How Can Big Data Analytics Tools Spur Positive Change?

April 2, 2021 • Shannon Flynn

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People worldwide are investigating how they could apply big data analytics tools to solve problems. Here are four ways that such processes could make society better for everyone. 

1. Providing Vital Education To Reduce Domestic Violence Issues

A challenging thing about domestic violence is that it thrives in societal silence. Public viewpoints have started to shift, but there’s still a widespread belief of “If it happens behind closed doors, it’s not my concern.” 

Such a perspective means that neighbors or others hearing potential domestic abuse incidents may keep quiet and not report issues or ask victims if they need help. Similarly, many perpetrators threaten victims with injury or death for speaking out. 

However, big data analytics tools show promise for shedding light on domestic violence specifics and helping authorities learn more about reducing the problem. For example, one project used an automated text-mining tool to search police reports and get details about the types of injuries and abuse suffered, plus any related incidents, such as property damage. 

Another effort sought to prevent intimate partner homicides by predicting what factors make them more likely to occur. Researchers identified five such characteristics, such as actual or threatened weapon usage and the severity of the violence escalating over time.

Knowing more about these trends informs law enforcement officials, policymakers, support organizations and other entities that play essential roles in tackling and educating others about domestic violence. Digging into data could also dispel common myths. For example, mining the police records showed that emotional and verbal abuses were the most frequent among victims, but many people quickly associate partner violence with physical harm. 

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2. Reducing the Factors Contributing To Homelessness

Even people without first-hand experience of homelessness or helping people who are experiencing it tend to understand it’s a complicated problem. Individuals agree on the importance of minimizing homelessness, but not the best steps to take. 

Professionals who support homeless people or those at risk often stress that individuals typically do not go from stable living conditions to sleeping rough overnight. There is usually a progression of events that makes them increasingly vulnerable to losing their homes. Maybe a person got sick, received substantial bills and lost their job due to the decreased stamina caused by their illness. 

Fortunately, big data analytics tools can uncover numerous insights for caseworkers and others committed to fighting homelessness.  For example, which people are most at risk, and are there shared characteristics among those individuals? Which neighborhoods or streets include the most homeless people, and is there nearby support for them to access?

Then, once individuals receive permanent housing, what can support workers do to increase the chances of them staying in it without reencountering their former troubles? Using big data analytics tools could help support teams collaborate and notice any issues before they become more severe. 

3. Informing How Aid Teams Respond to Crises

Humanitarian aid teams are often among the scenes of devastating events like natural disasters, civil wars, and forced migrations due to prolonged danger or unrest. People who assist during those high-pressure situations will always have challenging jobs. However, when they use big data analytics tools, such resources could shape and enhance responses. 

Research shows that data analytics informs all three stages of the crisis lifecycle. During the pre-crisis phase, statistics and trends can help predict how disasters might materialize and how best to mobilize people to be there when they do. As a crisis unfolds, data can track real-time changes in the situation, helping humanitarian relief experts stay responsive and adaptive. 

Then, the post-crisis segment centers on using data to identify the lessons learned, see how teams excelled and look for ways to enhance the results during the next emergency. It’s also helpful that people lead increasingly digitized lives. By using social media, making online purchases or posting blog content, they create trails that could inform of impending crises. 

People are increasingly comfortable with donating money via text messages, too. That trend supports fundraising efforts and outreach methods. Many individuals watch as crises develop on the other side of the world, feeling horrified and helpless. If humanitarian aid agencies keep information about past donors or people likely to give, it’s easier for them to efficiently and effectively ask for donations, thereby increasing the crisis response cashflow. 

4. Making Cities More Accessible for People With Physical Disabilities

People with physical disabilities often analyze their environments wholly differently than their non-disabled peers — because they have no choice. Failing to do it could lead to accidents or continual frustration. For example, a wheelchair user might unconsciously survey the sidewalk to find curb cutaways that make access easier or dips and uneven surfaces that hinder movement. 

The trouble is that the perspectives of disabled people often get overlooked during city or building design projects. The Capitol Crawl demonstration on March 13, 1990, is a case in point. It involved more than  1,000 people marching from the White House to the U.S. Capitol. Once they reached the destination, physically disabled participants cast aside their wheelchairs, canes and other assistive aids and clambered up the building’s front steps. 

The activists sought to show how inaccessible infrastructure impacts their lives, and the event worked. Several months later, President H.W. Bush made the Americans With Disabilities Act the law of the land. Thanks to big data analytics tools, city planners and other officials have information about how to make places more accessible and inclusive before those affected have to take decisive action. 

For example, officials in New York hired a Dutch company to collect data and show spots requiring urgent pavement repairs. There are also several crowdsourcing platforms where people with disabilities pool their knowledge and reveal the most or least accessible places in their cities.

Such progress is crucial. People who don’t have disabilities now may not think how about their circumstances could change — and sooner than they think. Someone may break both their legs in an accident and need to use a wheelchair while they recover. Additionally, the aging process tends to cause natural declines in vision and mobility for many people. Thus, the work to apply big data analytics tools for better access affects the public now and later. 

Using Big Data Analytics Tools for the Greater Good

These examples show that there are compelling reasons to depend on big data analytics tools to address some of our society’s persistent challenges. As more people take action in these ways, noticeable and meaningful improvements should become even more apparent.