Data Action

Data Action

Using Data for Public Good

By Sarah Williams

How to use data as a tool for empowerment rather than oppression.





How to use data as a tool for empowerment rather than oppression.

Big data can be used for good, from tracking disease to exposing human rights violations, and for bad, implementing surveillance and control. Data inevitably represents the ideologies of those who control its use; data analytics and algorithms too often exclude women, the poor, and ethnic groups. In Data Action, Sarah Williams provides a guide for working with data in more ethical and responsible ways. Williams outlines a method that emphasizes collaboration among data scientists, policy experts, data designers, and the public. The approach generates policy debates, influences civic decisions, and informs design to help ensure that the voices of people represented in the data are neither marginalized nor left unheard.


$39.95 T ISBN: 9780262044196 312 pp. | 9 in x 10 in 110 color photos

Pre-Order Paperback

$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262545310 312 pp. | 9 in x 10 in 110 color photos


  • Data Action—a perfect fusion of historical framing, critical reflection, and how-to instruction—powerfully demonstrates how collaborative, methodologically pluralistic, reflective, and publicly responsive modes of data design can incite civic change.

    Shannon Mattern

    Professor of Anthropology, The New School; author of Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: 5,000 Years of Urban Media

  • There is nobody who understands the theory and practice of engaged civic data visualization better than Sarah Williams. Her reflective, absolutely fearless guide to the complexities of knowledge and power in this often thorny domain distills her decades of experience into a single, indispensable volume—a pure gift to the aspiring practitioner.

    Adam Greenfield

    author of Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life

  • Data Action is a much-needed, accessible guide to our complex digital world. Writing with clarity, Williams curates both appalling and inspiring examples to move us to act.

    Annette Kim

    Director of SLAB and Associate Professor, Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California

  • Sarah Williams is an urbanist and a designer—and Data Action asks about the ways in which we can use data to reshape urban space. Some of them are not so good. For those interested in the history of the interactions between urban planning and spatial data, for better and for worse, this book tells a compelling story. You will learn to stand your ground and insist that data be used responsibly in making cities and urban life better. For Williams, this is a matter of the utmost ethical and political urgency, of action. So, she weaves her own design work and breathtaking maps into a complex history of geographic information systems, a field that needs to be reckoned with if we want to take action. Williams performs this reckoning with didactic precision and fresh design strategies that demand our attention.

    Laura Kurgan

    Professor of Architecture and Director, Center for Spatial Research, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), Columbia University