Frontiers of inclusive innovation

UN-ESCAP: “Science, technology and innovation (STI) can increase the efficiency, effectiveness and impact of efforts to meet the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The successful adoption of existing innovations has enabled many economies to sustain economic growth. Innovation can expand access to education and health-care services. Technologies, such as those supporting renewable energy, are also providing options for more environmentally sustainable development paths.

Nevertheless, STI have exacerbated inequalities and created new types of social divides and environmental hazards, establishing new and harder to cross frontiers between those that benefit and those that are excluded. In the context of increasing inequalities and a major pandemic, Governments need to look more seriously at harnessing STI for the Sustainable Development Goals and to leave no one behind. This may require shifting the focus from chasing frontier technologies to expanding the frontiers of innovation. Many promising technologies have already arrived. Economic growth does not have to be the only bottom line of innovation activities. Innovative business models are offering pathways that benefit society and the environment as well as the bottom line.

To maximize STI for inclusive and sustainable development, Governments need to intentionally expand the frontiers of innovation. STI policies must seek not just to explore emerging technologies, but, most importantly, to ensure that more citizens, enterprises and countries can benefit from such technologies and innovations.CH1

This report on Frontiers of Inclusive Innovation: Formulating technology and innovation policies that leave no one behind highlights the opportunities and challenges that policymakers and development partners have to expand the frontiers of inclusive innovation. When inclusion is the next frontier of technology, STI policies are designed differently.

They are designed with broader objectives than just economic growth, with social development and sustainable economies in mind; and they are inclusive in terms of aspiring to enable everyone to benefit from – and participate in – innovative activities.

Governments can add an inclusive lens to STI policies by considering the following questions:

   1. Do the overall aims of innovation policy involve more than economic growth? 

   2. Whose needs are being met?

   3. Who participates in innovation?

   4. Who sets priorities, and how are the outcomes of innovation managed?…(More)”

Patching Development: Information Politics and Social Change in India

Book by Rajesh Veeraraghavan: “How can development programs deliver benefits to marginalized citizens in ways that expand their rights and freedoms? Political will and good policy design are critical but often insufficient due to resistance from entrenched local power systems. In Patching Development, Rajesh Veeraraghavan presents an ethnography of one of the largest development programs in the world, the Indian National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), and examines NREGA’s implementation in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. He finds that the local system of power is extremely difficult to transform, not because of inertia, but because of coercive counter strategy from actors at the last mile and their ability to exploit information asymmetries. Upper-level NREGA bureaucrats in Andhra Pradesh do not possess the capacity to change the power axis through direct confrontation with local elites, but instead have relied on a continuous series of responses that react to local implementation and information, a process of patching development. “Patching development” is a top-down, fine-grained, iterative socio-technical process that makes local information about implementation visible through technology and enlists participation from marginalized citizens through social audits. These processes are neither neat nor orderly and have led to a contentious sphere where the exercise of power over documents, institutions and technology is intricate, fluid and highly situated. A highly original account with global significance, this book casts new light on the challenges and benefits of using information and technology in novel ways to implement development programs….(More)”.

Data Science for Social Good: Philanthropy and Social Impact in a Complex World

Book edited by Ciro Cattuto and Massimo Lapucci: “This book is a collection of insights by thought leaders at first-mover organizations in the emerging field of “Data Science for Social Good”. It examines the application of knowledge from computer science, complex systems, and computational social science to challenges such as humanitarian response, public health, and sustainable development. The book provides an overview of scientific approaches to social impact – identifying a social need, targeting an intervention, measuring impact – and the complementary perspective of funders and philanthropies pushing forward this new sector.


Introduction; By Massimo Lapucci

The Value of Data and Data Collaboratives for Good: A Roadmap for Philanthropies to Facilitate Systems Change Through Data; By Stefaan G. Verhulst

UN Global Pulse: A UN Innovation Initiative with a Multiplier Effect; By Dr. Paula Hidalgo-Sanchis

Building the Field of Data for Good; By Claudia Juech

When Philanthropy Meets Data Science: A Framework for Governance to Achieve Data-Driven Decision-Making for Public Good; By Nuria Oliver

Data for Good: Unlocking Privately-Held Data to the Benefit of the Many; By Alberto Alemanno

Building a Funding Data Ecosystem: Grantmaking in the UK; By Rachel Rank

A Reflection on the Role of Data for Health: COVID-19 and Beyond; By Stefan E. Germann and Ursula Jasper….(More)”

Statistics and Data Science for Good

Introduction to Special Issue of Chance by Caitlin Augustin, Matt Brems, and Davina P. Durgana: “One lesson that our team has taken from the past 18 months is that no individual, no team, and no organization can be successful on their own. We’ve been grateful and humbled to witness incredible collaboration—taking on forms of resource sharing, knowledge exchange, and reimagined outcomes. Some advances, like breakthrough medicine, have been widely publicized. Other advances have received less fanfare. All of these advances are in the public interest and demonstrate how collaborations can be done “for good.”

In reading this issue, we hope that you realize the power of diverse multidisciplinary collaboration; you recognize the positive social impact that statisticians, data scientists, and technologists can have; and you learn that this isn’t limited to companies with billions of dollars or teams of dozens of people. You, our reader, can get involved in similar positive social change.

This special edition of CHANCE focuses on using data and statistics for the public good and on highlighting collaborations and innovations that have been sparked by partnerships between pro bono institutions and social impact partners. We recognize that the “pro bono” or “for good” field is vast, and we welcome all actors working in the public interest into the big tent.

Through the focus of this edition, we hope to demonstrate how new or novel collaborations might spark meaningful and lasting positive change in communities, sectors, and industries. Anchored by work led through Statistics Without Borders and DataKind, this edition features reporting on projects that touch on many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Pro bono volunteerism is one way of democratizing access to high-skill, high-expense services that are often unattainable for social impact organizations. Statistics Without Borders (founded in 2008), DataKind (founded in 2012), and numerous other volunteer organizations began with this model in mind: If there was an organizing or galvanizing body that could coordinate the myriad requests for statistical, data science, machine learning, or data engineering help, there would be a ready supply of talented individuals who would want to volunteer to see those projects through. Or, put another way, “If you build it, they will come.”

Doing pro bono work requires more than positive intent. Plenty of well-meaning organizations and individuals charitably donate their time, their energy, their expertise, only to have an unintended adverse impact. To do work for good, ethics is an important part of the projects. In this issue, you’ll notice the writers’ attention to independent review boards (IRBs), respecting client and data privacy, discussing ethical considerations of methods used, and so on.

While no single publication can fully capture the great work of pro bono organizations working in “data for good,” we hope readers will be inspired to contribute to open source projects, solve problems in a new way, or even volunteer themselves for a future cohort of projects. We’re thrilled that this special edition represents programs, partners, and volunteers from around the world. You will learn about work that is truly representative of the SDGs, such as international health organizations’ work in Uganda, political justice organizations in Kenya, and conservationists in Madagascar, to name a few.

Several articles describe projects that are contextualized with the SDGs. While achieving many goals is interconnected, such as the intertwining of economic attainment and reducing poverty, we hope that calling out key themes here will whet your appetite for exploration.

  • • Multiple articles focused on tackling aspects of SDG 3: Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for people at all ages.
  • • An article tackling SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth; full and productive employment; and decent work for all.
  • • Several articles touching on SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure; promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation; one is a reflection on building and sustaining free and open source software as a public good.
  • • A handful of articles highlighting the needs for capacity-building and systems-strengthening aligned to SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development; provide access to justice for all; and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.
  • • An article about migration along the southern borders of the United States addressing multiple issues related to poverty (SDG 1), opportunity (SDG 10), and peace and justice (SDG 16)….(More)”

UNCTAD calls on countries to make digital data flow for the benefit of all

Press Release: “The world needs a new global governance approach to enable digital data to flow across borders as freely as necessary and possible, says UNCTAD’s Digital Economy Report 2021 released on 29 September.

The UN trade and development body says the new approach should help maximize development gains, ensure those gains are equitably distributed and minimize risks and harms.

It should also enable worldwide data sharing, develop global digital public goods, increase trust and reduce uncertainty in the digital economy.

The report says the new global system should also help avoid further fragmentation of the internet, address policy challenges emerging from the dominant positions of digital platforms and narrow existing inequalities.

“It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his preface to the report.

“The current fragmented data landscape risks us failing to capture value that could accrue from digital technologies and it may create more space for substantial harms related to privacy breaches, cyberattacks and other risks.”

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan said: “We urgently need a renewed focus on achieving global digital and data governance, developing global digital public goods, increasing trust and reducing uncertainty in the digital economy. The pandemic has shown the critical importance of sharing health data globally – the issue of digital governance can no longer be postponed.”

Pandemic underscores need for new governance

Digital data play an increasingly important role as an economic and strategic resource, a trend reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has shown the importance of sharing health data globally to help countries cope with its consequences, and for research purposes in finding vaccines.

“The increased interconnection and interdependence challenges in the global data economy call for moving away from the silo approach towards a more holistic, coordinated global approach,” UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said.

“Moreover, new and innovative ways of global governance are urgently needed, as the old ways may not be well suited to respond to the new context,” she added.

New UN data-related body proposed

UNCTAD proposes the formation of a new United Nations coordinating body, with a focus on, and with the skills for, assessing and developing comprehensive global digital and data governance. Its work should be multilateral, multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary.

It should also seek to remedy the current underrepresentation of developing countries in global and regional data governance initiatives.

The body should also function as a complement to and in coherence with national policies and provide sufficient policy space to ensure countries with different levels of digital readiness and capacities can benefit from the data-driven digital economy…(More)”.

New USAID Digital Ecosystem Framework for International Development

Article by ICTWorks: “USAID’s Digital Strategy explains that a digital ecosystem comprises stakeholders, systems, and an enabling environment that, together, empower people and communities to use digital technology to access services, engage with each other, and pursue economic opportunities. Building on this concept, the Agency created a framework that refines the ecosystem into a practical structure for development practitioners.

USAID’s Digital Ecosystem framework is distinct from the concept of a digital economy – and the distinction is an important one that USAID has iterated and worked to define. It is an environment, system, and culture all at once; it is the starting point for any digital interaction, and understanding it is crucial for development practitioners.

The Digital Ecosystem Framework is organized around three separate, overlapping pillars:

  • Digital Infrastructure and Adoption: the resources that make digital systems possible and how individuals and organizations access and use these resources.
  • Digital Society, Rights, and Governance: how digital technology intersects with government, civil society, and the media.
  • Digital Economy: the role digital technology plays in increasing economic opportunity and efficiency

USAID’s Digital Ecosystem framework encompasses four cross-cutting topics:

  • Inclusion: reducing disparities in access and the “digital divide”
  • Cybersecurity: protecting information against damage, unauthorized use or modification, or exploitation.
  • Emerging Technologies: encompassing artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, 5G and other new technologies.
  • Geopolitical Positioning: the influence of authoritarian states that are actively working to shape the global digital space….(More)”.

Where Is Everyone? The Importance of Population Density Data

Data Artefact Study by Aditi Ramesh, Stefaan Verhulst, Andrew Young and Andrew Zahuranec: “In this paper, we explore new and traditional approaches to measuring population density, and ways in which density information has frequently been used by humanitarian, private-sector and government actors to advance a range of private and public goals. We explain how new innovations are leading to fresh ways of collecting data—and fresh forms of data—and how this may open up new avenues for using density information in a variety of contexts. Section III examines one particular example: Facebook’s High-Resolution Population Density Maps (also referred to as HRSL, or high resolution settlement layer). This recent initiative, created in collaboration with a number of external organizations, shows not only the potential of mapping innovations but also the potential benefits of inter-sectoral partnerships and sharing. We examine three particular use cases of HRSL, and we follow with an assessment and some lessons learned. These lessons are applicable to HRSL in particular, but also more broadly. We conclude with some thoughts on avenues for future research….(More)”.

Using Satellite Imagery and Machine Learning to Estimate the Livelihood Impact of Electricity Access

Paper by Nathan Ratledge et al: “In many regions of the world, sparse data on key economic outcomes inhibits the development, targeting, and evaluation of public policy. We demonstrate how advancements in satellite imagery and machine learning can help ameliorate these data and inference challenges. In the context of an expansion of the electrical grid across Uganda, we show how a combination of satellite imagery and computer vision can be used to develop local-level livelihood measurements appropriate for inferring the causal impact of electricity access on livelihoods. We then show how ML-based inference techniques deliver more reliable estimates of the causal impact of electrification than traditional alternatives when applied to these data. We estimate that grid access improves village-level asset wealth in rural Uganda by 0.17 standard deviations, more than doubling the growth rate over our study period relative to untreated areas. Our results provide country-scale evidence on the impact of a key infrastructure investment, and provide a low-cost, generalizable approach to future policy evaluation in data sparse environments….(More)”.

Can national statistical offices shape the data revolution?

Article by Juan Daniel Oviedo, Katharina Fenz, François Fonteneau, and Simon Riedl: “In recent years, breakthrough technologies in artificial intelligence (AI) and the use of satellite imagery made it possible to disrupt the way we collect, process, and analyze data. Facilitated by the intersection of new statistical techniques and the availability of (big) data, it is now possible to create hypergranular estimates.

National statistical offices (NSOs) could be at the forefront of this change. Conventional tasks of statistical offices, such as the coordination of household surveys and censuses, will remain at the core of their work. However, just like AI can enhance the capabilities of doctors, it also has the potential to make statistical offices better, faster, and eventually cheaper.

Still, many countries struggle to make this happen. In a COVID-19 world marked by constrained financial and statistical capacities, making innovation work for statistical offices is of prime importance to create better lives for all…

In the case of Colombia, this novel method facilitated a scale-up from existing poverty estimates that contained 1,123 data points to 78,000 data points, which represents a 70-fold increase. This results in much more granular estimates highlighting Colombia’s heterogeneity between and within municipalities (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Poverty shares (%) Colombia, in 2018

Figure 1. Poverty shares (%) Colombia, in 2018

Traditional methods don´t allow for cost-efficient hypergranular estimations but serve as a reference point, due to their ground-truthing capacity. Hence, we have combined existing data with novel AI techniques, to go down to granular estimates of up to 4×4 kilometers. In particular, we have trained an algorithm to connect daytime and nighttime satellite images….(More)”.

Co-Develop: Digital Public Infrastructure for an Equitable Recovery

A report by The Rockefeller Foundation: “Digital systems that accomplish basic, society-wide functions played a critical role in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, enabling both public health and social protection measures. The pandemic has shown the value of these systems, but it has also revealed how they are non-existent or weak in far too many places.

As we build back better, we have an unprecedented opportunity to build digital public infrastructure that promotes inclusion, human rights, and progress toward global goals. This report outlines an agenda for international cooperation on digital public infrastructure to guide future investments and expansion of this critical tool.

6 Key Areas for International Cooperation on Digital Public Infrastructure

  1. A vision for digital public infrastructure as a whole, backed by practice, research, and evaluation.
  2. A global commons based on digital public goods.
  3. Safeguards for inclusion, trust, competition, security, and privacy.
  4. Tools that use data in digital public infrastructure for public value and private empowerment.
  5. Private and public capacity, particularly in implementing countries.
  6. Silo-busting, built-for-purpose coordinating, funding, and financing….(More)”.