I am trying to translate or rather come up with an English expression for the German "den Funken überspringen lassen" for a title of an academic paper. My best solution so far is "Lighting the spark for big data in economics" where I try to convey that "spark" (a programming tool) can be helpful for big data analysis in economics and at the same time have a word game in the title.
Hello SAFEX welcome to EL&U. I looked for examples of "light a spark" online and found a few, although I couldn't find a definition of it as an idiom. Similarly I tried "Set a spark" which seemed more natural to me as a spark is a transitory thing which is used to light something else. This returned a similar number.
I then ran a Google Ngram to find the relative frequency of the two expressions in many books and got this result. The ngram shows that both expressions exist but "light a spark" has, since about 1960, become nore common than "set a spark".
Looking at the German I see that the phrase ends in "lassen" so personally I would read the phrase more as "lay the spark". I added this to the Ngram and found that this is very uncommon so I wouldn't use it. However for me "set the spark" seems to be closer to the German original as it carries connotations of applying a spark to a powder trail or a fuse to trigger an explosion.
As an aside how about using a capital letter for "Spark" or even using the acronym "SPARK" in the title to emphasise the dual meaning of the word in the context of the article?
This answer contains opinion.
A concise solution, I believe, would be "spark up" as in "Spark Up Big Data In Economics".
One, this directly prompts (commands) your audience to get active, i.e. to use your tool, which the more impersonal "Lighting/Setting the spark" doesn't do.
And two, this dominant effect contrasts somewhat amusingly against the background of the phrase's other meaning of 'lighting up a smoke' which, importantly, does stay in the background and may even remain unnoticed by some.
It doesn't convey what you're trying to say. I'd use of rather than for: "Lighting the spark of Big Data in...".
There's also a transitive form of the verb "to spark" which has the meaning you're looking for: to cause something to happen or cause something to become animated.
You can also spark a flame, which basically means to light it, so "Sparking the flame of Big Data in Economics".
Be a little careful here, though, as "to spark [sth]" is mostly used in a few stock-phrases like "to spark interest in sth." or "to spark the imagination" or "to spark a diplomatic row", and some of those phrases carry a meaning of "cause something bad to happen".
Whatever you do, avoid the more obvious translation to spark off. Not because it's British English, but it's mainly used for negative connotations, and often in the stock phrase "spark off another round of [something bad]"