Obama's Data Guru on Solving the "World's Biggest Problems"

March 12, 2014
General Foundation

In the latest Bloomberg Businessweek, we see Big Data politics come full circle. Before 2012, it was the private sector’s ideas fueling data-driven campaigning. Now we see the Obama campaign’s Big Data brain, Dan Wagner, helping organizations tap into data’s potential.

From the helm of his new consulting firm, Civis Analytics, Wagner talks about solving the “world’s biggest problems.” Take education, for instance. He sees too many low-income students applying to colleges that are beneath their abilities. He wants to help connect the right colleges with those students, and then get them through their doors at an affordable cost.

In healthcare, Wagner believes that by working with insurance companies to proactively identify people’s health risk factors, their members can better manage their health. He stresses that this doesn’t mean finding patients to cut—it’s about managing risk for companies and customers.

Still, we fear for our data. Wagner sees the need for high data standards. Just not from the government. Indeed, he calls Amazon Cloud’s data protocols “best in class.” He’d rather store his data in the cloud than anywhere else—it’s more secure there, not less.

At the heart of Civis Analytics’ approach it seems is a belief that institutions, public or private, should not view people in aggregate. Data should help us see people as people—individuals with quirks and hopes and minds of their own. And, by the way, for us to understand ourselves better. Data aren’t obstacles, but solutions for each of us. 

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Photo: Flickr