Monthly Archives: February 2015

Writing about a data revolution: between rhetoric and practical action

Some ideas on “big data”, development and SDGs. We need to pull people up who say “data” when they really mean “statistics” and fail to theorize how “bigger” data will produce better decisions - what comes after the MDGs?

Written by Morten Jerven, Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University.

A world that counts” is a cleverly crafted motivational manifest.  But it is not a practical roadmap towards the applying a ‘data revolution’ to the sustainable development goals agenda. I identify the main weaknesses in the report as: Conflating statistics with data; lacking a theory for how better data leads to better decisions; assuming non proven synergies between official record and big data; equating data demand with data supply; ignoring the costs of data. Finally, I warn against the belief that only what is counted counts.

1. Statistics ≠ Data.

Throughout the document we are told that “This is the data revolution”.  We may be somewhere around a historical moment that might best be thought of as an information revolution or a document revolution. Literally, the word data means:  ‘what is given’, and there certainly are more fleetingly available…

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