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#4 from 2013: Numbers Are Never Enough (especially when dealing with Big Data)

Susan Moeller's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on January 8, 2013


The newest trend in Big Data is the personal touch.  When both the New York Times and Fast Company have headlines that trumpet: “Sure, Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition.” (The Times) and “Without Human Insight, Big Data Is Just A Bunch Of Numbers.” (Fast Company) you know that a major trend is afoot.

So what’s up?

The claims for what Big Data can do have been extraordinary, witness Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s seminal article in October in the Harvard Business Review: “Big Data: The Management Revolution,” which began with the showstopper:  “‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure.’”  It’s hard not to feel that Big Data will provide the solutions to everything after that statement.  As the HBR article noted:  “…the recent explosion of digital data is so important. Simply put, because of big data, managers can measure, and hence know, radically more about their businesses, and directly translate that knowledge into improved decision making and performance.”

Transparency in All Things: Even Research

Susan Moeller's picture

Wordtree of Al Jazeera's coverage graphically demonstrates how common a topic "fraud" was in framing the Afghan election.Transparency remains the sine qua non of the international development sector.  We preach its value to others; we see open records laws, for example, as key indicators of good governance.  But what we rarely discuss in the context of access to information, is the value not just of the data itself, but of transparency about how the data is analyzed.

Lots of studies come across each of our desks everyday.  Some come directly from the folks conducting the studies; the Pew Research Center, for example, sends me a weekly email of their work.  Some studies we learn about via the media: a news outlet itself or a pollster has completed a survey, and a news story summarizes the major takeaways.  And some studies come to us another step removed:  we pick up a book by Malcolm Gladwell or Ori Brafman, for example, and the author précis a study to argue his own insights.