Logics of the data-driven school – control, care and/or empowerment

The first NOS-HS workshop on Nordic Perspectives on Algorithmic Systems resulted in a rich set of conceptual distinctions being drawn up around the nature of algorithmic systems and data-driven societies.

Regardless of whether or not these constitute a particularly Nordic sensibility, one of the interesting initial set of distinctions related to the motivations and justifications for the use of algorithms.

These can be seen as different institutional and organisational logics that might underpin the implementation of data-driven systems and processes, i.e.:

  • the logic of control relates to algorithmic surveillance and the aim of governing or managing behaviour;
  • the logic of care is that of supporting certain forms of behaviour (rather than preventing others);
  • the logic of empowerment justifies the use of algorithms in terms of performance increases and efficiency.


These three logics therefore underpin distinctly different justifications for the use of data-driven systems and processes within a school. For example, whereas the logic of algorithmic control is associated with justifications of necessity and protection, the logic of algorithmic care stresses a desire to support the thriving and well-being of students and teachers. Conversely, the logic of empowerment is grounded in ideals such as progress and development.

These distinctions provide a useful way into exploring the implementation of data-driven systems and processes in our research schools – moving our analysis toward more nuanced readings of how power is being exercised through these digital technologies. When are these logics being employed and with what outcomes? What different interpretations are there within a school for the same algorithmic system?

Crucially, it is important to see these logics in terms of institutional intentions for the individuals who make up ‘the school’. For example, the logic of empowerment certainly relates to a desire to increase the capacity of teachers and students to act – albeit to act in ways that relate to underlying principles of optimization and efficiency. Similarly, the logic of care relates to supporting forms of behaviour that the school considers as being in an individual’s best interests.

This therefore raises the additional question of what these logics might look like if developed from alternate perspectives – such as the collective interest of specific student or teacher groups. What forms of control, care or empowerment would these groups be striving toward? To what extent would these be compatible with the institutional logics of the school and education system?



Juho Pääkkönen, Jesse Haapoja & Airi Lampinen  (2019) Nordic Perspectives on Algorithmic Systems: Notes from a Workshop on Metaphors and Concepts. June 17th, https://rajapinta.co/2019/06/17/nordic-perspectives-on-algorithmic-systems-notes-from-a-workshop-on-metaphors-and-concepts/