Understanding Machine Learning Practitioners’ Data Documentation Perceptions, Needs, Challenges, and Desiderata

2022 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work |

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Data is central to the development and evaluation of machine learning (ML) models. However, the use of problematic or inappropriate datasets can result in harms when the resulting models are deployed. To encourage responsible AI practice through more deliberate reflection on datasets and transparency around the processes by which they are created, researchers and practitioners have begun to advocate for increased data documentation and have proposed several data documentation frameworks. However, there is little research on whether these data documentation frameworks meet the needs of ML practitioners, who both create and consume datasets. To address this gap, we set out to understand ML practitioners’ data documentation perceptions, needs, challenges, and desiderata, with the goal of deriving design requirements that can inform future data documentation frameworks. We conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with 14 ML practitioners at a single large, international technology company. We had them answer a list of questions taken from datasheets for datasets (Gebru, 2021). Our findings show that current approaches to data documentation are largely ad hoc and myopic in nature. Participants expressed needs for data documentation frameworks to be adaptable to their contexts, integrated into their existing tools and workflows, and automated wherever possible. Despite the fact that data documentation frameworks are often motivated from the perspective of responsible AI, participants did not make the connection between the questions that they were asked to answer and their responsible AI implications. In addition, participants often had difficulties prioritizing the needs of dataset consumers and providing information that someone unfamiliar with their datasets might need to know. Based on these findings, we derive seven design requirements for future data documentation frameworks.