Techno-optimism and policy-pessimism in the public sector big data debate

Simon Vydra*, Bram Klievink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
144 Downloads (Pure)


Despite great potential, high hopes and big promises, the actual impact of big data on the public sector is not always as transformative as the literature would suggest. In this paper, we ascribe this predicament to an overly strong emphasis the current literature places on technical-rational factors at the expense of political decision-making factors. We express these two different emphases as two archetypical narratives and use those to illustrate that some political decision-making factors should be taken seriously by critiquing some of the core ‘techno-optimist’ tenets from a more ‘policy-pessimist’ angle. In the conclusion we have these two narratives meet ‘eye-to-eye’, facilitating a more systematized interrogation of big data promises and shortcomings in further research, paying appropriate attention to both technical-rational and political decision-making factors. We finish by offering a realist rejoinder of these two narratives, allowing for more context-specific scrutiny and balancing both technical-rational and political decision-making concerns, resulting in more realistic expectations about using big data for policymaking in practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101383
Number of pages10
JournalGovernment Information Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Analytics
  • Big data
  • Decision-making
  • Government
  • Network governance
  • Policy-making
  • Public administration
  • Science-policy interface


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