* RCUK India Nov. 2013

By Tobias Blanke, November 11-15, 2013:

Last week I was for the first time in my life in India, having been invited by Research Councils UK (RCUK) India to take part in their celebrations of 5 successful years of collaborations between RCUK and India and discussions on future work (News story: Celebrating UK-India partnership on research & innovation (gov.uk)). What a beautiful country, but I should not get carried away with my personal experiences there, as otherwise nobody will believe that I was there for work.

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The event was organised as a series of plenaries and roundtables. I was part of the roundtable on big data as a representative for humanities. It is fair enough to say that humanities  at the moment at least does not feature high on the list of things to do with big data between India and UK. But there was great interest in what I had to say, especially from our colleagues from other disciplines. I am always amazed by the fact of how well we all work together, once we let our research be challenge-driven.

The emerging big data community is a very good example here. Challenges are different among the disciplines but there are strong commonalities.  For big data, we came up with the following themes of collaboration:

  • Open Innovation for affordable healthcare and research
  • Integration and consolidation of datasets
  • Big Data analytics
  • Smart Sensor apps

For some of these, there is currently limited need in the humanities. For others, we should have more fundamental debates on their implications. I am thinking here in particular about big data analytics and how it relates to humanities reasoning practices. But integration and consolidation of datasets always comes first in the big data world and if we would consider this seriously for the humanities between UK and India, there is enough work here to keep us employed in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, we can figure out what we think about the relevance of big data analytics.

For our little cross-disciplinary group between India and UK, the next steps will include to share our data management expertise where there seems to be a particular demand in India and recognition that the UK has gained a lot of experience across disciplines. In disciplines like healthcare, there are a lot expectations from the use of mobile phones and low-cost devices to support data gathering in the field. I wonder what the future might bring here for the humanities. This is something we investigate at KCL in our ‘Our Data Ourselves’ project, which we will start in earnest next year and which I will report on in another series of posts.

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