Giving Compass' Take:

• Stanford Social Innovation Review discusses the rise of Big Indicators — essentially a detailed pulse-taking on global systems — and how they will influence the way we address large-scale problems.

• Are we doing enough in the nonprofit world to support the gathering better data collection and, thus, get more accurate indicators? How can we then put information into action?

• Here's how to tackle challenges when it comes to demographic data.

Remote sensing and big data allow us to collect unprecedented streams of observations about our planet and our impacts upon it, and dramatic advances in AI enable us to extract the deeper meaning and patterns contained in those vast data streams. The rise of the cloud empowers anyone with an Internet connection to access and interact with these insights, at a fraction of the traditional cost.

In the years to come, these technologies will shift much of the current conversation focused on big data to one focused on "big indicators" — highly detailed, continuously produced, global indicators that track change in the health of the Earth’s most important systems, in real time. Big indicators will form an important mechanism for guiding human action, allow us to track the impact of our collective actions and interventions as never before, enable better and more timely decisions, transform reporting, and empower new kinds of policy and financing instruments. In short, they will reshape how we tackle a number of global problems, and everyone — especially nonprofits, NGOs, and actors within the social and environmental sectors — will play a role in shaping and using them.

Much like the difference between data and big data, the difference between an indicator and a big indicator is somewhat subjective, but here are a few ways big indicators vary from their more traditional cousins:

  • Precision and resolution: Because they are based on vastly more real-time information than a typical indicator, a big indicator will tell us what is happening in a system with much greater spatial and temporal resolution, precision, and sensitivity. It might tell us about the growth of a city, a particular neighborhood, and a given block with equal precision.
  • Frequency: Since they are continuously recalculated, big indicators will tell us how a system is doing day to day, not just year over year. As such, they can help us answer questions like: Is a particular intervention working? Making things better or worse? Having intended or unintended consequences?
  • Scale and Reach: Because big indicators take advantage of the global reach of new sensors and datasets, they can capture the state of systems previously too large, too remote, or too expensive to monitor effectively.
  • Predictive Capacity: As we collect more and more data about the world, in many areas we are beginning to find not only the markers of past change, but also the early warning signs of impending change. Big indicators will not only tell us where the system is at a given moment, but also where it is likely to go in the future.

Read the full article about the coming age of Big Indicators by Andrew Zolli at Stanford Social Innovative Review.

Big indicators will fill in a significant missing piece of the investment puzzle by enabling (from a data and reporting perspective) the next generation of green and blue bonds, pay-for-performance models like REDD+ (which works to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries), social impact investments, disaster risk bonds, and other financial instruments, as well as related, market-like programs.