Effective Strategies for Contextualizing Big Data

Today, data is more available than ever. Beyond the U.S. Census, there are private data clearinghouses that offer a window into the trends of any geographic area. Cities also regularly collect and publish data (some more than others), enabling planners and non-planners alike to utilize a lot of resources previously difficult to access.

But “big data” can be misleading without on-the-ground knowledge. This session is focused on understanding how cities are contextualizing data in multiple ways. The detailed collection of business and parcel data or the strategic engagement of stakeholders and city officials can build superior databases that lend a critical eye to what off-the-shelf databases may overlook.

We will examine case studies from private-, public-, and philanthropic-led planning initiatives, including efforts to equitably invest in Philadelphia's park system by integrating publicly available data with institutional knowledge at the city as well as community input. In Macon, Georgia, and Fargo, North Dakota, actual retail dynamics were studied by working closely with retailers. And four cities have measured the effectiveness of investments through the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn about how to collect new kinds of big data for use in planning initiatives.
  • Discover the blind spots that big datasets can reinforce with respect to equity and inclusion.
  • Explore ways to utilize hybrid datasets combining big data and specific on-the-ground data collection.

 Contextualizing Big Data