Big data can be applied in nearly any field. Here we examine how big data can be used in social work - and what implications that has for other fields of study.

Data volume is growing rapidly due to the use of mobile devices, social media and data from other unstructured sources. Big data technologies, such as Hadoop, are taking to the driver’s seat in the business world by introducing new approaches to analyzing larger volumes of data across various sources.

Big data is defined as the volume, variety and velocity of data that exceeds an organizatin’s ability to manage and analyze it in a timely fashion. The true advantage of big data is realized when it can be harvested for fast, fact-based decisions, which can lead to big business decisions. So, organizations that are able to explore and take advantage of big data tend to have a distinct advantage. Here we’ll take a look at what big data can do, how it can be applied in one data-rich field, and what broader applications this has for other areas of business and government.

The Data Explosion

The best way to define big data is "the ever-growing amount and complexity of information that all of us create and consume every day," says Charlie Schick, director of big data solutions for health care and life sciences at IBM. In fact, every day we create approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes of data using a variety of sources, from various purchase transaction records to health care medical images, from scientific research findings to social media messages.

Search engines along with social media, such as Twitter, have set up a new instance of small bits of data being collected on a large scale. This, too, has changed our way of thinking about collecting and managing this data. The current culture is to consume larger quantities of these small data pieces in short periods of time. This approach presents huge challenges as well as exciting opportunities for data management. For a business model to succeed, it should be able to process larger volumes of data, captured in small and increasingly diverse ways.

Given the volume of the data, it becomes a challenge to find an efficient mechanism to collect it. Let us consider the case of health care and social media data. Both of these areas have large sets of data. Data collection for these fields is an important step in big data’s evolution. Without having an appropriate mechanism to collect data, we cannot have accurate results.

Exploring and Processing Big Data

Going forward, it is believed that organizations that can explore and take advantage of big data should be able to make more evidence-based decisions quickly. Using big data, we can easily provide answers to some significant questions in just about any area. Here, however, we’ll take a look at the social services sector, an area where big data has the power to make a huge impact.


For example, big data should be able to analyze and answer the following questions and ultimately provide a better patient outcome:

  • What is the correlation between re-admission and access to social services?
  • Is there any correlation between the length of stay and the effectiveness of intervention?
  • What is the link between home address and frequency of visit?
  • Is it possible to find a link between family status, interventions, and outcomes that can help us identify similar intervention candidates as they enter the care system?
  • Is there an insight into a segment of the population that guides us to tweak our programs to either respond to or move ahead of a negative trends like teen pregnancy or domestic violence?

It is a fact that using big data in the social services sector could allow social workers to keep an eye on the negative trends and take the necessary action in time. If we are able to identify the needs even before the client knows about them, we can handle the situation in a much efficient manner. Dropping out of school, within the youth sector, can be considered a potential example. If we check the trends about which youth disengage from school or demonstrate actions that tend to lead toward greater at-risk behavior or educational underperformance – when data clearly shows higher potential – then it becomes possible to intervene with preventative measures that may not cost more but are more effective and can be driven to the client.

Big data makes it possible to handle these situations and to discover the reason for the problems. This helps us to eradicate the problem, once identified. We can discover the problem only by looking at the trends and the historical data. In social media, while analyzing the data we must have a trend analysis mechanism. The larger set of data we analyze, the better, more accurate results we can achieve. Big data not only provides ways to handle large volumes of data, but it also provides innovative solutions for processing a wider range of data. Big data has the ability to handle structured, unstructured and semi-structured sets of data. (Learn more in 5 Real World Problems Big Data Can Solve.)

Big Data Analysis in Social Science

Social data analytics is nothing but analyzing the social data. This data can come from any field. As mentioned above, we need to find out the exact reason for negative outcomes – such as high school drop outs – in a certain sector. Once the problem is identified, it becomes easier to handle the situation. Big data is a tool that makes finding these insights possible.


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Kaushik Pal
Technology writer

Kaushik is a technical architect and software consultant with over 23 years of experience in software analysis, development, architecture, design, testing and training. He has an interest in new technologies and areas of innovation. He focuses on web architecture, web technologies, Java/J2EE, open source software, WebRTC, big data and semantic technologies. He has demonstrated expertise in requirements analysis, architectural design and implementation, technical use cases and software development. His experience has covered various industries such as insurance, banking, airlines, shipping, document management and product development, etc. He has worked on a wide range of technologies ranging from large scale (IBM…