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University Research Group is Compiling a Toolbox for the Public Sector’s Handling of Big Data

On the 9th of March 2017, the IT-University of Copenhagen launched their new research project Data as Relation, where the goal is to assess how big data enhances the quality of government (Winthereik and Gad, 2017). The project will explore how society is currently being reinvented through governance practices relying on big data (Winthereik and Gad, 2017).

The project, with the full title: Data as Relation: Governance in the Age of Big Data, came to be, with the aim to address the shift towards using big data in government, where especially Denmark’s rapid advancement in public sector digitization is notable. However, the project acknowledges that the usage of the new data sources in the public sector is still a black box, and has thus proposed that ETHOS Lab at ITU will be transformed into a hub of research, education and assessment of the use of big data in governmental practices.

The expected outcome of the project is to compose a toolbox in the ETHOS Lab for the public sector to access, in order to better their use of data and educate on the ethics of personal data usage. This toolbox will be shaped by the work and results of the five sub projects of ‘Data as Relation.’ The five sub projects are carried out by independent teams at the ETHOS Lab, in collaboration with partners from municipalities, SKAT and other transnational partners. The findings and outcomes of these projects will thus contribute to and shape the toolbox for the public sector to use.

The research project will be led and managed by Ph.D associate professors from ITU, Brit Ross Winthereik and Christopher Gad, who both teach and research in the field of innovation studies. ETHOS Lab at the IT-University of Copenhagen is a lab dedicated to exploring how data creates value through specific casework. The project is funded by the Velux Foundation.


If you would like to know more, contact the ETHOS Lab at the IT-University of Copenhagen at or the IT-University of Copenhagen at or + 45 72 18 50 00.

Sources: Winthereik, Brit and Gad, Christopher. VELUX Project Description: Data as Relation: Governance in the Age of Big Data. IT-University of Copenhagen. 2017


The article is an attempt to present six arguments, or “provocations”, the authors see necessary to be discussed in the emerging world of Big Data. Their six main points on questioning Big Data are about: Producing knowledge, the notion of objectivity, the notion of ‘big equals better’, the notion of lost value, ethics and emerging digital divides.

My initial reaction to the paper is that it is structured in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow along since they give each of their ideas its own clearly defined section. As the paper moves through each section, boyd and Crawford explain every concept they introduce, thus eliminating the implicit knowledge needed to understand their arguments. They also make sure to include the fact that this paper is from their point of view as social media experts (2012, p. 664). However, I have three main points of critique that could make this paper and its arguments more explicit:

Critique point #1: Purpose of the text: The purpose of the paper (2012, p. 662) is to introduce some essential questions/provocations that we must ask before succumbing to the era of Big Data, and they continuously refer to the importance of asking said questions. However, whenever they emphasize this importance, they fail to suggest how, where or by whom these questions must be asked: “We must ask difficult questions of Big Data’s models of intelligibility before they crystalize into new orthodoxies.” (2012, p. 666). As a reader, it is difficult to decode which context these questions must be asked. Instead, I suggest this idea to be the focal point of the paper, potentially inciting richer discussions among readers.

Critique point #2: Word level choices: The paper is titled “Critical Questions for Big Data” inviting the reader to believe that they are about to be presented with a list of questions. Instead, boyd and Crawford calls them ‘provocations’ (2012, p. 662), hence why I in this review have had a hard time deciding on whether to call them questions, provocations or arguments. To avoid confusion, I would suggest sticking to a single definition or explain why they are using the terms interchangeably.

Critique point #3: Lacking conclusion: Referring back to my first point of critique regarding the purpose of the text, it would also have been useful to have a conclusion or at least a summary of all six sections. The paper ends with the sixth argument that, among other things, encourages us to consider how Big Data is shaping the world (2014, p. 675). Instead, they should have wrapped up their concluding thoughts along with clear calls to action in a separate section.