Like building a house only with bricks, relying solely on big data without the use of a “thick data” mortar can adversely and severely affect the quality of the structure. Big Data and Thick Data are the bricks and mortar of smart decision making.

Over the last several years I have gone from providing data and subsequent analysis based on the physical world; roads, streams, elevations, coastlines, events, locations and points of interest to building data sets that while very real are often very hard to collect and quantify. It’s easy to count houses on a city block or lengths of streams in a given county or voters in a jurisdiction but how do you count the number of people in an urban neighborhood that feel happy or scared or hungry or without opportunity. It’s hard to do but in order to even try it’s important to realize such data is important. If your willing to seek it out and see the value of having that data in some actionable form, the opportunity for better decision making is huge.

In a recent TEDxCambridge talk presented by Tricia Wang she clearly explains the value of thick data, why it’s critically important and how even the biggest companies can learn, or not by harnessing and analyzing that information. Getting the data isn’t easy. It’s often not readily available and can take time to collect even in small amounts but she gives real examples that demonstrate thick data implementation, how it’s more about quality than quantity, that it doesn’t have to be collected with complex devices to impact your overall decision making challenges. Give it a view, its really great stuff.

As I mentioned earlier over the last few years I have moved to the soft side of data and data analysis. In industries from community policing to healthcare I focus not only on the tangible value of geospatial data but in enhancing it with thick data. While the term is a bit new to me, the data I’m collecting, the “hard to get your your head around, what are you talking about” intangible data is critically important to making great, sustainable long standing decisions.

Whether you’re interested in introducing social determinants into your medical practice to understand your patient populations or want to know how thick data can be used to ease tensions between police and the community a brick and mortar data solution is strong and sustainable and can support your decision making needs.

©Gregory T. Reinecke

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