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Global Development Institute

Measuring the Barriers to Big Data for Development: Design-Reality Gap Analysis in Colombia’s Public Sector

Liliana Fernández Gómez and Richard Heeks


While big data has the potential to make a significant contribution to international development, that potential is currently constrained by a number of barriers.  Systematic analysis of those barriers is rare, so this paper applies the design-reality gap model to identify and evaluate barriers to effective use of big data in one context: the Colombian public sector.  The model provides a structured framework that exposes a broad set of barriers, and also helps highlight priority areas for action to accelerate the application of big data.  The design-reality gap model can also be seen to provide the basis for related analyses such as readiness for big data, and risk identification for big data initiatives in developing countries.

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Educators’ guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What have been the shortcomings of many analyses of barriers to big data for development?  [Section A]
  2. How is the design-reality gap model applied in this case?  [Section B]
  3. Which are the most significant barriers to big data in Colombia’s public sector?  [Section C]
  4. What should Colombia do to reduce the barriers to effective use of big data in the public sector?  [Section D]


Development questions

  1. Does big-data-for-development justify the excitement is has generated?
  2. If attention and resources are put into big data, what other issues should be given less attention and resources?
  3. What might be the priority application areas for big data in Colombia’s public sector?
  4. What other frameworks might be used to assess readiness for, or barriers to, big-data-for-development?
  5. If you were planning to use the design-reality gap model to assess barriers to big data, how would you apply it?