Big Data for the business of heritage

An opinion piece by Cambridge’s Andy Neely in the FT on 11th February on how Business Schools might engage with ‘big data’ got me thinking about this beyond education in relation to the business of the heritage sector in wider society.  There is much technical discussion around data within heritage, but this tends to focus on asset datasets themselves, rather than the users and consumers of heritage.  Big data allied to everything from website visits, social media tweets, likes, reviews and commentary, through to monetary transactions, movements of people and health statistics all may reveal something about our ‘engagement’ with aspects of the historic environment, outwith our understanding of the traditional touchpoints. I have not come across anything yet which has applied this thinking beyond evaluation methodologies, such as Culture24’s action research or download statistics for heritage-related apps – but would welcome feedback if there are good examples which demonstrate the sector making meaningful use of a potentially rich resource.  I can’t help thinking that typical big data foci – such as those outlined in the Policy Exchange report on opportunities for the public sector – could be usefully levered into the services of heritage management and enhancing our understanding of how we use, protect and promote the historic environment, demonstrating its impact across a broader range of civil society concerns.

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