We cannot understand big data without human insights

Relying on big data alone increases the chances we’ll miss something, while giving us the illusion we know everything.

Tricia Wang.

The nature of being part of the digital world has meant there is a plethora of raw data available.  Known as ‘Big Data’, different industries use this information to their advantage in order to understand people’s behaviour, such as where individuals are most likely to shop related to their online search behaviours, or future predictions of disease outcomes based on socioeconomic status, education or health trends.

‘Big data’ is extremely important yet complex at the same time as it’s based mainly on quantitative measures.  While it is important to understand trends, confidence intervals and p values (quantitative measures used in research to determine significance), we cannot purely rely on numbers alone.  

As human centred researchers, we truly value the experiences of individuals, families, grandparents, young people and children – basically anyone who has a story to tell.  With most of our work based within the health and education sectors, we know the stories and insights people share with us are both heartbreaking and powerful, which can be used to help influence positive change when systems have not been so kind.  

If you have time, I’d recommend you watch the TED talk below (16 minutes).  It’s a few years old now, but the principles remain, especially for us at Moana Research.  What I love about this TED talk is that Tricia Wang reminds us that the human insight is just as important as Big Data which shouldn’t be neglected.  In fact, I feel we should always collect human insights first before delving into what Big Data has to offer. Human insight in this talk is referred to as Thick Data “precious data from humans that cannot be quantified” which can be captured through stories, interviews, ethnography and observations.  

We have facilitated numerous talanoa, focus groups, stakeholder interviews and empathy interviews over the years, listening and learning new techniques and insights along the way.  What keeps us grounded is knowing the power of untold stories and narratives, which can be used to design better systems, particularly for vulnerable and marginalised groups.

Tricia Wang | TEDx Talk 2016

Do you need assistance with facilitating focus groups, empathy interviews, stakeholder interviews, evaluations or research projects? Feel free to contact one of our team members to talk about your research needs.

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