A World-Changing Combination: Dr. Claire Melamed on Big Data, Collaboration and the SDGs

By Cambria Hayashino, Digital Marketing, Telefónica

This post was originally published at LUCA's Blog.

We had a chance to sit down with Dr. Claire Melamed to discuss her work with Big Data and the SDGs, and why collaboration is crucial to meeting these important goals. Telefónica is proud to be a collaborator on this project, and we also discussed the specific role that telcos can play in this Global Partnership.

Global collaboration using Big Data is crucial for reaching the SDGs. 

Global collaboration using Big Data is crucial for reaching the SDGs. 

So Claire, how important is having mobile data to the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD)?

Absolutely critical, as telco data, along with many other new sources of data, have great value and an immediate practical application as governments try to fill the data gaps that limit progress on the SDGs. We're already seeing some of the valuable insights that using telco data can bring, and it's really important that this work continues. We're really excited to work with companies like Telefónica on this and there's a lot we can do together!

We have governments and others with hugely increasing demands for data as they try to run better services and better meet the needs of their populations. And we’re facing increasing global threats such as epidemics and climate change that have been developing over a longer period of time, where data is also needed to understand and to tackle them. We also live in a world that is producing more data than ever before, through mobile phones and many other new technologies.

At the GPSDD, we try to understand, and to test out in practice, how new sources of data, combined with established methods, can help to meet this growing demand for data, and also increase the speed and reduce the costs of providing data. So another way of looking at what the partnership does is serve as a meeting place between supply - new sources of data - and demand - the data that governments and others need every day.

Making the most of this new opportunity means bringing together some different groups that previously haven't worked together. Telcos are a really critical part of this picture, and we need them to be involved.

What the Partnership is for is to bring together those different groups that previously haven’t worked together. None of the established institutions within the UN or elsewhere are really set up to broker that sort of collaboration because it is so new to everybody and we’re sort of making it up as we go along. I think telcos are a really critical part for that.

What characteristics do you look for in the telcos that you work with as key factors in success for the partnership? Such as having a CDO, a data monetization process already in place or other factors. 

The heart of it is just a willingness to roll up their sleeves and get involved, a desire to be a part of this story. A desire to look beyond the narrow definition of the business model and think about what are some of the ways telcos can use the data they already have to reach beyond the services they are already offering. Sometimes that’s about trying to create new business opportunities and platforms, and sometimes that’s also combined with corporate social responsibility. Other times, the impetus is a more political engagement with the government over regulating and institutional frameworks. There are a lot of ways in.

But what we really look for is just a desire to engage and a willingness to experiment. One of the things which is so exciting is the range of models that are emerging for that experimentation to take place.

That is very flexible, depending on the particular problem you are trying to solve and the particular business model of the telco. We have some models that are about transferring data to a third party and the data analysis and innovation being done there, and other models that are about putting the algorithm into the data, so the data remains in the company – the question going in rather than the data coming out. There are lots of different methods emerging and new ones on the horizon, so the important thing is to just keep trying.

There has been a lot of talk in the media about the SDGs being under threat with everything going on politically in the world right now. Do you think these movements that we’re seeing around the world will slow down the push towards more open data and more data awareness in the political realm? 

I think there are some immediate threats, of course. There are always political twists and turns coming from anywhere, and we should be expecting that in the fifteen-year period of the goals. But at the most basic level, I am still quite optimistic because I think people haven't changed. Governments change, but ultimately people still want good healthcare, good schools for their kids, to be able to breathe the air when they go outside, to live in a good house and all of the rest of it, and that is really what the sustainable development goals are about. It’s a framework within which to define what people want.

One of the things that I was involved with in a previous job in the lead-up to the Sustainable Development Goals was a huge global survey that involved 10 million people. We were asking people what their priorities were and tried to feed that into the governments who were working on the goals. And the things that people wanted were all the things I’ve just listed: jobs, healthcare, school and all the things you would expect. That hasn’t changed, so ultimately in order to stay in power, democratic governments still have to offer people what they want, and that aligns with the agenda of the goals.

What were you doing before you joined GPSDD? 

I was the managing director at the Oversees Development Institute, which is a think tank based in London. I have never worked in the private sector, but have jumped around in my career between civil society organizations, academia, and a bit of time working in the UN before GPSDD.

You joined GPSDD in October 2016. What are you proudest of in your time there so far?

Well, it's been quite a short time. But the two trips I've done most recently to Kenya and Ghana were very interesting because we are working very closely with the governments to achieve their own priorities and to help them broker the relationships they need in the private sector and with other governments. Both trips helped me to really understand the power of the global network and the power that brokering these partnerships can have. In both cases, we have incredibly strong, committed and dynamic government partners who are amazing and a privilege to work with. And they have a clear sense of what they want to do and how they want to do it. They really value the role of the partnership in helping them open doors and adding that extra political impetus that sometimes working with an international organization can bring. 

For example in Ghana, we worked with the Ghana Statistical Service to organize a national forum on data and were able to bring together lots of different government ministries, civil society organisations, and companies. The vice president of Ghana gave the keynote address, and it was a great way to use that moment to create high-level political support to help them achieve what they want to achieve.

Both of those trips left me with a really strong sense of the power of the global brokering network and what it is we can do with it in working with partners.

Would you say that the partnerships you can form through GPSDD have more value for developing countries, or is it rather a matter of different use cases for each country?

I think it is going to look very different in different countries, but all countries are really excited about them. If you look at what is happening in the UK now, the Office of National Statistics is engaging with data science and trying to rethink in a fundamental way how governments engage with citizens and the way that they use data to drive decisions and help them run their services. A lot of that is based around experiments they are doing with Big Data. So there is a huge agenda there for rich countries, but it is different agenda, as is often the case. Here in the UK, for example, we have a very well-managed system of civil registration so we roughly know how many people live in the country at any given time. Whereas that is not really the case in places like Ghana. There may well be ways that telco data can be used to help fill those gaps that exist in Ghana that don’t exist in the UK.

On the other hand, some of the things that are happening in countries like Kenya and Ghana are more along the lines of leapfrogging over what is done in countries like the UK or the USA. They are finding ways to use Big Data and its technical solutions to drive service delivery in ways that are jumping a few generations ahead of what is even going on in some of the richer countries at the moment. So I think there is a lot to be done in all countries. But what they do is going to look a bit different depending on where they are starting from and what their priorities are.

The East Africa Open Data Conference is an example of work from GPSDD partners.

The East Africa Open Data Conference is an example of work from GPSDD partners.

Does this leapfrogging tendency that you are seeing have to do with cost, speed or for the sake of innovation? 

I think it is a bit of both. It is, quite rightly, a cost driven thing, because if you can do the same thing as well but cheaper, why would you not do that? That is one of the great benefits that some of these technologies can bring, and then that frees up money for something else and that is all for the good. It is also partly about speed.

One of the huge benefits of Big Data, and telco data in particular, is speed and being able to know what is happening now. 

Traditionally, many low-income countries have relied on survey data to track outcomes such as health outcomes, population movement and things like that. But when you do a survey, sometimes you don’t get the results for two or three years. So some of the experiments that are being done to address this are using mobile phone top ups as a proxy for poverty data, meaning that you can get a reasonably accurate map of poverty in your country every day, whereas traditionally governments are used to seeing a two- to three-year timeline on that.

So as well as cost, speed is the other huge attraction here. Speed in terms of what you can know and how that informs better policy making, but also to run better services and get better feedback.

This isn’t just about telco data but also the use of a mobile phone as a communications device, such as to help nurses in rural clinics to report on when drugs are out of stock. Rather than sending a letter or some cumbersome faxed piece of paper that then has to be handed between 17 different departments, you can just set up a system where you can connect straight to the relevant procurement department in the ministry of health and out comes the drugs. UNICEF has been developing this sort of system in some countries and availability of drugs in rural areas has gone up hugely.

There is a cost factor, a speed factor and a responsiveness factor. Those are just three of the really good reasons to try and leapfrog.

Finally, what would be your wish in going forward with partnerships in order to make things happen faster and more effectively?

There is always going to be a slow track and a fast track. Some of these things you should do slowly and carefully, like the more research-oriented methodological work. For example, working out what sort of methods should be used to combine mobile data with survey data, with census data, with data from satellites, to really create a 3-D picture of their country. These sorts of things take time because they are difficult to work out so they happen slowly.

But the big jumps that can be made are the big barriers that I see on the political and economic side rather than the technological side. On the technological side, either we know a lot of what is possible or we know how to find out. But on the political side, the questions are about the ways to manage the new systems that are emerging that will work for everybody and how to create the right incentive structures to make it easier for data to flow between institutions, or at least the insights to flow between institutions. That's partly about data flowing from the private sector to the public sector, but it's about data flowing within government departments.

What are the institutional, legal, and regulatory changes that can be made to help that data flow faster? There are also the investment challenges. What are the political arguments that can be used to encourage governments to invest in the capacity they need? 

When I was in Kenya, some of the government departments that I met had really constrained capacity. They only had one or two highly qualified statisticians in the central department and even fewer out in the districts. So in those cases, even if they did get access to loads and loads of data, it would not be massively useful because they would not be able to actually get the insights from it.

It's about investments and things that need to go together around better legal frameworks and economic incentives that allow you to date more easily, and about the investments that also make sure that we're all better at using that data.

Applying Earth Observation Data to Fill Data Gaps on the SDGs in Colombia

By Aditya Agrawal, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, and Argie Kavvada, NASA - GEO EO4SDGS

More than 30 experts participated in the workshop on March 30, 2017 at the DANE headquarters in Bogota, Colombia

More than 30 experts participated in the workshop on March 30, 2017 at the DANE headquarters in Bogota, Colombia

As part of the Data Roadmaps for Sustainable Development process the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) has engaged in with several countries, a consistent need articulated by most countries was data gaps on environmental issues, and limited capacity on integrating geospatial and earth observation (EO) data with national statistical accounts to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) has been a key Anchor Partner within the GPSDD supporting the country level data roadmap process on methods and tools available through the GEO network to address these challenges. Through this engagement, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with GEO, stepped forward providing its resources and expertise to more directly engage with GPSDD partner countries on meeting key data gaps and challenges where earth observation data could be applied to the SDGs.

Together with NASA and the Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE - Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística), the GPSDD co-organized a workshop in Bogota, Colombia ‘Towards Integration of National Statistics and Earth Observations for SDG Monitoring.’ Based on a set of iterative discussions with DANE in advance, this workshop was designed to bring together key agencies and stakeholders in Colombia working on these issues (over 30 participants in total) including DANE, Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MADS) and the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), with international partners including NASA, GEO, University of Maryland, European Space Agency (ESA), Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), and the World Bank, to further identify gaps where existing or EO-based methods that could be piloted to address these challenges. Identified SDGs for focus included Goal 6 ("Clean Water and Sanitation"), Goal 11 ("Sustainable Cities and Communities"), and Goal 15 ("Life on Land"). 

Figure 1. Automated mapping of urban areas presented by the European Space Agency. The image on the left is the source image (Landsat) and the image on the right is the result of the automated mapping process.

Figure 1. Automated mapping of urban areas presented by the European Space Agency. The image on the left is the source image (Landsat) and the image on the right is the result of the automated mapping process.

Colombia is already quite advanced on the use of EO data for the SDGs and has established an inter-agency coordination mechanism on data needs for the SDGs. In fact, several of the international partners had already on-going collaborations with MADS and IDEAM. This workshop provided an opportunity to have a deeper level of engagement across agencies to identify where further collaboration could be developed to address these data challenges and highlighted the importance of institutionalizing multi-stakeholder mechanisms for collaboration against the SDGs. The Government of Colombia was able to demonstrate the work conducted thus far on Indicator 11.3.1, Ratio of land consumption to population growth, and its application across 151 cities in Colombia, using Landsat data and  the Google Earth Engine platform to optimize processing and classification of images. They further presented ongoing work and progress in areas related to open space, rural populations, biodiversity, and soil degradation. To complement these, and identify additional areas of collaboration, the international partners presented on methods for land use and land cover change, water ecosystems, forest management, automated methods for delineating urban areas, integration of optical and radar imagery, the use of data cubes for analysis ready data, and a developing National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) program in Colombia. 

The outcomes of this workshop will be used to devise a national timeline with milestones and deliverables on these products that will contribute towards Colombia’s monitoring and achievement of the SDGs. The aim is to be able to apply this approach in several countries with the intent of scaling successful pilots and methods across multiple countries. The Global Partnership would like to thank all the involved organizations for their invaluable inputs, particularly DANE, GEO, and NASA.

Pakistan’s police departments are building data infrastructure, to the benefit of citizens

By Vestal McIntyre, Staff Writer for Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at Harvard Kennedy School. Follow @EPoDHarvard 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan made an appearance at the Punjab Central Police Station on March 11 to inaugurate a new data system linking all police stations across the province. This is a major change, as Punjab, with a population greater than any country on the African continent, had until recently depended on paper-based systems that gave police officers a lot of leeway in whether and how to log in complaints. In his comments, the Prime Minister said that senior officers should make sure police stations are welcoming to citizens.

Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif (front, centre) at the 11 March inauguration of the Front Desk System

Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif (front, centre) at the 11 March inauguration of the Front Desk System

These may seem like two separate ideas – to ensure citizens are treated right and to build data infrastructure within the police force – but in fact they are closely linked. Pakistanis complain of “Thana culture” (thana being the Urdu word for the local police station), shorthand for local officers who are rude and dismissive, and may abuse their power. And citizens across South Asia report that complainants, particularly women reporting sex crimes, find police stations unwelcoming. Violent crime has been found to suppress development in poor countries – so police reform that encourages reporting is needed. Yet a large-scale policy experiment in Rajasthan, India that showed that placing local observers in stations at peak hours had no robust impact on citizen satisfaction.

Now Punjab is taking the lead with its new policy, called the “Front Desk System,” placing citizen employees in stations as monitors. The difference is data.

Crime victims entering police stations in Punjab will first encounter, not policemen, but civilians – generally young, computer-literate university graduates of either gender who immediately enter the complaint in a database. Behind the scenes this means a far more data-rich environment where complaints are electronically tracked and cases of non-response are automatically escalated to senior officers. Media responses to the pilot stage of the program said it “has ushered in a new era of public service and will go a long way in improving police perception.”

The Front Desk System is the latest stage in the evolution of how Punjab’s police deal with information – a process that has been spearheaded by the Chief Minister of Punjab and fostered by tech-savvy police officers, the Government of Punjab and the Punjab Information Technology Board. Zulfiqar Hameed, Regional Police Officer the Sargodha region of Punjab, says, “There’s a sense that the old, conventional way of doing things is not really serving anymore, so officers now keep coming up with new ideas and new initiatives that are getting entrenched in the police.”

Crime incidents now enter the system, not only through the front desks of police stations, but also at the scene of crimes through a mobile app, adding to sophisticated data maps that are changing how Punjab’s police conduct patrols. Ironically, this movement owes a lot to a criminal – the one who stole a particular economist’s car five years ago.

Hotspot Policing

On the morning of 8 February 2012, Dr Ali Cheema a founding member of the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP) and a fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS), was woken by his wife telling him that his newly bought car had been stolen. Cheema called his insurance company to file a claim, and was surprised to receive a visit from the company’s senior vice president later that day. “It turned out his own car had gotten stolen, just ten streets away from me,” Cheema says. In the course of conversation, the VP revealed that six cars insured by the company had been stolen in the area over a period of two weeks.

Struck by the information gap this represented, Cheema discussed the incident with Hameed, a long-time acquaintance who at the time served as Senior Superintendent of Police Investigations in Lahore. Hameed confirmed that certain neighbourhoods were more prone to crime, and to that point, police practice did not take that into account.

Like in other countries, Pakistani police conducted random, regular patrols. However, research from the US and other Western countries had shown that crime tends to cluster in “hotspots” and that targeted policing worked better. The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment of 1974 showed that increased patrols did not reduce crime, and a 2012 study in Boston showed that police officers working with community members to identify hotspots and apply “problem-oriented policing” was associated with 17% reduction in violent crimes.

Cheema and Hameed approached the Deputy Inspector General of Police Investigation of Lahore at the time, Malik Ali Aamir, who launched a research project that would chart the distribution of crime in Lahore. With Technology for People Initiative and the Punjab Information Technology Board, they developed a smartphone app by which an officer arriving at a crime scene sent data along with the geo-stamped location to a central server.

“As far as I’m aware, in Pakistan this was probably the first time police and researchers worked together on crime issues,” Hameed says.

At this time, there was no evidence on the distribution of crime in Pakistan. Jacob Shapiro of Princeton University, who uses micro-data to understand insurgent violence, explains the importance of this research: “There’s no standardized address system in Pakistan, so you can’t say a crime took place at such-and-such address. That means it’s hard for the police to pin down where crime happens. Plus, there’s no established reporting chain for incidents. So a big chunk of the innovation is determining the day-to-day mechanics of geo-locating crime in the context of South Asian policing and the geography of cities and Pakistan. That’s a big deal.”

Ali Cheema (left) and Zulfiqar Hameed (right) at the 2014 BCURE Policy Dialogue on Civil Service Reform, Lahore, Pakistan

Ali Cheema (left) and Zulfiqar Hameed (right) at the 2014 BCURE Policy Dialogue on Civil Service Reform, Lahore, Pakistan

By 2014, the team had some preliminary findings to share. The research organization I work for, Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at Harvard Kennedy School hosted a policy dialogue through the Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE) program funded by UK Aid from the UK government, where Cheema and Hameed presented maps showing that crime did indeed occur in clusters in urban Lahore.

 Also through BCURE, Cheema and Hameed conducted a pilot project to create crime maps in a different context – the semi-urban and rural Sargodha region – and showed that crime followed a different pattern in the countryside. Shapiro says, “The fact that the geography of crime is different in the larger urban areas versus the rural areas has strong implications of police effort. It might mean that you need different training programs and different organizational structures in urban and rural areas.” Indeed, in response to the data, Hameed installed tracking devices in police vehicles to allow dispatchers to swiftly send officers to rural crime sites, since they showed a much wider geographical spread.

Data for development

Research is showing how smart use of data can improve school performance in Pakistan’s education sector, allow its tax authority to increase revenues, and cut employee absenteeism in its state-run health clinics. Improving the practice and accountability of police is yet another, perhaps unexpected, benefit.

Police in Punjab and Lahore – and the Chief Minister of Punjab’s Safe Cities Authority Initiative in particular – are considering changes inspired by the broadening crime data infrastructure, such as moving away from random patrolling and toward targeted policing and investing in intelligence-gathering in areas of high crime saturation.

When asked about whether Pakistan’s police will continue to incorporate data into practice, Hameed says, “I don’t think this is going to go away. I think has actually reached a state where it will develop further.”

We are looking for a Senior Associate for Monitoring and Evaluation!


The Senior Associate for Monitoring and Evaluation supports the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data’s (GPSDD) efforts to track its progress and impact, share lessons learned and contribute to the growing body of evidence on the importance and value of data for sustainable development. GPSDD is a global multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the production, analysis and use of data for sustainable development, housed at the United Nations Foundation.

The Senior Associate, working closely with the secretariat team, will be responsible for monitoring and sharing impact across two dimensions. He/she will be responsible for monitoring the impact of the GPSDD’s work, supporting quarterly and annual reporting, and compiling and sharing lessons across projects and partners. He/She will also be responsible for tracking, collecting and amplifying evidence and use cases on the value of data as critical infrastructure for sustainable development. The Senior Associate will also oversee a portfolio of innovation projects, ensuring that lessons from the projects are compiled and shared.

The GPSDD is a fast-growing, dynamic international partnership bringing together over 200 different organizations including governments, UN agencies, private companies, civil society organizations, and many others. We convene, connect and catalyze action to address the problems of poor data use, access, quality and production, and to work with stakeholders to fully harness the new opportunities of the data revolution in the service of sustainable development. We aim to link and align action, capacities and resources across geographies, sectors and data communities.

We are looking for a dynamic new M&E specialist to ensure we track and communicate our impact and collect and share evidence on the value of data to underpin our advocacy and communications strategy.


  • Monitor the impact of GPSDD’s work using the existing M&E framework while refining and improving indicators and methodology as required;
  • Working closely with other Directors, provide support to develop methodologies for tracking progress across GPSDD work streams and task teams;
  • Work closely with the Manager, Grants, Finance and Compliance to prepare regular donor and other reporting;
  • Work closely with the Community Engagement Manager and relevant Directors to develop and carry out surveys, focus groups and interviews that solicit partner input and track GPSDD’s progress;
  • Develop, and in some cases manage the development of, case studies and success stories that feed into GPSDD advocacy, monitoring and donor reporting;
  • Work with GPSDD Partners and the Director of Communications to develop, collect and amplify evidence and use cases on the value of data and how data is improving decision-making and contributing to development outcomes; 
  • Provide programmatic oversight of innovations fund projects, including following up on deliverables and ensuring lessons learned are captured and shared;
  • Other duties as assigned.

Selection Criteria:

  • Master's degree required in public policy, statistics, data science, economics, or international affairs, or related field plus 3-5 years of relevant monitoring and evaluation experience.
  • Excellent writing skills, including grant writing, academic publications, and communications.
  • Strong coordination and management skills, including experience coordinating complex research or programmatic activities.
  • Ability to manage partnership relationships with diplomacy, seeking win-win solutions. A demonstrated ability to work effectively with a variety of constituents is a must.
  • Proven analytical and project management skills, including the ability to move projects forward from inception to implementation to completion with adherence to deadlines.
  • Ability to follow instructions thoroughly while also providing a strategic and critical eye to identify and address additional gaps.
  • Strong skills working in teams and across many types of organizations – collaborator; problem solver; relationship-builder; with a knack for convening stakeholders across varied sectors.
  • Sense of humor; highly organized; demonstrates grace under pressure; and delivers results in a fast-paced environment. 
  • A willingness to travel, domestically and internationally and the ability to interact with people from diverse, multi-cultural backgrounds.
  • Ability to meet regular attendance/tardiness policy.
  • Ability to work under pressure and handle stress.

We are looking for an Africa Regional Manager!


The Africa Regional Manager supports the Africa strategy of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), a global multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the production, analysis and use of data for sustainable development, housed at the United Nations Foundation.

The Africa Regional Manager (ARM) will be responsible for supporting the GPSDD’s work in Africa. This includes supporting country level engagements and brokering multi-stakeholder partnerships to address key data gaps and challenges; following up on those partnerships and ensuring follow-through; driving GPSDD partner engagement, networking, cross-country learning, collaboration and trust-building in Africa; and supporting GPSDD’s political strategy around the value of data as critical infrastructure for sustainable development. The ARM will also be responsible for advising the Executive Director and the secretariat team on needs and dynamics in Africa and among the African members of the GPSDD.

The GPSDD is a fast-growing, dynamic international partnership bringing together over 200 different organizations including governments, UN agencies, private companies, civil society organizations, and many others. We convene, connect and catalyze action to address the problems of poor data use, access, quality and production, and to work with stakeholders to fully harness the new opportunities of the data revolution in the service of sustainable development.  We aim to link and align action, capacities and resources across geographies, sectors and data communities. 

We are looking for a dynamic and well-rounded Africa Regional Manager who excels at building relationships and fostering partnerships and is passionate about the need to harness the data revolution for sustainable development. This position will be central to driving greater regional engagement and delivering support to countries from a range of partners and collaborations.


  • Work closely with the Executive Director, Directors and Technical Manager to drive a regional strategy and workplan to stregthn data ecosystems in Africa;
  • Build and strengthen partner relationships, ensuring that the GPSDD is delivering value to its partners and that partners are able to contribute effectively;
  • Facilitate connections across countries in Africa and with regional organizations to share experiences and foster learning in strengthening data ecosystems;
  • Lead or support country and regional events on data in Africa;
  • Work closely with the Director, Data Ecosystems Development and the Technical Manager to engage regularly with country partners and identify points of engagement to further their data roadmap for sustainable development process;
  • Support and engage with GPSDD partners to broker collaborations in response to needs and ensure continued follow-up and delivery;
  • Build relationships with policy-makers within and outside government to enhance political support for strengthening data production, analysis and use;
  • Support the development of case studies and blogs about innovation on the use of data and technology to support sustainable development and social good with a particular focus on Africa;
  • Track major regional events and processes related to data for sustainable development and advise the Executive Director and secretariat team on appropriate entry points for the GPSDD;
  • Represent GPSDD as needed, at public events including in country engagements with our country partners;
  • Other duties as assigned.

Selection Criteria:

  • Master's degree required in public policy, data science, statistics, international development, or other relevant field, plus 7-10 years of relevant experience; or an equivalent combination of education and experience.
  • Experience with policy influence in Africa on data science, statistics, or international affairs preferred.
  • Prove track record of building cross-sectoral partnerships that deliver results.
  • Ability to manage partnership relationships with diplomacy, seeking win-win solutions. A demonstrated ability to work effectively with a variety of constituents is a must.
  • Experience developing programs and strategies in Africa.
  • Experience designing workshops and other events with country officials and extended stakeholders to understand needs and drive outcomes.
  • Excellent writing, editing, interpersonal, and oral communications skills.
  • Creativity and a strong knowledge of new ways to communicate about data.
  • Attention to detail and adherence to deadlines.
  • Strong skills working in teams and across many types of organizations – collaborator; problem solver; relationship-builder; with a knack for convening stakeholders across varied sectors.
  • Sense of humor; highly organized; demonstrates grace under pressure; and delivers results in a fast-paced environment.
  • A willingness to travel, domestically and internationally (around 25-35%, depending on needs) and the ability to interact with people from diverse, multi-cultural backgrounds.
  • Ability to meet regular attendance/tardiness policy.
  • Ability to work under pressure and handle stress.

SDGs Data in the Classroom

By Desmond Spruijt, Director, Mapping Worlds

When I meet Bram Hamburger, a Geography teacher at the Gerrit Rietveld College in Utrecht (the Netherlands), his students are all over the place. Coming and going in small sets, they are working on a lesson series he co-developed, about energy neutral cities. He is busy helping the students self-mobilize. Bram is a patient man. With all done, he explains me how our new website Maptanker is helping him. The site offers dynamic maps, charts, and topic introductions to a Dutch classroom audience.



For the lessons about energy his students need to find information for European countries. Not all students have the same level. Yet in Maptanker they all are able to find the relevant information, and in an inspiring way. This speaks to my experience it's worth putting forward a concise amount of information, rather than publishing all you have. In a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) context, this is especially challenging. There will be an impressive body of data, per country, per sex, per income group. When communication of the SDGs is at issue, for example in education, how to slice it down such that, in the case of Bram's class, every student will still feel inspired to explore?

I like geography. It was a bit difficult to find the right map but once found it was very easy to understand the map, the legend and the time slider. — Eray Akay, student (age 14)

Clearly showing changes over time will certainly help. Immediately, this gives a way in for any viewer. In Maptanker we have a very prominent and crispy time slider. Color shades change, proportional circles resize. Seeing something change attracts attention and triggers questions, touching on both topic matter and data literacy. Is the change large or small? Sudden or gradual? Regional? Students are often required to compare specific countries. Bram invites them to use the line charts in Maptanker to see how two or more countries develop differently over time.

Topics in Maptanker are illustrated with world maps. This underpins the global character of most topics. For the SDGs in particular, it seems only natural to visualize them on a world canvas. Yet, learning about classroom usage in practice, it becomes clear to me a regional perspective is as important. Looking at values for the Netherlands compared to those of its European neighbors, a Dutch student may sooner feel part of the story. For SDGs-data communication a blend of both looks most appealing. National and regional outlooks to speak most directly to the audience, a global perspective to keep check on overall proportions and stimulate awareness of world affairs.

Maptanker is an initiative by Mapping Worlds. The website introduces top-level datasets in the fields of geography, economy, and social science to Dutch learners. The data are presented through maps, charts and short pieces of narrative to describe the topic. The site is powered by Tellmaps, our tool to create e-Atlases. We offer Maptanker as a free resource.

Improving data interoperability for the SDGs

Interoperability is the ability to access and process data from multiple sources without losing meaning and then integrate that data for mapping, visualization, and other forms of analysis. In essence, it is the ability to ‘join-up’ data from different sources to help create more holistic and contextual information for simpler, and sometimes automated, analysis, better decision-making, and accountability purposes.

Meeting the ambition and scope of the 2030 Agenda’s vast data needs will require a revolutionary approach – a ‘data revolution’. Key to this data revolution will be the integration of traditional sources of information, primarily official statistics, with new sources of data including geospatial and citizen-generated data, among others. The information systems and data architectures that underpin the generation, transportation, integration, and dissemination of these disparate data flows need to be made interoperable with one another to ensure that information produced can be used in globally comparable terms to measure progress and help inform decision-making, research, and the allocation of resources at more regular intervals. Interoperability therefore is both a key enabler and driver of the data revolution.

Recognizing this need and the important progress on joining-up SDG data that is already underway in different spheres, the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) convened multi-stakeholder meetings on data interoperability in January at the first UN World Data Forum (UNWDF) in Cape Town and again at the 48th UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) on 5 March, 2017. The meetings brought together an array of stakeholders from across the data ecosystem; from National Statistical Offices, international organizations, the private sector, civil society, and academia.

There was recognition that a coordinated approach at the international level would be crucial to creating an enabling policy and technical environment in which solutions to interoperability challenges could be experimented with, piloted, shared with others, and replicated. The participants agreed that UNSD and GPSDD should jointly establish a multi-stakeholder Collaborative on SDG Data Interoperability to create the space that will bring together many different actors and initiatives to advance the policy and technical dimensions of data interoperability. The Collaborative is founded on the principles of openness and participation that underpinned the UNWDF and will commit to the non-duplication of institutional processes. Its unique contribution will be to bring together stakeholders that do not commonly work together on these issues, and to work at both the policy and technical levels to ensure these inform and support each other.

Please find the agenda and concept note for the meeting here. The summary of the outcomes from each break-out group, as well as a more details on next steps are available here.

No Person Left Behind: How Using Data Can Reduce Inequality

By Betsy BeaumonPresident, Benetech

(This post was originally published at Impakter. We want to thank Impakter Magazine and Betsy B. for sharing this content with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.)

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, outlines a bold vision in which all of the world’s 7,000,000,000+ inhabitants, are empowered to reach their full potential. Together, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 169 targets, and 230 indicators not only provide an inspiring vision for the world, but also a framework for measuring progress. It is now up to the government of each Member State along with the global community of stakeholders to make the SDG’s ambitious vision a reality.

At the heart of the SDGs, is the necessity to establish data-driven baselines and to track progress at the global, national, and sub-national levels. According to the Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data;

Quality and timely data are vital for enabling governments, international organizations, civil society, private sector and the general public to make informed decisions and to ensure the accountability of representative bodies.

This clearly articulated data imperative must serve as a rallying cry for the global SDG community. High-level government data mechanisms exist, and organizations such as Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data are at the center of harnessing data to address SDG efforts. But the SDG data imperative must not stop with governments; every non-governmental organization (NGO) working toward the SDGs must build data collection and analysis into every facet of its work. As stated in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development: “National statistical systems have a central role in generating, disseminating and administering data. They should be supplemented with data and analysis from civil society, academia and the private sector.”

Data for Action is data used to respond to today’s needs, to manage teams better, and to improve efficiency.

Data for Impact is data used to establish interventions that lead to lasting change.

For example, Data for Action for an NGO focused on SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities could be the number and locations of local healthcare providers that restrict access based on gender orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or other status. The Data for Impact may be the increase of inclusive clinics over time, and more broadly, the change in how many people from key populations access healthcare in a region resulting in improved health outcomes.

Data for Action and Impact, are inherent to each SDG Member State’s commitment to disaggregate data by various demographics “to ensure that no one is left behind.” Collecting and analyzing such disaggregated data is a challenging commitment.

The reality is that the most vulnerable members of society—those most likely to be left behind—are also the groups most underrepresented in data collection efforts. Many of the organizations serving these vulnerable groups, the organizations that could best help to augment and corroborate government reporting; lack the technical expertise, tools, and funding to accurately and regularly collect data. When they do collect data, it is typically in isolation from other efforts and related organizations.

For these reasons, Benetech is on a mission to empower organizations around the world to collect quality, timely, and reliable data for action and impact starting with one of the world’s most vulnerable populations, People with Disabilities (PWD).

There are more than 1,000,000,000 PWDs worldwide. Luckily, many governments are improving their collection and reporting of PWD data due in large part to the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). Those efforts provide a data foundation but just scratch the surface of the insights needed to determine the true level of attainment across the SDGs for the vast and diverse PWD population.

Benetech’s proposed strategy to achieve this massive data-driven undertaking by 2030; relies on a global network of disability-focused NGOs, PWDs, Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs), data experts, philanthropists, and governments. Together, these groups must identify, collect and analyze SDG data for action and impact that allows each organization to deliver greater impact to more people.

First; philanthropists and governments must prioritize funds for SDG data for action and impact. These funds must ensure that NGOs and local DPOs can participate and that each participating organization understands the benefits of data to its direct work—their data for action—and to address the time and technical challenges inherent in data collection and analysis. With the advent of the smartphone, the fundamental technology platform already exists to allow participation by putting data reporting power into the pockets of individuals across the world. Funds for training, capacity building, secure mobile data collection applications, and ongoing data management must become a philanthropic priority.

Second; a global group (or groups) of disability data experts, NGOs, DPOs, and PWDs must develop standardized questions that on-the-ground DPOs can use to collect data that provide a meaningful rollup to the SDGs and the CRPD. The data group(s) should build on existing data norms and standards, leveraging the work set forth by organizations including the Washington Group on Disability Statistics.

Third; sub-national organizations with similar missions must come together to set data collection and reporting goals that advance their individual and collective work. These data collaboration groups can leverage standardized questions from the global sphere as a foundation, adding country or issue-area specific questions as needed to extract more insights. However, the effort to identify and bring together sub-national organizations should not wait until global standardized questions are fully established. Global efforts will evolve over time, likely in conjunction with national and sub-national projects. Additionally, since local and regional DPOs are often starting from a point of minimal data expertise, initiating partnership, capacity building, and data collection among collaboration groups is a critical activity that must begin as soon as possible. Over time, these mission-aligned collaboration groups supplementing and corroborating Member State data at the sub-national level will grow to encompass national and global ecosystems of mission-aligned organizations.

A fundamental component of this strategy, is enlisting the support of PWDs in conjunction with DPOs to participate at all levels, including data collection and reporting about their daily experiences. Individuals with disabilities could seamlessly leverage the data expertise built into accessible mobile data survey templates, contributing to a measurement baseline and providing another path to track ultimate progress. People with disabilities will be empowered to speak out and become part of the solution. The NGOs, DPOs, and their funders can use this additional data to inform what services are most urgently needed and the end result of interventions, their data for impact.

A vision as grand as the SDGs requires bold ideas to make it a reality. My bold vision is uniting a global network of disability-focused NGOs, PWDs, DPOs, data experts, and philanthropists to ensure no person with a disability is left behind.

The clock is ticking toward 2030. I hope you join me on this incredibly important journey.

Ghana Paves the Way to a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development

In Ghana, as across Africa, national statistical services are facing growing demands for data to monitor and to achieve ambitious national, regional and global plans for economic growth, human development and environmental protection. Fortunately, new technologies, approaches, methods of collecting data, and engagement of different stakeholders offer new opportunities to rise to this data challenge.

In response to these challenges and opportunities, the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), in collaboration with the SDGs Implementation Coordination Committee and with support from the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) and UNDP, and with guidance from the UN Data Group, hosted a National Data Roadmap Forum from April 5-6, 2017 in Accra. The aim was to determine how to move forward regarding the production of and access to relevant user-friendly data, as well as to enable the achievement and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Forum marked the beginning of Ghana’s data roadmap process which will run in parallel over the lifetime of the SDGs.

The two-day forum was an opportunity for stakeholders to meet and discuss new ways of working to generate and use the data required for the SDGs, as well as meet with counterparts from other countries and experts in particular areas. While the Forum is just the beginning of the data roadmap process, the long-term expected outcomes are to identify the following:

  • Opportunities to align national development priorities and the SDGs.
  • Key data and technology gaps and potential of new methods, sources of data, and technologies to address them.
  • Ghana’s data ecosystem and fostering the creation of sector-specific and cross-cutting data communities.
  • Key issues on funding, resources, and capacity to be used as inputs for a development partners' round table and follow-up activities.
  • Commitments to support the Ghana Data Roadmap for Sustainable Development.

Mr. Baah Wadieh, Acting Government Statistician of Ghana Statistical Service, opened the Forum by calling all stakeholders to develop a harmonious data ecosystem and establishing a cross-government and multi-stakeholder committee to support and lead the data roadmap process. Before the Vice-President’s keynote address, all organizing partners provided solidarity messages. Dr. Claire Melamed, GPSDD's Executive Director, reiterated that in order to change the world we are living in, we need to understand it. Minister of Finance, Hon. Ken Ofori-Atta also provided some remarks stressing the importance of timely, quality statistics to lead policymaking and sustainable development. 

The Ghanaian Times. Thursday, April 6, 2017.

The Ghanaian Times. Thursday, April 6, 2017.

"Ghana’s attainment of the SDG goals will critically be underpinned by a robust data regime that is collectively supported by all partners, including the private sector, academia, NGOs, bilateral, and non-bilateral institutions […]," stated Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, Ghana’s Vice-President. He noted that while the wrong data leads to the wrong policies, most governments underinvest in data collection, and Ghana should invest in its data systems thinking in the return of investments they will provide in the long-term. “Whereas in the past, we have been satisfied with national or regional averages, we now seek information at the district level to adequately reflect the different realities and diversities of our beloved country,” Dr. Bawumia concluded. (Please find more information on an article that the Graphic Online published on April 6, 2017, written by Severious Kale-Dery and Charles Andoh.)

Once the Forum was inaugurated, the first day followed with several sessions on key topics, such as Ghana’s approach to implementation of the SDGs. This session invited key governmental and non-governmental institutions to discuss how to align the SDGs with national development priorities, what assessments had taken place thus far, and which key initiatives around the SDGs have occurred or were planned in the short-term. There was also an opportunity for other countries, such as Kenya, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, to share their national experiences on implementing a data roadmap process, and their activities around data production and use for the SDGs.

The Forum’s second day dug deeper into the conversations related to innovative methods and tools, the potential of administrative data, the production of disaggregated data, and open data for the SDGs, among many others. The leadership and vision shown by the Vice-President, the Minister of Finance, and GSS throughout the Forum, made clear that Ghana is poised to be a real leader in harnessing the data revolution for sustainable development. The Forum ended with a discussion, led by Dr. Melamed, about the key priorities, opportunities, and commitments to move forward Ghana’s data roadmap process.

For more information on the Ghana’s Data for Sustainable Development Roadmap Forum, please go to the following resources:

We are looking for a Technical Manager!


The Technical Manager (TM) supports the technical program, activities and products of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), a global multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the production, analysis and use of data for sustainable development, housed at the United Nations Foundation.

The TM, working closely with the Director for Data Ecosystems Development and other colleagues, will be responsible for supporting country level engagements intended to catalyze progress on addressing key data issues for sustainable development at both national and subnational levels.  In addition, the TM will provide expertise and support on other technical aspects of the GPSDD strategy and workplan including the use of APIs to drive innovation on data for sustainable development.  The TM should also be well versed in the latest technology and data sharing and use methodologies and tools and have some background in data science to support the overall activities of the GPSDD Secretariat as well as our country level stakeholders.    

The GPSDD is a fast-growing, dynamic international partnership bringing together over 200 different organizations including governments, UN agencies, private companies, civil society organizations, and many others. We convene, connect and catalyze action to address the problems of poor data use, access, quality and production, and to work with stakeholders to fully harness the new opportunities of the data revolution in the service of sustainable development.  We aim to link and align action, capacities and resources across geographies, sectors and data communities. 

We are looking for a dynamic and well-rounded Technical Manager who can easily engage at the country level, especially within a developing country context, to identify and support how data and technology can best support needs based on local context.  The position will also guide how the GPSDD brings Partners together to strengthen data ecosystems, and how open data, earth observation and geospatial data, big data and citizen generated data can be accessed and used to achieve the SDGs and sustainable development more broadly.


  • Work closely with the Director for Data Ecosystems Development to further define the overall strategy and workplan for data ecosystems to support the GPSDD network and development of in-country data ecosystems.
  • Engage on a regular cadence with our country partners to identify key points of engagement to further support their data roadmap for sustainable development process.
  • Engage with select technical partners to identify opportunities for their engagement in support of country level implementation on the SDGs.
  • Further support the development of modules for the Data4SDGs Toolbox.
  • Further support the development of API Highways including identifying relevant data clusters for incorporation, guide iterative development stages, and drive usage to increase the number of visualizations and applications.
  • Drive innovation on API Highways through organizing challenges and hackathons.
  • Provide recommendations on how our overall online experience can be better used to more readily connect supply and demand including facilitating the exchange of lessons learned.
  • Support the development of case studies and blogs about innovation on the use of data and technology to support sustainable development and social good.
  • Represent GPSDD as needed, at public events including in country engagements with our country partners
  • Other duties as assigned.

Selection Criteria:

  • Master's degree required in public policy, data science, geography, statistics, natural resources, international development, sustainable development or other relevant field, plus 7-10 years of relevant experience; or an equivalent combination of education and experience.
  • Experience with policy influence and communications in data science, statistics, or international affairs preferred.
  • Experience developing data programs and strategies especially within a developing country context.
  • Experience designing workshop processes with country officials and extended stakeholders to understand needs and drive outcomes.
  • Demonstrated understanding of APIs and technical issues including principles and standards, interoperability, open data, data visualization and apps, and data for action and decision making.
  • Well versed on key issues, challenges and opportunities across data communities (official statistics, geospatial, big data, open data, IoT, and citizen generated data.
  • Excellent writing, editing, interpersonal, and oral communications skills.
  • Creativity and a strong knowledge of new ways to communicate about data.
  • Attention to detail and adherence to deadlines.
  • Strong skills working in teams and across many types of organizations – collaborator; problem solver; relationship-builder; with a knack for convening stakeholders across varied sectors.
  • Sense of humor; highly organized; demonstrates grace under pressure; and delivers results in a fast-paced environment.
  • A willingness to travel, domestically and internationally (around 25-35%, depending on needs) and the ability to interact with people from diverse, multi-cultural backgrounds.
  • Ability to meet regular attendance/tardiness policy.
  • Ability to work under pressure and handle stress.

From Texts to Tweets to Satellites: The Power of Big Data to Fill Gender Data Gaps

By Rebecca Furst-Nichols, Deputy Director, Data2X

Twitter posts, credit card purchases, phone calls, and satellites are all part of our day-to-day digital landscape.

Detailed data, known broadly as “big data” because of the massive amounts of passively collected and high-frequency information that such interactions generate, are produced every time we use one of these technologies. These digital traces have great potential and have already developed a track record for application in global development and humanitarian response.

Data2X has focused particularly on what big data can tell us about the lives of women and girls in resource-poor settings. Our research, released today in a new report, Big Data and the Well-Being of Women and Girls, demonstrates how four big data sources can be harnessed to fill gender data gaps and inform policy aimed at mitigating global gender inequality. Big data can complement traditional surveys and other data sources, offering a glimpse into dimensions of girls’ and women’s lives that have otherwise been overlooked, and providing a level of precision and timeliness that policymakers need to make actionable decisions.

Here are three findings from our report that underscore the power and potential offered by big data to fill gender data gaps:

1. Social media data can improve understanding of the mental health of girls and women.

Mental health conditions, from anxiety to depression, are thought to be significant contributors to the global burden of disease, particularly for young women, though precise data on mental health is sparse in most countries. However, research by Georgia Tech University, commissioned by Data2X, finds that social media provides an accurate barometer of mental health status.

Algorithms can not only detect genuine self-disclosures of mental illness on Twitter, but can disaggregate these tweets by sex and gauge characteristics like tone and affect to track positive or negative expressions. Across the world, these tools can serve as an early first step in assessing prevalence of mental health conditions. And for individual women and girls, they may be used to provide information on treatment and resources to groups with high prevalence levels.

These methodologies still have limitations, including bias toward literate (and tech-literate) women and girls, dominant-language Twitter users, and those with access to the internet. However, as more women, and particularly young women, come online, these methodologies are likely to be increasingly valuable, especially given the severity of these issues and the challenges associated with collecting mental health information through other means.

2. Cell phone and credit card records can illustrate women’s economic and social patterns – and track impacts of shocks in the economy.

Our spending priorities and social habits often indicate economic status, and these activities can also expose economic disparities between women and men.

By compiling cell phone and credit card records, our research partners at MIT traced patterns of women’s expenditures, spending priorities, and physical mobility. The research found that women have less mobility diversity than men, live further away from city centers, and report less total expenditure per capita.

Since this data is continuously generated, this type of analysis can be performed over longer time spans to capture impacts of economic and environmental shocks, stressors, and policy changes on women’s lives in real time.

It is critical to note that, despite its promise, data access and privacy remain a key challenge for institutionalization of these real-time surveillance systems into country statistical offices. And, as with social media information, any analysis performed on cell phone and credit card data must be complemented with other ‘ground truthing’ surveys to ensure that researchers know what type of women are included in – and left out of – the dataset for reasons of access, affordability, literacy, and other barriers.

The 61st Commission on the Status of Women taking place this week highlights women’s economic empowerment and their roles in both paid and unpaid work, and big data holds great promise for measuring empowerment and shaping our understanding of women’s economic needs and priorities.

3.  Satellite imagery can map rivers and roads, but it can also measure gender inequality.

Satellite imagery has the power to capture high-resolution, real-time data on everything from natural landscape features, like vegetation and river flows, to human infrastructure, like roads and schools. Research by our partners at the Flowminder Foundation finds that it is also able to measure gender inequality.

Satellite imagery can fill gaps in traditional surveys by providing more frequent and higher resolution information about girls’ and women’s lives. Our research piloted methods of correlating geospatial variables (like distance to roads) with well-being indicators (like literacy) to infer patterns of social and health phenomena.

Mapping these phenomena using this method can reveal pockets of gender inequalities that are typically masked by averages on the country or district level. This use of big data for more frequent, and higher resolution, information on the well-being of women and girls offers huge potential for helping policymakers more effectively direct resources to where they are needed most.

The release of this report is just the first step. Data2X is excited to explore future possibilities for using digital data sources, and this year, will announce a new opportunity for researchers interested in using big data – along with other sources – to capture multiple dimensions of girls’ and women’s lives, inform policies, and improve outcomes.

Big Data Analytics for the Sustainable Development of Latin America and the Caribbean

This press release was originally published at ECLAC's website.

During a seminar held in Santiago, Chile, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean presented a project that seeks to improve national capabilities for measuring the digital economy in the region.

From left to right: Roberto Rigobon, from MIT; Alexandre Barbosa, Head of CETIC.br; Rodrigo Ramírez,Telecommunications Undersecretary; Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC; and Mario Cimoli, Director of ECLAC’s Division of Production, Productivity and Management. Photo: Carlos Vera/ECLAC.

From left to right: Roberto Rigobon, from MIT; Alexandre Barbosa, Head of CETIC.br; Rodrigo Ramírez,Telecommunications Undersecretary; Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC; and Mario Cimoli, Director of ECLAC’s Division of Production, Productivity and Management.
Photo: Carlos Vera/ECLAC.

Big data analytics can improve decision-making in critical areas for development, such as health, employment, productivity, security and natural disaster management, to name a few, but for this to happen new alliances must be forged between all actors involved and true educational and cultural revolutions must take place, according to the specialists gathered at a seminar held on 6 March at ECLAC’s headquarters in Santiago, Chile.

“One of our region’s main challenges is establishing a true dialogue between national statistics offices and the most important big data actors, who are mostly private,” the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, said at the inauguration of the seminar Think Big: Data innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean, organized jointly with the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Latin America Office and the Brazil-based Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society (CETIC.br).

During the gathering, ECLAC officially launched the project “Big data for measuring and fostering the digital economy in Latin America and the Caribbean,” financed by the United Nations Development Account (UNDA), which seeks to improve national capabilities for measuring the digital economy and designing evidence-based policies, by combining big data analytics with traditional statistical techniques.

“Latin America and the Caribbean has shown much progress in the Internet of consumption but not in the Internet of production,” Alicia Bárcena emphasized during her presentation.

Other participants in the event’s inauguration included Rodrigo Ramírez, Chile’s Telecommunications Undersecretary; Alexandre Barbosa, Head of CETIC.br; Roberto Rigobon, Society of Sloan Fellows Professor of Management and Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan School of Management; and Mario Cimoli, Director of ECLAC’s Division of Production, Productivity and Management.

Keynote speeches were given by Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of UN Global Pulse, and Emmanuel Letouzé, Director of Data-Pop Alliance. Other speakers included Chilean Economy Minister Luis Felipe Céspedes and Marcelo Jenkins, Costa Rica’s Minister of Science, Technology and Telecommunications.

Rodrigo Ramírez stressed that “in emergency contexts, such as those Chile is accustomed to facing on a permanent basis, the world of big data management becomes a crucial matter, including for saving lives.” He also underlined the importance of creating a regional digital market that can harness the digital potential of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Alexandre Barbosa, meanwhile, indicated that “measurement plays a central role in the international agenda on sustainable development” and that bodies such as ECLAC can play a very important role in promoting debate and reflecting upon the new tools needed to monitor country progress on compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Roberto Rigobon, of MIT, also valued the leadership shown by ECLAC in studying issues related to the information society in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to him, taking advantage of big data implies true revolutions in both educational and cultural arenas, and so he called on national statistics offices and universities to modernize and not let the opportunity to participate in this process pass them by.

The presentations by Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of Global Pulse – which is a United Nations initiative – and by Emmanuel Letouzé, Director of Data-Pop Alliance (a coalition formed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, MIT Media Lab, Overseas Development Institute and Flowminder Foundation), offered an overview of big data use in the world, its potential benefits and risks, as well as opportunities for collaboration.

Robert Kirkpatrick pointed to several existing challenges regarding big data analytics, warning of the ethical responsibility that its use requires and of data access problems. In that respect, he stressed the need to establish multi-sectoral alliances and strengthen public-private cooperation. Emmanuel Letouzé focused, meanwhile, on the way in which big data can drive democracy and sustainable development in the region.

At the seminar’s closing panel, Mario Cimoli called on countries to use digital technologies as a tool for implementing public policies, but he warned that the challenge of shifting to knowledge- and information-based productive models remains. He sustained that there are pending issues regarding the industrial revolution and that governance is still needed for the new model stemming from digital platforms.

Another participant in the event was Frauke Kreuter, a Professor at the Maryland Population Research Center, who reviewed current strategies for strengthening national statistics offices’ capabilities through cooperation agreements with universities in the United States and Europe.

Finally, Antonino Virgillito, Senior IT Engineer from the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), presented the projects that ISTAT is leading in the area of big data analytics, which include the production of price indexes and the exploration of ICT indicators in companies.

Global Partnership Announces Funding for Earth Observation Data Projects

By Claire Melamed, Executive Director of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

This post was originally published at GEO Blog: Observations.

The last few months in the world of data have been all about collaboration. The year opened with January’s UN World Data Forum in Cape Town, which brought together well over a thousand people from hugely diverse organisations, including many in the GEO community, to talk, learn, and plan how to improve the production and use of data.

Last week saw the regular Statistical Commission meeting at the United Nations in New York – an event which is fast becoming a regular fixture for non-statisticians too. A packed program of side events and meetings brought together different worlds of data to talk about how to bring their different skills and ideas to bear on the problems faced by governments as they put in place the data infrastructure to achieve and monitor the Sustainable Development Goals.

All this is absolutely our core business at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, and we were heavily involved in both events.  We were created to be a place where very different organisations involved in the production and use of data can come together and find out how collaborating can allow them to do more than they can do separately.

We are supporting collaboration in very practical ways too, and were absolutely delighted to be able to announce last week the winners of the first Innovation Fund projects, supported by the World Bank, and to be able to support ten pilot initiatives which are focused on collaborative innovations in using data to solve practical problems. The initiative will bring the benefits of enhanced understanding for good environmental and political planning in the short term, as well as inspiring other similar projects as those results are shared.

The Group on Earth Observations, our Anchor partner, coordinated submissions for projects with an Earth observation focus, and I am pleased to see two of the ten finalists make use of Earth observations (EO).

Wetlands monitoring in Uganda, through a collaboration between DHI GRAS, the University of Twente, and the European Space Agency is being led by the Ramsar Center for Eastern Africa.  This demonstration will harness the potential to use EO to provide a full national wetland inventory in Uganda, which has been a pilot country for monitoring SDG Target 6.6.

A project on use of EO to measure wetlands in Uganda will help monitor SDGs through the Ramsar convention. Credit: Group on Earth Observations.

A project on use of EO to measure wetlands in Uganda will help monitor SDGs through the Ramsar convention. Credit: Group on Earth Observations.

Sustainable fishing is vital to sustain human development in coastal areas, as well as maintaining sustainable management of life in the oceans, encapsulated in SDG Goal 14. Fishermen from low-income countries fish at night. The project for ‘Mapping Night Time Fishing Activity’ is led by the University of Boulder, Colorado, to better understand long-term nighttime fishing activity in Southeast Asia.

The other projects selected include improving registration of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, helping health workers predict patient behavior in Africa and using mobile phone signal attenuation to estimate rainfall. We were overwhelmed with the quality of proposals received and we are working to make sure we can support more projects in the future.

This initial pilot round of funding ranges from $25,000 to $250,000 according to its stage of development and potential to scale-up. I know these projects will bring us some valuable lessons to share throughout the GEO community and the broader Global Partnership. Not only will we hopefully inspire more projects along these lines, but we will have the tools to demonstrate the power of data for effective development programming, and the power of collaboration for effective data.

Announcing Funding for 10 Development Data Innovation Projects

In July of 2016, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, announced a new multi-million dollar funding initiative to support collaborative data innovations for sustainable development.  Today, the Partnership, working in close collaboration with the World Bank’s Development Data Group, is delighted to announce the recipients of the pilot round of this initiative.

As part of the Collaborative Data Innovations for Sustainable Development Pilot Funding, which is supported by the World Bank’s Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB), the Global Partnership will support 10 projects in data production, dissemination and use, primarily in low­-income and lower­-middle-­income countries.

From improving vital registration of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to helping health workers predict patient behavior in Africa, from using low-orbit satellites to detect illegal fishing in Southeast Asia to using signal attenuation between mobile phone towers to estimate rainfall, the selected projects include a rich mix of innovations in development data being carried out in 20 countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. 

While these projects cover a variety of sectors and SDGs, their unifying goal is to encourage collaboration, experimentation, learning, and capacity development in the field of sustainable development data, especially where needs are continuous or recurrent, and where innovations can be readily adapted to other regions and sectors.

What´s particularly exciting about the funding provided by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data is that it is focused on solving real problems facing real people in the world.
-- Nathaniel Heller, Managing Director, Results for Development Institute [Innovation Fund Recipient]

We are committed to learning from the projects’ successes and failures as they are implemented over the next 18 months. This is vital for any innovation work. The results and lessons learned from these projects will be openly available to all, and will help to shape the themes and priority for future rounds of funding. The process has been a joint effort between the World Bank and the Global Partnership. Innovation financing was one of the World Bank’s commitments when it joined the Global Partnership, and the Partnership provided a network of ideas, individuals and institutions that resulted in the submission of over 400 proposals for this pilot round of financing.

2017 Innovation Fund Recipients

Activity 1

Project Title: Smart Water Monitoring and Alert with Rainfall Measurement from Telecommunications Networks 

Lead Organization: Institut de Recherche pour le Développement

Collaborating Organizations: Mobile operators (Meditel in Morocco and Orange in Cameroon), local universities in three African countries, and two startups (GEOVECTORIX and Africasys)

Location: Cameroon and Morocco

Description: The main objective of the “Flood Alert and Water Monitoring System” project is to test operationalization of a mobile-data driven system for monitoring rainfall and issuing real-time alerts in an urban African context. This innovative, cost-effective system will address data gaps in quality climate, rainfall and water data and help local and sub-regional authorities improve urban flood and water management on a sustainable basis. Secondary objectives are to capture feedback on the system and build awareness and capacity for a wider scaling of this new technique.

Activity 2

Project Title: Wetlands Monitoring with Earth Observation Data

Lead Organization: Ramsar Center for Eastern Africa

Collaborating Organizations: DHI GRAS, the University of Twente and the European Space Agency

Location: Uganda

Description: The objective of this activity is to explore the potential of earth observation (EO) satellite data for taking stock of and monitoring wetlands, a vital component of the global water resources ecosystem. This activity will pilot design and development of a user friendly digital system for use by the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment, to enable national authorities to generate spatial time series statistical data for taking inventory and monitoring national wetland resources train the government on its use and produce a roadmap for scaling to other countries of East Africa. This is a unique attempt to demonstrate the potential of satellite-derived EO data to provide a full national wetland inventory in Uganda, which has been a pilot country for monitoring of SDG Target 6.6.

Activity 3 

Project Title: Use of Big Data and Weak-Signal Analysis to Counter Human Trafficking and Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) Fishing

Lead Organization: Novametrics

Collaborating Organizations: Pew Charitable Trusts, Social Impact and International Justice Mission

Location: Southeast Asia, East Africa

Description: Human trafficking and IUU fishing are ubiquitous within the commercial seafood industry in low and lower-middle income economies that participate in commercial fishing or send migrants to countries that do. While there is little direct data on human trafficking and IUU fishing, there is a large amount of indirect data that can be used to characterize the ecosystem in which these activities occur. The project’s objectives are to use big-data analytics and weak-signal analysis to help locate high risk “hotspots”, provide evidence to support political action and prosecution, and to identify the most cost-effective interventions for both current and future high-risk areas.

Activity 4 

Project Title: Predictive Analytics to Assess Defaulter Risk at Point of Care

Lead Organization: Dimagi

Collaborating Organizations: mothers2mothers, Small Project Foundation,DataProphet Pty. Ltd., and the Department of Computer Science of the University of Cape Town

Location: 2 countries in Africa

Description: The objective of this project is to use predictive machine learning technology to help front line health workers in Africa to identify, at the point of care, patients who are likely to fail to return for HIV (and other diseases, such as TB) treatment. By quantifying the underlying risk factors of LTFU, and building data-driven decision making into a low-cost information system for care providers this activity will equip the health workers with a decision-assisting job aid to help them take action on patients at high risk of not returning, and thus cut down on costs related to trying to locate and contact non-returning patients.

Activity 5

Project Title: Advancing Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Systems in the Service of Syrian Refugees

Lead Organization: UNESCWA

Collaborating Organizations: World Health Organization, UNICEF, and FAFO (a Norwegian research foundation), with additional technical and academic support provided by the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium)

Location: Lebanon, Jordan

Description: There is currently a lack of knowledge of the level of completeness of vital registration for Syrian refugees, nor have there been any formal assessments of the data quality of these administrative data systems in countries neighboring active conflict zones. The objectives of this project are three-fold – (1) to evaluate the vital registration systems for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, (2) to enhance knowledge sharing and to support coordination of efforts amongst those seeking to improve the responsiveness of CRVS systems to the refugees’ needs in Lebanon and Jordan, and (3)  to enhance the capacity of Lebanon and Jordan with regards to these systems.

Activity 6 

Project Title: Leveraging Informal Waste Ecosystem for Better Management of Post-consumer Recyclable Waste in Urban India

Lead Organization: Kabadiwalla Connect

Collaborating Organizations: India Institute of Science, Awaaz.de Infosystems, and South India AIDS Action Programme

Location: India

Description: The objective of this project is to contribute to the achievement of SDGs by providing a framework that cities in low and middle income countries around the world can use to manage their waste more efficiently by collaborating with the informal recycling sector. The team will conduct a census by surveying and mapping stakeholders in the informal waste ecosystem in Chennai, India, which will be the first attempt to collect such data. It will then conduct experiments to explore incentives, policy mechanisms and technology that can nudge communities to more sustainable practices for waste generation and management, while also exploring ways to integrate it into the more formal waste management strategies employed by the local municipality.

Activity 7

Project Title: Building a Data Collaborative to support SDGs on Health and WASH

Lead Organization: Netherlands Red Cross

Collaborating Organizations: CartONG and Malawi Red Cross Society

Location: Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Description: This project aims to strengthen data collaboration between development and humanitarian actors, Volunteer Technical Communities (VTCs), as well as governments and academia to be able to make more effective decisions on Health and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) interventions, and to support the monitoring and reporting of the SDGs. It will create proof-of-concept Data Collaboratives in two countries, and evaluate their impact.  It will also test the use of non-official crowdsourced data as proxies for SDGs monitoring

Activity 8 

Project Title: Catalyzing Data-driven Market-based Solutions to Small Holder Farmer Fertilizer Uptake

Lead Organization: Results for Development Institute

Collaborating Organizations: Local Development Research Institute

Location: Kenya

Description: Unfortunately, data on fertilizer usage and supply is notoriously poor in a majority of low-income countries. Poor data and information gaps frequently are a root cause of market breakdowns, resulting in dysfunctional fertilizer distribution systems which in turn depress food production.  The project objectives are to fill the data gaps and to develop and test new approaches to incentivizing the collection and use of key fertilizer data. The team hypothesizes that availability of quality data combined with increased capacity of the public and private sector stakeholders to use this data will accelerate market-based solutions to delivering higher-quality fertilizer to small holder rural farmers at the right moment in the planting season.

Activity 9

Project Title: Mapping Night Time Fishing Activity

Lead Organization: University of Colorado Boulder

Collaborating Organizations: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Location: Southeast Asia

Description: The objective of the “Mapping Night Time Fishing Activity” project is to collect and make available boat detection data to government agencies, the scientific community and environmental groups. This previously unavailable data will characterize long term nighttime fishing activity in Southeast Asia.  The team will apply a new method of data collection based on the use of enhanced sensors on low-orbit satellites to detect the kind of lights used by fishermen to attract fish.

Activity 10

Project Title: Dynamic Census

Lead Organization: University of Tokyo

Collaborating Organizations: LIRNEasia

Location: Sri Lanka

Description:  The conventional approach to understanding national populations is through the decennial National Housing and Population Census, which provides a variety of indicators. However, census data often tend to be outdated in resource scarce countries due to the enormous time and monetary cost required for data gathering. This activity aims to improve the existing census approach by deriving insights from call detail records (CDR). It will supplement population and housing census data by adding dynamic aspects of population distribution to changes in population distribution over time, at high frequency.




Leveraging big data to improve health outcomes for all

Big data and new technological innovations have the potential to address health inequalities and improve health outcomes for patients. These new tools and methods are able to provide a stronger evidence base for more efficient, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable healthcare delivery. Their potential lies in the additional provision of relevant and timely data to individually produced patient and hospital records. For example, in the U.S. the analysis of streaming patient data has reduced mortality by 20 percent. Likewise,

  • Mobile data analysis: In response to the Ebola virus disease epidemic call data records (CDRs) from mobile network operators have been used to map people’s mobility and project the path of the disease. CDRs were a powerful proxy to identify risks, design information campaigns, and show impact of actions.

  • Patient monitoring through self-tracking via sensors, gadgets, and apps: In 2015, there were more than 100,000 health apps available for smart phones. In the U.S., 34% of all Americans who tracked their health habits stated that self-tracking has affected a health decision they have taken.

Nonetheless, the ability to combine multiple sources of data is essential to effectively harness big data in health care. Likewise, the ever-expanding volume of data with complex patterns may extend beyond the physician’s ability to use traditional data processing techniques for interpretation. A data revolution for improved health outcomes will require setting the right incentives to support coordination between different stakeholders within health care systems. Harnessing this potential will also require new partnerships to link data producers with data users and data analysts. Ultimately, recognizing the value of big data and the will to act on its insights demands a fundamental shift in mindset.

Read the full text of the research paper in which Sabrina Juran, Ph.D., Paul I. Heidekrueger, M.D., and P. Niclas Broer, M.D., Ph.D., explore how big data can be leveraged to improve health outcomes and present several examples to seize this opportunity.



Sabrina Juran, Ph.D. (1), Paul I. Heidekrueger, M.D. (2), P. Niclas Broer, M.D., Ph.D. (2)

In recent years, there is growing enthusiasm for leveraging technological innovations and harnessing alternative big data sources for effective evidence-based medicine. New information has become available to guide treatment and optimize outcomes in medical care. Big data and new technological innovations if harnessed and utilized effectively, have the potential to address health inequalities and improve health outcomes for patients. Big data will be able to provide a much stronger evidence base for more efficient, resilient, inclusive and sustainable medical interventions. Big data’s potential lies in the additional provision of relevant and timely statistics to individually produced patient and hospital records.[1] Triangulation and the ability to combine multiple types of data, such as patient and practitioner data are essential to effectively harness big data in health care. However, the ever-expanding volume of data with complex patterns may extend beyond the physician’s ability to use traditional data processing techniques for interpretation.[2]

However, while, big data has been successfully used in areas including, astronomy, retail, online behaviour, and politics, its utilization in health care remains could be strengthened.[3] In health care, “the introduction of digital epidemiology for disease surveillance, tracking and controlling outbreaks such as H1N1 influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and more recently, H7N9 influenza and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), has become more real-time, and thus, more effective for identifying cases and implementing appropriate control measures.”[4] In the United States of America (US), the analysis of streaming patient data has reduced mortality by 20 percent.[5]

Advances in information technology include electronic health records (EHRs). In the US, “in 2014, 3 out of 4 (76%) hospitals had adopted at least a basic EHR system. This represents an increase of 27% from 2013 and an eight-fold increase since 2008. Nearly all reported hospitals (97%) possessed a certified EHR technology in 2014, increasing by 35% since 2011.”[6] Increasing the use of such data and the integration of new information sources with traditional ones can result in powerful for health care delivery and efficiency as well as patients’ safety and treatment. Medical passports containing diagnostic, pharmaceutical and follow up information, data from global position systems (GPS), mobile phone applications and wearable health devices allow people to track their progress towards a healthier lifestyle. Data from such devices and applications, provide more observation points, higher frequency and greater granularity. This detailed capture of data about patients provides an increased understanding of the intersection of lifestyle and diseases as well as potential treatment options, making void of the self-reported biases from patients. [7] [8] “To generate valuable knowledge, big data must come from high-quality individual clinical data. […] Big data will not achieve its full potential if it is not used to improve health outcomes for the individual patients from whom the data were generated.”[9]

Medical records should support the personalization of medical care and contribute to the engagement of patients in research and care. [9] Information on health status can further be derived from sources as diverse as cell phones, remote sensors and Internet use. Analysis of cell phone data usage patterns can allow inferences to be made about users' sex, age, socioeconomic status, mobility patterns and financial activities. For instance, in response to the Ebola virus disease epidemic call data records (CDRs) from mobile network operators have been used to map people’s mobility and project the path of the disease. CDRs were a powerful proxy to identify risks, design information campaigns, and show impact of actions. Other technological advances allow the medical industry to better understand diseases and what treatment to apply and translate personalized medicine into clinical practice. As such, Internet web search logs have proven to “provide valuable signals to predict the later appearance of first-person queries in disease management that are strongly suggestive of a professional diagnosis of pancreatic carcinoma. Performance of the risk stratification holds many weeks in advance and improves when conditioned on the presence of specific symptoms or risk factors found in people’s search histories.”[10]

Remote sensing reveals epidemiological trends of concern and provides information on physical access to clinics and other essential health services. While these approaches need a strong evidence base for calibrating big data, innovations and new technologies need to be embraced and integrated into the world’s growing health systems. To achieve these aims, strong systems are required, connecting the entire plethora of data producers and users, together with institutional capacity to use and integrate diverse types and sources of data. “The cost of answering many clinical questions prospectively, and even retrospectively, by collecting structured data is prohibitive. Analysing the unstructured data contained [for instance] within EHRs using computational techniques […] permits finer data acquisition in an automated fashion.”[3] However, physicians and clinicians, trained in traditional statistical methods might not have the capacity to analyse these new forms and amounts of data. 
Through machine learning, statistical learning techniques can be automatically applied to data sets to identify patterns in the data and to make highly accurate predictions. One example of an accessible machine learning method is a decision tree,[11] able to find the most suitable predictors of health risks and improvements. This methodology looks at one data feature at a time, to then, subsequently, find that feature in a new data files.[12] The decision tree uses if-then statements to define patterns in data to compute for example health risk probabilities from the established tree. Machine learning helps avoid the problem of sample duplication, because the data file would be randomly split into two samples.[13]

Some devices can take patient monitoring through self-tracking to a new level, by having patients actively enter data or passively via sensors, gadgets and apps. In 2015, there were more than 100,000 health apps available for smart phones. In the US, 69% of all Americans tracked their health statistics either through technology or in their heads and 60% logged their dietary habits. Thirty-four per cent of all Americans who tracked their health habits stated that self-tracking has affected a health decision they have taken.[5]

Big data has the power to transform health care and empower the individual patient by bringing the medical information directly to the patients. “Big data offers the chance to improve the medical record by linking traditional health- related data (eg, medication list and family history) to other personal data found on other sites (eg, income, education, neighborhood, military service, diet habits, exercise regimens, and forms of entertainment) […]. By doing so, big data offers a chance to integrate the traditional medical model with the social determinants of health in a patient-directed fashion. Public health initiatives […] could perhaps be delivered more efficiently in this way by targeting their messages to the most appropriate people based on their social media profiles.”[3]

Further, the health sector is more and more computerizing, which leads to a rise in the collection and exchange of invaluable patient data. “Unifying that data - and combining it with patient-collected data from smart devices - is the industry’s next big hurdle to overcome. Healthcare providers are already focusing on digitizing patient records and ensuring access to one set of records across the healthcare system.”  For instance, “the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance aims to compile data from various sources (including medical and insurance records, wearable sensors, genetic data and even social media use) to draw a comprehensive picture of the patient as an individual, and then offer a tailored healthcare package.”[14]

Data science techniques and data models are able to examine and extract knowledge from large, partially unstructured databases in an automated fashion. While many diseases are well characterized and understood, in the future, new technologies with high precision, such as wearables, could detect diseases earlier and take into account the individual patient.[14] Soon, “adequate health and health care will, however, […] be impossible without proper data supervision from modern machine learning methodologies like cluster models, neural networks, and other data mining methodologies.”[12]

With respect to follow up, big data can inform physicians on the conditions and behaviour of patients that are likely to follow medical advice. Using such information for tailored treatment and follow up options can reduce readmissions rates of more vulnerable patient populations. “Apps are being developed that can track when a patient takes his or her medication - like GPS enabled inhalers for asthmatics. Others record information about calls, texts, physical location, movement and sleep patterns that can help alert doctors or family members if the patient is likely feeling unwell (poor sleep, lack of movement) or even in danger of an anxiety or other psychological attack.”[14]

Further, mobile technology can be used for more efficient disbursement of reimbursement and compensation for the patient. Since data for a single patient may come from various health care providers, hospitals, laboratories, and physician offices, new technologies allow for data being better linked at a lower cost. However, beyond the individual patient, marginal investments can lead to saving money for the health care system, beyond improving profits and cutting down on wasted overhead, for example by predicting the cost of managing specific illnesses across certain geographic regions and demographic groups.[5] In order to provide disincentives for overutilization of health services, there has been a shift from fee-for-service compensation to risk-sharing arrangements, such as prevention, chronic disease management, and prioritizing measurable outcomes.  Under such schemes, medical stakeholders have greater incentives to compile and exchange information. For example, careful study of data can give an insight into who is likely to get sick, thereby enabling preventive treatment. Under such mechanisms, patients have incentives to comply with clinical follow up and follow recommendations.
Further, “by using and analyzing big data tools such as predictive monitoring and algorithms with clinical trial data, disease patterns, and genomic data sets to inform the emerging field of personalized medicine, the healthcare sector could reduce expenditures by approximately $25 billion.”[4]

However, the integration of big data in the health care sector needs to rely on proper data privacy and data protection frameworks and mechanisms to ensure that responsible patient data practices are implemented from the start. An important responsibility will be the capture, management and storage of individual patient data. While attention to data privacy and data protection is growing,[15] there are still many challenges, some of them due to a fragmented regulatory landscape; lack of privacy-enhancing methodologies and tools to ensure that the data can be used. 

Realizing a medical data revolution will require setting the right incentives to support coordination between different stakeholders within health care systems. Recognizing the value of big data and being willing to act on its insights will require a fundamental shift in mind-set from patients and physician alike.

The key challenge is leveraging and utilizing big data to formulate better decisions in health care. Aggregating individual data sets into big-data algorithms often provides the most robust evidence, since nuances in subpopulations may be rare that they are not readily apparent in small samples. Knowing when, where and the extent to which conditions are changing that either hinder or advance desirable health outcomes of patients is potentially invaluable information because it allows health care providers to make mid-course corrections; i.e., necessary and effective changes or adjustments to treatment. 

The understanding of such new opportunities must be strengthened to improve health outcomes for the patient. Despite these potential benefits, historical, technological, legal, as well as cultural reasons may impede the use of new technologies and non-traditional data sources in health care. Until today, medical professionals have been rather reluctant to harness big data and use machine learning in their field.

Moreover, national health systems and health care providers often lack sufficient capacity and funding to harness big data. Health care institutions seldom possess adequate infrastructure and resources to produce, process and leverage big data. Smaller institutions have little access to modern technologies that enable big data, including supercomputing, data centres, broadband and ubiquitous Internet access. Those deficiencies extend to data producers and users, academia, civil society and the private sector. 

Medical data analytics need to make sense of big data with the right tools. For this, data producers need to work closer with data users and data analysts. Medical stakeholders need to go beyond medicine to explore what can be learned and added from other areas, such as development, biology etc. 
New pathways will open up as new data become available, which will foster a feedback loop. For instance, treatment could change if new data suggest that the standard protocol for a particular disease for a certain patient does not produce the optimal results.

With the world’s population increasing and everyone living longer, models of treatment delivery are rapidly changing, and many of the decisions behind those changes should be driven by data. Digital technologies have lowered the costs of producing and publishing data; they have eased the distribution and visualization of data and have hence democratized access to data and create new use cases for it.[16]

Going forward, due attention must be paid to the potential of big data for health care.  Harnessing this potential will require new partnerships and new commitments. In order to ensure that all people have access to quality medical, and in particular surgical treatment, health systems need to be linked up around the patient. Big data could transform the health-care sector, but the industry must undergo fundamental changes before stakeholders can capture its full value. There is a need, and opportunity, to mine the data generated in the health care field.

(1) United Nations Population Fund, Technical Division, Population and Development Branch, New York, NY, USA
(2) StKM - Klinikum Bogenhausen, Academic Teaching Hospital, Technical University Munich, Department for Plastic, Reconstructive, Hand, and Burn Surgery, Germany

This contribution reflects exclusively the personal opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of their employers.


[1] United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, (2014): Big data and modernization of statistical systems.
[2] Kanevsky, J., Jason Corban, Richard Gaster, Ari Kanevsky, Samuel Lin, and Mirko Gilardino. Big Data and Machine Learning in Plastic Surgery: A New Frontier in Surgical Innovation. Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery: May 2016 - Volume 137 - Issue 5 - p 890e–897e
[3] Murdoch, Travis B. and Allan S. Detsky, (2013): The Inevitable Application of Big Data to Health Care. JAMA. 2013;309 (13):1351-1352. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.393.
[4] Health Capital (2013). Application of “Big Data” in Today’s Healthcare Environment. Volume 6, Issue 8, Page 1 http://www.healthcapital.com/hcc/newsletter/8_13/DATA.pdf Last retrieved: 6 June 2016
[5] http://www.vcloudnews.com/every-day-big-data-statistics-2-5-quintillion-bytes-of-data-created-daily/
[6] Charles, Dustin, Meghan Gabriel, Talisha Searcy (2015) Adoption of Electronic Health Record Systems among U.S. NonFederal Acute Care Hospitals: 2008-2014. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. https://www.healthit.gov/sites/default/files/data-brief/2014HospitalAdoptionDataBrief.pdf Retrieved: June 6, 2016. 
[7] Broer, P.N., and Sabrina Juran (2014): Informing a Medical Data Revolution. Blog Post: Post2015.org. Available at: https://post2015.org/2014/10/30/informing-a-medical-data-revolution/ Last retrieved: 24 May 2016
[8] Marr, Bernard (2016): Big Data: A Game Changer in Healthcare. Forbes Magazine 24 May 2016. 
[9] Sacristán, José A and Tatiana Dilla Pharm (2015): No big data without small data: learning health care systems begin and end with the individual patient. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 21 (2015) 1014–1017: 1016
[10] Paparrizos John, Ruen E. White and Eric Horvitz (2016): Screening for Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Using Signals from Web Search Logs: Feasibility Study and Results. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Published online ahead of print. 
Health Care. JAMA. 2013;309 (13):1351-1352. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.393.
[11] R2D3 Software Package (2016): A Visual Introduction to Machine Learning. Available at: http://www.r2d3.us/visual-intro-to-machine-learning-part-1/
[12] Cleophas, Ton J., and Aeilko H. Zwinderman (2015). Machine Learning in Medicine – a Complete Overview. Springer Heidelberg Germany.
[13] Cleophas, Ton J., and Aeilko H. Zwinderman (2012). Artificial Intelligence, Multilayer Perceptron Modeling. In: Machine Learning in Medicine. Springer Heidelberg Germany: pp 145–156,
[14] Marr, Bernard (2016): How Big Data is Changing Healthcare. Forbes Magazine 21 April 2015. 
[15] General Assembly resolution 69/166 of 18 December 2014 addressed the right to privacy in the digital age. In its resolution 28/16, the Human Rights Council appointed a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in July 2015. Both actions reaffirmed the escalating need to address data and privacy rights globally.
[16] Data Pop Alliance (2016): Opportunities and Requirements for Leveraging Big Data for Official Statistics and the Sustainable Development Goals in Latin America.

United Nations Foundation and GSMA Team Up to Support Data for Good

Partnership will leverage and build upon existing efforts around use of data to achieve Sustainable Development Goals

Barcelona – The United Nations Foundation and the GSMA announced a partnership today at Mobile World Congress that leverages their shared objective to unlock the power of data for good, specifically to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Better use of the data generated from digital technology has the potential to accelerate work toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals to save more lives, empower more women and create a more inclusive digital society,” said Kathy Calvin, President and CEO, UN Foundation. “The Foundation is heavily invested in the promise of data for progress, and working with the right partners who can make that vision a reality. The GSMA is an ideal partner as we work to support implementation of the SDGs.”

The UN Foundation hosts several alliances that collaborate across sectors and geographies to use big data to achieve the SDGs and the partnership with the GSMA will leverage these alliances and their work.

Represented by the GSMA, the mobile industry was the first sector to commit as a whole to the SDGs. In September 2016, the GSMA published the “Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals”, which assesses the industry’s current impact in achieving the SDGs, and is now focused on accelerating and amplifying that impact. To drive further engagement around the SDGs, the GSMA partnered with Project Everyone to develop the “SDGs in Action” app that educates consumers and encourages them to take actions that support the SDGs.

“Our members have actively embraced and supported the Sustainable Development Goals, and together, we have already directly delivered impact for more than 30 million people, in areas such as financial inclusion, energy, agriculture and gender equality,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA. “Working in partnership with the UN Foundation, its alliances and other stakeholders focused on strengthening the use of data for development, we hope to expand our efforts to help the global community achieve the SDGs.”

The new partnership will explore collaboration in the following areas:

  • Convening – The GSMA and the UN Foundation will convene representatives from the mobile industry, development community and policymakers to work to address the barriers to unlocking big data for social good.

  • Research and Advocacy – The organizations will share research and insights on an ongoing basis and research best practices for using data to track SDGs progress that can inform joint work and advocacy efforts.

  • In-Country Collaboration – The partners will explore opportunities for joint engagement on in-country projects where GSMA members and the UN Foundation’s alliances see alignment around data for good efforts.

The GSMA today launched the “Big Data for Social Good” initiative, which will leverage mobile operators’ big data capabilities to address humanitarian crises, including epidemics and natural disasters. The programme is being launched with 16 of the world’s leading mobile operators, which collectively account for over 2 billion connections across more than 100 countries. The UN Foundation is a supporting partner, providing coordination and integration with the broader ecosystem. The announcement is available here.


The United Nations Foundation builds public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the United Nations through advocacy and public outreach. Through innovative campaigns and initiatives, the Foundation connects people, ideas, and resources to help the UN solve global problems. The Foundation was created in 1998 as a U.S. public charity by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner and now is supported by philanthropic, corporate, government, and individual donors. Learn more at: www.unfoundation.org

The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with almost 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress, Mobile World Congress Shanghai, Mobile World Congress Americas and the Mobile 360 Series of conferences. www.gsma.com

Media Contacts:

  • For the GSMA: Sophie Waterfield, +44 77 7945 9923, Sophie.Waterfield@webershandwick.com
  • GSMA Press Office: pressoffice@gsma.com
  • For the UN Foundation: Paul Quirk, +1 202 864 5148, pquirk@unfoundation.org

Data Champion Hans Rosling passes away

Everyone at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data is very saddened by the death of Hans Rosling. He was an inspiration to many of us in his relentless quest to make data tell stories, to challenge myths, and to give confidence to those working for a better world. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, and together we will continue his mission and work towards a world of better, more useful and accessible data. Viva factfullness!

Hans Rosling, statistician and development champion, dies aged 68 -- The Guardian

Beta Launch of the Data4SDGs API Highways

Better data is not just about more data – it is about making much more use of the data that already exists. And developers are key to this – creating the platforms and the tools that allow people to analyze, combine, and sort through data to find the answers they need.

Here at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data we want to make it easier for developers to find and use the quite phenomenal diversity and range of data sets that can be found online, to create apps and visualizations, and to power the platforms that will allow that data to be used to make life better throughout the world. 

We work with over 200 member organizations around the globe and across all sectors and types of institutions. Many of these organizations have access to valuable data sets that could support the SDGs. However, it is often difficult to find the right data sets across a plethora of portals and platforms and, in many cases, it is difficult to ingest these data through a robust API that enables further use and application of these data.

Within this context, the Global Partnership is launching a beta version of API Highways to provide easy access to SDG-relevant data and further empower the developer community to use these data for action and decision making through the development of rich visualizations and applications.


Discussions among our partners made it clear to us that the Global Partnership, with its reach and overall mission, has a role for being a neutral data broker across sectors and supporting interoperability.  As a result, the API highways project was born, bringing data together through a standard API (Open API Initiative) and letting others build on top of the infrastructure.

The Global Partnership partnered with Vizzuality to support the development of the site. The back end is open source, drawing on projects supported by a number of our partners, including the World Resources Institute.  This is the typical Global-Partnership approach: using and combining assets and expertise within its members in order to build out a public good to support the global community. 

Now that the site is live, we want your feedback! We want to encourage the developer community, as well as interested companies and organizations, to start playing with the API Highways. At the site you will find a link to a feedback survey

We will also be working on extending the data holdings and have some additional data clusters in the works – so stay tuned!  If you are interested in connecting your data resources to this infrastructure, please let us know at info@data4sdgs.org.

Data Visualization for Action and Decision Making

By Aditya Agrawal, Director, Data Ecosystem Development at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

Some of the most pressing challenges, trends, and innovations for applying data and statistics to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were discussed at the first UN World Data Forum held in Cape Town, South Africa from January 15-18, 2017. The forum brought together a compelling cross-section of national statistics, government, private sector, and civil society stakeholders - an approach uncommon to traditional UN gatherings. By bringing data communities together to include topics such as big data, geospatial and earth observation data, citizen-generated-data, and open data as part of the broader national statistics dialogue, the range of participants and corresponding talks was astounding.

It was within this unique context that we wanted to put together a session on data visualizations to support the 2030 Agenda with a focus on moving the discussion from data for reporting and monitoring to data for action and decision making. An expert panel was assembled consisting of non-profit, private sector, and development bank representatives: Fanie le Roux (Moyo Business Advisory, Tableau Partner), Rafik Mohjoubi (African Development Bank), Craig Mills (Vizzuality), Alexandra Silfverstolpe (Data Act Lab), Charles Brigham and Richard Kaufholz (Esri), and Rebecca Firth (Humanitarian Open Streetmap).  

We were not quite sure what the turnout for this session would be given the topic at a conference focused more on national statistics. However, we were quite pleased with the results – standing room only! The outcome likely speaks to the broader interest and appetite for really understanding how insights from data are surfaced and communicated to better inform action, decision making, and policy in a world where platforms and dashboards are increasingly available.

Each of the panelists provided a unique perspective on how data visualizations and dashboards can be used to drive impact, decisions, and action with some key messages and common threads:
•    Using and developing a data ecosystem approach further enables data sharing across sectors and users, while also providing the capability to make visualizations more accessible.
•    Platforms can further enable the coordination of efforts and ease friction on data access and sharing.
•    The use of technology and platforms needs to be country owned and led and not one size fits all.
•    Access to data by itself is not enough – there is a need to consistently evaluate how it is being applied and used.
•    Technology is evolving rapidly, therefore we need to keep up and be adaptive.
•    The use of crowd/citizen-generated can provide huge advantages for filling data gaps in fairly short order.

Figure 1 Conflicts in relation to protected areas – http://apihighways.data4sdgs.org/

Figure 1 Conflicts in relation to protected areas – http://apihighways.data4sdgs.org/

There is much work to be done and countries are at their initial stages of defining a path forward for achieving the SDGs. Within the context of the data revolution where data is becoming more accessible, timely, and cost-effective, bringing these data together (official and non-official) offers a great opportunity to meet the demands of the broader SDG framework. Data visualization offers one way to drive impact through the effective communication of stories inherent in the data to a broad range of stakeholders such that the information can be more easily consumed and understood.

Based on the outcomes of this session, and the collective expertise of the group, a data visualization module will be developed for the Data4SDGS Toolbox. Stay tuned as further information becomes available.

Recap of the UN World Data Forum: using OpenStreetMap for the Sustainable Development Goals

By Rebecca Firth, Community Partnerships Manager for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Last week I attended the first UN World Data Forum to share the work the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) is doing with its partners towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The conference highlighted the challenges that lie ahead in measuring progress against the SDGs, and the need to harness open and crowd/citizen-generated data sources to support officials and National Statistical Offices. Our goal was to share how OpenStreetMap, the community, and the ecosystem of open mapping tools can support achieving the SDGs.

OpenStreetMap and the SDGs

As a starting point for groups interested in OpenStreetMap (OSM) for development, we’ve created an Open Mapping for the SDGs Toolkit in partnership with Mapbox, the World Bank GFDRR, and Peace Corps, as part of our commitment to the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. The guide introduces the ways in which policy makers and organisations working in-country can use open mapping tools. 

One key theme of the conference was the need to disaggregate data so humanitarian and government organisations can access and digest data in order to analyse and get the right insights they need to take action. This needs to have a geospatial component, so the application of OpenStreetMap as a tool is clear.

For example, OpenStreetMap is being applied to address many health-related SDGs. Malaria is a disease that affects millions of people around the world in some of the most unmapped places. When trying to respond to malaria, currently organisations do not have detailed data on the number of vulnerable people in an area. Malaria spreads through mosquito bites, and if you can prevent bites, you can reduce the spread of infection. This means that you need to know where those vulnerable to malaria live, so you can spray their homes with insecticide or distribute bednets. This way you can help more people more quickly. Many organizations and HOT partners are leveraging OSM to have open and shared building and road data to plan spray and bednet distribution campaigns.

During an indoor residual spraying (IRS) campaign, workers visit households and spray insecticide to prevent mosquitos.

During an indoor residual spraying (IRS) campaign, workers visit households and spray insecticide to prevent mosquitos.

Another challenge raised multiple times was how to build partnerships to collaborate across different sectors effectively, and how to harness the power of unofficial data producers to help create the huge mass of data needed to measure against the goals. I shared the ways in which HOT and OSM communities do this around the world, for example mapping flood risk and water and sanitation access in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which contributes to SDG 6. This project, Dar Ramani Huria, brings together 13 partners, including academic, government, NGO, and aid organisations. Many other organisations that are currently using OpenStreetMap data for development projects also shared their work. For example, mapping projects coordinated by PEPFAR have been addressing HIV/AIDS program coverage, supply chain logistics, and health facility analyses. 

People were impressed by the quality of data that is available from the OSM mapping community, and there was great interest in the size and dedication of the OSM community, which gains up to 40,000 users each month. We were lucky to have two spots at the conference to demonstrate more of the great work HOT is doing. I presented on how OSM data can be used to create Data Visualisations to easily communicate on issues to inform decision making and policy. I also joined an intriguing ‘Missing Millions’ panel discussion, which highlighted the significant number of vulnerable groups who are under-represented in data collection efforts and so are invisible to governments and development partners working towards the SDGs, and links closely to the Missing Maps project.


This week, HOT is attending SatSummit to share new work on OpenAerialMap, facilitate an Imagery Coordination Working Group meeting, and talk more about how we’re mapping for malaria. Follow @hotosm for updates from the Summit, and check out the agenda here.

If you are interested in setting up an open mapping project, or have any questions after reading this article or the Open Mapping for the SDGs guide, we would love to have a conversation with you! Please contact info@hotosm.org.

HOT’s work would not be possible without the support of our dedicated mapping community! Thank you to those who give their time to improve outcomes for people around the world by putting them on the map. To get involved with our malaria mapping efforts, you can head to the Tasking Manager and check out these projects.