Data Readiness: Lessons from an Emergency


The DELVE Initiative:  “Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has required rapid decision-making in changing circumstances. Those decisions and their effects on the health and wealth of the nation can be better informed with data. Today, technologies that can acquire data are pervasive. Data is continually produced by devices like mobile phones, payment points and road traffic sensors. This creates opportunities for nowcasting of important metrics such as GDP, population movements and disease prevalence, which can be used to design policy interventions that are targeted to the needs of specific sectors or localities. The data collected as a by-product of daily activities is different to epidemiological or other population research data that might be used to drive the decisions of state. These new forms of data are happenstance, in that they are not originally collected with a particular research or policy question in mind but are created through the normal course of events in our digital lives, and our interactions with digital systems and services.

This happenstance data pertains to individual citizens and their daily activities. To be useful it needs to be anonymized, aggregated and statistically calibrated to provide meaningful metrics for robust decision making while managing concerns about individual privacy or business value. This process necessitates particular technical and domain expertise that is often found in academia, but it must be conducted in partnership with the industries, and public sector organisations, that collect or generate the data and government authorities that take action based on those insights. Such collaborations require governance mechanisms that can respond rapidly to emerging areas of need, a common language between partners about how data is used and how it is being protected, and careful stewardship to ensure appropriate balancing of data subjects’ rights and the benefit of using this data. This is the landscape of data readiness; the availability and quality of the UK nation’s data dictates our ability to respond in an agile manner to evolving events….(More)”.

Tackling Societal Challenges with Open Innovation


Introduction to Special Issue of California Management Review by Anita M. McGahan, Marcel L. A. M. Bogers, Henry Chesbrough, and Marcus Holgersson: “Open innovation includes external knowledge sources and paths to market as complements to internal innovation processes. Open innovation has to date been driven largely by business objectives, but the imperative of social challenges has turned attention to the broader set of goals to which open innovation is relevant. This introduction discusses how open innovation can be deployed to address societal challenges—as well as the trade-offs and tensions that arise as a result. Against this background we introduce the articles published in this Special Section, which were originally presented at the sixth Annual World Open Innovation Conference….(More)”.

The Next Generation Humanitarian Distributed Platform


Report by Mercy Corps, the Danish Red Cross and hiveonline: “… call for the development of a shared, sector-wide “blockchain for good” to allow the aid sector to better automate and track processes in real-time, and maintain secure records. This would help modernize and coordinate the sector to reach more people as increasing threats such as pandemics, climate change and natural disasters require aid to be disbursed faster, more widely and efficiently.

A cross-sector blockchain platform – a digital database that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network – could support applications ranging from cash and voucher distribution to identity services, natural capital and carbon tracking, and donor engagement.

The report authors call for the creation of a committee to develop cross-sector governance and coordinate the implementation of a shared “Humanitarian Distributed Platform.” The authors believe the technology can help organizations fulfill commitments made to transparency, collaboration and efficiency under the Humanitarian Grand Bargain.

The report is compiled from responses of 35 survey participants, representing stakeholders in the humanitarian sector, including NGO project implementers, consultants, blockchain developers, academics, and founders. A further 39 direct interviews took place over the course of the research between July and September 2020….(More)”.

Tackling misinformation during crisis


Paper by Elizabether Seger and Mark Briers: “The current COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying ‘infodemic’ clearly illustrate that access to reliable information is crucial to coordinating a timely crisis response in democratic societies. Inaccurate information and the muzzling of important information sources have degraded trust in health authorities and slowed public response to the crisis. Misinformation about ineffective cures, the origins and malicious spread of COVID-19, unverified treatment discoveries, and the efficacy of face coverings have increased the difficulty of coordinating a unified public response during the crisis. 

In a recent report, researchers at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) in collaboration with The Alan Turing Institute and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) workshopped an array of hypothetical crisis scenarios to investigate social and technological factors that interfere with well-informed decision-making and timely collective action in democratic societies.

Crisis scenarios

Crisis scenarios are useful tools for appraising threats and vulnerabilities to systems of information production, dissemination, and evaluation. Factors influencing how robust a society is to such threats and vulnerabilities are not always obvious when life is relatively tranquil but are often highlighted under the stress of a crisis. 

CSER and Dstl workshop organisers, together with workshop participants (a diverse group of professionals interested in topics related to [mis/dis]information, information technology, and crisis response), co-developed and explored six hypothetical crisis scenarios and complex challenges:

  • Global health crisis
  • Character assassination
  • State fake news campaign
  • Economic collapse
  • Xenophobic ethnic cleansing
  • Epistemic babble, where the ability for the general population to tell the difference between truth and fiction (presented as truth) is lost

We analysed each scenario to identify various interest groups and actors, to pinpoint vulnerabilities in systems of information production and exchange, and to visualise how the system might be interfered with. We also considered interventions that could help bolster the society against threats to informed decision-making.

The systems map below is an example from workshop scenario 1: Global health crisis. The map shows how adversarial actors (red) and groups working to mitigate the crisis (blue) interact, impact each other’s actions, and influence the general public and other interest groups (green) such as those affected by the health crisis. 

Systems maps help visualise vulnerabilities in both red and blue actor systems, which, in turn, helps identify areas where intervention (yellow) is possible to help mitigate the crisis….(More)

Leveraging Telecom Data to Aid Humanitarian Efforts


Data Collaborative Case Study by Michelle Winowatan, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Andrew Young, and Stefaan Verhulst: “Following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Flowminder, a data analytics nonprofit, and NCell, a mobile operator in Nepal, formed a data collaborative. Using call detail records (CDR, a type of mobile operator data) provided by NCell, Flowminder estimated the number of people displaced by the earthquake and their location. The result of the analysis was provided to various humanitarian agencies responding to the crisis in Nepal to make humanitarian aid delivery more efficient and targeted.

Data Collaboratives Model: Based on our typology of data collaborative practice areas, the initiative follows the trusted intermediary model of data collaboration, specifically a third-party analytics approach. Third-party analytics projects involve trusted intermediaries — such as Flowminder — who access private-sector data, conduct targeted analysis, and share insights with public or civil sector partners without sharing the underlying data. This approach enables public interest uses of private-sector data while retaining strict access control. It brings outside data expertise that would likely not be available otherwise using direct bilateral collaboration between data holders and users….(More)”.

Private Sector Data for Humanitarian Response: Closing the Gaps


Jos Berens at Bloomberg New Economy Forum: “…Despite these and other examples, data sharing between the private sector and humanitarian agencies is still limited. Out of 281 contributing organizations on HDX, only a handful come from the private sector. 

So why don’t we see more use of private sector data in humanitarian response? One obvious set of challenges concerns privacy, data protection and ethics. Companies and their customers are often wary of data being used in ways not related to the original purpose of data collection. Such concerns are understandable, especially given the potential legal and reputational consequences of personal data breaches and leaks.

Figuring out how to use this type of sensitive data in an already volatile setting seems problematic, and it is — negotiations between public and private partners in the middle of a crisis often get hung up on a lack of mutual understanding. Data sharing partnerships negotiated during emergencies often fail to mature beyond the design phase. This dynamic creates a loop of inaction due to a lack of urgency in between crises, followed by slow and halfway efforts when action is needed most.

To ensure that private sector data is accessible in an emergency, humanitarian organizations and private sector companies need to work together to build partnerships before a crisis. They can do this by taking the following actions: 

  • Invest in relationships and build trust. Both humanitarian organizations and private sector organizations should designate focal points who can quickly identify potentially useful data during a humanitarian emergency. A data stewards network which identifies and connects data responsibility leaders across organizations, as proposed by the NYU Govlab, is a great example of how such relations could look. Efforts to build trust with the general public regarding private sector data use for humanitarian response should also be strengthened, primarily through transparency about the means and purpose of such collaborations. This is particularly important in the context of COVID-19, as noted in the UN Comprehensive Response to COVID-19 and the World Economic Forum’s ‘Great Reset’ initiative…(More)”.

Data to the rescue: how humanitarian aid NGOs should collect information based on the GDPR


Paper by Theodora Gazi: “Data collection is valuable before, during and after interventions in order to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian projects. Although the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets forth rules for the processing of personal data, its implementation by humanitarian aid actors is crucial and presents challenges. Failure to comply triggers severe risks for both data subjects and the reputation of the actor. This article provides insights into the implementation of the guiding principles of the GDPR, the legal bases for data processing, data subjects’ rights and data sharing during the provision of humanitarian assistance…(More)”

This app is helping mothers in the Brazilian favelas survive the pandemic



Daniel Avelar at Open Democracy: “As Brazil faces one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, a smartphone app is helping residents of impoverished areas known as favelas survive the virus threat amid sudden mass unemployment.

So far, the Latin American country has recorded over 115.000 deaths caused by COVID-19. The shutdown of economic activity wiped out 7.8 million jobs, mostly affecting low-skilled informal workers who form the bulk of the population in the favelas. Emergency income distributed by the government is limited to 60% of the minimum wage, so families are struggling to make ends meet.

Many blame president Jair Bolsonaro for the tragedy. Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, has consistently rallied against science-based policies in the management of the pandemic and pushed for an end to stay-at-home orders. A precocious reopening of the economy is likely to increase infection rates and cause more deaths.

In an attempt to stop the looming humanitarian catastrophe, a coalition of activists in the favelas and corporate partners developed an app that is facilitating the distribution of food and emergency income to thousands of women spearheading families. The app has a facial recognition feature that helps volunteers identify and register recipients of aid and prevents fraud.

So far, the Favela Mothers project has distributed the equivalent to US$ 26 million in food parcels and cash allowances to more than 1.1 million families in 5,000 neighborhoods across the country….(More)”.

From Desert Battlefields To Coral Reefs, Private Satellites Revolutionize The View


NPR Story: “As the U.S. military and its allies attacked the last Islamic State holdouts last year, it wasn’t clear how many civilians were still in the besieged desert town of Baghouz, Syria.

So Human Rights Watch asked a private satellite company, Planet, for its regular daily photos and also made a special request for video.

“That live video actually was instrumental in convincing us that there were thousands of civilians trapped in this pocket,” said Josh Lyons of Human Rights Watch. “Therefore, the coalition forces absolutely had an obligation to stop and to avoid bombardment of that pocket at that time.”

Which they did until the civilians fled.

Lyons, who’s based in Geneva, has a job title you wouldn’t expect at a human rights group: director of geospatial analysis. He says satellite imagery is increasingly a crucial component of human rights investigations, bolstering traditional eyewitness accounts, especially in areas where it’s too dangerous to send researchers.

“Then we have this magical sort of fusion of data between open-source, eyewitness testimony and data from space. And that becomes essentially a new gold standard for investigations,” he said.

‘A string of pearls’

Satellite photos used to be restricted to the U.S. government and a handful of other nations. Now such imagery is available to everyone, creating a new world of possibilities for human rights groups, environmentalists and researchers who monitor nuclear programs.

They get those images from a handful of private, commercial satellite companies, like Planet and Maxar….(More)”.

Rethinking Readiness: A Brief Guide to Twenty-First-Century Megadisasters


Book by Jeff Schlegelmilch: “As human society continues to develop, we have increased the risk of large-scale disasters. From health care to infrastructure to national security, systems designed to keep us safe have also heightened the potential for catastrophe. The constant pressure of climate change, geopolitical conflict, and our tendency to ignore what is hard to grasp exacerbates potential dangers. How can we prepare for and prevent the twenty-first-century disasters on the horizon?

Rethinking Readiness offers an expert introduction to human-made threats and vulnerabilities, with a focus on opportunities to reimagine how we approach disaster preparedness. Jeff Schlegelmilch identifies and explores the most critical threats facing the world today, detailing the dangers of pandemics, climate change, infrastructure collapse, cyberattacks, and nuclear conflict. Drawing on the latest research from leading experts, he provides an accessible overview of the causes and potential effects of these looming megadisasters. The book highlights the potential for building resilient, adaptable, and sustainable systems so that we can be better prepared to respond to and recover from future crises. Thoroughly grounded in scientific and policy expertise, Rethinking Readiness is an essential guide to this century’s biggest challenges in disaster management…(More)”.