Nonprofits and other social change organizations are lagging their counterparts in the scientific and business communities in collecting and analyzing the vast amounts of data that are being generated by digital technology. Four steps need to be taken to improve the use of big data for social innovation. A large chasm exists between the potential of data-driven information and its actual use in helping solve social problems. Some social problems can be readily solved using big data, such as using traffic data to help ease the flow of highway traffic or using weather data to predict the next hurricane. But what if we want to use data to help us solve our most human and critical social problems, such as homelessness, human trafficking, and education? And what if we not only want to solve these problems but do so in a way that the solutions are sustainable for the future? Social problems are often what are called “wicked” problems. Not only are they messier than their technical counterparts, they are also more dynamic and complex because of the number of stakeholders involved and the numerous feedback loops among inter-related components.
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