UNFPA organized its first Big Data Bootcamp in Barcelona on February 3-5, hosted at local co-working space Betahaus, with technical support from Data-Pop Alliance. The Bootcamp’s main objective was to help UNFPA and its new Data Division craft its Big Data strategy for the coming years; another objective was to raise internal awareness on the importance for UNFPA to engage with Big Data in a strategic manner and get feedback from its staff on opportunities, entry points and constraints.
The 3-day event employed an innovative “design thinking” methodology led by Betahaus Barcelona, designed to elicit unique insights and ideas, and drive creative solution-generation. It gathered about 50 participants including UNFPA staff from around the world, representatives from the UN system (e.g. UN population Division, UNDP, UNICEF, UN Global Pulse, the World Bank), the international statistical community (Paris21), NGOs and think-tanks (Data-Pop Alliance, Overseas Development Institute, Flowminder and the Berlin-based Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, etc.), academia such as MIT Media Lab and the University of Washington, and private sector (including Orange, Telefónica and Wolfran Alpha).
Data-Pop Alliance provided support in crafting the Bootcamp’s agenda and overall technical guidance, and was represented by its Director Emmanuel Letouzé, who presented his perspective on the state and future of the field of Big Data and development and its specific applications and implications for official statistics, demographic analysis and capacity building, along with co-director for ODI Emma Samman, research affiliates Yves-Julia Manske, Alexandre de Montjoye, Nuria Oliver, Emilio Zagheni, Advisory Board member Bruce Campbell, and Steering Committee members Nicolas de Cordes and Sabrina Juran. The Bootcamp, organized was structured around a series of presentations, group work, collective brainstorming sessions, and networking events.
The event will constitute an important milestone in the history of UNFPA as the organization defines the features and priorities of its strategic engagement with and in Big Data as a new ecosystem of data, capacities and actors—summarized by the 3Cs of Big Data. Information on the outcomes of the event will be available soon.
One question discussed at the Bootcamp was whether and how Big Data could provide more accurate and timely population distribution estimates (“According to the 2005 census there are 15,000 people here”, Pablo Salazar, UNFPA Technical Advisor for the LAC region; drawing by Emmanuel Letouzé).