This Manning Centre’s 2013 Conference (#MNC2013) has landed some big names. Republican Congressman Ron Paul spoke yesterday morning. An afternoon panel included former U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins and Hollywood Conservative guy Bill Whittle.

Today, the program catered to the digital geeks who, with all due respect to the other panelists and Minister Clement who moderated The Data Revolution, flocked to room 201 to hear from Sasha Issenberg.

The panel focused on “Big Data,” a buzzword you’d swear has its own image consultants and lobby group. Big Data is the exciting new phrase to “go viral” in 2013.

Data collection and analysis has been around for a long time. They gained a new level of popularity for their role in last year’s US federal election. In short, we’re talking about the collection, analysis and application of information.

Mr. Issenberg is a bit of a rock star in political circles. His book The Victory Lab documents the history of the role of data in politics and public affairs. Not just the use of data but the research into how data can be used. The two used to be more distinct activities. The social web have made them intrinsically connected, often advancing each other in tandem.

Mr. Issenberg opened his talk by noting the outcome of political campaigns is no longer determined on the volume of a single big idea. Rather, it’s determined on the aggregate outcome of a large volume of small ideas.

In addition to assisting in the collection and analyzing of data, technology exists to measure impact and outcomes in real time (particularly online data), thus allowing campaign teams to course-correct as they go. In this respect, the true value of data is recognized in the application of the analysis of the data, and success and failure are appreciated in the same way since each informs the next step.

How are the data applied?

Another buzzword, though one which adequately describes itself: micro-targeting (I’ve seen it written as a single word and hyphenated word. I’ll comply with spell check here and use the hyphenated version.)

Micro-targeting is the construction of a campaign which is intended to appeal to a very specific audience segment. Among the multitude of ways audiences can be organized: gender, age, geography, interests, income, social affiliations, professional affiliations and political affiliations.

Data have also helped identify potential life changes such as moving, getting married, having a child and changing job — all of which have a greater likelihood of coinciding with changes in political leaning.

Mr. Issenberg and the other panelists provided examples and compelling reasons for campaigns to enlist data specialists in addition to “social media experts” to help make and act on informed decisions.

I’ve already written a fair bit about the role of data in decision making and micro-targeting. Expect I’ll keep that up. I recommend pickup up a copy of Mr. Issenberg’s book, The Victory Lab. Just remember that if you get the electronic version, you can’t get Mr. Issenberg to autograph it. On the other hand, maybe he’ll give you a “Vote for The Victory Lab” button.

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