Big data and public decision-making: reality is more complex than it appears

“The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” This was the headline of an article published by The Economist in May 2017 which highlighted that the huge amount of data from the Web is the real source of global wealth in the era of the fourth industrial revolution.


Reflections on the use of big data must extend to the field of public decision-making and the strategies of political actors. Data alone is not sufficient when formulating efficient and effective decisions. If it is not interpreted in the right way and read with tools suitable for understanding, data can mean very little to decision-makers. Therefore, in policymaking processes, the contribution of political actors is fundamental and cannot be replaced by analysts’ ability to make sense of the data.


Political actors do not always privilege the information obtained from big data when making decisions, even if it easy to read. They must use their experience and their interpretations of the situation when formulating a decision because relying solely on data is not sufficient.


If it is true that big data have the potential to transform public decision-making for the better, policymakers must use all the options exposed to them and not be inclined towards a certain point of view. Politics are present for all phases of the decision-making process and the increasing use of new data is leading to a change in the relationship between politics and decision-making, raising problems of trust and transparency between professionals with different ethics.


In this new digital society, it is necessary that big data can circulate without obstacles in order to make the most of their driving force. Political actors must be aware of the fundamental role that big data will increasingly play in all areas of life. It is essential that knowledge of big data is not limited to university classrooms due to the profound impact big data will soon have on all spheres of life.