Think About It – Is Bigger Better?

Diana, September 26.

Information and communication technology (ICT) haven’t even existed for some years ago. Now, it helps us to interact in the digital world. ICT gave way to Big Data revolution, namely, to all voluminous amount of structured and unstructured data which meant to be quarried with information. The amount of data that’s being created and stored on a global level is almost inconceivable, and it just keeps growing.

I challenge you to think about it one more time – is bigger really better? Let’s try to answer this question.


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Taylor and Schroeder talk about that the development of data and technologies, as well as usage of those by people, have the potential to give the public a rich mine of information about health interventions, human mobility, conflict and violence, technology adoption, communication dynamics and economic behaviour.

The bigger data, the better: it allows us to perceive the environment in new ways. By having more information, we can do things that you couldn’t do before. We can collect information, share it, analyse it, learn from it and store it for years to come. Also, big data is a good tool to solve some of the world’s problems, like global food insecurity, medical care, energy and climate change.

Additionally, data and technologies bring together heterogeneous “development professionals“, such as donors, non-governmental organisations’ activists, government policy officers, consultants, academics, intended beneficiaries and so forth, who are active in various development aid organisations distributed all over the world.

In the data-driven world, the usage of data is also necessary. “Development professionals” are using data not only to promote and endorse development discourse but, as well, to save time. Big data accessibility and availability to useful information allows organizations to better understand the changing aspects of local field environments and, in turn, simplifies a better decision-making. Big data is a game changer if it is good, clean, accurate and transparent.

Nevertheless, what about the risks of losing data in the sea of all that informational overflow?

Taylor and Schroeder stress that bigger is not better, namely, there is an absence of good data. They lift up few drawbacks with “Bigger” Data. Data is not always simple and stable, namely, we need knowledge of how to use it. Most of the time, it is enough with some basic knowledge. It depends, of course, on what is the purpose of usage: a post on Facebook or managing a website.

Further, data can be bias. If we know the whole information on the matter, it can lead to the difficulty in understanding it and to the unwillingness to share it. The other risk here can be that we are not critical enough towards data we are receiving, namely, we buy it as it is, without the evidence.

Moreover, risks with an absence of the clear ethical framework, as well as rules for handling and sharing. The data revolution is so far mainly a technical one: the power of data to sort, categorise and intervene has not yet been clearly linked to a moral basis. In fact, while data-driven unfairness is evolving at exactly the same pace as data processing technologies, awareness and tools for fighting it are not.

Furthermore, anonymization techniques are unreliable. Data anonymization is the system intended to make it impossible to identify a particular individual from stored data related to him/her. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. One aspect of anonymization that worries individuals who value their privacy is that the process can be reversed.

The only way to stop big data from becoming big brother is to introduce privacy laws that protect the basic human rights online.”
― Arzak Khan


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  1. Hi Diana,

    First of all, great post. It is so nice to be a part of this group where we seem to enter all kinds of discussions about Data.

    I think that your post has a very interesting take – that you take into account bias views etc. So when it comes to the agency aspect, I was thinking that it could be interesting to look even one step further. You write about the bias in interpreting the data, but what about when actors not only interpret the data in a bias way but actually use data in a bias way in order to prove a point (that might not be accurate in the bigger picture but the data make it look that way)? I think that would be very interesting to learn more about. Do you think that you will come back to that in a later post?

    Again, thanks for an interesting post!

    • Diana Uljanova Sigfusson

      Hi, Louise!

      I’m also glad to be a part of such a great group!

      Thank you for your comment!

      Yes, great suggestion, I will come back to that subject in my next post 🙂

  2. Hello Diana,

    Thanks for an interesting reading. It is so nice that you present both the pros and cons of the argument. Having read your article it stuck in my mind the thought that the big data debate goes for many years now, and it, somehow, existed even before the existence of the term ICT. Let’s take a take a look at two classic novels: George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Aldous Haxley’s ‘Brave New World’. The former was published in 1949 and the latter in 1932. Information, or data if you will, is central in both. Both storylines take place in dystopias, a dystopia of state-controlled data for Orwell and a dystopia of too much data for Huxley. You either know almost nothing or you have so many stories that you actually cannot follow them and make sense of your life. Which DYSTOPIA is better? Of course, these are extreme examples, but I think they add nicely to the argument.

    • Diana Uljanova Sigfusson

      Hi, Sofoklis!

      Thank you for your comment! I will definitely take a look at whose novels!