APPAM Hosts First Student Brown Bag Series Event - Big Data and Science & Technology Policy
July 22, 2015 10:30 AM
On July 21 APPAM hosted the first in a series of Student Brown Bag events at the University Club in Washington, DC. Big Data and Science & Technology Policy was attended by more than 50 policy students of all levels.
The discussion panel was moderated by David Morar, Ph.D. Student, George Mason University School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs and participants included:
Dr. David Hart, Ph.D., Professor, George Mason University School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs
Dr. David Johnson, Ph.D., APPAM Vice-President and Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis
Amanda Parsad, Senior Scientist, Abt Associates (Listen to a podcast of Amanda's perspective on Big Data).
Students had the opportunity to hear practitioners and academics specializing in big data, science and technology, data collection and analysis address questions such as how the federal government and the private sector are using big data, the trade-off between privacy rights and data-driven innovations, the challenges involved with acquiring and analyzing data and what changes we are seeing in policy due to the advances in data collection.
Dr. David Hart, George Mason University School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs provided an academic's perspective on the use of big data. Dr. Hart expressed a cautionary tone on the use and reliance on big data. He said, "A qualitative grounding is important for students and that there needs to be a reality check on data."
He went on to say that as researchers students "need to go through established processes to ensure that privacy of data is maintained."
Dr. David Johnson, Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis provided a practitioner's perspective on the use of big data. In his job as the Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce he explained that he works a lot with government program surveys. He shared with the students that the response rate to most surveys is low. He said that, the use of big data allows for drilling down to compare difference sources of data. This is particularly helpful in examining Medicare claims.
He quipped that, "data sharing is a lot more complicated than it sounds." When working with administrative data it is important to collaborate with other entities that hold sources of data.
He advised students that, "data without context is useless." He suggested that along with the ability to analyze data sets it is important to have programming skills. He ended by pondering whether a large data set could be created by the federal government for use by multiple entities. He summarized that this is probably not a reality in the next 10 years!
Amanda Parsad, Senior Scientist, Abt Associates provided a private sector perspective of the use of big data. She explained to the students that a large number of her clients are federal government agencies that hire Abt Associates to perform an evaluation of their programs.
She said that, "it's sometime a challenge to gain access to and use agency data in providing an analysis of their programs." She went on to say that, "standardizing data across databases can sometimes take months. All of this has to happen before analysis can take place."
Amanda explained that a lot of the work she does involves dealing with massive comparison groups which she said, "takes a lot of time to get at the data you want."
She cautioned the students that when using data sets provided by other sources privacy issues and sharing guidelines must be strictly observed.
David Morar, Ph.D. student at George Mason University's School of Policy, Government and International Affairs added that, "As a student access to data sets is sometimes a challenge."
Amanda Parsad responded by saying that, "there needs to be a dialogue between schools and holders of data so access to data is easier."
The consensus among the panelists was that "Big Data" is a topic of increasing focus among researchers, practitioners and students. Going forward policies regulating the use of large data sets and their dissemination will need to be refined as the technology and data collection changes.
After a questions and answers session there was a networking session for students and panel participants.