Big data presents the United Nations (UN) with historic new opportunities to better serve and protect people, according to a new report released yesterday (10 July).
The report, entitled ‘Big Data for Development: Opportunities and Challenges’, was launched at the UN’s New York headquarters. It was the product of Global Pulse, an initiative launched by the UN in 2009 to help the organisation benefits from digital data. The document examines how the UN, founded in 1945, can exploit data sources, including new social media feeds, to assess the well-being of the population.
Following on from our coverage yesterday of London think tank Policy Exchange’s announcement that big data could save the UK government £33bn per annum, the UN’s report echoes a similar sentiment of the opportunities presented by big data. The report explains how big data will allow authorities to better respond to changes in social and economic conditions such as income, unemployment, food prices as well as other indicators.
The age of big data which is now upon us creates chances for using a vast range of data sources, both new and old, to gain real-time and hitherto unparalleled levels of insights into the population.
The report points to examples such as increased activity on social media sites in Ireland and the United States as being an early indication of rising unemployment to illustrate how authorities, if they analyse the data that is available to them, can keep abreast of developments around them and act accordingly.
Robert C. Orr, the assistant secretary-general for policy and planning at the UN, said: “Global Pulse’s mission is to help us seize this historic opportunity to improve how we combat hunger, poverty and disease – getting there, however, requires first building awareness of the opportunity in both the big data community and the development community, forming strategic partnerships, developing innovative approaches, and demonstrating their potential to change outcomes.
“Today’s new whitepaper is a critical milestone in this journey. As you will hear, there is no longer any question of whether or when data science will be applicable to the work of the United Nations. It’s about how.”
The 47-page report, which can be read in full here, also suggests how UN member states should establish a network of ‘Pulse Labs’ to exploit the full potential of big data. Indonesia and Uganda are leading the way by setting up the first two labs in Jakarta and Kampala – with the one in Jakarta opening in September this year, funded by Australia.