A majority of current scientific research tools and methodologies pull “subjects” from their contexts in order to derive detailed, specialized, quantifiable information. The cultural habit of decontextualizing information, or reductionism, is the standardized, authorized, and empirical norm.

By contrast, “Warm Data” is a specific kind of information about the way parts of a complex system (e.g. members of a family, organisms in the oceans, institutions in a society or departments of an organization) come together to give vitality to that system. Rather than describing only the parts, warm data describes their interplay in context. For example, to understand a family, it is not enough to understand each family member, the relationships among them must also be understood – this is the warm data.


Similar to the criteria of the scientific method, there is a set of criteria for this alternative research methodology.

What makes warm data warm?

Warm Data is relational information and is therefore strikingly different from information that has been acquired by taking things out of their contexts. Because warm data is alive, responsive and in relationship to other life, it cannot be measured, deliver definitions, or produce results that are repeatable. There is no such thing as objectivity in warm data.


Here are 7 criteria for Warm Data.


In describing a family it comes as no surprise that a mother will describe the family differently than her daughter, who will describe the family differently than her brother. Each member will express a version of the family seen from their vantage point.

It matters who is doing the observing. What is perceived is informed by perspective. Observing the observer is noticing that there is a relationship between what is perceived, and who perceived it. Asking “who paid for the research?” or “what were the questions in the inquiry?”-- is a way to get to another layer of information about any research project.


There are lots of families out there with a mother, a father and two children . But they are nothing alike from the inside. To understand a family, a familiarity with their relationships is necessary.

Because the observer matters and each observer brings different relational information, it is clear that no one can perceive the entirety of a complex system, and so multiple observers are necessary. But multiplicity alone is not enough. What is required in developing Warm Data, is a familiarity with the relationship between the observers. A list of stakeholders and exhaustive data streams about each one will not illuminate the relations between them.


In terms of family, the patterns of family roles, and expectations are re-patterning. Families are structuring their lives in ways far beyond the limits of previous generations. Also, notions of family that once were specific to blood related kin reach much further now into community.

What begins to emerge through observing the observer and multiple descriptions is that there are patterns, but these patterns are not stable. The rapid changes in the world now have heightened the need to stay alert to the reality that all the patterns are changing. To go looking to “crack the code” now is to seek a faulty formula. Keeping a keen lookout for changing patterns is not only more rigorous than seeking stable ones, but it’s also less fraught with errors.


Anyone who has ever been in a relationship will know that relationships are nothing if not filled with inconsistencies and paradoxes. In a family, as time passes, children grow and parents do too. The harmonies and the discords between family members shift as communication changes. The family is still the family, but the warm data has changed, understanding the family means taking those movements into consideration .

Add time to a complex system and relationships shift in response to responses. In a scientific study, contradictions and paradoxes are a problem, but in warm data, they give us hints about where a system will be resistant to intervention or might instead be open to shifting. Paradoxes are portals into relational process.


In studying a family, we might want to zoom in and focus on one family member, but we’ll also want to zoom out and study the relationship between the family members, their community and their ecology.

The scientific method involves breaking things down and studying each part. But when you break a system into its parts, you break it. Reductionism can obscure the interrelationships that weren’t within any of the parts. And

when an insight is extracted from one context and transplanted elsewhere, the unintended consequences can be disastrous. So Warm Data asks, “What can we perceive if the practice of pulling things out of context is balanced by also studying them within context?”


In a family, the interaction between child and parent, or parent and grandparent can be filled with misunderstanding due to generational blind spots. This is often painful and disorienting, but such interactions can also reveal the edges of our own assumptions about how the world works.

Everyone has blind spots. All ways of knowing are culturally informed. In the West, the education systems, the institutions and even what is thought of as “knowledge” are all deeply influenced by the cultural history of the scientific method, which itself has blind spots, particularly when it comes to interrelational complexity. Of course, the frustrating thing about our blind spots is that they tend to be invisible to us. Interacting with others and their different ways of perceiving can help us become aware of our own blind spots. Taking responsibility for the limitations that our lens brings can also bring awareness to assumptions that were previously invisible.


We’ve all witnessed joyous families. And we’ve been in households filled with tension . What can a child NOT SAY in a tense household that might bubble up freely in a joyous one? Who is it possible for them TO BE?

The aesthetic or tone of a system is not just background, it is context that influences how the relationships and communication form. Familiarity with tone and aesthetic can help us recognize the logic of the communication — the question then becomes, “What can be brought to the tone that will allow for new communication to emerge?”