Overview of Data-Pop Alliance-United Nations Systems Staff College Training Course on “Leveraging Big Data for Sustainable Development” in Nairobi June 27-29, 2017

[This post has been updated to include the supporting pedagogical material]

Data-Pop Alliance ran a 3-day training workshop from June 27-29, 2017 on “Leveraging Big Data for sustainable development” at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) in partnership with the United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC), as part of a comprehensive program to respond to major ‘Big Data literacy’ and data science needs and gaps of development and policy professionals around the globe, especially in Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean, and Asia and the Pacific.

The program includes a series of similar training workshops taking place in global policy hubs (Nairobi, Dakar, Kigali, Bogotá, Bangkok,..) a webinar series, supporting pedagogical material including a generic Toolkit and a workshop-specific participants Guidebook developed by Data-Pop Alliance available in open source, as well as an e-library of curated resources on Big Data and Sustainable Development to be launched in September 2017. It was developed with initial core funding from the Hewlett Foundation and supplementary funding from UNSSC and the United Nations Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (UNECLAC).

Madame Sahle-Work Zewde, UNON Director General, and Emmanuel Letouzé, Director and co-Founder of Data-Pop Alliance

The workshop, opened by Madame Sahle-Work Zewde, UNON Director General, brought together 50 participants from the UN system, National Statistical Offices and other government agencies, civil society organizations, and academia, representing 25 countries from the region (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Somalia), as well as India, Italy, Tunisia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, among others.

As its predecessors, this workshop reflected Data-Pop Alliance’s conceptualization of Big Data as a socio-technological phenomenon and ecosystem to be shaped towards development and democracy rather than just large datasets to be mined for insights. Based on our initial research with the MIT Center for Civic Media and Internews, it also considered and sought to promote ‘data literacy’ as ‘literacy in the age of data’ beyond technical skills, to promote community engagement and empowerment.

As such, the workshop was structured around 4 key dimensions, or “building blocks,” of data literacy for policymakers, practitioners, private sector staff and citizens, to build and contribute to inclusive Big Data innovation projects, policies, partnerships and innovations in their work and daily lives. These 4 building blocks are termed C2 for Contexts and Concepts, M+T for Methods and Tools, D*S for Design and Strategy, and last but certainly not least, as a primary lens rather than an afterthought, ε for Ethics and Engagement, each with 3 specific learning objectives.


An overarching goal of these workshops is to stimulate participants’ incentives and capacities to engage responsibly and effectively in Big Data initiatives within and between key regional stakeholders, and to create connections between them, towards the creation of regional and global Communities of Practice. The features and functioning of these Communities of Practice will be announced shortly. To that end, the training’s agenda was composed of a mix of interactive lectures, short presentations and panel discussions, group activities, and hands-on technical tutorials led by Thomas Roca (AFD). 

The full agenda can be accessed here

Participants developed Big Data projects in groups (here around Ugo Caruso, UNSSC Course Coordinator) over the course of the 3 days to try and address a development challenge, considering all steps and requirements of the process including ethical principles

Patrick Vinck, co-founder and co-director of Data-Pop Alliance, Assistant Professor at Harvard University and Director of Research of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative leading a session on data ethics

To provide a wide range of perspectives, the agenda included a dozen speakers and facilitators from the private sector (Sanda Ojiambo, Safaricom; Silas Macharia, IBM Kenya; Skyler Speakman, IBM Research), civil society (Davis Adieno; Civicus, Bill Anderson, Development Initiatives, Joshua Owino and Zacharia Muindi, Map Kibera; Al Kags, Open Institute), multilateral and bilateral donors (Thomas Roca, Agence Française de Développement; Joseph Marindi, UNOCHA; Jilian Campbell, UNEP, Ugo Caruso, UNSSC), government (Nixon Mageka Gecheo, Communications Authority of Kenya) and academia (Emmanuel Letouzé, Data-Pop Alliance and MIT Media Lab; Patrick Vinck, Harvard University and Data-Pop Alliance).

The workshop’s sessions, and its group activities running over 3 days in particular, were facilitated by Data-Pop Alliance team members from the US and Colombia (Natalie Shoup, Julie Ricard, Ana Lucía Martínez, Emmanuel Letouzé, Patrick Vinck), UNSSC (Ugo Caruso), and institutional partners (Thomas Roca from AFD, Jos Berens from HumanityX). They also benefited from support from UNON leadership and staff.

 This workshop was the 3rd under our partnership with UNSSC with initial funding from the Hewlett Foundation, following a pilot held at MIT Media Lab in June 2016 and the inaugural full-fledge workshop organized in Bogotá in December 2016. Five more will follow in the next few months: in Dakar in October, in Bogotá, in December, then in Kigali, Addis-Ababa and Bangkok in Q1-Q2 2018.

Other training workshops are and will be offered to complement these flagships workshops. Data-Pop Alliance and UNECLAC are already offering another series of workshops more squarely focused on Big Data and the digital economy in the LAC region for UN and governmental staff, which started in Santiago de Chile (March 2016), and will next be delivered in São Paulo (September 2017), Mexico City (October 2017) and Bogotá (Q1 2018).

Soon, Data-Pop Alliance will be leading the capacity building and community engagement components of the Open Algorithms (OPAL) project pilots in Senegal and Colombia, as part of our efforts to address urgent needs and gaps to empower professionals and citizens to realize the promise of the Data Revolution and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

For more information, suggestions or questions, please contact training@datapopalliance.org


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