The social imaginaries on governance through data: Q-methodological analysis of data professionals' views in the field of mobility

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This study strives to contribute to the discussions on the increasing use of data in organisational settings within specific contexts like governance and control of spatial mobilities. Whereas legal, regulatory, and technical aspects are widely studied, there is less knowledge about public discourses on data, especially the data professionals' interpretations (re)constructing these understandings. This study conducted Q-methodological interviews among data professionals employed in the mobility domain in Estonia—a leading digital society—who work in public, private, and third-sector organisations. The findings show the emergence of four discourses on data: (I) data-based liberal internationalism and equal access; (II) integrative data activities through cooperation and disciplinary continuity; (III) (big)data self-reflections and organisational data culture; and (IV) data discrimination aware data practices and privacy protection. Thus, governance through data does not constitute a single imaginary future but creates various scenarios across the types of both data and mobility and the sector. We propose that governance through data emerges in these discourses not only as ‘enculturation’, where data are seen as an ultimate medium of knowledge, but as ‘acculturation’—critically self-reflexive learning through data as a form of change in organisations and among data professionals.