How citizen science can help realize the full potential of data

Blog by Haishan Fu, Craig Hammer, and Edward Anderson: “Citizen science, a critical pillar of Open Science, advocates for greater citizen involvement in knowledge generation, research goals, and outcomes. By engaging citizens directly in data collection, drone imaging, and crowdsourcing into project design, we provide policymakers and citizens with valuable data and information they need to make informed and effective decisions.   

Furthermore, abiding by the principles of citizen science, we can help communities establish a new social contract around data stewardship, grounded in the principles of value, trust, and equity, as proposed by the World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives. The report puts forward a vision of data governance that is multistakeholder and collaborative. It explicitly builds data production, protection, exchange, and use into planning and decision-making, and integrates participants from civil society, private sectors, and importantly, the public into the data life cycle and into the governance structures of the system. 

As the experience of the Resilience Academy shows, increasing our commitment to citizen science by inviting public engagement before, during, and after development projects can help engage a wider swath of the public with the Bank’s Open Data Initiative.   

The Tanzania-based project empowers students to adapt low-cost, low-complexity tools and open methods to collect and manage data from their changing environments. Resilience Academy students also participate in solving real-world challenges in their community, such as mapping flood- and rockfall-prone zones, surveying tourism and infrastructure needs, and other areas currently lacking critical data. 

This “learning by doing” approach equips young people with the long-term tools, knowledge, and skills they need to address the world’s most pressing urban challenges and ensure resilient urban development. This project is demonstrating the many co-benefits that come from hands-on learning, job creation, and data management-related skills. 

Incorporating citizen science into open data agendas and project design, however, will necessitate some changes to how the World Bank and other multilateral development agencies approach development projects….(More)”.

Collective Intelligence in Action – Using Machine Data and Insights to Improve UNDP Sensemaking

UNDP Report: “At its heart, sensemaking is a strategic process designed to extract insights from current projects to generate actionable intelligence for UNDP Country Offices (CO) and other stakeholders. Also, the approach has the potential to increase coherency amongst portfolios of projects, surface common patterns, identify connections, gaps and future perspectives, and determine strategic actions to accelerate the impact of their work.

 By adopting a data-driven approach and looking into structured and semi-structured data from as well as unstructured data from Open UNDP, project documents and annual progress reports of selected projects, this endeavor aims to extract useful insights for the CO colleagues to better understand where their portfolio is working and identify entry points for breaking silos between teams and spurring collaboration. It is designed to help improve Sensemaking, support better strategy and improve management decisions…(More)”.

Inclusive Imaginaries: Catalysing Forward-looking Policy Making through Civic Imagination

UNDP Report: “Today’s complex challenges- including climate change, global health, and international security, among others – are pushing development actors to re-think and re-imagine traditional ways of working and decision-making. Transforming traditional approaches to navigating complexity would support what development thinker Sam Pitroda’s calls a ‘third vision’ demands a mindset rooted in creativity, innovation, and courage in order to one transcend national interests and takes into account global issues.

Inclusive Imaginaries is an approach that utilises collective reflection and imagination to engage with citizens, towards building more just, equitable and inclusive futures. It seeks to infuse imagination as a key process to support gathering of community perspectives rooted in lived experience and local culture, towards developing more contextual visions for policy and programme development…(More)”.

Can open-source technologies support open societies?

Report by Victoria Welborn, and George Ingram: “In the 2020 “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres highlighted digital public goods (DPGs) as a key lever in maximizing the full potential of digital technology to accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while also helping overcome some of its persistent challenges. 

The Roadmap rightly pointed to the fact that, as with any new technology, there are risks around digital technologies that might be counterproductive to fostering prosperous, inclusive, and resilient societies. In fact, without intentional action by the global community, digital technologies may more naturally exacerbate exclusion and inequality by undermining trust in critical institutions, allowing consolidation of control and economic value by the powerful, and eroding social norms through breaches of privacy and disinformation campaigns. 

Just as the pandemic has served to highlight the opportunity for digital technologies to reimagine and expand the reach of government service delivery, so too has it surfaced specific risks that are hallmarks of closed societies and authoritarian states—creating new pathways to government surveillance, reinforcing existing socioeconomic inequalities, and enabling the rapid proliferation of disinformation. Why then—in the face of these real risks—focus on the role of digital public goods in development?

As the Roadmap noted, DPGs are “open source software, open data, open AI models, open standards and open content that adhere to privacy and other applicable laws and best practices, do no harm, and help attain the SDGs.”[1] There are a number of factors why such products have unique potential to accelerate development efforts, including widely recognized benefits related to more efficient and cost effective implementation of technology-enabled development programming. 

Historically, the use of digital solutions for development in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) has been supported by donor investments in sector-specific technology systems, reinforcing existing silos and leaving countries with costly, proprietary software solutions with duplicative functionality and little interoperability across government agencies, much less underpinning private sector innovation. These silos are further codified through the development of sector-specific maturity models and metrics. An effective DPG ecosystem has the potential to enable the reuse and improvement of existing tools, thereby lowering overall cost of deploying technology solutions and increasing efficient implementation.

Beyond this proven reusability of DPGs and the associated cost and deployment efficiencies, do DPGs have even more transformational potential? Increasingly, there is interest in DPGs as drivers of inclusion and products through which to standardize and safeguard rights; these opportunities are less understood and remain unproven. To begin to fill that gap, this paper first examines the unique value proposition of DPGs in supporting open societies by advancing more equitable systems and by codifying rights. The paper then considers the persistent challenges to more fully realizing this opportunity and offers some recommendations for how to address these challenges…(More)”.

Reimagining Data and Power: A roadmap for putting values at the heart of data

Paper by The Data Values Project: “This paper sets out the key themes that emerged from the consultation and describes a collective vision for a fair data future with agency, accountability, and action as its core features. Agency in data refers to having power to shape personal and/or community data and deciding whether, when, and with whom to share it. Accountability in data means that people have access to mechanisms to shape data governance decisions and to hold the powerful accountable. Data in action refers to the imperative of data producers and decision makers to use and share data to improve lives.

Building on these themes, the Data Values Project will advocate for actions that shift power to the people most affected by data production and use. This paper captures examples and stories that show these actions are already being taken by pro-active governments, companies, and civil society organizations around the world. These examples show what’s possible and already happening, while pointing to the distance that remains to achieve a fair data future for all.

This paper is only the first step to changing power imbalances in data design, collection, use, and governance. A global campaign to advocate for the values laid out in this white paper will launch in September at the United Nations General Assembly. Alongside this global campaign, champions and changemakers will lead localized advocacy efforts by tailoring messages and recommendations for actions at the local, sectoral, and regional levels.

The Data Values Project envisions a world where people can be equal players in the production and use of data that impacts them. This vision is for a fair data future in which the power of data is harnessed and its benefits are shared equitably to improve lives and ensure no one is left behind…(More)”.

AI Can Predict Potential Nutrient Deficiencies from Space

Article by Rachel Berkowitz: “Micronutrient deficiencies afflict more than two billion people worldwide, including 340 million children. This lack of vitamins and minerals can have serious health consequences. But diagnosing deficiencies early enough for effective treatment requires expensive, time-consuming blood draws and laboratory tests.

New research provides a more efficient approach. Computer scientist Elizabeth Bondi and her colleagues at Harvard University used publicly available satellite data and artificial intelligence to reliably pinpoint geographical areas where populations are at high risk of micronutrient deficiencies. This analysis could potentially pave the way for early public health interventions.

Existing AI systems can use satellite data to predict localized food security issues, but they typically rely on directly observable features. For example, agricultural productivity can be estimated from views of vegetation. Micronutrient availability is harder to calculate. After seeing research showing that areas near forests tend to have better dietary diversity, Bondi and her colleagues were inspired to identify lesser-known markers for potential malnourishment. Their work shows that combining data such as vegetation cover, weather and water presence can suggest where populations will lack iron, vitamin B12 or vitamin A.

The team examined raw satellite measurements and consulted with local public health officials, then used AI to sift through the data and pinpoint key features. For instance, a food market, inferred based on roads and buildings visible, was vital for predicting a community’s risk level. The researchers then linked these features to specific nutrients lacking in four regions’ populations across Madagascar. They used real-world biomarker data (blood samples tested in labs) to train and test their AI program….(More)”.

The Political Impact of the Sustainable Development Goals: Transforming Governance Through Global Goals?

Book edited by Frank Biermann, Thomas Hickmann, and Carole-Anne Sénit: “Written by an international team of over sixty experts and drawing on over three thousand scientific studies, this is the first comprehensive global assessment of the political impact of the Sustainable Development Goals, which were launched by the United Nations in 2015. It explores in detail the political steering effects of the Sustainable Development Goals on the UN system and the policies of countries in the Global North and Global South; on institutional integration and policy coherence, and on the ecological integrity and inclusiveness of sustainability policies worldwide. This book is a key resource for scholars, policymakers and activists concerned with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and those working in political science, international relations and environmental studies….(More)”.

The Sky’s Not The Limit: How Lower-Income Cities Can Leverage Drones

Report by UNDP: “Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are playing an important role in last-mile service delivery around the world. However, COVID-19 has highlighted a potentially broader role that UAVs could play – in cities. Higher-income cities are exploring the technology, but there is little documentation of use cases or potential initiatives in a development context. This report provides practical and applied guidance to lower-income cities looking to explore how drones can support key urban objectives…(More)”.

How can digital public technologies accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals?

Report by George Ingram, John W. McArthur, and Priya Vora: “…There is no singular relationship between access to digital technologies and SDG outcomes. Country- and issue-specific assessments are essential. Sound approaches will frequently depend on the underlying physical infrastructure and economic systems. Rwanda, for instance, has made tremendous progress on SDG health indicators despite high rates of income poverty and internet poverty. This contrasts with Burkina Faso, which has lower income poverty and internet poverty but higher child mortality.

We draw from an OECD typology to identify three layers of a digital ecosystem: Physical infrastructure, platform infrastructure, and apps-level products. Physical and platform layers of digital infrastructure provide the rules, standards, and security guarantees so that local market innovators and governments can develop new ideas more rapidly to meet ever-changing circumstances. We emphasize five forms of DPT platform infrastructure that can play important roles in supporting SDG acceleration:

  • Personal identification and registration infrastructure allows citizens and organizations to have equal access to basic rights and services;
  • Payments infrastructure enables efficient resource transfer with low transaction costs;
  • Knowledge infrastructure links educational resources and data sets in an open or permissioned way;
  • Data exchange infrastructure enables interoperability of independent databases; and
  • Mapping infrastructure intersects with data exchange platforms to empower geospatially enabled diagnostics and service delivery opportunities.

Each of these platform types can contribute directly or indirectly to a range of SDG outcomes. For example, a person’s ability to register their identity with public sector entities is fundamental to everything from a birth certificate (SDG target 16.9) to a land title (SDG 1.4), bank account (SDG 8.10), driver’s license, or government-sponsored social protection (SDG 1.3). It can also ensure access to publicly available basic services, such as access to public schools (SDG 4.1) and health clinics (SDG 3.8).

At least three levers can help “level the playing field” such that a wide array of service providers can use the physical and platform layers of digital infrastructure equally: (1) public ownership and governance; (2) public regulation; and (3) open code, standards, and protocols. In practice, DPTs are typically built and deployed through a mix of levers, enabling different public and private actors to extract benefits through unique pathways….(More)”.