On the invitation of SciDev.net, I wrote earlier this year an article looking at Big Data from the perspective of someone who lives in a country post-war, but reeling from systemic conflict, human rights abuse and under an illiberal, authoritarian regime.
The article was published in April on SciDev.net’s site, as part of an excellent collection of writing on Big Data for development.
As I note in my submission,
“[there are challenges] for civil society in post-war Sri Lanka and similar settings: to convince fellow citizens that data in the public domain can strengthen democracy post-war — but also alert them to the fact that no matter how benevolent data systems seem, any platform that hordes information without meaningful accountability or oversight endangers peace and courts violent conflict.
Simple measures can help meet that challenge. Compelling data driven journalism initiatives that use big data to interrogate social and political issues can help flag trends and patterns around governance. And civil society can use big data to strengthen its own research and advocacy, without relying on anecdotal evidence alone.
Civic education, for one, can alert people to both the benefits and dangers of big data. Global institutions like the UN have a role in this, and through big data they could even improve their effectiveness.
Importantly, these conversations need to put a human face to big data — to treat the datasets not as de-personalised information seen in the aggregate but as vast collections of individuals, who all have rights. If we lose sight of this, big data risks becoming a tool of and for the worst of us, when it should give life to and strengthen a more democratic future.”