“Is bigger better?”

by Vicky · 2 comments

I wanted to use the same title of the article by Taylor and Schroeder “Is bigger better? The emergence of big data as a tool for international development policy” for its review because this question brings up the potential of the Big Data with all its difficulties.

We understand that, as development, big data is a complex concept, which requires context understanding, strong connections and collaboration between experts and local knowledge, support from institutions and government in order to improve existing statistics and the needs of the countries and their populations.

The scope of the big data is probably not understood in its full broadness and should be used in its largest possibilities, as it is explained by Taylor and Schroeder through their cases studies. Big data is clearly relevant in the field of development but important preparation work needs to be done to ensure balance between big and qualitative data, privacy and ethical considerations, bias awareness, local and context understanding with important involvement, country and implementer policy analysis and negotiation or buying of the data.

The use of big data is happening at a rapid pace because of its advantages, such as reliability, cheap cost, human resources requirement, however, it is crucial to also promptly increase research and knowledge sharing about its implementation to ensure the best use of these new forms of data to inform policy and interventions.

Finally, I am finding interesting the definition given by Taylor and Schroeder to big data as “allowing a step change in the scale and scope of what can be known in relation to a given phenomenon or object” because it focuses on change, scale and scope, which are the points of interest, but also the necessary points of negotiation, of these new forms of data.

{ 2 comments }

Mindaugas Jocbalis October 28, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Hi Vicky
A very interesting review. Taylor, Schroeder and Meyer (2004, sagepub.com) aimed to define big data as current economics not being particularly responsive to new levels of size or complexity in the datasets available. From new media communication and human advancement perspectives, does this mean this data is underused to achieve development objectives? Global Pulse (2012, unglobalpulse.org) writes about use to monitor well-being of populations. But problem is data suppression, tampering, and underreporting from government agencies.
Your key statement is that “Big data is clearly relevant in the field of development but important preparation work needs to be done to ensure balance between big and qualitative data, privacy and ethical considerations, bias awareness, local and context understanding with important involvement, country and implementer policy analysis and negotiation or buying of the data.” Do you have any examples where big data has caused these issues, including privacy breaches, ethical inconsistencies, or bias? I would imagine you can find examples both in African countries, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China as well as the western world.
You’ve also mentioned data negotiation. To what extent can you define private versus governmental intervention into big data sets? Does data ownership enable its manipulation and under what level of scrutiny owners need to be placed. Big data is such a large topic, and its understanding is limited both from public perspective. In fact I would argue that its discourse will not be defined at all, and academia may not understand or utilize big data for a very long time.
To me personally, it is a scary concept. At the same time, there’s no noticeable permanent change into a dystopian future where data controls individuals. There’s also no foreseeable utopian perspective of data allowing faster pace of development.

Nina October 29, 2015 at 3:38 am

Intersting post, Vicky! There are a number of organizations working to overcome challanges with collecting big data and create cross sector cooperation Global Pulse is one of them. They gather experts from Academia, the development sector and private companies. You can look it up here; http://www.unglobalpulse.org/, if you are interested.

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