Urban Fold

So We've Got All This Data. Now What?

Ben Hecht offers his insights on what civic leaders should do to capitalize on big data and how efforts in Chicago are turning these ideas into reality.

Hecht has expounded previously on the potential that big data has to offer for cities. For the uninitiated, big data refers to the exceedingly large and increasingly unmanageable pools of data about your behavior being gathered by private enterprise, government agencies, emergency dispatchers, and more. And as Hecht sees it, harnessing that pool of data offers "a means to understand cities better, make better decisions, and improve the quality of life for more citizens."

As such, and in light of a recent meeting with Chicago's chief technology officer John Tolva and chief data officer Brett Goldstein, Hecht presents five challenges to civic leaders hoping to cut through the fog of this trend:

  • Make it useful. With an overabundance of data, clear insights can get lost in the noise. Hecht identifies three types of analysis: historical, spatial (especially across agencies), and predictive.
  • Learn to make predictions. Patterns in 311 and 911 calls and beyond can help "predict everything from health, crime, and economic growth."
  • Identify priorities. City governments can only take advantage of this data if they first 1) define what data they have, 2) diversify their stock of technically skilled workers, and 3) present the benefits to the public to overcome skepticism.
  • Apply it to social science. Goldstein has vocally recognized the importance of marrying social science and cutting-edge statistical analysis.
  • Challenge the norm. Making sense of this trend will, in Hecht's words, disrupt long-held assumptions of what is possible. Expediting that kind of innovation will require leadership from all levels of government.

"Ultimately, the success of Chicago's efforts, and likely those of cities throughout the country, will depend on the willingness of people like Brett Goldstein to reject conventional wisdom that this can't be done in order to custom build solutions with gum and spit."

Full Story: Big Data and a Brave New World

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