Ground Truthing & The Expanding World of Data
Ground Truthing: Building Truth From the Ground Level
Ground truthing may sound like something complex, but it doesn’t have to be. It may come as no surprise to learn that data will shape the future of commerce. The critical part here is in how to get good data–or how to get the truth from the ground up. Ground truthing is basically another way of talking about gathering good, solid data straight from the source.
Let’s look at why this matters so much.
Data is data, right? Not quite.
Three Types of Data
To begin, there are three types of data that we can talk about when it comes to supply chains and reporting. These are primary data, modeled data, and inferred data. We may also refer to primary data as first party data or zero party data. This is data that is created and owned by the source.
What does that mean? Here’s a simple example. Any time you have an account somewhere and you are required to fill in your personal information, say your name and your gender identity, this is primary data. It is your data–it comes from you, and you own, control, and manage it. In the business world, this is data that comes from the primary source, and this source creates and offers this data. It is information that they create or observe about what they do and they can share it however they see fit, because they own it and manage it.
The next type of data is modeled data, and this is the information that an entity will add based on what they think is true, like the preferences of their clients. These are fields of data that are not created by the user, but rather created through predictive analytics engines.
Take the example of adding your name in an account or profile. Your name is your primary data. The preferences and propensities predicted for you and added into your profile are modeled data.
The third type of data is inferred data. This is data that is not necessarily predicted about the specific user, but potentially common to similar types of users based on identities. For example, a woman of a certain age category may share characteristics which can be used to infer potential interests.
How Does Ground Truthing Improve Our Efforts Towards Sustainability?
Ground truthing is about getting true, accurate information from the source. In general, this is information about anything that is provided by direct observation or measurement. Let’s think about how this relates to sustainability. Many companies and organizations want or need to prove how sustainable their practices are. Even more specifically, they may need to show exactly what their carbon footprint is. Are they reducing or increasing their carbon emissions? Unfortunately, in most cases, the data about this is not primary data. It’s not zero party or first party data from the source. This means that a lot of what we know about sustainability practices, does not come from accurate or verifiable data.
When it comes to Scope 1, 2 and 3 reporting, most of the data comes from self-assessment within a company. There is a survey given to an officer in a company who is accountable for supply chain management. The survey is conducted by a consulting company, and is not regulated by any official entity. This survey asks the officer to quantify their carbon footprint and then self-certify the accuracy for auditing purposes. Usually this officer is not an expert or someone qualified to do this kind of data collection. The survey uses a calculator based on predictions and samples. For example, perhaps a company has a building in the northern hemisphere with 5,000 offices and 10,000 windows. The surveying body may not have ever seen or visited this building, but they offer a predictive calculation based on other similar buildings to measure the carbon footprint of the building. This means that most of this data is modeled data and sometimes it is inferred. It is not actual data.
Why the Survey Process is Out of Date
The process is far from ideal and not at all precise. The survey asks people who don’t really know or have access to the data and then asks the same people to merely attest that their answer is correct. There is a lot of margin for honest error and for intentional misrepresentation. Until now, this is the only type of process we have had for measuring sustainability, but the acceptance of using these kinds of surveys is decreasing, especially as some big companies have come under fire for using bad data or intentionally misleading the public about their emissions. It is in everyone’s best interest to collect, verify, and share good accurate data from the source–from the ground.
How Data Gets Lost in the Supply Chain
Many times, data from the source may become lost in layers of obfuscation. This happens when a business does something at the ground level, and then sells this product or service to another business who applies their product or service. They then sell it to another, then another, and so on. Finally, a business sells it to a consumer. Perhaps, by this point it has all these certifications that make it sound really good. But if we trace it back to the ground, we may realize that it’s not as great as it sounds, not as organic, not as sustainable, not as ethical as perhaps the packaging or advertising claims.
The goal here is to create better processes for gathering real and accurate information from companies. It is also important that data be verified and/or validated.
This is how Producers Trust is different. This is why we are building something different. We want actual data from the ground and we want it to be accurate. And we want to share that kind of data transparently with consumers around the world.
With our tools like StoryBird, our collaborations with entities that offer third-party data verification, and our growing network of impact-driven brands, we are promoting ground truthing. We are building a system that honors the true and accurate information that we all deserve, including our planet.