Systems thinking, big data, and data protection law: Using Ackoff’s Interactive Planning to respond to emergent policy challenges.
This article examines the emergence of big data and how it poses a number of significant novel challenges to the smooth operation of some the European data protection framework’s fundamental tenets. Building on previous research in the area, the article argues that recent proposals for reform in this area, as well as proposals based on conventional approaches to policy making and regulatory design more generally, will likely be ill-equipped to deal with some of big data’s most severe emergent difficulties. Instead, it is argued that novel, and possibly unorthodox approaches to regulation and policy design premised on systems thinking methodologies may represent attractive and alternative ways forward. As a means of testing this general hypothesis, the article considers Interactive Planning, a systems thinking methodology popularised by the organisational theorist Russel Ackoff, as a particular embryonic example of one such methodological approach, and, using the challenges posed by big data to the principle of purpose limitation as a case study, explores whether its usage may be beneficial in the development of data protection law and policy in the big data environment.