BOLD Blog: Marike Knoef talks about big data at Science Café The Hague

How can huge data sets help citizens find a job? And how can we measure the performance of the government on the basis of data? The past edition of the Science Café The Hague focused on themes regarding big data. Different speakers talked about what the use of big data could mean for society.

Marike Knoef

Marike Knoef (Professor of Empirical Micro-Economics at Leiden University) introduced the topic cleverly by involving the audience and ask about their feeling about the use of big data. She asked whether they would prefer a smart fridge that reminds them of getting certain groceries, gives them an update on their eating pattern and prepares a grocery list, or if they would not want that. The second dilemma asked whether the audience would like to find a partner based on an algorithm, or if they would rather have their family pick someone. Interestingly, most people in the audience would prefer the algorithm.  Does this mean the audience trusts big data and algorithms?

science cafe

This introduction served as an example to talk about dilemmas of solidarity. What would be the correct program to follow? If something appears to work for a majority of the population, does this mean it is the right way to go?

Consequently, Knoef talked about the project "Reintegration in BOLD Cities”, in which CBS data, UWV data and data from the city of Rotterdam is linked to see if big data could be used to inform and adjust reintegration strategies. The research focuses on the opportunities, risks and (im)possibilities of using big data in the social domain. While big data can help determine which reintegration measures are effective, participants fear that if they fit a certain client profile, they may automatically be redirected to mandatory interventions, without speaking to a consultant.

Marike Knoef -  science cafe


In her talk, Marike Knoef explained that with this kind of research you cannot measure everything: big data cannot be seen as magic, you do not simply extract all the correct information out of it. You learn from what you put into it. She concluded her observations by stating that it is always important to ask ourselves to what extent we can do something with big data, and which other important variables are not measured.

- Merlina Slotboom