Department of Labor Logo United States Department of Labor
Dot gov

The .gov means it's official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you're on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Book Review
August 2023

A case for democratizing public data

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto. By Julia Lane. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2020, 192 pp., $16.95 paperback.

Democratizing Our Data by Julia Lane is a timely and thought-provoking book that explores the challenges and opportunities of making data more accessible to the public. In the book, Lane argues that the current data governance system is deeply flawed because it often represents the interests of a small group of elites rather than the interests of the public.

Throughout the book, Lane makes a compelling case for why we need to democratize our data. She argues that data are not just a commodity to be hoarded by corporations and governments but a vital resource that can be used to empower individuals and communities. We can create a more just and equitable society by giving people access to the data that affect their lives.

One of the key strengths of this book is its accessibility. Lane writes in a clear, engaging style that makes even complex concepts easy to understand. She uses real-world examples to illustrate her arguments, drawing on her extensive experience as an economist and data scientist. This makes the book relevant to a wide range of readers, from policymakers to activists to ordinary citizens.

Another strength of the book is its focus on practical solutions. Lane diagnoses the problems with our current data governance system and offers concrete proposals for how we can fix it. For example, she advocates for creating data trusts owned and governed by communities rather than corporations or governments. She also calls for greater transparency and accountability in data collection and use.

One of the book’s key themes is the need for data literacy. Lane argues that if we want to democratize our data, we must empower people with the skills and knowledge they need to use data effectively. This means not just teaching people how to use data tools but also educating them about the ethical and social implications of that use. Lane points out that data can be used to perpetuate biases and discrimination and that we need to be vigilant in ensuring that data are used to promote social justice.

One of the book’s most compelling sections is Lane’s discussion of the “data divide.” She points out that there are considerable disparities in access to data among different groups of people. For example, low-income communities and communities of color are often underrepresented in datasets, which can lead to policies and decisions that do not reflect their needs and interests. Lane argues that we need to close this data divide if we want to promote justice and equality.

A potential weakness of the book is its focus on the U.S. context. Although Lane does touch on global issues such as the data divide, she focuses primarily on the challenges and opportunities of democratizing data in the United States. This focus means that some of her proposals may not directly apply to other countries or regions.

Overall, Democratizing Our Data is an important and compelling book that makes a strong case for why we must take data governance seriously. Lane’s arguments are persuasive, and her proposals are practical and visionary. This book is essential for anyone who cares about the future of our society and wants to ensure that data are used in ways that promote the public good.

article image
About the Reviewer

Henggao Cai

Henggao Cai was formerly an IT specialist in the Office of Technology and Survey Processing, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

close or Esc Key