Data: Size is not everything

 

          

It is called drinking your Kool Aid – wrongly taking new insight as gospel because of an “uncommon” revelation in data.  Data can easily mislead users if certain factors that matter to its integrity are not considered. Imagine polling 1,000 respondents from South-South region asking them who will be the next Nigerian President. The result will easily throw up Goodluck Jonathan. You might also get same result if you mix that group with a sample of people who believe that the woes of his administration are tied to the desperate return of the Northern oligarchy or the President’s kinsmen living in urban areas.  You might get a reverse result if you pitch with Northern commoners or those who feel President Jonathan has been weak as regards being indecisive on corruption issues.

To question the FutureForNG released polls, it will be good if they have an exhaust of metadata, mine it and release it for the public. Who are the respondents that chose Buhari? Twitter users, Facebook users who live in Lagos, Twitter users who are Northerners who live in the Lagos. What were the chances that the South-East folks knew about this? How many came via sms, email or social media? How many of such respondents vote? How many voted from the diaspora and are the respondents a fair representation of the voting population that APC plans to attract? How many respondents voted  using multiple numbers?

The above posers are to rinse data because as the size gets bigger, data points multiply. This leads to the understanding that in every polling, size is not everything. One needs large diversity to get quality feedback from a wide set of respondents that are representative enough for the final actors – the voters.

 

This is a challenge that we will also contend with in the new era of Big Data. The rigorous approach to peer on the entire data footprint is the new cool. This will lead to overlooking certain connections in the broad way of data unless we are capable of exploring every node at a machine-scale.

I am interested in detailed  and comprehensive data but when it comes to polling, is it really a matter of size? How efficient is the profiling of the respondents because based on the sample question, typical profile of respondents is subject to change.  You might need a grassroots Northern voter, South East elite, Northern Central middle class profile for an election sample.

Ethnicity might be highly weighted based on previous block voting across regions but taking a poll on inequality will involve citizens better classified according to their  income levels. Diversity of respondents is key in polling especially for the elections.

My few thoughts. Just a word of caution.

Picture source: centraldesktop.com

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The Work is Never Done

 

Fitness-Walking

 

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. – Barack Obama

I like to tell my story. The world is a story.  Our life is a story – a story between two eternities – birth and death.I mean right from the creation with powerful lessons of sequence, you can see how the story goes till rest on the seventh day.

My story is about that of persistence. I have been within an ecosystem and I see people give up and throw in the towel. Folks begin a startup with raised dreams. That funds will pour in fast pace and life will go on a freewheel. Then the bugbears appear till they give up and go back to ease and comfort.

If you think that VC (venture capitalists) will just drop dead at your idea and empty his pocket, it might not just happen. Even for those with civic ideas, the donor will not just fall for one-minute pitch. After serious exchange of emails and awkward questioning of impact, that’s when the funds might finally come. At times, it might not even come. To get a grant, I to exchange at least 65 emails. It’s never that easy. Now with committed revenues (grants and services) of over N60m within a year, the work is still never done. We have to keep meeting donors and client demand. Salary and payments for consultancy are at least N1.5m per month and we have to keep doing it right.

Money is just an exchange of value. As long as you are trying to unlock value, it will finally be worth it. I have slept in the couch of developers for days. I have looked for wi-fi in Lome to send that last email, lost sleep, food, friendships, privacy etc. I have been abused as a workaholic.

The fears will not disappear, you have to acknowledge them. Will the funds stop? Will we ever stop producing value? Valid questions. It must never stop us from trying. Dont ever stop, the cost of giving up is too huge in the midst of nothingness. You were chosen as the steward of the times to fulfill a purpose.

Keep pressing on. I also keep pressing on.

Lessons from the Guttenberg Press

An acknowledged game changer in the history of mankind including the telegraph, Menlo Park, Singer machine, transistors and penicillin is the Guttenberg press. In this age which chastens us  to do less paperwork and save the trees, printed texts were once exclusive and a product of relentless toil.

In a typical Catholic Church till the mid-1400s, monasteries labour for years to ink the Bible on rolls of papyrus, locked in the library and only read aloud to the faithful during services. Owning the Bible seemed impossible, limiting the intercourse of knowledge between the Church leadership and its congregants. Such lack of quick access to canticles of Bible was the burden of Martin Luther in 1517 especially in the sale of indulgences, which was already being abused by the appointees of the Pope. In those days, if you committed a sin, you can seek temporal punishment by buying indulgences.

According to Wikipedia:  Professional “pardoners” (quaestores) – who were sent to collect alms for a specific project – practiced the unrestricted sale of indulgences. Many of these quaestores exceeded official Church doctrine, whether in avarice or ignorant zeal, and promised rewards like salvation from eternal damnation in return for money.With the permission of the Church, indulgences also became a way for Catholic rulers to fund expensive projects, such as Crusades and cathedrals, by keeping a significant portion of the money raised from indulgences in their lands. There was a tendency to forge documents declaring that indulgences had been granted. Indulgences grew to extraordinary magnitude, in terms of longevity and breadth of forgiveness.

The abuse of indulgences irritated Martin Luther – a German Priest – and he wanted to end this practice. However, how do you raise a mass movement of people to support  your idea when the means to distribute literature or even references to the Bible were limited? To disrupt Papal order on sale of indulgences, he needed induction of a large class who were ready to send a deafening toll across the Vatican.

Jan Hus, the Czech Priest who sought to end indulgences as it were, was burnt at stake in 1415 after unwilling to recant his conviction to the Catholic Church. Such was the fate Martin Luther could suffer with his disruptive attempt to question the sale of indulgences and raise a storm in the church.

Bathing in the Zeitgiest, a young man Johannes Gutenberg was already building moveable printing press that churns out printed document and gradually makes them ubiquitous. All Martin Luther needed to do was to print his 95 theses (the statement of his conviction) using Guttenberg Press,  and tack them on the doorpost of Wittenberg chapel. He could have been burnt at stake, suffering the fate of a rebel in the past.

In few months that Martin Luther raised his objection to the Church practices, his documents was flying around Europe and the disruption was near. The information was distributed. The effect will be revolutionary.

The power of fast-paced distributed flow of information is one that quickens my mind especially  the non-linearity of its outcome. Knowledge has never been at its cheapest and  the Internet enabling it can be counted as our own Guttenberg press of our moment. This distributive medium is the large channel that churns out information and serves as leveler irrespective of time and space. To democratize information via digital tools presents an opportunity that can lead to better outcomes in the society that we operate.

One of the greatest danger democracy is information inequity. People deserve to know more being co-participants but elected rulers ride on their ignorance or play the ethnic card to create fiefdoms. This leads to a scenario of where elected leaders are not seen as custodians of vested powers but as rulers. Such approach makes them think public projects are privileges not their account of stewardship. It makes them cringe once you demand accountability. Completing the feedback loop of budget and public projects is key to my organization (BudgIT) that has worked to improve budget access in Nigeria.

People share photos, videos, writing via the Internet and at BudgIT I also believe we can make budget tracking the basis for social interaction. At BudgIT, we have decided to test that through our application in works called Tracka.  The whole essence is to deepen the conversation about public data and we have Internet as the superhighway already begging for us to effectively use it. Using mobile phones and web, we believe we can aggregate interests and trickle down the narrative to those still not connected to the online space. This is our Guttenberg press  moment, we don’t need a Martin Luther to steer us. We need a tireless minority who are connected and believe they can peer into data and begin conversations for a better society.