UN Global Pulse, HunchWorks leverage big data analytics to help populations in extreme poverty

Big data is a study in contrasts. It gathers astronomically large data sets that can help not just at the local, regional and national levels, but also specific individuals. It requires some of the most advanced IT hardware and software available today, but can gather data from and help some of the world’s most underprivileged populations.

The United Nations’ Global Pulse program specifically leverages big data and advanced analytics to improve international aid delivery. Global Pulse aims to improve real-time insight and actionable efforts to:

  • Gauge the well-being of poor populations and receive their feedback on aid outreach;
  • Ensure development gains are more resilient against increasingly volatile political, economic and environmental circumstances; and
  • Target development policies and resources more effectively despite global financial austerity.

Global Pulse uses big data analysis to discover, monitor and address crises in real time, so aid groups can best protect endangered populations from long-term, irreversible harm. The public-private initiative especially wants to become more proactive by using predictive analysis opportunities that big data analysis makes possible. The initiative has the attention of the U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who emphasizes the importance of bringing U.N. operations into the digital age.

Global Pulse aims to improve public safety and national security by helping address food and economic security issues more quickly and effectively. The program completed five projects in 2011, all of which revealed new insights on current problem situations and innovative ways to remedy them. For example:

  • A research project tracking the food crises through online news media found that coverage of the 2008 global economic crisis gave rise to concerns about food price volatility, while the 2011 global economic crisis focused on social unrest. 
  • A white paper examining unemployment through the lens of social media found that blog and forum posts accurately predicted national job loss figures months in advance and revealed how the unemployed cope with their situation.

The technology used for big-data-assisted international development is always changing in innovative ways. A great example is HunchWorks, a rapid crisis impact detection platform that Global Pulse is currently developing. HunchWorks enables researchers and field personnel to share, vet and act upon fragmentary evidence that may be early warnings of a developing crisis. A real-time peer-review network, HunchWorks speeds the process of moving from “hunch” to proof to action. The system combines big data, advanced analytics and social media to increase the capabilities of two of the most powerful tools in the world – the human mind and human intuition.

HunchWorks’ automated big data analysis tools help users analyze and visualize data quickly. Social media enables quick sharing of diverse data types with colleagues most able to determine whether an actionable situation exists. Eventually, aid workers in the field will have access to HunchWorks through platforms that run on mobile phones and low or intermittent Internet connectivity – further improving real-time field data collection and response.

To learn more, you can read “Big Data for Development: Opportunities and Challenges,” a Global Pulse white paper that provides fascinating details and examples about the intersection of international development, big data and analytics as whole. Global Pulse also worked with PSFK, a research and content design firm, to create the Future of Real-Time Report, which delves into the benefits of real-time information capture for helping vulnerable populations. Finally, you can learn more about HunchWorks through a handy series of infographics at the website of AdaptivePath, Global Pulse’s partner on the project.

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About the Author

Mahesh Punyamurthula | Worldwide Industry Technology Strategist

Mahesh Punyamurthula has 17+ years of evangelism, architecture, and software development experience with Microsoft platforms and technologies. He has also managed technical relationships with several global safety and defense partners. Read More