The digital revolution has put data at center stage. Data analysis has allowed businesses to provide a more customer-centric service, transforming the way modern companies operate and drastically improving the experience for everyone involved.
However, many governments are lagging behind on the data-analysis front. With the massive amount of data available to them, they are in a prime position to ensure a fairer and more advantageous society for all.
The power of data
When directed toward societal projects, data has incredible potential. The sky’s the limit with what it can do: from drastically improving decision-making, to increasing private sector employment, attracting new investment, catching criminals, improving the quality of the workforce in any given sector, boosting healthcare, fighting terrorism, increasing school graduation rates, and even improving linguistic and mathematical skills in young children. Not too bad.
It’s a numbers game
Of course, we may have to cut governments some slack. It can be difficult to properly visualize the amount of data they have to deal with. With greater amounts of data, come greater challenges, and when we’re talking about the entire civilian population of a country, you genuinely couldn’t get a larger, more diverse data set. They have reams of information on literally everyone in their country, across multiple systems, and stored in different locations. Organizing, managing, and extracting insights from something of this size is no small feat.
As part of the organizational nightmare that comes along with such a large amount of data, governments also have to verify that the data is real. False information can plague data sets of this size, skewing the results of any insights.
So it’s understandable why it’s so difficult—but that shouldn’t be a permanent barrier.
What governments are doing
Now, it’s also unfair to say that governments aren’t doing anything with data. Steps have been taken to improve the lives of people with data. Back in 2015, President Obama appointed DJ Patil as the first Chief Data Scientist in the US.
And he didn’t waste any time. Using data analytics, Patil helped fight terrorism by predicting the location of bombs and tackling cyber fraud to cut off terrorists’ finances. He also managed to clean up the streets in the US by identifying people with outstanding warrants through their license plates. On top of that, there was an increase in online learning in schools—with the data then being used to improve how we learn—and better disease control to stop the spread of illnesses.
The US is making great strides forward in the use of data, but they and many other countries are still a long way off from leveraging its full power. So, what should governments do?
What governments still need to do: Organization
Above all, governments need to organize all the information they have available to them. In general terms, this involves cleansing the massive data sets to improve their accuracy while also looking beyond the numbers to discover the underlying context, which will then allow them to identify patterns.
To achieve this, there are two overarching steps that need to be taken: setting up a robust system to gather new data, and integrating existing data sets.
Setting up a new system
Imagine you send out invitations to a party and one person replies by post, another by email, another by phone, another by text, and another in person. Now imagine that times a couple million. You have all the information you need, but because there are so many channels it quickly becomes confusing. If a government doesn’t have a proper, centralized, and high-tech system in place, any new data they receive across platforms will be impossible to use. It just creates more chaos and more work to sort through later on.
By ensuring any new information is automatically well managed, they can create a better public service while also gathering more accurate data.
All that old data
But what about all the data they have that’s been gathered over the years in multiple places?
To ensure they gain consistent insights, governments need to compile and integrate all this data from multiple agencies, jurisdictions, platforms, and databases. When doing this, they also need to be careful to take out any duplicated information—which is easier said than done.
Not doing this calls into question the quality of the data you’re working with, as messy, duplicate data creates a whole host of problems. WIth so much data, it represents a massive job, and governments would need quality, specialized software that standardizes and normalizes the data they have.
Finally, once they have reliable data to work with, governments need to map it all geographically in order to discover specific insights about specific locations. This will allow them to engage in better decision-making going forward, and improve the lives of their citizens in countless ways.
An exciting data-driven future
We’re still in the early stages of big data. Countries like the US have only exposed the tip of the iceberg with regard to what’s possible. But even they have a long road ahead of them to unlock its true potential and create a better world for all.