Monumental issues need monumental understanding. With this in mind, is it any wonder that the world’s governments are increasingly turning towards Big Data as they grapple with the political conundrums of the day?
And, well, there are quite a few of those. Leaf through the morning paper, turn on the network television news, browse Twitter and other social media, or even just listen in to conversations on the street; the evidence is everywhere that we are in thorny political times.
Could Big Data provide the answer? Is it time for analytics to swoop down in its cape and leotard and save us all from political purgatory? The answer is, of course, yes. This is how the power of insight is being harnessed by governments across the world…
Work Efficient, Work Smart
How many of us, as kids, looked up in awe at the President and thought about how it would be to have no boss, to have no one tell us what to do? It’s not until we grow a little older that we realize that’s not really what being president is all about.
Over here in America, the President has quite a few bosses – 324 million to be exact – and he must justify himself to all of them. In a democracy, a bloated, wheezing system of decision and execution just isn’t going to cut it. The public won’t stand for it and rightly so. Instead, action must be smart and efficient.
Both at a federal and at a more local level, Big Data is already in use within the mechanisms of power. Understanding the problems impacting a community and knowing what to do to put those problems right is vital here. This is the advantage Big Data offers.
Improved data storage and access functionality makes it easy for analysts to get their hands on juicy data from a range of sources – whether this involves waste collection in Brooklyn, traffic flow in Seattle, or child literacy levels in Big Timber, Montana – and then work to reach an understanding. The flow from projected crisis to idea to implementation to resolution becomes effortlessly smooth.
The beauty of Big Data – or at least, of Big Data in its latest incarnation – is that it need not be applied topically. Instead, it can be utilized universally, bringing together different departments and different solutions and unifying them as one cohesive whole.
Government bodies recognized a long time ago that acting retroactively to keep the plates of society spinning was not good enough. Unfortunately, what they also recognized is that they lacked the resources to implement a change in any meaningful sense. Fortunately, this is not the case anymore. Big Data is the driving force behind this.
Now, governments are able to take a step back, view the bigger picture, and implement their solutions in a manner which benefits the whole society. We have seen this happen in Europe, as governments utilize the flexibility and fluidity of cloud computing structures to apply Big Data understanding to a range of social issues.
Writing for The Hindu, Kadambari Shah highlighted the examples of the several European governments who have harnessed data insight within agriculture, providing assistance at every link in the chain from growth and nurturing through harvesting, distribution and sale. This is an example of an area in which governmental assistance would previously have been impossible, rare or highly-limited. Now, with exceptional insight across the board, it has been rendered simple.
India is a nation on the rise, but the vast size of the country and its population, as well as the varied nature of the topography and infrastructure in different parts of the region, present a range of problems. One of the manifestations of this difficulty is in polling.
In an article for The Guardian, published back in February, Michael Safi explained how Big Data has been repurposed in the Asian nation. It is succeeding where other measures have failed. Safi describes polling teams in areas like Lucknow, utilizing traditional techniques of ringing up members of the electorate and noting down their responses.
This, of course, is a logistical nightmare in any country, but in a nation like India, which is home to a broad range of different language groups, writing systems and cultures, it becomes an uphill battle. Safi spoke to Adwait Vikram Singh, a campaign director for India’s ruling party, who outlined the difficulties faced by analysts.
“Or take the area Najafgarh,” he explained. “It’s spelt differently in National Sample Survey Office data, central government data, in polling-level data. If a human reads it he’ll say, yeah, it’s all the same. But [a computer reacts differently]. A lot of the analytics we did was trying to solve these hiccups.”
Difficult, then, but not impossible; certainly not now that analytic and recognition technology is developing so rapidly. Smarter systems and intelligent machines are bringing the richness of Big Data insight to bear on polling processes across the world.
Taking Cues from the Private Sector
As is often the case, government departments end up playing catch-up with the private sector. Private organizations have been tuned in to the benefits of analysis and understanding for decades. Their efforts have borne fruit on many occasions. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with the government and public sectors, as Shah notes in her article for The Hindu.
She describes how firms like Uber applied analysis to the traffic problems affecting major metropolises like Dubai, and devised solutions based on their findings. The government of the UAE are still struggling with this and are only just beginning to move towards an effective, data-driven solution. Over here in the USA it is the same story.
So, for a taste of how the power of Big Data will be applied to the social issues of the future, we need to look not to what governments are doing now, but to the actions and movements of firms in the private sector. It is here where true innovation and progress is fostered.
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