Big Data and Human Development

Big Data and Human Development

Funded under the 'Inequality and wellbeing' theme

Big data and human development



Data are now almost ubiquitous. Sensors and software are digitising and storing all manner of social, economic, political and environmental patterns and processes. As the size of these datasets has increased exponentially, many have begun to focus on how ‘big data’ harvested from online sources can allow potentially unprecedented insights into our world that may facilitate efforts to enhance human development. But how should ‘big data’ be harvested in ways that could effectively inform development processes? This question is particularly pertinent for the most disadvantaged, and those at the margins who produce the least amount of data and risk becoming even more invisible.

The ‘big data and human development’ research Incubator aims to investigate the potential uses of ‘big data’ for advancing human development and addressing equity gaps.  The programme will establish a cross-disciplinary and global network to map what data sources and techniques exist for harnessing new digital data and address persistent concerns regarding human development, inequity, exclusion, and participation.

The ultimate goal of this Incubator will be to stimulate policy-oriented research that seeks to understand:

  • what presences and absences of data tell us about issues of participation and exclusion;
  • what data tell us about gaps in human development: facilitating better decision-making and accountability in previously data-sparse environments;
  • what tools have emerged globally that can maximise citizen ownership of big data.

Initially, the Incubator will build a digital observatory to assess the potentials of different data sources for informing human development, linking to relevant data and metadata. Through the use of detailed case studies, and in collaboration with end-users in some of the countries that most need to access big data, the Incubator will aim to empirically illustrate some of the promises and perils of using big data to inform human development. Finally, the Incubator will bring together research and policy from both Global North and South to ensure that methodological knowledge about big data is appropriately mapped on to the interests of stakeholders, to achieve key development outcomes.

Photo credit: "Pursuit of Light", NASA Goddard

Further Information

Project Start/End: October 2015-September 2017

Principal Investigator: Professor Mark Graham