On Thursday the Public Policy Initiative together with the Big Data Initiative, brought together over 60 researchers from a range of departments and disciplines across Cambridge to present and discuss big data applications to public policy.
Strategic initiatives were established to bring people together from different disciplines and to strive to be interdisciplinary. At today’s workshop participants did just that in considering a range of different types of data and how they are being applied – and how they might be applied in the future – by researchers to solve real world problems.
Big Data is expanding in its contribution across the social sciences and in public policy and the aim of today was to bring together the two communities to hear about Cambridge research in a variety of areas such as geospatial data, social data, large administrative data sets and natural language processing, to see what insights these new methods and approaches can bring to public policy thinking and problems.
The aim of the day was to make connections between researchers and consider potential future collaborations. The presentations throughout the day – and the questions and discussions that followed – were able to reveal relevant links between seemingly disconnected research topics, methods and approaches. Presenting to a diverse research audience allowed for interesting questions and shared strategies to emerge; for example, the challenges of data collection and analysis involving large and ‘new’ data sets; storing, accessing and publishing large data sets; generating new hypotheses and new forms of data; and the new skills that are required of researchers and how best to engage with policy makers as a researcher creating new knowledge and applications with big data.
We learnt about new data sources (such as mobile sensors; location and behavior data; twitter feeds; satellite mapping; text mining); how new policy models are being constructed to include new data sources; the challenges of handling new data sources (real time, adaptive, behavior data, whole population rather than sample data; social data; fine grained data; ‘tall and fat’ data; ‘messy’ data; multi-lingual data) and how best to integrate new data with existing hypotheses and techniques that have been developed to address public policy questions.
What was particularly impressive about the range of presentations and discussions throughout the day was the genuine interest amongst researchers in sharing this new knowledge, in sharing techniques, skills, common challenges, and successful strategies that have been applied in order to capitalize on the opportunities that big data offers to the research and policy community. Today was a genuinely interdisciplinary exchange and one that made the most of Cambridge’s breadth and depth in research and ability to question and inquire about real world problems and the contribution that Cambridge research can make to address those problems.