White House: Unleashing the Power of Big Data

Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP : “As we enter the second year of the Big Data Initiative, the Obama Administration is encouraging multiple stakeholders, including federal agencies, private industry, academia, state and local government, non-profits, and foundations to develop and participate in Big Data initiatives across the country.  Of particular interest are partnerships designed to advance core Big Data technologies; harness the power of Big Data to advance national goals such as economic growth, education, health, and clean energy; use competitions and challenges; and foster regional innovation.
The National Science Foundation has issued a request for information encouraging stakeholders to identify Big Data projects they would be willing to support to achieve these goals.  And, later this year, OSTP, NSF, and other partner agencies in the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) program plan to convene an event that highlights high-impact collaborations and identifies areas for expanded collaboration between the public and private sectors.”

Digital engagement: time to shift attention toward use and usefulness

Geoff Mulgan: “The last few years have brought a cornucopia of innovation around data, with millions of data sets opened up, and big campaigns around transparency, all interacting with the results of a glut of hackathons, appathons and the like. Linked to this has been the explosion of creativity around digital tools for civic engagement and local government….
There are also big questions to ask about digital technologies and public services – and in particular why so few public services have been radically redesigned. This has been talked about for as long as I can remember – and it’s not hard to map out how a transformed health, welfare or transport system could work if you started afresh. But with a few exceptions (like tax) this isn’t happening in any of the big public services anywhere. I’ll be writing some blogs soon about how we might accelerate this kind of systemic change.
In the meantime there are some more pragmatic questions to ask about what is and isn’t working.  A pattern is becoming clear which poses a challenge to the enthusiasts, and to funders like us.  In essence it’s this: there has been brilliant progress on the supply side – opening up data, and multiplying tools and apps of all kinds. But there has been far less progress on the demand and use side. The result is that thousands of promising data sets, apps and sites remain unused; and a great deal of creativity and energy has gone to waste.
The reasons are fairly obvious when you think about it. This is a movement driven by enthusiasts who have tended to assume that supply will create its own demand (sometimes it does – but not often).  Most of the practitioners are interested in the technical challenges of design, and a measure of their success is that for most applications there are readily accessible tools now available. Yet the much bigger challenges lie around use: how to develop attractive brands; how to promote and market; how to shape design to fit how people will actually use the services; how to build living communities.”


“Crowdscaling taps into the energy of people around the world that want to contribute. […] It grows and scales its impact outward by empowering the success of others.”

Let’s consider these numbers that were shared in February of this year:

  • 3,190 TEDx events have happened around the world (since 2009)
  • 800 cities around the world have hosted one or more TEDx event
  • 126 countries have hosted one or more TEDx events
  • 12,900 TEDxTalks have been delivered

The first TEDx organizer, Krisztina “Z” Holly, explains these numbers of  growth in the Huffington Post as resulting from “crowdscaling”:

“Like crowdsourcing, crowdscaling taps into the energy of people around the world that want to contribute. But while crowdsourcing pulls in ideas and content from outside the organization, crowdscaling grows and scales its impact outward by empowering the success of others.”

Krisztina identifies two critical success factors behind “crowdscaling”:

  • Adopting a “platform” model of institutional organization

“It is a business strategy that, instead of using a top-down, command-and-control approach for growth, builds on the nature of today’s hyper-connected, open, and globalized world to leverage customers, partners, even competitors. Organizations can achieve enormous scale and influence by creating the platform on which others can build, and aligning stakeholders so they feel partial ownership of the movement.”

  • Strong commitment from the top

“While the approach requires only modest investment, it does need a large commitment from the top. It can make typical leaders very uneasy, because they are no longer in complete control. (Imagine having over a thousand volunteer teams, who aren’t employed by you and can’t be fired by you, creating events around the world in your name! That’s enough to give a typical corporate executive night sweats.)”