- June 2016
- Vol. 17, No. 4
Harnessing Data to Inform Policy and Practice
A working paper from the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) examines the benefits for the social work sector of investing in big data capture. The paper, Harnessing Big Data for Social Good: A Grand Challenge for Social Work, is part of a series of AASWSW papers analyzing critical social dilemmas of our time through a social work lens.
The paper contends that the social work sector lags far behind others in using big data to its advantage. The authors define "big data" as "the digital byproducts of human activity (e.g., carrying out government functions, delivering services, administering programs, conducting business transactions, communicating through social media, using digital devices)." For instance, whereas business routinely uses consumer data to discern customer preferences, the social sector has not used big data as efficiently and often to improve the effectiveness of social programs.
The authors make the following arguments:
- The demand for evidence-based policy and practice compels the need for big data to inform best practices.
- Data and predictive analytics are increasingly being relied on to support operational decisions and long-term planning.
- The same complex processes that have led to successful human genome mapping hold promise for customized social interventions via big data.
The paper recommends that the social work sector recruit and train social workers who are data savvy and skilled in applying big data for the social good. Harnessing such data will inform practice and policy and help ensure resources will be wisely invested, resulting in enhanced efficacy, transparency, and accountability.