A few links on Big Data for Development

The idea of Big Data for Development (or “BD4D” — you saw it here first, I’m coining it update: um, nevermind.) seems to be gaining momentum. The practice of mining large datasets has been around in private business for a while, as large corporations use sales records or other data to better understand customer behavior. I’ve voiced my skepticism about how quickly these practices will transfer over to contexts of low connectivity, computer literacy, automation and organizational investment.

However, even if those barriers and data quality issues are overcome, it sounds like others have serious concerns about the principles and political implications of BD4D. Here are a few links I’ve gathered while brushing up on the subject:

  1. Big data and development: “The second half of the chess board” — Wolfgang Fengler sounds a hopeful note for the potential of BD4D.
  2. Lies, Damned Lies and Big Data — David Hales issues a warning that the rush to use Big Data may be “data rich” but “theory poor” — with scientific as well as ethical and political implications.
  3. Big Data for Development: From Information to Knowledge Societies? — Patrick Meier reviews a recent academic paper and its conceptual framework, but worries about the de-politicizing nature of Big Data Analysis.
  4. Beware the Big Errors of ‘Big Data’ — Not about development specifically, but Nassim Taleb warns about the dangers of cherry-picking: “Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.”
  5. Big Data for Development: Challenges & Opportunities — A paper from UN Global Pulse. I’ll confess that I haven’t read it in detail yet. From a quick skim, it’s probably a useful resource. However, it looks like it stops short of discussing the political implications. (h/t Monitoring and Evaluation News)