Big data useless without human element

You never know what you might uncover when you examine big data with a curious and critical eye, argued DHS’s Medicare chief Barry Sandison. People’s natural curiosity is the key to unlocking the insights within Australia’s vast welfare records.

Big data is an invaluable tool for government, but by itself won’t reveal all the answers you’re looking for — for that you need people, argues Barry Sandison, deputy secretary, Health Compliance and Information at the Department of Human Services.

“You have to be curious. You’ve got to wonder, you’ve got to look at ‘what if?’,” he said at last month’s Australia and New Zealand School of Government conference in Melbourne.

“You can’t just assume that data is going to get there and say ‘here is the answer that’s what we’ve been looking for’. If you are, you’re probably trying to channel the answer and get the answer you want, rather than what the data will tell you.”

He said when he first heard Donald Rumsfeld’s maxim about known-knowns, known-unknowns et cetera, he thought it trite, but “getting involved in the data space over the last few years, it actually started to make sense.” There are plenty of unknown-unknowns in data, and the best way to uncover them is to start digging.

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