Big data for policy

JRC Building, SevilleOn 22 September, Adam Cooper and I (from the LAEP project) were invited to attend ‘Big Data for policy: how safe is it to surf the next Big Wave?‘ This workshop was organised by a section of the European Commission – the Information Society of the Joint Research Centre: Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (or the IS Unit of the JRC-IPTS – still quite a mouthful!)

The European Commission defined a new strategy on Big Data last year, with the aim of supporting and accelerating the transition towards a data-driven economy in Europe. This links up with other Euro strategies such as open data, cloud computing, high-performance computing and access to scientific data. The workshop in Seville was designed to present case studies of work in various sectors on Big Data, and to bring together the views of experts from industry, policy makers and academia.

The case studies came from countries around the world. I found three of them particularly interesting in terms of the scale and scope of what can be done with Big Data.

  • Big Data for Development: New Opportunities for Emerging Markets (Rohan Samarajiva, CEO LirneAsia, Sri Lanka). Rohan talked, among other things, about how mobile phone use can be employed as a gauge of population movement, and to identify different population groupings within Sri Lanka. He blogged about the event here, and his slides are here.
  • Setting the Scene: EUROSTAT (Albrecht Wirthmann, EUROSTAT). Among the things Albrecht talked about were projects on mobile phone data and flight reservation data as sources for tourism and population statistics. Mobile phone data appears to give a more reliable picture of who is where than, for example, accommodation statistics, ferry passenger data, household survey data or border control data. His presentation can be downloaded here.
  • Data for Development: An Emerging Opportunity (Nicolas De Cordes, Orange, France). Nicolas described work by Orange to reuse technical network management data, creating strongly anonymous data samples that can be used by researchers to help with countries’ development issues. This, for example, enables them to model the spread of diseases, optimising the location of hospitals to improve medical help. His presentation can be downloaded here.



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