Humanizing Data

HumanizingData-Web.jpgData has become the heartbeat of the new economy and the lifeblood of smart public policy in the 21st Century.

Two words born in the mid-1990s still shape our understanding of data’s central role. Engineers at Silicon Graphics, an early tech innovator, began talking about “Big Data” at about the same time the words “Open Data” first appeared in a report, which advocated for the free exchange of scientific information.

Big Data

Two decades later, Big Data describes the high-speed collection, processing and availability of huge volumes of information. What once required days, weeks or months of computer time can now be processed and displayed in real time. Greater processing capacity has encouraged us to add sensors to objects, animals and even to ourselves, and to “scrape” the digital streams of the Internet to generate an even greater flood of data. By getting us answers sooner, Big Data delivers greater value. It also reveals patterns we might never have suspected were there, but which alter our decisions, investments and our well-being. The impact on businesses and institutions already mounts into the billions, measured by cost-savings, convenience, operational improvements and new forms of economic activity.

If data is Big, however, does it only belong to Big companies and institutions? Where do individuals and communities fit in a data-driven future?

Open Data

That’s where Big meets Open. The global Open Data movement has driven municipal, state, provincial and national governments to publish data sets from the vast store of information they collect. Researchers, hackathons and entrepreneurs explore the spread of disease and crime, create real-time transit schedules and develop quality audits for everything from hospitals to restaurants, instantly available on smartphones. New companies spring up to make money from this release of “the peoples’ property,” including such firms as the real estate website Zillow and Garmin, a US$7 billion maker of navigation software and hardware. Governments save money by attracting more bidders for contracts and delivering useful up-to-the-minute information online rather than through call centers. Where governments are committed to transparency, Open Data is shrinking the shadows where corruption flourishes.

As data has become a matter of public policy, its quality, use and interpretation have become the stuff of debate. Data touches issues from privacy and security to economic inequality, and from the right to claim an individual identity to the “right to be forgotten.” Technologists complain about a lack of standards that force them to devote countless hours to preparing government data for use. Open Data advocates demand that information be free – while most governments reserve the right to determine what citizens need to know.

Data for Humanity

Whether big, open or both, data has become the beating heart of business and government. By fueling a better-informed society, it supports human hopes and human potential. It is valuable when it contributes to prosperity, knowledge, safety, cultural richness and greater collaboration, and it is threatening when directed to lesser goals. In the 2018 Intelligent Community Awards and Summit, we celebrate the people, the communities and the innovators who are humanizing data for the economic, social and cultural benefit of the community. We will identify and honor those whose technical accomplishments lead to less poverty, greater health, higher hopes and longer and richer lives, beginning in the first and most important place of all: the place called home.

More About Big Data


More About Open Data

Fundamentals of Big Data

“The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Big Data in 2017,” by Bernard Marr, Forbes, March 14, 2017

What Local Government Can Do

“Councils and the Data Revolution,” by Tom Symons, NESTA, July 15, 2016

How to Implement Initiatives

“Ten Actions to Implement Big Data Initiatives: A Study of 65 Cities” by Alfred Tat-Kei Ho with Bo McCall, University of Kansas, IBM Center for the Business of Government, 2016.

Moving Beyond Big Data

“Cities Cannot be Reduced to Just Big Data and IoT,” by Federico Guerrini, Forbes, September 19, 2016.

What Location Data Teaches Us

“Don’t Just Collect Location Data, Get Location Intelligence,” by Santiago Giraldo, Meeting of the Minds, November 7, 2017


Fundamentals of Open Data

“Open Data: What Is It and Why Should You Care?” by Jason Shueh, Government Technology, March 17, 2014.

What Local Government Can Do

“40 Brilliant Open Data Projects,” by Peter Murray,, March 14, 2017.

Implementing Open Data

“How to Plan and Budget an Open Data Initiative,” Open Data Institute.

How Cities Can Change Their Data Game

"4 Ways Cities Can Change Their Data Game," by Tod Newcombe, Governing, October 31, 2017

Is Open Data Good Enough?

"Is Open Data Good Enough?" by Dr. Norman Jacknis, April 22, 2015

Open Data Projects in ICF Communities

A sampling of open data initiatives from the profiles of Intelligent Communities.

How to Put Data to Work in Your Neighborhood

Every day, city governments collect vast amounts of administrative data – but most cities still don’t use their own adata to inform their decisions.


What Future Are You Prepping For? - January 11, 2018

The Internet is Not Your Friend - October 24, 2017

Can We Humanize the Data Monster? - October 3, 2017

ICF Announces "Humanizing Data" Theme for 2018 Awards Program - July 6, 2017


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