CHAPTER 1Introduction

Marie Lowman

The genius of big data is not only in the great number of new insights introduced, but even more in the new ideas for betterment these insights spawn. This paraphrase of Alexis de’Tocqueville’s nineteenth-century observation of our democracy is still applicable today. Our government is expected to act as an honorable steward of our information and tax dollars. Stewardship, the responsible and careful management of something entrusted in one’s care, demands that government demonstrate the effective and proper application of tax dollars to services and programs that provide the greatest benefit to its citizens.

Throughout my 21 years in the tech industry and eight-plus years serving in the public sector as an elected city council member and appointed commissioner, I have witnessed the increasing volume and velocity of data sources, and their overwhelming effect on government organizations—at times for the better, and at times, for the worse. The worse is when governments have no idea how to harness this data and use it for good. They make decisions with very little context, sometimes simply rendering a decision based on gut feelings alone. The better is when data is used as a catalyst to drive informed decision making, like the early identification of an at-risk child so a safe place can be provided for that child to stay while offering effective programs to support that child’s growth to achieve their potential.

At every point of intersection ...

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