Data is intimidating. Whether one is a guardian or a reader of it, data is difficult to unpack and manage. But the task is doable according to Data Strategist Mr. Miguel Oabel of Thinking Machines. Together with Ms. Danielle Gayares Dalisay of the same data consultancy, Mr. Oabel facilitated the recently concluded ISA Skills Lab on Data Strategies last October 11, 2019 at Green Sun Hotel Makati City. 

This pilot Skills Lab course, attended by various medical and government personnel, was designed to help participants understand the requirements of the Data Privacy Act and develop their organization’s data management framework for better management and maximization of their data resources. 

Policies and practices

Mr. Oabel kicked off the program with a preliminary lecture distinguishing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union from the Data Privacy Act of the Philippines. He said that despite the policy originating from Europe, the GDPR remains binding for Filipinos as it is concerned more about the data type involved than it is about the location. As a general rule, Mr. Oabel informed the participants that projects involving data collection can proceed “as long as [they] have lawful basis for processing data.” 

His module also covered how to approach breaches and minimize penalties, saying that “it’s more important for the [data] regulators that organizations be honest, transparent, and timely when dealing with breaches.” Afterwards, Mr. Oabel conducted an exercise to allow participants to assess the risks present within their current data management schemes. 

Data usage done right

Later on, he highlighted the advantages of having good data governance, among which are: basic compliance to data privacy law, unlocking of data for advanced usage, and gaining the trust of the public. From there, Mr. Oabel shared some tips on securing data, even warning participants against deceptive social media posts which present common security questions as innocent prompts to get personal, historical information of unsuspecting internet users.

Diving into the module on Data Strategy, Mr. Oabel began by facilitating a Data Readiness Test for organizations to determine the feasibility of data-driven projects. The test evaluated the quality and security of data, its storage and usage mechanisms, and its overall integration with the organization. 

One application of good data management practices, according to Mr. Oabel, is machine learning, wherein computers are able to learn by experience rather than by explicit programming. He then presented case studies where advanced data usage, done through machine learning, played a key role in improving the delivery and accessibility of services from the health, corporate, and public sector. 

Statistics turned into stories

With the technical aspects of data management broken down, Thinking Machines’ Data Visualization Developer Ms. Danielle Gayares Dalisay stepped in to build the data back up to appear differently. The expert on Data Visualization invited participants to move beyond the sea of numbers and get to the meaningful story behind it. 

To emphasize the impact of her field, she talked of how “visualization reduces the mental work of [data] comprehension, by translating data into visual elements.“ This practice, according to her, can improve how organizations make their publications, reports, studies more readable and readily useful. She then listed a few Storytelling Tips on turning data into clean, comprehensible visuals. 

“People hear statistics, but they feel stories … Numbers are abstract and meaningless to your reader. It’s up to you to give meaning to them,” said the young speaker. She also warned participants against the phenomenon of “statistical numbing,” in which large numbers tend to turn into an impersonal statistic rather than a story of human experience. 

As the program drew to a close, Ms. Dalisay conducted a workshop asking participants to write their short-term and long-term plans based on the modules discussed, giving them the opportunity to integrate their newfound insights with the context of their respective organizations.

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