Data Politics on the Move: Intimate Work From the Inside of a Data-Driven Health System

Cruz, Taylor M.
Information, Communication & Society

Social institutions increasingly appear as data-driven entities, with data analytics and information technology transforming social life across health care, education, and criminal justice. Social science scholarship characterizes the political nature of this paradigm by emphasizing technology?s role in the governance of life and the sociocultural values embedded within technical design. But little research has examined the intimate work taking place inside these very institutions, resulting in inadequate attention to everyday data practices as they intertwine with evolving technopolitics. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork of the integration of Electronic Health Records at a large safety-net health system in the United States, in this article I emphasize the intimate work involved in becoming data-driven and how this work shapes the material contours of contemporary data politics. I compare the implementation of two health system initiatives, including a Complex Care Program for an algorithm-defined population and a Disparity Reduction Plan targeting Latinos with Type 2 diabetes, to demonstrate how on the ground actors make intimate decisions about what constitutes the right data? in becoming data-driven. As data analytics expands to transform organizational decision-making, redistribute resources, and reconfigure the professional gaze, social science must follow data politics on the move to fully account for the evolving technopolitics of data-driven society.