Big data and program / project evaluation

Peter Ellis

May 2016

Today’s talk

  • Why might you care
  • What is big data doing anyway?
  • Thoughts from Chicago
  • Implications for evaluation work
  • Implications for evaluator skills

Why might you care

  • A new type of evaluand
  • New insight as background knowledge
  • New data for old evaluands
  • A whole new skillset

What is big data

Some unsatisfactory definitions

  • “Too big for Excel”
  • “Too big for a single SQL Server instance”
  • “Data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate.”
  • “Velocity, volume, variety”
  • “The convergence of enterprise and consumer IT”
  • “The new tools helping us find relevant data and analyze its implications.”
  • “A new attitude … that combining data from multiple sources could lead to better decisions.”

My definition (today)

Digital traces of everyday activity, collected and stored at much finer resolution and higher frequency than pre 2000

  • wearable devices like fitbits
  • individual financial transactions
  • mouse events
  • motion sensors
  • CCTV
  • GPS tracking in phones and cars
  • smart electricity meters

Different types


The data revolution

  • New statistical methods post 1970
  • Rise in computing power
  • Increasing scope of data capture
  • AI explosion post-2000

Some examples