Rationality and politics of algorithms. Will the promise of big data survive the dynamics of public decision making?

H. G.(Haiko) van der Voort*, A. J.(Bram) Klievink, M. (Michela) Arnaboldi, A. J.(Albert) Meijer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)
173 Downloads (Pure)


Big data promises to transform public decision-making for the better by making it more responsive to actual needs and policy effects. However, much recent work on big data in public decision-making assumes a rational view of decision-making, which has been much criticized in the public administration debate. In this paper, we apply this view, and a more political one, to the context of big data and offer a qualitative study. We question the impact of big data on decision-making, realizing that big data – including its new methods and functions – must inevitably encounter existing political and managerial institutions. By studying two illustrative cases of big data use processes, we explore how these two worlds meet. Specifically, we look at the interaction between data analysts and decision makers. In this we distinguish between a rational view and a political view, and between an information logic and a decision logic. We find that big data provides ample opportunities for both analysts and decision makers to do a better job, but this doesn't necessarily imply better decision-making, because big data also provides opportunities for actors to pursue their own interests. Big data enables both data analysts and decision makers to act as autonomous agents rather than as links in a functional chain. Therefore, big data's impact cannot be interpreted only in terms of its functional promise; it must also be acknowledged as a phenomenon set to impact our policymaking institutions, including their legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-38
Number of pages12
JournalGovernment Information Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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