Big Data Art-There has been recent discussion on the existence of several different data gaps across economic, social and political divides – deficits that are left unaddressed at our own peril. But there is another deficit that has, I would argue, gone relatively unnoticed but is no less important: Canada’s skills gap in data analysis.
If Canada’s data deficit is to be eliminated, more collaborative learning and engagement between data science and the arts is needed. Much of the problem could be addressed by ensuring people have the skills to know not only how to look for data, but how to interpret them.
I am a professor of economics and the Director of the Master of Public Service program at the University of Waterloo, where I have been conducting policy-oriented research using large datasets for over two decades.
Analyzing Big Data
We currently live in the era of Big Data, where massive amounts of information are being collected at an ever-decreasing cost. Every Facebook, Twitter and Instagram post is a data moment that can be archived and become a part of a historical dataset. In an age where governments are making data more open and accessible, there is a significant demand for employees who can aggregate such large information sets in a meaningful manner and deliver key insights.
In response, many undergraduate and graduate programs in Big Data analysis and data science have emerged in universities across the country. These are typically housed in computer science, mathematics, statistics and engineering departments.
A humanities approach to data
From a policy perspective, a key missing ingredient of many of these programs is limited exposure to social science and humanities courses. This might seem puzzling because why should data science programs require courses in the arts?
The social sciences and humanities train students in the behavioural theories that are required to explain trends in data and extract insightful narratives. This allows arts students to be an integral part of any model-building process aimed at predicting human behaviour and choices.