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Saturday, 14 June 2014

Holding the Law in our hearts

A cultural perspective on better information

“Government-aku Law nyiringka ngarapai. Ananguku Law katangka munu kurunta ngarapai. Nganana Tjukurpa nyiringka tjunkupai wiya. Tjukurpa panaya tjamulu, mamalu, ngunytjulu nganananya ungu, kurunta munu katangka kanyintjaku.”

“Government law is written on paper. Anangu carry our law in our heads and in our souls. We don't put our Law onto paper. It was given to us by our grandfathers and grandmothers, out fathers and mothers, to hold into in our heads and in our hearts.”

My family and I have been travelling around Australia for the last 10 weeks as a sort of motor-home based Swan Song to our six-year stay in this country (we’re returning to the UK in July). There was so much of this magnificent country that we hadn’t yet visited, that we thought we should take the opportunity while we were still here. There’s certainly plenty to see, although there’s also an awful lot of in-between! (Be prepared for driving mile upon mile upon mile to get between places, especially once you leave the Eastern seaboard).

One of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring places that we’ve been to on this trip is Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park. Uluru is the Aboriginal Australian name for Ayer’s Rock, a 348m high, 9.4km girth outcrop and an iconic image representing the heart of the Australian desert. Uluru is certainly a place that should be a “must visit” on anyone’s Bucket List. I promise you, nothing can prepare you for the awe-inspiring size and beauty of the place until you see it for yourself! Kata Tjuta (or the Olgas, to give them their English name) features 36 rock domes reaching up to 200m higher that Uluru and is another spectacular natural feature and in their own way are just as jaw-dropping. Dawn and dusk are special times at both of these natural wonders, with their the ever-changing colours and iridescence.

While visiting the Uluru Cultural Centre, I was touched by the statement that I’ve quoted at the start of this post, made by the local Aboriginal people of the Anangu tribe who are the traditional owners of the lands around Uluru.

My former colleague at the UNSW, Robert Phipps, also reminded me that there is a similar sentiment expressed in the Judeo-Christian Bible:

 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord, I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them." (Heb. 10:16)

The Anangu expression of worth for their Law, and the belief that it forms a behavioural practice which people live and feel, rather than rules to follow, put me in mind of what we might aspire to in terms of an information culture. It shouldn’t be a case of requiring policies, processes, standards and procedures in order to get our data right. (and let’s be honest, who ever refers to the written-down rules anyway?!) 

Instead, it’s a behavioural thing that inherently permeates all aspects of our work being, ingrained into people’s natures and as an integral part of their role. Data quality and data value isn't something that's consciously dealt with, because it simply comes out innately -  that’s what we expect of each other and as part of being a working community. To do anything else is to let yourself and others down.

I think we’re probably still a long, long way from achieving that aspiration (if we ever get there, then my work here is done!). But that shouldn't stop us from trying. In the meantime, I will continue to take every opportunity to discuss the benefit and value of a data-driven and analytical approach to business decision-making.

I hope you shall too.


  1. Alan,
    Interesting post. The law truly is written in our hearts. Deep down we all know what right and wrong is, even if we don't always do what is right. But there is certainly value in writing it down as well just to lessen any debate over what is right and what is wrong.

    The bigger issue for me is that despite the fact that we all know deep down what right and wrong is, many people like to "bend" the law in our hearts towards their own preferences. When that happens we no longer agree on what is right and wrong. Who, ultimately, gets to specify what is right and wrong? We can't all be right.

  2. I'm not so sure that where data is concerned, there's always such an awareness of "right and wrong" - if it were just a case of appealing to people's better nature to do the right thing, Data Quality Management would probably be a lot easier!

    I see the bigger challenge being the general lack of awareness for data and its utility - particularly WRT people's behaviours to focus on "task" rather than "outcome", as I discussed in my two-part series: "Information as a Service": http://informationaction.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/information-as-service-what-is-it-and.html

    We all need to keep encouraging a mindful consideration of data and its utility, so that informational practices do indeed become second-nature and that "right" and "wrong" are embedded expectations. That should keep few of us in work for a while (I hope!)