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American Association for Public Opinion Research

What is Big Data and How to Unlock Its Full Potential

Thursday, February 12, 2015


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Lisa Kamen, [email protected]
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What is Big Data and
How to Unlock its Full Potential:

Community of Research Professionals and Scientists Releases
First of Its Kind Report and Recommendations on
the Use of Big Data for Public Opinion Researchers


Deerfield, IL -- To unlock the great potential of Big Data for the public good, several important issues have to be resolved regarding quality, science and ethics. One common misconception is the belief that sheer volume of data can compensate for any other deficiency in the data. Today, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) releases a report on what constitutes Big Data, current uses, how it is changing survey research and other ‘classical’ research methods, and recommendations on creating a framework of best practices and ethics.  

Using Big Data, such as social media, sensor and transactional data, is a scientific challenge. Unless it is treated as such, we are destined to make ill-informed decisions about public policy or measures that impact quality of life. Survey or economic research, for example, has been held to high standards of conduct in the last decades. If used right, Big Data can shed light on new issues, small populations and create large cost savings, all benefitting policy, society and public opinion research.

Highlights of recommendations for better use of Big Data include:

Public-Private Partnerships: Data ownership is not well defined and there is no clear legal framework for the collection and subsequent use of Big Data. There is a need for public-private partnerships to ensure data access and reproducibility. It is important that professional communities, like AAPOR, work with federal statistical agencies on developing guidelines and building capacity in this field, such as the creation or propagation of shared cloud computing resources.

New models of privacy protection are required: Data ownership is not well defined and there is no clear legal framework yet for the collection and subsequent use of Big Data. Most users of digital services have no idea that their behavior data may be re-used for other purposes. New models of privacy protection are required, as existing models are quickly outdated by technological advancements.

Raising public and media awareness of risks and benefits of Big Data: Most users of digital services are unaware of the fact that data formed out of their digital behavior may be reused for other purposes, for both public and private good. Organized efforts to increase public awareness and provide training for journalists to improve data-driven journalism are critical.

Collaboration for growth: Keeping up with the research and development in the Big Data area is extremely difficult for a single organization or professional. AAPOR recommends further collaboration across the private and public sector and professional communities to help understand and address key challenges and provide educational opportunities for professionals. For example, the United Nations Secretary-General has asked an Independent Expert Advisory Group to make concrete recommendations on bringing about a data revolution in sustainable development.

Disclosure and transparency standards for Big Data: Using Big Data in statistically valid ways is a challenge. A code of standards of disclosure and transparency when using Big Data in survey research is recommended. AAPOR is uniquely positioned to offer this tool to the professional community drawing on its existing industry Transparency Initiative.

Read the full report here.

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The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) is a professional organization dedicated to advancing the science and practice of survey and opinion research to give people a voice in the decisions that affect their daily lives.
We strive to:

  • Educate policy makers, the media and the public at large to help them make better use of surveys and survey findings;
  • Educate practitioners on new developments affecting our field;
  • Advocate the highest standards of ethical conduct for survey and opinion research;
  • Encourage and disseminate research and innovations that improve our methods;
  • Encourage and disseminate systematic analyses of public opinion on the major issues of the day;
  • Promote best practices in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting survey data;
  • Provide opportunities for our members to exchange views and promote the values of our organization; and,
  • Act as an advocate for survey and opinion research and its practitioners.