone out there more than willing to point out any errors or omissions on your part. 

Looking back over ten years of data, as we are doing at the ODI with our Data Decade campaign, also prompts thoughts about the future and how the next ten years will look. I think that one of the big opportunities – which may also offer PR opportunities – will be in showing how data can actually solve the big future challenges to address our climate crisis, as well as how it could help people with well being and health issues. In our work with Allegory over the last ten years we have learnt a lot about how illustrating the potential of data to improve society is a great means of getting our voice across to new audiences. 

I see a lot happening around how data, data practices and organisations who generate, use or handle data are assured (that is – how they inspire trust and build reputations for being trustworthy). For this to happen, we need effective mechanisms that allow data to flow in the right way and to be shared safely. 

I think we will also see organisations within sectors getting together to realise the power of data for the greater good. So, you may have businesses combining their health and safety data in the construction sector, for example, in order to highlight common risks or eliminate accidents. It’s a non-competitive use of data, which has benefits across industry and society. 

Government has a part to play too, of course, and they may well shape some of the changes around how we use and share data – in the UK, the National Data Strategy is a useful starting point that we should see generating  positive effects over the next couple of years. In the meantime, the ODI will continue to progress its mission to work with organisations to build an open and trustworthy data ecosystem, believing as we do that data is for everyone!

Louise Burke is the Open Data Institute’s Managing Director.


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Allegory marks 10th anniversary and explores why data will drive corporate reputation in the next decade

Allegory opened its doors in 2012. Since then we’ve helped universities, government organisations, technology and innovation companies to tell their story to a vast range of audiences around the world. And we’ve won some awards in the process.

As our clients have grown and evolved, we have become the UK’s specialist data communications agency, with unrivalled experience, relationships and knowledge. Indeed, 2021 saw Allegory publish a report setting out the urgent need for organisations to establish and grow their Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR), an emerging field of corporate governance and ethics

In 2022, we’re celebrating a decade of great clients, great results, a great team, and hard work, with a campaign of our own: Why data drives reputation. At the centre of the campaign will be six thought-provoking articles, written by company leaders and opinion formers, each exploring how data and ethical business processes will continue to change our communications world in the decade to come. Our six topic areas and authors are below.

We’ll be publishing these articles at regular intervals throughout 2022, and we’d love to hear what you think about them. Make sure you get to read them all by subscribing to receive them directly in your inbox and following us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Chapter 1: Valuing data

Author: Louise Burke, Managing Director, The Open Data Institute

From online shopping suggestions to recommended shows on Netflix, data now shapes many aspects of our lives. Over the past decade, organisations have accumulated and acquired huge amounts of data and have spent billions on managing it and using it to their advantage. Whilst society has benefited from these data-targeted services, people have become increasingly sensitive about how their personal data is used.

This article will look at how good data governance should be front and centre for all businesses: an essential element of the brand promise made to customers, shareholders and stakeholders. When done well, the data story told to these groups can add huge value to a brand’s equity, its loyalty and to its bottom line. But poorly managed, data is an incendiary asset. Lose it, abuse it, or ignore it and the cost goes well beyond any financial penalty.

Chapter 2: Understanding changing audience behaviour

Author: Mark Chambers, Head of Corporate Communications, Department for Education

Whether it’s Apple trying to lure millennials to buy the latest iphone, or the NHS encouraging hard-to-reach-groups to get vaccinated, effecting change and action relies on understanding behavioural triggers, and that requires organisations to collect and analyse the right data. 

This piece will address how behavioural science and the data that drives it is starting to take root in strategic communications, guiding the direction of campaigns, steering the creative process and providing the benchmark for evaluation.

Chapter 3: Countering misinformation and building trust

Author: Sana Bég, Director of Communications, Médecins Sans Frontières South Asia

The past five years have seen an exponential rise in the dark art of online influencing and the spread of misinformation. Hostile actors – whether sovereign states, groups or individuals – have used the proliferation of online social channels to target society with factual ambiguity, political spin and blatant untruths. 

So how do organisations cut through this blanket of mistrust? This article will examine how ethically responsible businesses can communicate to their audiences in a manner that is seen as authentic and trustworthy.

Chapter 4: Creating compelling content with data

Author: Sian Freestone-Walker, Associate Director of Client Services, Allegory

As competition for column inches intensifies against a backdrop of editorial cutbacks, how can organisations develop content that really lands with its audiences? Data is key. When packaged in an authentic way, data can illustrate and provide independent evidence for the story being told. 

This piece will examine how data-rich organisations can maximise their competitive advantage by using their data to create high-quality, action-focused content that aligns with the beliefs and emotions of their audiences, and has the greatest chance of effecting change.

Chapter 5: Building thought leadership in a digital age

Author: Charlotte McLeod, CEO, Allegory

I’ve chosen to write about thought leadership. This is a type of content that seeks to provide the best answers to the biggest questions on the minds of target audiences on particular topics, in formats the audience likes to consume. Quality thought leadership is increasingly important if an organisation is to build its reputation, influence key stakeholders, and drive change. But gaining cut-through has never been more challenging thanks to the rise of ‘click-bait’ and the ongoing decline of editorial media space. There is also increasing evidence that the younger demographics turn away from brands that fail to take a stand on the global issues they are concerned about. 

This piece will look at how business leaders can stand out in a competitive media landscape by making known their commitment and position on key issues, such as diversity, equity and inclusion; sustainability and ethical supply chains, backed up by the data they hold.

Chapter 6: Measuring impact

Author: Richard Bagnall, Chairman, AMEC (International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication)

As communicators, we start most campaigns by thinking about the end: the impacts we want to achieve, how we will evaluate them and the data we need to evidence change. However measuring impact has a myriad of challenges, especially for smaller organisations who struggle to access expensive proprietary tools, and for communicators delivering clever campaigns whose impact is often not seen for many weeks, months or even years.

So how do we prove we’re delivering on our objectives for our clients, our boards and others in our companies? This article will look at the new tools and techniques for analysing and pinpointing impact, and how data-rich organisations hold the evaluation advantage.


Here at Allegory, we hope you enjoy these articles and find value in them. Please share your views – we’d love to get some conversations started. Do you think data drives reputation? 

Goodbye for now, we will be publishing our first article soon!

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10 years of data and communications. What’s changed? Everything.

It’s been a decade since Allegory – then Thwaites Communications – opened its doors. The past 10 years have been a whirlwind of excitement, challenges, achievements, hard work and lots of learning – about business, about human nature, and about something which drives much of modern life in 2022 – data.  

Allegory is marking its 10-year anniversary with a new campaign: Why Data Drives Reputation, exploring the inextricable link between data and communication. Before that happens, I want to take a look at some of the changes, challenges and realities that have defined a decade for me, for Allegory, and for everyone.   

Back in 2012, as I watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics on the TV and saw Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, live tweet ‘THIS IS FOR EVERYONE’, I had little idea that data would find its way into the heart of the agency I’d just founded, and into, well, pretty much every aspect of my life. 

I also couldn’t have predicted that within a few weeks I’d be working with Sir Tim himself at the Open Data Institute, where he is co-Founder of one of Allegory’s foundational clients, along with UK AI expert Sir Nigel Shadbolt (who is also Principal of Jesus College, Oxford). In September 2012, I and my fledgling business became immersed in the world of data, AI and innovation. And so it has stayed for the past 10 years. 

Data is everywhere, and increasingly visible 

In 2012, I certainly wasn’t using any of the on-demand, algorithm-led, data-driven services I use now. Deliveroo was not delivering my groceries within 10 minutes of an order; Zipcar was not loaning me a car to visit friends; and Netflix was not recommending its latest big hit show (in fact in 2012 Netflix’s first original TV series was released: Lilyhammer).  

Unless you happened to be down the pub with a bunch of computer or data scientists, it’s unlikely that data was on your radar at all in 2012 – except perhaps how much ‘data’ you had left on your mobile phone.

The pandemic has bought data into plain sight 

Fast forward ten years, and data is now part of a public conversation that was inconceivable in 2012. For the past two years, data has dictated whether we go out or stay inside; see friends and family, or (video) call them; go into the office, or stick to Zoom. Zoning into the latest Coronavirus statistics has become a habit for many – enabling us all to understand the current situation and have an opinion on what should come next. The pandemic, and, sadly, the current conflict in Ukraine, has also shown us how data can be used in misinformation and disinformation campaigns by individuals and groups with either ill-informed or dangerous agendas, and disseminated to millions via social media. 

There are so many things to learn from the pandemic, but I hope one of them is that data is relevant to all our lives – we can and should engage with it, but we should also understand its provenance. Whilst data was previously a hidden commodity, it is now recognised as a part of our national infrastructure, like roads and utilities, and we need to manage and engineer it in the same way.  

The pandemic has also shown us how powerful it can be when data is shared across borders. The World Health Organisation is able to quickly identify new Coronavirus variants because the global scientific community is continually reporting patterns and trends. The response from the best epidemiologists in the world is immediate. 

Communication never stands still

Just as data has irrevocably changed our lives over the past 10 years, so communication has evolved into a very different beast. In a media landscape which is dominated by 24/7 social media engagement and always-on channels, gaining cut-through is challenging for everyone working in our field. And of course it’s a much more crowded, competitive environment now. Everything has to be better all the time. Better stories (backed up by data!), better targeting and better impacts. 

As an agency, Allegory has responded by hugely diversifying its skills set: from a team of PR and strategic communications specialists in 2012, to a flexible, multi-faceted group of professionals able to run large-scale, multi-channel, multi-disciplinary campaigns in 2022. 

Plus ça change 

Whilst the world of data races on, some things closer to home remain constant: values, mission and work ethic. When I launched the agency I wanted to work with interesting people making a difference in the world. Sure, there was more money to be made in the corporate world, but that wasn’t and isn’t for me and those I work with.  We want to work with organisations that have a social purpose – across all sectors.

After a career advising UK government ministers, and reporting the news, I was used to applying intellectual rigour to every aspect of my work, and when I started the agency, I sought out clients where I was able to exercise that. I found it in (to name just a few) the Open Data Institute where we have worked to bring the value of data to public and private sector audiences over the past 10 years and in the Open University where we launched FutureLearn – the first UK MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform and in the visionary rebrand of the Energy Systems Catapult.  

But, without doubt, the greatest joy of the whole adventure has been the team – because any business is really about its people. I realised early on that to recruit dedicated, passionate, loyal staff is incredibly difficult and that we needed to ‘grow our own’, harnessing early talent and developing the strategic communicators of the future. Our internship programme has launched the careers of some truly excellent communications operators. They have rewarded us ten-fold with their dedication and energy. 

Charlotte McLeod, Allegory CEO

Now that I have stepped away from a day-to-day role at Allegory and onto pastures new, I feel very fortunate to have Charlotte McLeod as Allegory’s CEO, safeguarding and expanding my legacy, taking Allegory into its second decade and next iteration. Surrounding oneself with people who align with one’s values is always a great way to bring out the best in every situation. 

Onwards!

Why Data Drives Reputation will celebrate Allegory’s decade in business by looking to the future. We’ll be joining forces with six opinion formers from business and communications to explore how organisations can meet their goals by mobilising two huge drivers for change: data and communications. From responsible data governance and understanding audience behaviour, to countering misinformation and building thought leadership. Make sure you get to read all the articles by subscribing to receive them directly in your inbox and following us on Twitter and LinkedIn

10 years is a milestone for any business. Many don’t make it, and I’m extremely proud that Allegory has. 2032 – here we come! 


Emma Thwaites is Founder and Executive Chair of Allegory, and Director of Communications & Marketing at the Open Data Institute

Good data governance is fundamental for reputation

Emma Thwaites, founder of Allegory Communications, talks data and the way it influences our behaviour and business.

Data headlines are here to stay

Every aspect of modern life is defined or quantified by data. The Global Datasphere measures how much data is created and consumed every year. I find the scale mind-blowing – the total amount of new data predicted to be made in 2025 is 175ZB, up from an estimated 59ZB in 2020.

If you are struggling with visualising this (I did), I Googled it and, using my rudimentary maths, calculated that it’s the equivalent of 3.5 billion 4-door filing cabinets full of text. It’s unsurprising that we all somehow feel the presence of this invisible but massive force even if we only consciously think about it occasionally or never.

Data underpins the way we understand the world

Like water, electricity and roads, data is woven through the infrastructure of modern life. It influences our behaviour, our lifestyles and the choices we make. Data is increasingly the story – making front-page news and raising big political questions about transparency, privacy, and ownership. In March, research for the Centre for Data and Innovation showed an unprecedented increase in the use of data-driven technologies in the pandemic. This contributed to a 54% rise in UK media coverage of data-driven technologies in the first 12 months of Covid-19.

Things are moving so fast that the explosion of data often outpaces our ability to manage our response or understanding of it. As individuals, unpicking the truth from exaggerated claims and conspiracy theories woven with data is almost impossible. The issue is further exacerbated when data is taken out of context and manipulated to suit false narratives.

For leaders of complex organisations, keeping a grip on how data is being gathered, stored and processed is a mind-boggling task. According to a poll of 250+ business leaders, insight, marketing and communications professionals attending the recent DataComms 2021 conference, only 12% feel ‘very prepared’ to respond to a major crisis involving data, (e.g. a data breach), and almost a third (32%) stated that they would be ‘unprepared’.

There is work to be done. How we manage and communicate about data – something that was once primarily internal and often confined to ICT departments – is now very much an outward-facing concern. Whether we do it well or poorly can influence how trustworthy people consider our organisations to be. Data protection penalties are on the rise, climbing 40% in the past year (FT.com), and organisations are increasingly being held accountable for their use of data by regulators and consumers alike.

Corporate Digital Responsibility moving up the business agenda

Data is becoming a new battleground for those concerned with building and protecting corporate reputations. Consumers are data-aware as never before. While they may be happy to share personal data with organisations they trust, they are also ready to punish them for any misuse of data or perceived lack of transparency. Organisations that can master data, using it ethically and in an open and trustworthy manner, will win. Company reputations will be built on the strength of how seriously they take their Corporate Digital Responsibilities, at least in part.

So how can communicators master data? How can we make sure that we know and understand enough to advise our organisations confidently at the most senior levels? We must embrace it in its full capacity, understanding both the power it holds and the risks it may expose. Here is the basic process that we have developed at Allegory for achieving this:

Deep Dive:

  • Carry out a comprehensive data audit. What data does your organisation hold? Where is it stored? Who has access to it? What is it used for? Is it shared? How long is it kept for, and how is it protected?
  • Evaluate your data policies and procedures against your wider organisational mission, vision and values.

Analyse:

  • Identify weak points and ensure that all data is being gathered, stored and used ethically and transparently.
  • Ensure that the risks of data mis-management are fully understood and mitigated across your organisation (ie. captured and considered in your organisation’s risk register)

Transform:

  • Make sure that the data you need to do your job is readily available and can be accessed quickly in the event of a crisis.
  • Consider publishing public-facing, data-driven dashboards – showing your organisation’s performance across key metrics.
  • Make data protection an integral part of your risk register and your crisis management response.
  • Ensure that people in the business understand the company’s responsibilities, processes and commitments concerning data.
  • Address any skills gaps.

Advocate:

  • Provide a strategy to communicate to your audience why your company takes CDR seriously and the measures to ensure these principles are upheld.
  • Be transparent about company policy concerning data, especially what your organisation is/ is not prepared to share and how it will do so safely.

With the requisite infrastructure, skills and plans in place, you can be confident in your ability to communicate your organisation’s use of data openly and positively, both for growth and in times of crisis. As a communication strategist, being an expert in your organisation’s data policy and practice will enable you to protect and enhance its reputation.

Allegory has been working in this field for nearly ten years and is passionate about best practice in communicating about and with data. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about our data governance workshops for communication and marketing professionals. Our mission is to use our expertise and our network to help organisations embrace data for positive change and the greater good.