Understanding data expectations is essential to IoT Systems & Smart City/Campus success

One of the subtle but powerful factors affecting IoT Systems implementation and management success in complex organizations such as a smart cities and smart campuses is the change required in becoming a data centric organization. In most cases, this is not a small transition. The evolutions of these cities and institutions has been from a place of relatively limited data – and certainly not ubiquitous data – available across multiple contexts. When an organization begins to shift, or seeks to shift, to an organization where data production, acquisition, consumption/analysis, and management are core to its operation and to its perception of self, subtle but powerful cultural and organizational change is required.

Data generation and/or acquisition is a major component in almost all IoT Systems that may be deployed in support of smart cities or smart campuses. It’s where the money is, so to speak. The challenge is that the expectations of data from the many constituencies and consumers can vary in significant ways and these variances in expectation, in turn, influence perceptions of IoT System, and hence smart city system, success. Further, early IoT System implementations that are viewed as failures in support of a smart city or smart campus not only mean lost investment on those particular systems, but also that these failures will (understandably) make constituents wary of funding or deploying subsequent systems.

Reflecting on and planning for what our expectations of data are in our different constituencies and contexts can go a long way to helping us identify what successful IoT Systems implementations and smart city deployments might look like.

A framework for an organization’s expectations of data

University of Washington researchers Brittany Fiore-Gartland and Gina Neff have proposed a framework for considering those data expectations in the context of health and wellness data that we might borrow from in considering IoT Systems data in smart cities and smart campuses. In their paper “Communication, Mediation, and the Expectations of Data: Data Valences Across Health and Wellness Communities,” Fiore-Gartland/Neff introduce the concept of data valences.

The authors identify six data valences:

  • self-evidence
  • actionability
  • connection
  • transparency
  • ’truthiness’
  • discovery

I’ll briefly describe these valences as I understand them and then suggest how they might be applied to an IoT System/Smart City System such as an energy management or smart grid system.

self-evidence valence

My interpretation of the self-evidence valence is that data is context-free or at least appears that way. The context-free-ness notion conflicts with the popular assumption of interpretation or mediation being required to make data meaningful as the researchers point out. My own opinion is that data does indeed need mediation to be relevant. In my mind, data without mediation devolves to the ‘just because’ answer. (While this can apply in parenting, eg ‘because I said so,’ it is extremely narrow in scope and its effectiveness has a much shorter timeline than I anticipated).

actionability valence

Actionability refers to the expectation that the data does something or drives something. From the context of the data consumer, can that data be used to do something meaningful for that consumer within their context? Fiore-Gartland/Neff give the example of a physician being presented with self-collected patient data. This may well not be “clinically actionable” because the physician has no basis for comparison or reference.

connection valence

This valence identifies data as a ‘site for conversation.’ To me, this one is particularly meaty. Because regardless of all of the other (important) valences, the connection valence draws people to the same table to discuss data for one reason or another. An example given in the paper is that of a home patient contacting their case manager about data being collected as a part of the telemedicine system. The call was not particularly important regarding the telemedicine question, but rather because it provided an opportunity for the case manager and patient to connect and share other information (which might have been written on the margins of a legal pad).

Even if the data-discussion reasons are possibly simple or seem unrelated to ostensible objectives, people are still showing up for whatever reason and in the course of that showing up, other things are shared and communicated. I believe that is a powerful valence. And possibly not easily quantifiable.

transparency valence

The transparency data valence is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s the idea or expectation of real or perceived benefit of data being “accessible, open, sharable, or comparable across multiple contexts.” As the researchers state,“Making data transparent across communities is one set of values or expectations.” The transparency valence also introduces the idea that when there is data transparency, when it is indeed shared across contexts, then new questions around ownership, access, and confidentiality present themselves. And from my perspective, addressing these new questions/issues is important work and requires some resources – time/effort/maybe dollars – and that has to come from somewhere.

truthiness valence

Stephen Colbert introduced the word truthiness during one of his shows. He uses truthiness, or the Dog Latin version “veritasiness” to describe something that feels right or just seems right, often regardless of facts or evidence. (Self-referentially, I think the idea of ’truthiness’ itself also seems right – most of us think, “yes, I understand what truthiness is. I don’t know why, but I’m pretty sure I know what it is.”

So the truthiness data valence has to do with the data quality of feeling right or seeming right.

discovery valence

Per Fiore-Gartland/Neff, the discovery valence “describes how people expect data to be the source or site of discovery of an otherwise obscured phenomenon, issue, relationship, or state.” This is not inconsistent with the popular notion of Big Data — which generally goes something like, ‘because there’s so much data there, there’s got to be something there – patterns, knowledge, etc and we can find it intentionally or accidentally’. I’m not saying that I subscribe to this, but it seems right (see ‘truthiness’ above).

Data valences in an IoT System example – smart grid

Because I’ve spent some time working with and reflecting on the challenges of implementing and managing a long-term institutional energy management system and the associated cultural and organizational challenges needed to be effective, the data valences idea proposed by the authors has made for highly relevant conversation.

So how might the six data valences reveal themselves in an institutional energy management system such as a smart grid system or a part of a smart grid system — themselves IoT Systems? Below is my take on how each of these valences might come into play in this context.

self-evidence valence in energy management data

My initial reaction is that I don’t see this valence playing out particularly well here. This energy management data sourced from thousands of energy sensors across an institution needs to have context and be interpreted to have relevance. Also, the data is too new and unfamiliar and often complex for there to be strong statements of self-evidence.

That said, the topic of climate change and all the misinterpretations and rhetoric therein comes to mind. So maybe the self-evidence valence has applicability here as well. Perhaps conclusions will indeed be drawn from energy data devoid of context.

actionability valence in energy management data

Definitely. Everyone — consumers, vendors, government, others — expect to do something useful here.

connection valence in energy management data

Definitely again. This data provides the site, as the authors say, to come together to problem-solve. And in the course of that problem-solving, a parade of assumptions and expectations come quickly to the surface. Finance people , energy management people, IT and data people, vendors, and a variety of end-users bring their expectations, assumptions, and desires to these meetings. This data valence is particularly important at this stage of the game regarding energy management systems and likely IoT Systems more generally.

transparency valence in energy management data

Yup. Everybody wants this. Much like youthful dating, this distribution of data interpretation across contexts is exciting, challenging, and fraught with peril for misunderstanding. That said, addressing topics around this valence can bring important issues to the surface (though it’s typically a lot of work).

truthiness in energy management data

I’m not sure about the truthiness valence in institutional energy management data. Similar to the self-evidence valence, I don’t know that we have enough exposure to the data to have a truthiness feel about institutional energy management data. But again, misinterpreting climate change data has become a worldwide sport.

discovery valence in energy management data

Without a doubt. Almost all of us have this expectation of discovery, at least at some point — Start capturing energy data and we’ll make awesome decisions !! I do believe that capturing this data will yield useful, actionable (see above) data. However, I think it’s going to be more work than is immediately apparent.

Data valences in IoT Systems

How we, across our multiple constituencies within an institution, perceive various aspects of data has a strong influence on the perceived success of the system that produced the data. This is true for institutional energy management systems and I believe that that is broadly generalizable to IoT Systems of whatever institutional purpose.

Understanding data perceptions across an institution or population base is essential for successful IoT System implementations and hence Smart City or Smart Campus implementations. As I mentioned in the IoT Systems Hamburger Diagram, while not sexy and ‘blingy‘, the capability and capacity of an institution to implement complex IoT Systems in a complex environment is essential to success. Understanding the varied data consumers and their perceptions and needs in a complex organization such as a city or campus is, in turn, a critical component to a successful IoT System implementation.

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