The ‘Big Data and Human Development’ incubator

I’m happy to announce the launch of an exciting and important new initiative that I am co-directing with my colleagues Iginio Gagliardone and Proochista Ariana: the Big Data and Human Development incubator.

We aim to investigate the potential uses of ‘big data’ for advancing human development and addressing equity gaps. We are establishing a cross-disciplinary and global network to map what data sources and techniques exist for harnessing new digital data and address persistent concerns regarding human development, inequity, exclusion, and participation.

The ultimate goal of this Incubator will be to stimulate policy-oriented research that seeks to understand:

  • what presences and absences of data tell us about issues of participation and exclusion;
  • what data tell us about gaps in human development: facilitating better decision-making and accountability in previously data-sparse environments;
  • what tools have emerged globally that can maximise citizen ownership of big data.

Initially, the Incubator will build a digital observatory to assess the potentials of different data sources for informing human development, linking to relevant data and metadata. Through the use of detailed case studies, and in collaboration with end-users in some of the countries that most need to access big data, the Incubator will aim to empirically illustrate some of the promises and perils of using big data to inform human development. Finally, the Incubator will bring together research and policy from both Global North and South to ensure that methodological knowledge about big data is appropriately mapped on to the interests of stakeholders, to achieve key development outcomes.

We hope for this to be a very inclusive initiative. Already, we have had important help in setting it up from David Peter Simon, Marco Haenssgen, and Cristina Golomoz; we are building a network of interested scholars based at the University of Oxford; and our next step will be to include practitioners, scholars, and interested parties from around the world. We want to make sure that the resources we put together, and the workshops we organise are shaped by the people that they will matter most to.

Please head over and take a look at our new website: – and do get in touch if you would like to be involved!