What is Data Infrastructure? Theorising the ‘Datafication’ of Schooling and its Effects on Education Policy and Governance

Year: 2015

Author: Gulson, Kalvero, Lingard, Bob, Sellar, Sam, Takayama, Keita

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Fenwick, Mangez and Ozga (2014) propose that ‘knowledge-based technologies’, are actually being used ‘to make policy, rather than simply as aids to decision-making. These technologies…are themselves becoming the process of governing’ (p.3). New knowledge-based technologies are becoming increasingly co-extensive with new forms of digital governance in education (Williamson, 2015). The integration of new forms of data and new computational platforms is creating a global data infrastructure of and in education, and as such, we argue that ‘datafication’ and data infrastructures are now central to educational governance.

This paper will develop a definition of data infrastructure that will be operationalised in a large international study of data and networked governance in schooling systems. The notion of data infrastructure, we propose, is an important contribution to a critical policy analysis that examines the representational and material aspects of new governance.

We understand infrastructure as ‘pervasive enabling resources in network form’ (Bowker, Baker, Millerand, & Ribes, 2010) and emphasise the rhetorical function of data as a resource for argument about the purposes and outcomes of education in the context of ‘evidence-based’ policy making. Data infrastructure can be understood as an assemblage of material, semiotic and social flows and practices: (1) that functions to translate things into numbers (‘datafication’); (2) that enables the storage, transmission, analysis and representation of data using algorithmic logics and computational technologies; (3) that embeds data usage into a range of practices; (4) that produces new spaces and operations of power through practices of classification, measurement and comparison; and (5) that produces new social practices, new problematizations of the social and new forms of governance.

Bowker, G. C., Baker, K., Millerand, F., & Ribes, D. (2010). Toward informaton infrastucture studies: Ways of knowing in a networked environment. In J. Husinger, L. Klastrup & M. M. Allen (Eds.), International handbook of internet research (pp. 97-117). Dordrecht & London: Springer.
Fenwick, T., Mangez, E., & Ozga, J. (2014). Governing knowledge: Comparison, knowledge-based technologies and expertise in the regulation of education. In T. Fenwick, E. Mangez & J. Ozga (Eds.), Governing knowledge: Comparison, knowledge-based technologies and expertise in the regulation of education. London & New York: Routledge.
Williamson, B. (2015). Digital education governance: Data visualization, predictive analytics, and ‘real-time’ policy instruments. Journal of Education Policy, 1-19. doi: 10.1080/02680939.2015.1035758