“Let the data talk!”

On January 18th ahti organized its’ fifth ahti Connect in this new year on ‘Evidence-based policy: Fact or fiction?’. Duco Stuurman, director of the social domain in the City of Amsterdam and Ruben Spruit, co-founder of Delph and specialist in machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data, discussed how data and the use of advanced econometric models can help to improve policy making.

Data for improved policy making
One of ahti’s core activities focuses on how operational data or “real world evidence” can improve research but also support better policy making. The ever-growing amount of data sources and data not only increases the opportunities but also the dangers around using, sharing and interpreting those data. While big companies use all sorts of data to attract and retain their customers, the government seems rather limited in its use. While the first presentation dealt with the question of whether it’s not exactly there that data could help in planning the right interventions, prevent personal misjudgments and therefore generally improve the experience of citizens, the second presentation gave more insight into how one actually gets from (operational) data to a valid statement.

Data helps to better guide the public debate
As new director of the social domain in Amsterdam, Duco Stuurman shared his view on Amsterdam’s responsibility to work more data driven. At the moment policy decisions are too often made without the necessary underlying facts. In his view, data is being used successfully already in many areas such as managing the crowds in the city center, however there is still room for improvement especially around the link between cure and care. The picture he paints of the future is one of policies mainly based on facts, professionals being supported through data and a system that puts the citizen more in charge. The path to this future seems to be characterized by two dilemmas: the ethical dilemma of privacy versus effective prevention, as well as the intervention of the government versus freedom of choice with the question of how far the government should intervene.

Let the data talk!
In his talk, Ruben Spruit gave more insight into how we can actually create meaning from data. According to him the recent hype around Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, thus the idea of letting data speak for itself through the finding of patterns in a ‘black box’, is due to the fact that computers have lately outrun humans in specific tasks. While the human factor is irreplaceable in certain fields, data does have the advantage of excluding gut feeling and prejudice in its analysis. In Ruben’s view, to successfully implement data science, organizations would require a digital nerve center with good data knowledge and a new, agile way of working, based on data analysis and the idea of minimal viable products. He also sees the need in utilizing and at the same time regulating data and the techniques in working with it to protect the greater good.

Does data talk for itself?
Both presenters touched upon the dilemma of whether data actually does speak for itself. While it is clear that data can and should be used more in supporting policy, the importance of people who can interpret the data should not be underestimated. Moreover, today’s presentations and discussions made clear that for a successful implementation, data requires good communication between and within organizations but also between professionals in different fields. Data therefore does partly speak for itself but input from policy makers will always be important in the interpretation of its findings.

Transforming healthcare together
Ahti Connect brings the worlds of technology and care closer together. We give thought to how things can be done smarter, or better. Every month with a different theme and different speakers from the scientific and social field. The next ahti Connect is on February 15, 2018 at the AHTC. Theme of this event is ‘Obesity: the role of food environment’.