The transition into a digital society has rapidly changed the social landscape, with the private sector actively using big data for commercial purposes. Many governments are discussing how to apply big data in a similar manner for the formulation of public policies.
According to Asst. Prof. Dr. Nattapong Punnoi, a lecturer at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Architecture, there are widespread debates on the use of big data for policy formulation in many countries. Norway, Sweden, France, and Slovakia, for example, use mobility data to analyze travel patterns to develop tourism strategies.
Likewise, the collaboration between dtac, Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Architecture, and Boonmee Lab also reveals the potential of mobility data in public-policy formulation. When compared with data from surveys, mobility data is much more extensive and the process of data collection is much more cost and time efficient. If used in policymaking, mobility data can drive massive impacts and innovations for sustainable economic, social and environmental development.
“Access to mobility data does not just allow the public sector and researchers to better understand social circumstances in a timely manner, but it also enables civil society, communities, and small-scale business owners to be more data driven in making a decision and finding solutions,” Asst. Prof. Dr. Nattapong said.
Time: Key Development Factor
“We hope to leverage our knowledge in data design and technology to drive social innovations,” Thiti Luangarun, Co-founder of Boonmee Lab said, “Mobility data are unique. This is why the Phatthalung Project is an exciting initiative. We also see high potential of using mobility data to design more accurate and efficient public policies.”
“This project probably marks the first time mobility data are analyzed for policy recommendations in Thailand. We can build from this to design data-driven public policies that can be applied to many other aspects for social good,” he continued.
Society is experiencing a paradigm shift and transformative change driven by digital technologies. Public-policy formulation, therefore, should keep pace with this. Agile approaches must be used for the formulation of public policies. If the public sector continues to use existing approaches to public policy development, in the next 10 years Thailand will significantly lag behind other countries.
“Time is a precious resource. The government must embrace new tools and ways of work for maximum efficiency. Our project is a use case of how mobility data can support policymaking,” Mr. Thiti explained and cited an example of how mobility data can be paired with CCTV footage data to structure more efficient bus routes.
Mission to Integrate Government Data
Putchapong Nodthaisong, secretary-general of Office of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES), said after the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology was renamed the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, it was clear that Thailand was serious about embarking on its transformation into a digital nation with data becoming more important than IT infrastructure.
The Office of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission is pushing for a centralized database of big data. However, the plan has met with several challenges, as each government agency uses a different method to acquire and store data. Data privacy concerns also need to be addressed. Still, in the face of a fast-changing economic and social context, public-policy formulation and data acquisition must be agile and timely.
“As a former director of the National Statistical Office, I am well aware of the importance of data. If data from various sources are integrated and analyzed properly, they can be extremely useful,” the head of ONDE said.
Although data integration of the public sector has faced several delays due to changes in law and regulations, the government has been pushing for data reform. For instance, government data have now been compiled on a Cloud system hosted by the Digital Government Development Agency. The Government Big Data Institute has also been established. Backed by data scientists, the institute has the mission of analyzing big data to support government operations.
“Real-time data will enable the government to manage issues such as natural disasters and water management more effectively,” Mr. Putchapong said. “But the short-term goal for us is to integrate government data in the same database. This is the first crucial step.”
Stepping into New Possibilities
“dtac’s stance is to leverage mobility data to create new possibilities in hopes of promoting a digital economy and society, while also striking the right balance between individual and public interests,” On-uma Rerkpattanapipat, Head of Communication & Sustainability at dtac, said.
According to Ms. On-uma, although the study took more than two years to complete, the three partners eventually made it happen. But this is only the first milestone – the team still needs to win approval from public authorities in applying the policy recommendations from the study. The final output will then materialize in the form of tangible economic and social benefits for Thailand, which demonstrate how social problems can be solved with a novel, data-driven approach. On its part, the Phatthalung Project aims to rebuild Thailand’s tourism and promote participation of local government agencies with mobility data.
“Some people may wonder why dtac, which is from the private sector, steps into the area of public policy,” Ms. On-uma said. “As a mobile operator, we believe that it’s our role to leverage the power of mobility data by collaborating with government agencies, the private sector, and the civil society including educational institutions, to create social good.”