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Big data helps to develop digital thinking in social governance

By Chen Jinhua | 2016-09-02
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Gossips Anonymous


Cartoon by Gou Ben; Poem by Long Yuan


 Through the social network, people interact daily.
Many of them talk candidly and gaily.
Since anonymity offers a perfect disguise,
Online society is filled gossip and lies.
In world of anonymity,
Data manipulation is a common proclivity.
By encouraging respect for morality,
Governance can foster a better mentality.


The values required in social governance vary according to the spirit of the times, and its development gives birth to unique moral forms. Social governance acts as a major component of the national administrative system and regulatory social mechanism. Measures for social governance must keep pace with the times and advance through systematic, empirical methodologies.


Innovation of social governance aims to modernize management systems and build management capacity. New moral forms should fit the needs of social transformation.

Today, we are in an era of big data. Advanced information technologies, such as network and mobile devices, have achieved widespread integration with society, leading to the explosive growth of complex data. In recent years, big data has become a focal point for government-led development strategies.

In addition to generating reams of data and process technology, big data also embodies a mode of thinking. It is a form of infrastructure as well as a fundamental social mechanism of state operation. The modernization of social management—in particular, the diversification of social ethics—requires sufficient data research, analysis and interpretation on the basis of a great amount of moral phenomena in society.

Using big data to innovate social governance means finding, comparing and categorizing statistics in order to effectively utilize them by analyzing parameters, such as public support, credibility and interest. In this way, a network reflecting social ethics takes shape and a form of scientific, professional and functional governance will be accessible.

Big data enables people to have a more comprehensive understanding of the realities, causes and effects of ethical life. At the same time, big data provides technical solutions and strategic countermeasures.

Accurate and detailed statistics form the bedrock of strategy building and serve as the guarantee that the strategy will be executed successfully. The development of the Internet is rapid and its uses are varied, which can be seen in the diversity of available database storage tools, e-commerce models and network analytics. In this process, a seemingly endless amount of big data concerning a variety of aspects have been generated and the process never stops.

The billions of people using the Internet daily are generating big data whether they know it or not. The data they create comes in two forms: data that people consciously input and data automatically generated during the normal use of Internet technology.

Data analytics includes collecting data, compiling resources and summarizing feedback. The essence of data management is data integration whose key element lies in building database platform and exploring data resources. Database storage systems link various management processes and make information and resource sharing possible.


Today, disorderly data is becoming a new kind of social resource because big data can reflect a greater amount of information about human identities, thinking and demands. In addition to large amount of big data, researchers need to master an information-focused mode of thinking and become adept at using information technologies to build a model that updates automatically, through which social regulators can predict values and behaviors of Internet users. Regulators can achieve successful social governance by legitimately guiding and intervening in cyber-values and behaviors. Big data plays a role in social governance mainly in the following aspects.

Big data can reflect human relations, values and lifestyles in a more systematic way. We are living in an Internet era in which the social networks in our daily life generate all kinds of information. In fact, symbolic information is generated by digitizing human relations and values. A great amount of data can help analyze complex patterns and be used to accurately infer individual characteristics and values. The online behavior of network users mirrors social relations, actions and lifestyles.

Big data plays a role in guiding public behavior and mentality. The behavior of individuals and mentalities are affected by their own psychological habits. At the same time, social mentalities and behavior also shape how people behave and think. Big data reflects social psychology and values, prompting Internet users to conform.

Also, big data is precipitating the transformation of social governance. It will create an unprecedented quantifiable perspective of human life by compiling massive amounts of statistics and revealing the relevance behind them, forming the basis for correct decisions.

Karl Marx once noted the dialectical relationship between people and their environment, which is to say people create their environment, but the environment also shapes people. In the process of generating big data, everyone has a role as producers, but everyone’s perceptions are altered by big data at the same time.

The distinct social value of big data has spurred technological innovation of social governance despite its defects, such as the potential for privacy violations, limited access to information, questions of accuracy and the difficulty of supervision. In the current framework of social governance, big data not only provides technological solutions but also is the potential object of governance. Despite theoretical controversies and actual difficulties, there is no doubt that big data is broadening human vision, changing the way we live, work and think.


People should take advantage of big data to innovate and develop social governance because big data engages the public and reinforces the notion of scientific management. This participatory model of social governance avoids the absence of morality in the traditional management model, which renders the majority of people into passive spectators. Thus, all people are participating in building the social governance system. Exploring big data’s relationship with social ethics and modernizing social governance through data management require governance foundations.

Social governance should adopt a mode of digital thinking. Big data is the product of information technology, and it can be used to navigate a variety of tough obstacles. Through the utilizing networks of varying size and complexity, big data can be a tool to coordinate different social functions and complete different missions.

It represents a transition from a traditional society based on personal acquaintances to one in which strangers are able to interact online. Big data allows researchers to zero in on the isolated sentiment of anonymous members of society and reorganize them through official and unofficial organizations and activities. In this way, all members of society are able to find their own position within the division of labor in the social structural administration, promoting the systemization of social governance.

Big data can help to optimize the structure of social governance. A better structure is needed to deal with myriad problems, such as the tendency toward individualized social ethics and the confusion of personal ethics with social ethics. Big data can reflect the characteristics of social governance on the basis of information about behavioral habits, moral values and public opinion.

Information collection and processing can be a tool to analyze behavioral characters and public opinion while it offers a way to predict whether social resource allocation keeps pace with development. From a minor perspective, collecting and processing data can help to evaluate behaviors and values of individual members of society. As a result, a clearer picture of information exchanges connecting nation, society and citizens has come into being.

At the same time, a social governance mechanism that is driven by big data should be established and perfected. National strategies with ethical dimensions should be legitimate and built on the foundation of subjective statistics. To achieve a more reasonable, fair and effective public strategy formulation, soberness, standardization and democracy are the fundamental disciplines.

Collection and analysis of big data about nature of the Internet and behavioral habits can hint at the comprehensive picture of social ethics, which can be considered a basic application of big data to social governance and a technological breakthrough in fighting the bureaucracy-oriented governance strategy.

In addition, technology development should keep pace with social governance. Tech-governance deals with value controversies among social members and avoids information disorder. A technological backup mechanism means to set up a database of heated cyber-cases to illustrate complicated social issues.

The value and importance of big data in society is respect for the content. Governance of this kind performs its duty through publicity rather than focusing on interpretation and execution. State governance should implement the new mode of thinking and work pattern step by step. Also, China needs to optimize its policy making mechanism and regulatory measures under a more open and coordinated governance framework, thus continuing to innovate and modernize social governance.


Chen Jinhua is a professor from the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Soochow University.