The Value of Big Data – First Steps
by Hu Yoshida on May 29, 2012
There are many examples of how big data brings value to companies large and small. Collecting data from new sources and correlating the data to generate information that helps grow the business and provide a competitive edge. I will be providing several examples of this during my series on big data. However, the value of big data extends beyond commerce.
Here is a recent example that was brought to my attention by my daughter in-law, Katie. Katie and her sister Laura Buback have travelled to many places around the world and have worked in education and health services in countries like Brazil, Ethiopia and Liberia. While Katie has now settled down to married life, her sister is still in Liberia working as a consultant for Liberia Agriculture Upgrading Nutrition and Child Heath (LAUNCH), on a big data project.
Big is a relative term and this project is not about a lot of data, but is about the variety and value of data, which can save lives and enhance the health and welfare of mothers and children in remote areas of Liberia. LAUNCH is a project funded by the USAID/Food For Peace and its objective is to improve food security and reduce chronic malnutrition of vulnerable women and children under age 5 through nutrition intervention.
Laura is training local field staff in the use of cell phones to collect electronic information at food distribution points in remote areas of Liberia to register beneficiaries so that they can begin receiving food rations as quickly as possible and facilitate the logistics of food distribution. She is also training them to interview beneficiaries using preset forms loaded onto the mobile phone. These interviews are used to monitor the nutrition and health of pregnant women, lactating women with infants under 6 months, and mothers of children under2 years.
The use of the cell phone was easy for the field workers to learn and beneficiaries responded well to the use of cell phones. They were not intimidated, were curious, and were more willing to participate in interview surveys. The input of electronic data replaced tedious paperwork, which used to require beneficiaries to wait months to qualify for receiving rations. It is expected that the wait time will be reduced to a matter of weeks, which is critical for newborn infants where nutrition in the first 1000 days is so important.
Monitoring and analyzing the effects of the food program through interviews in remote villages is typically done on a yearly basis. Now with the mobile phone data collection, this information will be aggregated and analyzed quarterly to help guide and target health initiatives.
This type of initiative is called mHealth, which is a transition from eHealth where access does not require the cost and sophistication of the internet but is available on a user friendly cell phone. As cell phone service becomes prevalent in remote areas of Liberia and other parts of the world, we will begin to see more services and information through the use of downloaded apps, GPS, video and QR codes (for more on this topic see my previous post). Then instead of having to travel by foot to distribution sites and waiting weeks for ration approval or months to react to changes in supply or consumption, the management of health services can be done in real time at a more personal level, at lower cost to the program and to a larger population.
Young people like Laura are helping to bring the value of big data to the rest of the world.