A closer look at the long tail

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Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation and creativity, headlines his Think Piece on big data and the civic long tail with the phrase “Big data must be opened up to the wisdom of the crowd...” Intriguing - yes, but what does it all mean?

His first sentence is almost a statement of fact: "No government can afford to become isolated from the society it serves, otherwise it risks becoming distant and clumsy, trapped by its own, self-referential routines." Within the following 30 pages of the Think Piece, he goes on to highlight how the social web has completely transformed civil society and outline the opportunities that exist for government, citizens and businesses alike if data is effectively gathered, analysed and utilised.

Taking a brief look at the key sections of the document, we gain a closer insight into Leadbeater’s views around these points, the opportunities he observes, and challenges he perceives…

The first section, Engaging with the civic long tail highlights how social media is creating the conditions for the emergence of a civic long tail, a mass of loosely connected, small-scale conversations, campaigns and interest groups, which might occasionally coalesce to create a mass movement. It’s critical that the government takes notice of this growing movement and plans accordingly in order to engage with a full cross-section of society. This huge community has different needs and demands, and the key is to establishing the different groups, and find out what they want, when and why.

The hopeful web: In this section Leadbeater looks at how the web and social media can bring about both social and political change. Essentially the platforms allow government and citizens to work with one another in new ways – opening up new avenues for free speech and engaging many more citizens, who previously may not have shown an interest in how their country is run. As more information flows between government and citizen so it should allow government a richer insight into the needs and interests of the people it serves. The Think Piece highlights a number of examples where this has happened in the real world – The London Fire Brigade, who has used data on fire risks to prioritise its fire prevention work, and Surrey Police who has shown that focused data can help concentrate collaboration on particular crime hotspots or incidents more effectively.

Leadbeater goes on to talk about being Marooned by an incoming tide. This incoming tide of data need not be thought of as a threat, but more of an opportunity to reassess business plans to prepare and benefit from this extra information. Leadbeater references a recent report from McKinsey which highlights the huge chasm between the amount of people needed to analyse data, and the amount of talent trained in the art of analysing data. This is a huge opportunity for many, but conversely, a worrying prediction for unprepared governments and businesses.

So,What now? This section asks, how should the government move forward? As I outlined in my last blog post – the government needs to take on an effective innovation strategy to make the most of open “big data” and social media, but what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how government and businesses alike are adapting to a world of infinite data. Please post your comments below.

I’m keeping a close eye on how this Demos Think Piece is received by the wider influencer community, and in my next blog I’ll be taking a reflective look at the responses of politicians, business leaders and press.

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About Author

Ian Manocha

Managing Director, SAS UK and Ireland

Ian Manocha is the managing director of SAS UK and Ireland and head of SAS’ international public security business. As vice president of SAS, Manocha is also a member of the SAS Europe, Middle East and Africa and Asia Pacific Executive Board. SAS is one of the largest software companies in the world and the leader in business analytics software and services. SAS software helps enable faster, better decision making through analysis of vast and growing amounts of data. In this blog Ian outlines his key thoughts about how data is being used across public and private businesses, and the opportunities that exist across the board in using data more effectively to make better decisions.

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