‘Big data’ is big news! Along with its close relative ‘open data’, it’s part of the latest thinking about how managing information can help bring about better services. The rough idea is to use new technology and approaches to understand, analyse, link and where possible share large complex datasets to generate new insights and improve decisions.
In 2012, the UK government identified big data as one of eight ‘great technologies’ that support science and business, and since then has invested in a range of big data initiatives through the UK Research Councils. This includes the ESRC’s Big Data Network, whose current phase involves establishing four academic research centres to make data from local government and business more accessible.
In Scotland, an industry-led data lab, backed by public funding, is due to open late in 2014 to develop new data science capabilities.
Most of the focus has been on private sector innovation, higher education research capabilities and public sector datasets. Little has been said about the third or voluntary sector, which is surprising:
- Third sector organisations provide a wide range of services – policymakers need to understand the sector’s structure and capabilities;
- Many third sector organisations gather information that could help improve the design and delivery of services – they work directly with local communities including vulnerable groups who can be reluctant to engage in formal consultations.
Fortunately, there are a few initiatives which are looking at these issues.
On Monday 13 October I went to the first of a series of workshops organised by Scottish Universities Insight Institute into the opportunities and challenges of using data for Scotland’s third sector organisations.