Three Sectors that Benefit from Using Open Data

Big data is born from the initial basic notion that everything is measurable. More information than imaginable is out there to be collected for everyone’s benefit. Take that information and combine it with another set of data and compare. Then, link that to another set of data and contrast. Then, take those few larger data sets and repeat. The number of data sets starts to grow exponentially, and before we realize it we are swimming in data. It may be hard to wrap your head around it, to see which way is out, but if you do you’ll quickly find there’s no way out but through — big data will fuel the future of decision making across disciplines.

The struggle comes with analyzing it for use. A ton of numbers and facts accumulate easily enough yet don’t become valuable until someone decides how to put the voluminous information to use. In “Big Data Fades to the Algorithm Economy,” Peter Sondergaard puts it clearly:

“Oil is useless thick goop until it’s refined into fuel. Big data’s version of refined fuel – proprietary algorithms that solve specific problems that translate into actions – will be the secret sauce of successful organizations in the future. The next digital gold rush will be focused on how you do something with data, not just what you do with it.”

Let’s look at three key areas that are already using big data for advancements and stand to gain even more from creatively using big data to its full potential. After all, as Jonathan Shaw of Harvard Magazine reminds us, “humans are far better than computers at seeing patterns.”

  1. Education

As Andrew Giambrone reports for the Atlantic, using student data, such as attendance, enrollment changes, and family structure to name a few, can result in “improved teaching, while other benefits could arise from more efficiently matching students to jobs and programs, estimating education costs, and allocating resources to schools, according to the report.” Many parents are wary that a focus on children as data will decrease the view of each student as individual and unique and will also dehumanize the interaction between teacher and student. However, big data applied to K-12 education may improve it. For example, textbook publishers like McGraw-Hill have begun to use student data that tracks engagement versus boredom to improve texts. To further test children’s progress, large data sets that compare results from different textbook versions would be performed. With possible advancement across the board not only students would win, parents, teachers, and entire school districts would benefit from positive data-driven change.

  1. Healthcare

In 2011, Mexico’s then-Minister of Health hired Weatherhead University professor Gary King to design and implemented a method to evaluate the nation’s healthcare program which saw high out-of-pocket and some catastrophic healthcare expenditures. Reporter Jonathan Shaw claims that based on King’s big data analysis and use, “Frenk led a healthcare reform that created, implemented, and then evaluated a new public insurance scheme, Seguro Popular.” This healthcare insurance program was powered by innovative ways of using big data while rolling out the program through years. Strong results showed protection from financial ruin due to unexpected healthcare expenses, “and [King’s] work provided guidance for needed improvements, such as public outreach to promote the use of preventive care.” With healthcare reform on the forefront of government policy and the public’s seemingly increasing need for services, creative big data analysis and application in this field would immediately benefit the greater good and could have long-term implications for economic growth.

  1. Public Sector

In this age of increased connectivity there’s a move toward collective problem solving. Interdisciplinary data-driven projects are on the rise. These, which largely stem from the advent of social networking and crowdsourcing, can bring about more efficiency and productivity in both neighborhoods and society at large during the most mundane day or unexpected disaster. From crowd-sourced information under a hashtag on Twitter and Instagram communities can more quickly get word out moments after a natural disaster hits, serving to coordinate real-time relief efforts when and where they most needed, as was the case for the Nepal earthquake earlier this year. Bernard Marr explains, “the four key elements of disaster management are prevention, preparation, response and recovery. Big Data has potential to help with all of them.” Disaster management, although vital, is only one example of how big data use serves to unite resources to residents and increase not only safety but also quality of life.

Want more examples? Read about 10 more actual uses of big data here.

For a timeline history of big data, check out A Very Short History of Big Data.

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