The realtime challenge: some cutting edge data-gathering from the UN (yep, you heard that right)

I’m still reeling from the overwhelming response to yesterday’s post (voting still open, by the way) and will respond in due course, but in the meantime, let’s get back to all that development stuff, shall we? One of the most striking aspects of exploring the human impact of the global financial crisis and food price spike was the absence of realtime data: a shock happens, and we hear about certain variables – GDP, prices, even unemployment in some countries – in real time. But other aspects – especially the impact on the way people live their lives – take months or often years to emerge. We had a go at doing some realtime monitoring of, for example, the gender impact of the financial crisis, and (with IDS) the community impact of the price spike. What we haven’t done yet is harness the spread of mobiles and the internet in that task.

Step forward the UN. Here’s a fascinating ten minute presentation of five ground-breaking data crunching experiments from the UN’s GlobalGlobal Pulse logo Pulse project, trying new ways to  follow realtime events. The first uses mobile phones to survey wellbeing around the world as a first step to inform the design of more exhaustive surveys. Next up is using prices of online food (e.g. on developing country supermarket websites) as a low-cost, realtime way to follow food prices. Third is tracking shifts in global opinion by tracking news coverage via key words and phrases and watching how they evolve over time. Fourth shows how monitoring online conversations (eg blogs, twitter) can help follow unemployment trends – in the US the language of anger (and cancelling vacations)  precedes job losses, whereas in Ireland it is talk of anxiety. Finally, the enthusiastic tweeters of Indonesia talk about food a lot, and the frequency pretty much matches food prices. Much more to come, with a focus on Indonesia and Uganda.

Please send links to your own favourite examples of this kind of exercise. [h/t Richard King]

Subscribe to our Newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please see our Privacy Policy.

We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.

Comments

4 Responses to “The realtime challenge: some cutting edge data-gathering from the UN (yep, you heard that right)”
  1. Ross Bailey

    Fascinating post Duncan. What’s your view on the issue of selection bias here i.e. capturing views of those with a mobile phone rather than those who are suffering highest levels of food insecurity?

    • Duncan

      Fair point, Ross, and I think the video makes it clear that this is a genuine issue, and means we should see these methods as additional to more rigorous approaches, eg helping in questionnaire design etc

  2. Oumoul Ba Tall

    ….the pity is that from many countries in Africa (I am based in Nouakchott, Mauritania), it is just impossible to have a fair enough internet connection to watch teh video…so more than a sampling bias, it is a technological GAP. I know or heard that modern information technology is making a breaktrough in Africa, but we are highly lagging behind. Linked to the subject, any suitable timely data collection should take this in consideration, including our own capacity to just understand the issues at stake if we are not timely connected

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.