Promoting a “people-centered” data revolution at the World Humanitarian Summit—and beyond

David Sangokoya, Emmanuel Letouzé Blog

Data-Pop Alliance

Data-Pop Alliance will co-host two side events during the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) held in Istanbul, Turkey this week: a remote side event with UNOCHA in New York on May 23rd, and an official WHS side event in Istanbul with UNDP, UNICEF and WFP, on May 24th.

Both events will deal with the applications and implications of data and Big Data across various core themes of WHS and our work: humanitarian effectiveness; reducing vulnerability and managing risk; transformation through innovation; and serving the needs of people in conflict.

Details are as follows:

  • Remote Side Event in New York on Humanitarian Data:
    Monday, May 23, 2016 from 6-8pm, ThoughtWorks NYC, 99 Madison Ave, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10016
    On Monday, May 23, we will be hosting a remote side-event together with UN OCHA’s Humanitarian Development Exchange (HDX) and at our New York headquarters. Come join us from ThoughtWorks NYC as we will host a discussion on Big Data and HDX, the launch of a map explorer, and the screening of a new film produced by HDX. Drinks and food will be provided. Place is limited; please register.
     
  • Official WHS Side Event in Istanbul on Real-Time Information Systems and New Data:
    Tuesday, May 24, 2016 from 9-10:30am, 
Rumeli Hall 7, Lütfi Kırdar Convention & Exhibition Center (LKCC), Istanbul, Turkey

    Data-Pop Alliance and its four core members the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), MIT Media Lab, Overseas Development Institute, and the Flowminder Foundation, are partnering with UNDP, UNICEF and WFP to co-host an official WHS side event focused on the potential and limitations of real-time information and new and emerging data to improve decision-making, as well as areas for future investment with a focus on strengthening local capacities. The side event will include rapid lightning talks that canvass emerging (Big) data-driven applications in the humanitarian and development spaces, as well as an expert panel to discuss new partnerships in leveraging these opportunities both towards applied collaborative research and practical solutions.
     
    Panelists and speakers for the official side event include:

    1. Milica Begovic Radojevic, Innovation Team Lead Eastern Europe and Central Asia, UNDP
    2. Linus Bengtsson, Executive Director, Flowminder Foundation and Executive Committee, Data-Pop Alliance
    3. Stuart Campo, Innovation Deployment Specialist, UNICEF Global Innovation Centre
    4. Martin Bille Hermann, State Secretary for Development Policy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Denmark
    5. Nick Imboden, Head of Humanitarian Programme Cycle, UN OCHA
    6. Gizem Kececi, Head of Corporate Affairs, Vodafone Turkey
    7. Bernhard Kowatsch, Head of Innovation Accelerator, World Food Programme
    8. Allen Bailochan Tuladhar, Microsoft Regional Director, Microsoft Innovation Center Nepal
    9. Patrick Vinck, 
Assistant Professor, Harvard University
, Co-Director and Co-Founder, Data-Pop Alliance, who will introduce our Synthesis Report on “Big Data for Climate Change and Resilience: Realising the Benefits for Developing Countries” published as a background paper to WHS.

In addition to Patrick Vinck and Linus Bengtsson, David Sangokoya our Research Manager will be attending the Summit; come find them to learn more about our past and ongoing work!

Our related work

In addition to these events, below is a quick snapshot of our current and past projects related to the core themes of WHS:

Humanitarian effectiveness

  • Big Data and Conflict Prevention: Our Peacebuilding and Violence program focuses on the possibilities and impact of Big Data and peacebuilding, conflict prevention and public safety. This work builds on our ongoing work with HHI and the 2013 paper on Big Data and Conflict Prevention co-authored by Emmanuel Letouzé and Patrick Vinck (with Patrick Meier), which explored Big Data’s applications in early warning, real-time awareness and real-time feedback in relation to government and community-led conflict prevention and public safety initiatives.
     
  • Flowminder’s pioneering work with mobile network data: A core member of Data-Pop Alliance leading our applied research work, the Flowminder Foundation, a non-profit organization registered in Sweden founded by academic researchers, pioneered the application of using anonymised mobile network data for public health applications such as infectious disease in 2008 (malaria, cholera, dengue) and disaster response (Haiti 2010, Nepal 2015). Flowminder is closely integrated with WorldPop, a leading open data repository for geospatial demographic data used by major development agencies and governments worldwide.
     
  • Data and Migration Program: In collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Flowminder, the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) and UNFPA, we are developing a long-term research, training and engagement program of work on Data and Migration. This joint program will focus on filling data and information gaps towards greater access to accurate data on global migration flows, and an evidence base toward better policies.

Reducing vulnerability and managing risk

  • DfID-funded Synthesis Report on Big Data for Climate Change and Resilience in Developing Countries: Data-Pop Alliance has been conducting ongoing research and trainings on Big Data, climate change vulnerability and risk, and environmental resilience. Our Climate Change and Resilience program is evaluating ways in which Big Data can be further developed to use not only in predicting and preventing these disasters, but in mitigating their deleterious effects, and in going beyond to increase communities’ resilience to its impacts. As part of this ongoing research, we published a Synthesis Report in September titled “Big Data for Climate Change and Resilience: Realising the Benefits for Developing Countries” with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), ESCR and NERC. The paper evaluates the opportunities, challenges, and required steps for leveraging the new ecosystem of Big Data with regards to climate change and to build resilience, reduce vulnerability, and manage risks so that communities and countries as complex human ecosystems not only “bounce back” but also learn to adapt to maintain equilibrium in the face of natural hazards. This paper serves as a background paper for the World Humanitarian Summit.
     
  • COP21 Side Event: Additionally, in 2015 we co-hosted an event during COP21 with the Agence française de développement (AFD) in partnership with DfID, to discuss climate change and resilience in the age of data. The event drew more than 100 researchers, practitioners, and participants to explore the leveraging of new data sources and the analytical approaches to achieve these goals–chief of which is empowering at-risk communities. It also included a hands-on session where participants were able to work with cell-phone data and geospatial data.

Transformation through innovation

  • Resilience research and training: Our Research Affiliates Beth Tellman and Bessie Schwarz have been conducting ongoing research and trainings in working with Google Earth Engine to map flooding vulnerabilities in coastal communities through their Cloud to Street Last year, they held a workshop at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, “United Nations Sustainable Development Training: Modeling Flooding Vulnerability”, which launched as a Learning Session for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. This training addressed the use of data in modeling, mapping, and monitoring vulnerability to climate change and includes case studies on Laos, Tanzania, Australia, South Africa, the West African coastline, and New York. These trainings and models were also presented during COP21 in Paris.
     
  • Data literacy program: Building on this work and our White Paper “Beyond Data Literacy: Reinventing Community Engagement and Empowerment in the Age of Data”, Data-Pop Alliance is developing a large scale professional and community capacity building and community engagement program on Big Data and development dedicated to official statisticians, public and elected officials, community organizers and representatives, journalists, librarians, teachers and more, with workshops planned in Senegal, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, Colombia, Brazil, and Thailand in 2016-18.
     
  • The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data: Data-Pop Alliance has been a key partner in the formation of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), which aims to support data-driven decision-making by initiating more open, new and usable data to help in humanitarian efforts of ending extreme poverty, combating climate change and ensuring a healthy life for all.

Serving the needs of people in conflict

  • Data-Pop Alliance was also a key strategic partner in PeaceHack Barcelona (#peacehackBCN) in September 2015, hosted by BuildUp in Barcelona, Spain. PeaceHack, an initiative by International Alert, convenes technologists, designers, developers, and peace practitioners to formulate ideas and solutions for identifying and stopping violent conflict in order build peace.
     
  • Call detail records, urban dynamics and public safety: Our work in our Peacebuilding and Violence program has deepened its focus on serving conflict-affected populations living in fragile cities in Latin America. Since 2015 we have been working on collaborative research pilots with Telefónica and Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK), with support from the World Bank and several of our research affiliates. Using CDR data, we analyzed the possibilities of applying data science techniques that use CDRs in relation to crime and urban safety. These pilots will be released in June.
     
  • Text-mining, gender discrimination and accountability: In 2014, we began a project in partnership with the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD) and other data science and gender specialist organizations on the impact of using semantic analysis toward increasing the efficacy of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism designed to monitor human rights violations in UN member states and issue recommendations for improvement. In a pilot project in Fiji, our consortium used automated information extraction to monitor the implementation of those recommendations, and to promote accountability against human rights indicators, particularly those that address discrimination against women and girls.