This article starts from the premise that projects informed by data science can address social concerns, beyond prioritizing the design of efficient products or services. How can we bring the stakeholders and their situated realities back into the picture? It is argued that data-based, participatory interventions can improve health equity and digital inclusion while avoiding the pitfalls of top-down, technocratic methods. A participatory framework puts users, patients and citizens as stakeholders at the centre of the process, and can offer complex, sustainable benefits, which go beyond simply the experience of participation or the development of an innovative design solution. A significant benefit for example is the development of skills, which should not be seen as a by-product of the participatory processes, but a central element of empowering marginalized or excluded communities to participate in public life. By drawing from different examples in various domains, the article discusses what can be learnt from implementations of schemes using data science for social good, human-centric design, arts and wellbeing, to argue for a data-centric, creative and participatory approach to address health equity and digital inclusion in tandem.