Small Data helps Big Data solve Big Problems

Peter Lubell-Doughtie
May 08, 2015

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A recent article in the New York Times describes how organizations are using small survey based datasets to enrich the big data sets that usually get all the hype. Alex Peysakhovich and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz argue that survey data goes hand in hand with big data:

Big data in the form of behaviors and small data in the form of surveys complement each other and produce insights rather than simple metrics.

In fact, in the face of a proliferation of large datasets the utility of survey data has increased. When understood in conjunction with big data, the small data of surveys can have a multiplier effect on understanding.

Human experts can also help data analysts figure out what to look for.

Ona’s data platform builds structure around surveys to make sure that our users are positioned to take the crucial step of turning raw data into actionable intelligence.

Most important, while big data can tell us whether certain teachers are helping their students, small data gives us the best hope to answer a crucial question: How are they doing it?

In addition to how, we’ve seen our clients use surveys to answer what as well. For example, in Sierra Leone UNMEER has asked “What is a the status of Ebola Care Facilities?” and received real-time answers using Ona.

Image from Tim Lahan, NY Times.