Can big data deliver on its promise?

Did you know that, according to the UN Global Pulse, more data was created in 2011 than in the whole of human history, or at least, since the invention of the alphabet?

Technological and social innovations are resulting in huge flows of new data every day. This proliferation of so-called “big data” has the potential to change the way information is collected and used to inform policymaking.

New sources of data are increasingly providing real-time information to analysts and policy-makers. For example, it is now possible to collect price data on a wide range of goods and services with smartphones, and then calculate a daily price index. Similarly, job offers posted online provide a new source for analysing labour market trends, while data on Internet financial transactions and sales are increasingly used to forecast world output. At the same time, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have already revolutionised the way policymakers interact with civil society. Governments use these networks both to push their messages out and to pull information in that may influence the design and targeting of policies as people place more of their personal information on social networking sites.

International organisations are getting involved too, the creation of UN Global Pulse being a case in point. The OECD has also been harnessing the potential of big data. Collecting statistics and understanding trends are the daily bread of our organisation, and we have built innovative, interactive tools to draw in more and better information from the public. This, in turn, feeds into improving the policy recommendations we give to governments. The OECD Better Life Index is a good example of this. Launched in 2011, it is a user-friendly web application that members of the public can use to compare the quality of life in different countries and to develop their own indexes based on their tastes and preferences. They can then share their indexes far and wide, including with us at the OECD. Since 2008, the OECD has also been employing its Wikigender and Wikiprogress platforms in the area of gender equality and societal progress to engage in, and facilitate, policy dialogue with governments, civil society and citizens in all the countries in the world.

In OECD countries, national statistics offices are beginning to use big data to improve the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of their statistical production, too.

But big data does not automatically mean bigger and better information, and an increasingly important function of national statistics offices in the future will be to help users separate high quality statistical information from low quality data coming from all kinds of new sources.

There are other challenges too. One is Internet privacy, which is at risk of being undermined by relentless hunting for greater and more detailed information. And another is finding innovative ways to communicate and present the stories that the flood of new data generates. These are all challenges the OECD is addressing, so that, like the alphabet, the age of big data brings clear benefits to policymakers and citizens alike.

Visit www.oecd.org/statistics and www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org

O’Reilly, Marie, (2012), “Interview with Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of UN Global Pulse, on the Value of Big Data”, 5 November, available at www.theglobalobservatory.org

©OECD Observer No 293 Q4 November 2012




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Is technological progress slowing down. Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • An employee prepares breakfast in front of the Eiffel tower at the Parisian luxury hotel Le Plaza Athenee, France July 30, 2015. Nowhere in the world has more accommodation available on Airbnb than Paris. Now the home-sharing website that has transformed budget travel to the French capital is giving its super-deluxe hotels a fright too (©REUTERS/Stephane Mahe).
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • On 19-20 September, come and visit the OECD to learn more about our home and our work.
  • Low interest rates here to stay for half a century, says OECD director Adrian Blundell-Wignall.
  • OECD speak on support it will offer to Greek
  • Bill Gates visited the OECD on 26 June. He met with the Secretary-General Angel Gurría to discuss areas of collaboration with his foundation and participated at a briefing session on official development assistance modernisation with OECD experts.
  • The People’s Republic of China decided to enhance longstanding collaboration with the OECD and to join the OECD Development Centre, in a historic visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on 1 July to the OECD in Paris.
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • One dollar in aid for trade generates eight dollars in extra trade for all developing countries and 20 dollars for low-income countries. Read OECD Secretary General's post on the newly released Aid for Trade at a glance 2015.
  • Catherine Mann, OECD Chief Economist, explains on Bloomberg why "too much bank lending can slow economic growth".
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Come va la vita in Italia? How's life in Italy? The OECD Better Life Index is an interactive online platform in seven languages that goes beyond GDP by offering important insights into measuring well-being and quality of life. Try it for yourself!
  • The IMF calls for a decisive energy subsidy reform in order to use the freed resources to meet critical public spending needs and to reduce pollution ahead of the Paris climate change summit.
  • Have a look at these posters representing a world without fundamental rights at work – including child labour, forced labour and inequality. Read more about this ILO image competition here.
  • Africa vs profit shifting African countries heavily rely on the income generated by multinationals’ taxation, which can represent as much as 88% of a country’s tax base. Little wonder Africa is involved in the OECD’s initiative to address tax base erosion caused by profit shifting, known as BEPS. The need to strengthen inter-governmental co-operation to curb cross-border tax losses was reaffirmed at the Africa Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) in Sandton on 21 April 2015.
  • Africa v. profit shifting
  • After three decades of extraordinary economic development, China is shifting to a slower and more sustainable growth path, according to the OECD's latest Economic Survey of China.
  • In pursuit of the American Dream.

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Unemployment
Global warming
International conflict
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015