Thinking Big in Global Development Research

- Big Data, Big Opportunities and Big Challenges for Applied Economists

Public lecture by

Prof. Gerald Shively, Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University, and School of Economics and Business, Norwegian University of Life Sciences

The volume and variety of data available to applied development economists continues to grow at a rapid pace. Datasets now routinely include observations on individuals or households over time, georeferencing, and multiple data layers. Datasets are large and often nationally representative, which provides opportunities to generalize about policies and patterns in ways that were unavailable to previous generations of applied economists. But with these expanded opportunities come greater expectations – especially for the quality of published research. Additionally, large datasets introduce new methodological challenges and bring up old concerns about the statistical validity of data mining, the difference between measurement and explanation, and the role of economic theory in guiding empirical research. This presentation will draw on the author’s recent experience working on a range of topics including global forest and natural resource use, child malnutrition and health, and market price determination to outline several key issues and concerns, and to propose some areas for further attention, renewed focus, and methodological and curricular innovation.