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Big Data revolution, changing the way we live, work and think - Plus Your Weekend Reads

Welcome to GovLoop InsightsIssue of the Week with Chris Dorobek where each week, our goal is to find an issue — a person — an idea — then helped define the past 7-days and we work to find an issue that will also will have an impact on the days, weeks and months ahead. And, as always, we focus on six words: helping you do your job better.

On the DorobekINSIDER this week:

  • Grading Government Transparency- Can Your Agency Scientists Tweet? -Transparency is essential for good government. Federal scientists play an important role in fulfilling that mandate by providing critical expertise to decision makers. So how open is your agency. We looked at the report card.
  • What's the Status of Gov 2.0? DorobekINSIDER's Expert Panel Weighs In - Gov 2.0 has revolutionized the way government does business. But Gov 2.0 isn't a buzz word anymore. In fact, many say Gov 2.0 is dead. The DorobekINSIDER's panel of experts including Alex Howard, GSA's Lena Trudeau, DOT's Dan Mintz and Code for America's Kevin Curry talked about how government is opening up the doors and channels of communication, inviting in all stakeholders to make government more participatory, collaborative, and transparent.
  • Does Big Data REALLY Matter? We hear about the amazing things big data can do. But it also requires
  • a big investment of time and resources. That investment is causing some agencies to hold back on big data. So in the end does big data really matter? We go over the pros and cons with TechAmerica's president Jennifer Kerber.
  • Philadelphia Hires First Ever Director of Civic Technology – Meet Tim Wisniewski - Philadelphia has hired its first ever Director of Civic Technology. The role is part of the CIO's and the Mayor's overall plan for innovation management in Philadelphia. You'll meet him and find out what inspired this role.

But our issue of the week: Big Data's Breakthrough

How can officials identify the most dangerous New York City manholes before they explode? And how did Google searches predict the spread of the H1N1 flu outbreak? The answer is big data. 

"Big data can help us gain detail atcale and in real time. It doesn't tell us why things are happening but what is happening," said Viktor Mayer-Schonberger. Mayer-Schonberger literally wrote the book on big data: Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think "A few years back the CDC was faced with a particular challenge when a new flu virus (H1N1) came to the US. The deadly flu didn't have a vaccine, so the only real option was to prevent the spread of the disease. But the problem was the CDC didn't have the data. At the same time engineers at Google thought they could track the disease better. They used google search term data, billions of searches, and did a correlation analysis with historic flu trends. What they could see from what people searched online was that they coud predict the spread of the flu down to the region in almost real time. Google was able to be much more accurate than CDC could at the time," said Mayer-Schonberger. 

Billions Prices Project - MIT

"The project is an outgrowth from two MIT economists. What they did was look at the consumer price index data and said that is wonderful and curated data but it's always a couple of weeks or months late. In a financial crisis policy makers need to know the details faster."

What they did:

  • Went to the internet on a daily basis and would note the price points for products on a variety of online shopping sites.
  • They would then use the change in price points as an indicator of inflation. (Turned out to be incredibly accurate.)
  • They found they could predict the change in consumer prices and therefore inflation much faster, almost in real time.
  • MIT relied on a passive collection of data. They didn't have hundreds or thousands of people out checking prices. They had computer scripts that would go out to e-commerce websites and take down price points. The MIT engineers would then overlay the data with a big data correlation analysis.

Big Data is Changing the Way Gov. Operates

"Government like any other institution out there is in for quiet a dramatic change. We have been living in an information deprived world. We have had very few data points, so decision makers have relied on a scarcity of information. In the big data age the entire situation is reversed. All the ways we've made decisions; the institutions, internal processes, structures, need to re-thought," said Mayer-Schonberger. 

Organizational Changes

"Right now we operate as a top-down, hierarchical approach to work. That works in a world with a scarcity of data points. But when we have a lot of information, a lot of decisions will be questioned based on the empirical data. It is no longer efficient for experts to say we've done it this way in the past, because the other side will say show me the facts that show this is the right way to do something," said Mayer-Schonberger. 

Management Can Focus Resources

"In the book we give the example of Michael Flowers. He is a data analyst for New York City. His job is to help the city prioritize checkups on buildings that may be a fire hazard. He is doing that not because he is a trained firefighter but because he can combine lots of different data sets to reflect risks for fires and does a big data analysis on top of that data. As a result the city of New York's inspectors have been much better at prioritizing what buildings to inspect," said Mayer-Schonberger. 

Weekend Reads

This week marks the 7th anniversary for Twitter, the site that lets you share thoughts and ideas in 140-characters.

It seems Twitter has changed how agencies reach out to the public, but also internally... and how we reach out to each other.


The Wall Street Journal’s Digits pulled seven headlines over seven years that showed how they covered Twitter...

And they also featured the best apps for mastering Twitter. (Unfortunately my favorite, TweetDeck, is going way... thanks toTwitter, which bought it. Don’t get me started!)

  • The Boston Consulting Group: The Future of the Business Travel
    • Most millennials aren't quite full-fledged business travelers, according to The Boston Consulting Group, but that's likely to change in the next 10 years or so. This offers up a great opportunity for airlines and hotels to mine for early brand loyalty — and to eventually increase profits — but only if they understand how very different this generation of flyers is from the last. Some things to consider: While millennials tend to be more brand loyal than non-millennials in most cases, this fact doesn't yet apply to airlines. And while millennials don't much mind chaos at the airport, they're more likely to be annoyed by a complicated booking process and are more likely to turn to aggregators like Kayak or Expedia for their travel needs.
  • FastCompanyDesign: Forget The Mission Statement. What’s Your Mission Question? 
    • Most companies, of course, articulate their missions by way of formal “statements.” But often they’re banal pronouncements (We save people money so they can live better. --WalMart) or debatable assertions (Yahoo! is the premier digital media company) that don’t offer much help in trying to gauge whether a company is actually living up to a larger goal or purpose. Questions, on the other hand, can provide a reality check on whether or not a business is staying true to what it stands for and aims to achieve. So herewith, derived from interviews for my forthcoming book, A More Beautiful Question, are thoughts from a couple of top CEOs (Panera Bread’s Ron Shaich and Patagonia’s Casey Sheahan) and a trio of leading business thinkers/consultants (the Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen, Peer Insight’s Tim Ogilvie, and SY Partners’ Keith Yamashita). The following five “mission questions” are designed to keep a business focused on what matters most.
  • The Atlantic: The Touch-Screen Generation
    • Young children—even toddlers—are spending more and more time with digital technology. Thousands of apps appealing to kids just out of diapers are now released every year. Should parents recoil or rejoice? Hanna Rosin examines the latest research and data—not to mention the behavior of her own three kids—to better understand what tablets and smartphones are doing to young children's brains.  

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Tags: DorobekINSIDER, big data, communications, leadership, project management, research, weekend reads

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