In my mind there is no question that big data is the buzzword of 2012. Everyone from CEO’s to tech geeks are batting the term around like it’s the answer to all of the World’s problems. A few brave naysayers have said, “Big Data? Big deal…”, but for the most part there is a sense of excitement over what is possible with all of the terabytes of data that are collected daily. Though much of the energy is business and profit driven, there are also many data scientists who are passionate about using big data for the greater good. One such start-up, DataKind, is endeavoring to match the skills of data scientists with non-profits who could benefit from their expertise with big data. To date they have sponsored eight Data Dives in various parts of the country where they match up non-profit social organizations with volunteer data scientists who spend a weekend tackling their data challenges.
One such event generated this map of storm surge risk in NYC. As this was created in September it proved to be prophetic in determining the outcome of Hurricane Sandy the following month!
NYC Data Drive
DataKind founder Nate Porway, who was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2012, believes that this is a match that has been waiting to happen, “We’re connecting nonprofits, NGOs, and other data-rich social change organizations with data scientists willing to donate their time and knowledge to solve social, environmental, and community problems. Data is like a bucket of crude oil. Potentially great, but only if someone knows how to refine it (data scientists) and someone else has vehicles that will run on it (the social sector).”
A recent white paper from the World Economic Forum highlights the ways in which big data can have a big impact (I’m learning that people love to find other words to attach big to when they are writing about big data!) on international and social development.
This is all well and good but as as blogger Zach Gemignani wrote recently, “All the work of collecting, combining, and modeling data is wasted if not enough attention is paid to how the data is shared. The data needs to be transformed into bite-sized (pre-chewed, even) stories that can easily stick in the brains of your audience.”
In other words the excitement over big data’s potential for change needs to be combined with practical and usable applications. Organizations like DataKind, which has started to inspire spin-offs on college campuses across the country, can be instrumental in helping this ideal to become reality.
Some Related Reading!
Links to other great Forbes articles as well!