The Data Divide: Overcoming an Increasing Practitioner-Academic Gap

The promise of big data coupled with the push to use evidence in making decisions about everything from individual health to humanitarianism has created a hype around data and their possibilities. In every crisis, those working on and in situations of violence and conflict collect and use data. Academics and practitioners have long lamented the lack of continuity between policy/practice and academic scholarship. The prevalence and speed of data collection, however, is magnifying the existing gap between scholars and practitioners. The roots of the divide emerge from the differing conceptions of the purpose, sources, characteristics, and time frames of data collection and use on the part of researchers and practitioners. These perspectives, in turn, shape what data are collected and influence decision-making and, as such, create diverging realities that further widen the existing gap between scholars and practitioners. Drawing upon my own research as an academic on violence against aid workers and from within policy-making institutions about data and digital systems in the West Africa Ebola crisis, I suggest this data divide impedes our collective ability to respond effectively to conflict and crisis. I propose two takeaways regarding how changing our practices of data collection and use could begin to bridge this gap.

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