Data-Pop Alliance is a collaborative laboratory created by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, MIT Connection Science, and Overseas Development Institute. We bring together researchers, experts, practitioners, and activists to change the world with data through three pillars of work: diagnosing local realities and human problems with data and AI; mobilizing capacities, communities, and ideas towards more data literate societies, and transforming the systems and processes that underpin our societies and countries. In 2016, Flowminder Foundation joined as the fourth Core Member.
We saw three main challenges to overcome, which have provided the rationale for creating Data-Pop Alliance, to ensure that Big Data serves the interests of people across the globe, especially those of poor and vulnerable populations:
Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) is a Harvard university-wide center created in 2005 to provide expertise in public health, social science, and other disciplines to relieve human suffering in war and disaster by advancing the science and practice of humanitarian response. HHI is supported by the Office of the Provost, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the participation of Faculty from over 12 Harvard schools.
MIT Media Lab
Established in 1985, the MIT Media Lab actively promotes a unique, antidisciplinary culture, exploring beyond known boundaries and disciplines and encouraging the most unconventional mixing and matching of seemingly disparate research areas. The Lab is committed to looking beyond the obvious to ask the questions not yet asked–questions whose answers could radically improve the way people live, learn, express themselves, work, and play.
Overseas Development Institute
The Overseas Development Institute is a leading development policy think tank in the United Kingdom with an established international reputation. For 50 years the institute has been working with with public and private sector partners in developing countries to reduce poverty, alleviate suffering, and achieve sustainable livelihoods.
Flowminder Foundation is a non-profit organization registered in Sweden, founded by academic researchers who 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.
CO-FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR
How and why Data-Pop Alliance got its start?
“I had the idea of creating ‘something’ like Data-Pop Alliance since about late 2012, after I left Global Pulse where I worked and wrote the White Paper “Big Data and Development” in 2010-11. That paper was my 1st foray into what was then a tiny field, and it opened doors. I was back in UC Berkeley working on my PhD in 2012-13, and was increasingly involved in the field as it starting growing, talking at a few conferences, writing a few articles—and I wanted to build something lasting with a bit of a different feel and focus compared to what existed (Global Pulse, DataKind, for instance).
I wanted to create something more academic with a greater emphasis on capacity building, on politics, and work with partners in developing countries, which I had done in Vietnam for 4 years before moving to NYC in 2004. I attended many Hackathons and ‘data dives’ during those months but I didn’t think the ‘techno-scientific’ approach and the ‘data-for-good’ narrative they embodied would make much of a difference. I thought it overlooked many aspects of the problems the world faces, as I am sure we will discuss below. That was a key factor in my thought process.
Then the project and team grew gradually. I had previously met Patrick Vinck from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at a conference in DC, whose work I admired, (…) I floated the idea with him in the summer of 2013. He was on board right away, even as we didn’t know each other very well, and as the exact contours of the ‘something’ weren’t very clear. The next person I talked to was Sandy Pentland, at MIT, with whom I had been in touch a few times by email since 2011; (…) I don’t really know why he agreed, but having Sandy on board was instrumental; with him we were credible. Having the institutional buy-in, a support of HHI, was also key—which Enzo Bolletino their Executive Director confirmed early on. Then I talked to Emma Samman and Claire Melamed at ODI, (…) We wanted to build a multidisciplinary and multi-partner coalition from the beginning. Emma asked ODI’s Executive Director Kevin Watkins about it and called me 10 minutes later to say “We’re in” (…).
Interview given in KDnuggets, read more here.