Data revolution: How the UN is visualizing the future

Kate Krukiel at Microsoft Government: “…world leaders met in New York for the 69th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Progress toward achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the December 2015 target date—just 454 days away—was top of mind. So was the post-2015 agenda, which will pick up where the MDGs leave off. Ahead of the meetings, the UN Millennium Campaign asked Microsoft to build real-time visualizations of the progress on each goal—based on data spanning 21 targets, 60 indicators, and about 190 member countries. With the data visualizations we created (see them at, UN and global leaders can decide where to focus in the next 15 months and, more importantly, where change needs to happen post-2015. Their experience offers three lessons for governments:

1. Data has a shelf life.

Since the MDGs were launched in 2000, the UN has relied on annual reports to assess its progress. But in August, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a “data revolution for sustainable development”, which in effect makes real-time data visualization a requirement, not just for tracking the MDGs, but for everything from Ebola to climate change….

2.Governments need visualization tools.

Just as the UN is using data visualization to track its progress and plan for the future, you can use the technology to better understand the massive amounts of data you collect—on everything from water supply and food prices to child mortality and traffic jams. Data visualization technology makes it possible to pull insights from historical data, develop forecasts, and spot gaps in your data far easier than you can with raw data. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. To get a better idea of what’s possible, check out the MDG visualizations Microsoft created for the UN using our Power BI tool.

3.The private sector can help.

The UN called on the private sector to assist in determining the exact MDG progress and inspire ongoing global efforts. …

Follow the UN’s lead and join the #datarevolution now, if you haven’t already. It’s an opportunity to work across silos and political boundaries to address the world’s most pressing problems. It takes citizens’ points of view into account through What People Want. And it extends to the private sector, where expertise in using technology to create a sustainable future already exists. I encourage all government leaders to engage. To follow where the UN takes its revolution, watch for updates on the Data Revolution Group website or follow them on Twitter @data_rev….”