Stefaan Verhulst and Andrew Young in Harvard Business Review: How the Data That Internet Companies Collect Can Be Used for the Public Good

Michelle Winowatan — January 26, 2018

In a new article for the Harvard Business Review, Stefaan Verhulst and Andrew Young, the Network’s chief of research and network coordinator respectively, provide insights on the use of social media data to solve public problems. They focus on the burgeoning use of data drawn from social media in data collaboratives – cross-sectoral partnerships that allows corporations, government agencies, and civil society to exchange data so that it can create public value. Verhulst and Young suggest that the immense amount of data collected and held in the private sector can be used to inform more effective policymaking, service delivery, and public problem-solving.

Drawing on a recent research report, they focus especially on the potential of social media data to create public value:

“In particular, the vast streams of data generated through social media platforms, when analyzed responsibly, can offer insights into societal patterns and behaviors. These types of behaviors are hard to generate with existing social science methods. All this information poses its own problems, of complexity and noise, of risks to privacy and security, but it also represents tremendous potential for mobilizing new forms of intelligence.”

While data collaboratives, including those built on social media data, are creating positive impacts around the world, Verhulst and Young aruge that the field will not reach its full potential until data sharing for the public good – i.e., data stewardship – becomes a more professionalized corporate function:

“For all its promise, the practice of data collaboratives remains ad hoc and limited. In part, this is a result of the lack of a well-defined, professionalized concept of data stewardship within corporations. Today, each attempt to establish a cross-sector partnership built on the analysis of social media data requires significant and time-consuming efforts, and businesses rarely have personnel tasked with undertaking such efforts and making relevant decisions…By establishing data stewardship as a corporate function, recognized within corporations as a valued responsibility, and by creating the methods and tools needed for responsible data-sharing, the practice of data collaboratives can become regularized, predictable, and de-risked.”

Read more here.