Utilizing the New Universal Language: Data

As society continues to make its switch over to the virtual world, there will be a new language that can be used to connect us: data.

Two concepts that many may not know, but will certainly become accustomed to in the future, are data philanthropy and digital epidemiology.

Data philanthropy involves taking the massive amounts of data we have and using it to aid society in positive ways. Such as, helping to possibly prevent another global pandemic.

According to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5754279/, digital epidemiology is used to better understand disease patterns to possibly mitigate diseases by using data that was created outside of public health sectors.

Pranjal Awasthi, a graduate student of The Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, currently researches both of these concepts. Specifically, how corporations can best use data to create general awareness as this field of study becomes larger in the coming years.

“Digital epidemiology as a field is relatively older than data philanthropy,” Awasthi said. “But, with the data explosion in the past five, six years, the field has gained a sort of social currency and people are just about beginning to talk about it.”

Awasthi’s research dives deeper into how entities like the public health system can combine the two concepts and put them towards creating a positive impact for society.

“Where my research came into the picture was when firms might look to leverage data to combat global issues like a pandemic,” Awasthi said. “The proposition was that if digital epidemiology is becoming viable and so many international bodies supporting it, why can't we mix the two concepts of data philanthropy and digital epidemiology to create a model which can help in not only better competitive advantage for the donating firms, but also lead to better health outcomes.”

In terms of how using data philanthropy and digital epidemiology can help prevent another COVID-19 like pandemic, we must use credible data to increase our responses when inevitable diseases like coronavirus first arrive.

“The question is how do we increase our resilience, and how do we increase [the] preemptive nature of our responses,” Awasthi said. “I think in both those cases, data plays a very important part because any sort of decision-driven predictions or any amount of analysis has to be driven on credible data points.”

For large corporations, giving out data does not mean giving up the edge over their competition. There are methods where data can be handed to third-party entities that put your data towards social good.

“You can partner with research organizations, work with them, things like that. But the idea is that keeping the data to yourself and thinking that this will help me create better and unique marketing, this will help me create better algorithms, help me recommend people better friends, that's a very narrow view,” Awasthi said. “Especially given the large roles which Facebook and Google and these companies are assuming in society, where they’re literally in every aspect of our life, it makes a lot more sense to understand the bigger picture, especially [with] the sort of advantages data can give you.”

The further researchers can explore these concepts, the more doors open for collaboration across different cultures. Since data philanthropy and digital epidemiology are still relatively fresh areas of research, the future will create more opportunities to capitalize on data as a universal language which will lead to positive impacts for all societies.

“The rate of data generation is going to only increase. It's going to go from one high to another and we can expect to see a lot of cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary collaborations,” Awasthi said. “We see more and more of a unified language where different people can communicate and the idea is that everyone has something to add to a solution of a problem. The fact that all of these additions are coming in the same language, that is data, only makes more cross-cultural and international collaborations possible.”