The Potential of Social Media Intelligence to Improve People’s Lives: Social Media Data for Good

New report by Stefaan G. Verhulst and Andrew Young: “The twenty-first century will be challenging on many fronts. From historically catastrophic natural disasters resulting from climate change to inequality to refugee and terrorism crises, it is clear that we need not only new solutions, but new insights and methods of arriving at solutions. Data, and the intelligence gained from it through advances in data science, is increasingly being seen as part of the answer. This report explores the premise that data—and in particular the vast stores of data and the unique analytical expertise held by social media companies—may indeed provide for a new type of intelligence that could help develop solutions to today’s challenges.

Social Media Data Report

In this report, developed with support from Facebook, we focus on an approach to extract public value from social media data that we believe holds the greatest potential: data collaboratives. Data collaboratives are an emerging form of public-private partnership in which actors from different sectors exchange information to create new public value. Such collaborative arrangements, for example between social media companies and humanitarian organizations or civil society actors, can be seen as possible templates for leveraging privately held data towards the attainment of public goals….(More)”

Data Sharing Vital in Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Digit: “The Data Lab is teaming up with UNICEF in a bid to encourage data sharing in public and private organisations to help solve pressing public problems. The first collaborative project aims to tackle the issue of childhood obesity in Scotland, with between 29% and 33% of children aged 2-15 at risk of serious obesity-related health complications.

According to UNICEF, solving some of the most complex problems affecting children around the world will require access to different data sets and expertise from diverse sectors. The rapid rise in the availability of quality data offers a wealth of information to address complex problems affecting children. The charity has identified an opportunity to tap into this potential through collaborative working, prompting the development of in partnership with The Governance Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and the Omidyar Network.  The aim for DataCollaboratives is to encourage organisations from different sectors, including private companies, research institutions, government agencies and others, to exchange and share data to help solve public problems.

The initiative is now being promoted in Scotland through UNICEF’s partnership with The Data Lab, who will work together to deliver a Data Collaboratives hub in Scotland where data scientists and strategists will work on some of the most important issues facing children around the world. Finding solutions to these problems has the potential to transform the lives of some of the most disadvantaged children in Scotland, the UK, and around the globe….(More)”.

Big Data: A New Empiricism and its Epistemic and Socio-Political Consequences

Chapter by Gernot Rieder and Judith Simon in Berechenbarkeit der Welt?: “The paper investigates the rise of Big Data in contemporary society. It examines the most prominent epistemological claims made by Big Data proponents, calls attention to the potential socio-political consequences of blind data trust, and proposes a possible way forward. The paper’s main focus is on the interplay between an emerging new empiricism and an increasingly opaque algorithmic environment that challenges democratic demands for transparency and accountability. It concludes that a responsible culture of quantification requires epistemic vigilance as well as a greater awareness of the potential dangers and pitfalls of an ever more data-driven society….(More)”.

Mastercard’s Big Data For Good Initiative: Data Philanthropy On The Front Lines

Interview by Randy Bean of Shamina Singh: Much has been written about big data initiatives and the efforts of market leaders to derive critical business insights faster. Less has been written about initiatives by some of these same firms to apply big data and analytics to a different set of issues, which are not solely focused on revenue growth or bottom line profitability. While the focus of most writing has been on the use of data for competitive advantage, a small set of companies has been undertaking, with much less fanfare, a range of initiatives designed to ensure that data can be applied not just for corporate good, but also for social good.

One such firm is Mastercard, which describes itself as a technology company in the payments industry, which connects buyers and sellers in 210 countries and territories across the globe. In 2013 Mastercard launched the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, which operates as an independent subsidiary of Mastercard and is focused on the application of data to a range of issues for social benefit….

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 4, 2017, Mastercard Vice Chairman Walt Macnee, who serves as the Chairman of the Center for Inclusive Growth, addressed issues of private sector engagement. Macnee noted, “The private sector and public sector can each serve as a force for good independently; however when the public and private sectors work together, they unlock the potential to achieve even more.” Macnee further commented, “We will continue to leverage our technology, data, and know-how in an effort to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems. It is the right thing to do, and it is also good for business.”…

Central to the mission of the Mastercard Center is the notion of “data philanthropy”. This term encompasses notions of data collaboration and data sharing and is at the heart of the initiatives that the Center is undertaking. The three cornerstones on the Center’s mandate are:

  • Sharing Data Insights– This is achieved through the concept of “data grants”, which entails granting access to proprietary insights in support of social initiatives in a way that fully protects consumer privacy.
  • Data Knowledge – The Mastercard Center undertakes collaborations with not-for-profit and governmental organizations on a range of initiatives. One such effort was in collaboration with the Obama White House’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative, by which data was used to help advance criminal justice reform. This initiative was then able, through the use of insights provided by Mastercard, to demonstrate the impact crime has on merchant locations and local job opportunities in Baltimore.
  • Leveraging Expertise – Similarly, the Mastercard Center has collaborated with private organizations such as DataKind, which undertakes data science initiatives for social good.Just this past month, the Mastercard Center released initial findings from its Data Exploration: Neighborhood Crime and Local Business initiative. This effort was focused on ways in which Mastercard’s proprietary insights could be combined with public data on commercial robberies to help understand the potential relationships between criminal activity and business closings. A preliminary analysis showed a spike in commercial robberies followed by an increase in bar and nightclub closings. These analyses help community and business leaders understand factors that can impact business success.Late last year, Ms. Singh issued A Call to Action on Data Philanthropy, in which she challenges her industry peers to look at ways in which they can make a difference — “I urge colleagues at other companies to review their data assets to see how they may be leveraged for the benefit of society.” She concludes, “the sheer abundance of data available today offers an unprecedented opportunity to transform the world for good.”….(More)

Intelligent sharing: unleashing the potential of health and care data in the UK to transform outcomes

Report by Future Care Capital: “….Data is often referred to as the ‘new oil’ – the 21st century raw material which, when hitched to algorithmic refinement, may be mined for insight and value – and ‘data flows’ are said to have exerted a greater impact upon global growth than traditional goods flows in recent years (Manyika et al, 2016). Small wonder, then, that governments around the world are endeavouring to strike a balance between individual privacy rights and protections on the one hand, and organisational permissions to facilitate the creation of social, economic and environmental value from broad-ranging data on the other: ‘data rights’ are now of critical importance courtesy of technological advancements. The tension between the two is particularly evident where health and care data in the UK is concerned. Individuals are broadly content with anonymised data from their medical records being used for public benefit but are, understandably, anxious about the implications of the most intimate aspects of their lives being hacked or, else, shared without their knowledge or consent….

The potential for health and care data to be transformative remains, and there is growing concern that opportunities to improve the use of health and care data in peoples’ interests are being missed….

we recommend additional support for digitisation efforts in social care settings. We call upon the Government to streamline processes associated with Information Governance (IG) modelling to help data sharing initiatives that traverse organisational boundaries. We also advocate for investment and additional legal safeguards to make more anonymised data sets available for research and innovation. Crucially, we recommend expediting the scope for individuals to contribute health and care data to sharing initiatives led by the public sector through promotion, education and pilot activities – so that data is deployed to transform public health and support the ‘pivot to prevention’.

In Chapter Two, we explore the rationale and scope for the UK to build upon emergent practice from around the world and become a global leader in ‘data philanthropy’ – to push at the boundaries of existing plans and programmes, and support the development of and access to unrivalled health and care data sets. We look at member-controlled ‘data cooperatives’ and what we’ve termed ‘data communities’ operated by trusted intermediaries. We also explore ‘data collaboratives’ which involve the private sector engaging in data philanthropy for public benefit. Here, we make recommendations about promoting a culture of data philanthropy through the demonstration of tangible benefits to participants and the wider public, and we call upon Government to assess the appetite and feasibility of establishing the world’s first National Health and Care Data Donor Bank….(More)”


Big Data: A New Empiricism and its Epistemic and Socio-Political Consequences

Chapter by Gernot Rieder and Judith Simon in by Berechenbarkeit der Welt? Philosophie und Wissenschaft im Zeitalter von Big Data: “…paper investigates the rise of Big Data in contemporary society. It examines the most prominent epistemological claims made by Big Data proponents, calls attention to the potential socio-political consequences of blind data trust, and proposes a possible way forward. The paper’s main focus is on the interplay between an emerging new empiricism and an increasingly opaque algorithmic environment that challenges democratic demands for transparency and accountability. It concludes that a responsible culture of quantification requires epistemic vigilance as well as a greater awareness of the potential dangers and pitfalls of an ever more data-driven society….(More)”.

Data Collaboratives: exchanging data to create public value across Latin America and the Caribbean

Stefaan Verhulst, Andrew Young and Prianka Srinivasan at IADB’s Abierto al Publico: “Data is playing an ever-increasing role in bolstering businesses across Latin America – and the rest of the word. In Brazil, Mexico and Colombia alone, the revenue from Big Data is calculated at more than US$603.7 million, a market that is only set to increase as more companies across Latin America and the Caribbean embrace data-driven strategies to enhance their bottom-line. Brazilian banking giant Itau plans to create six data centers across the country, and already uses data collected from consumers online to improve cross-selling techniques and streamline their investments. Data from web-clicks, social media profiles, and telecommunication services is fueling a new generation of entrepreneurs keen to make big dollars from big data.

What if this same data could be used not just to improve business, but to improve the collective well-being of our communities, public spaces, and cities? Analysis of social media data can offer powerful insights to city officials into public trends and movements to better plan infrastructure and policies. Public health officials and humanitarian workers can use mobile phone data to, for instance, map human mobility and better target their interventions. By repurposing the data collected by companies for their business interests, governments, international organizations and NGOs can leverage big data insights for the greater public good.

Key question is thus: How to unlock useful data collected by corporations in a responsible manner and ensure its vast potential does not go to waste?

Data Collaboratives” are emerging as a possible answer. Data collaboratives are a new type of public-private partnerships aimed at creating public value by exchanging data across sectors.

Research conducted by the GovLab finds that Data Collaboratives offer several potential benefits across a number of sectors, including humanitarian and anti-poverty efforts, urban planning, natural resource stewardship, health, and disaster management. As a greater number of companies in Latin America look to data to spur business interests, our research suggests that some companies are also sharing and collaborating around data to confront some of society’s most pressing problems.

Consider the following Data Collaboratives that seek to enhance…(More)”

Data collaboratives as “bazaars”? A review of coordination problems and mechanisms to match demand for data with supply

Iryna Susha , Marijn Janssen , and Stefaan Verhulst in Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy: “In “data collaboratives” private and public organizations coordinate their activities to leverage data to address a societal challenge. This paper focuses on analyzing challenges and coordination mechanisms of data collaboratives….This study uses coordination theory to identify and discuss the coordination problems and coordination mechanisms associated with data collaboratives. We also use a taxonomy of data collaborative forms from a previous empirical study to discuss how different forms of data collaboratives may require different coordination mechanisms….

The study analyzed data collaboratives from the perspective of organizational and task levels. At the organizational level we argue that data collaboratives present an example of the bazaar form of coordination. At the task level we identified five coordination problems and discussed potential coordination mechanisms to address them, such as coordination by negotiation, by third party, by standardization, to name a few…This study is one of the first few to systematically analyze the phenomenon of “data collaboratives”.

…can help practitioners understand better the coordination challenges they may face when initiating a data collaborative and to develop successful data collaboratives by using coordination mechanisms to mitigate these challenges…(More)”

Corporate Social Responsibility for a Data Age

Stefaan G. Verhulst in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Proprietary data can help improve and save lives, but fully harnessing its potential will require a cultural transformation in the way companies, governments, and other organizations treat and act on data….

We live, as it is now common to point out, in an era of big data. The proliferation of apps, social media, and e-commerce platforms, as well as sensor-rich consumer devices like mobile phones, wearable devices, commercial cameras, and even cars generate zettabytes of data about the environment and about us.

Yet much of the most valuable data resides with the private sector—for example, in the form of click histories, online purchases, sensor data, and call data records. This limits its potential to benefit the public and to turn data into a social asset. Consider how data held by business could help improve policy interventions (such as better urban planning) or resiliency at a time of climate change, or help design better public services to increase food security.

Data responsibility suggests steps that organizations can take to break down these private barriers and foster so-called data collaboratives, or ways to share their proprietary data for the public good. For the private sector, data responsibility represents a new type of corporate social responsibility for the 21st century.

While Nepal’s Ncell belongs to a relatively small group of corporations that have shared their data, there are a few encouraging signs that the practice is gaining momentum. In Jakarta, for example, Twitter exchanged some of its data with researchers who used it to gather and display real-time information about massive floods. The resulting website,, enabled better flood assessment and management processes. And in Senegal, the Data for Development project has brought together leading cellular operators to share anonymous data to identify patterns that could help improve health, agriculture, urban planning, energy, and national statistics.

Examples like this suggest that proprietary data can help improve and save lives. But to fully harness the potential of data, data holders need to fulfill at least three conditions. I call these the “the three pillars of data responsibility.”…

The difficulty of translating insights into results points to some of the larger social, political, and institutional shifts required to achieve the vision of data responsibility in the 21st century. The move from data shielding to data sharing will require that we make a cultural transformation in the way companies, governments, and other organizations treat and act on data. We must incorporate new levels of pro-activeness, and make often-unfamiliar commitments to transparency and accountability.

By way of conclusion, here are four immediate steps—essential but not exhaustive—we can take to move forward:

  1. Data holders should issue a public commitment to data responsibility so that it becomes the default—an expected, standard behavior within organizations.
  2. Organizations should hire data stewards to determine what and when to share, and how to protect and act on data.
  3. We must develop a data responsibility decision tree to assess the value and risk of corporate data along the data lifecycle.
  4. Above all, we need a data responsibility movement; it is time to demand data responsibility to ensure data improves and safeguards people’s lives…(More)” – A New Resource on Creating Public Value by Exchanging Data

Recent years have seen exponential growth in the amount of data being generated and stored around the world. There is increasing recognition that this data can play a key role in solving some of the most difficult public problems we face.

However, much of the potentially useful data is currently privately held and not available for public insights. Data in the form of web clicks, social “likes,” geo location and online purchases are typically tightly controlled, usually by entities in the private sector. Companies today generate an ever-growing stream of information from our proliferating sensors and devices. Increasingly, they—and various other actors—are asking if there is a way to make this data available for the public good. There is an ongoing search for new models of corporate responsibility in the digital era around data toward the creation of “data collaboratives”.

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Today, the GovLab is excited to launch a new resource for Data Collaboratives ( Data Collaboratives are an emerging form of public-private partnership in which participants from different sectors — including private companies, research institutions, and government agencies — exchange data to help solve public problems.

The resource results from different partnerships with UNICEF (focused on creating data collaboratives to improve children’s lives) and Omidyar Network (studying new ways to match (open) data demand and supply to increase impact).

Natalia Adler, a data, research and policy planning specialist and the UNICEF Data Collaboratives Project Lead notes, “At UNICEF, we’re dealing with the world’s most complex problems affecting children. Data Collaboratives offer an exciting opportunity to tap on previously inaccessible datasets and mobilize a wide range of data expertise to advance child rights around the world. It’s all about connecting the dots.”

To better understand the potential of these Collaboratives, the GovLab collected information on dozens of examples from across the world. These many and diverse initiatives clearly suggest the potential of Data Collaboratives to improve people’s lives when done responsibly. As Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder of the GovLab, puts it: “In the coming months and years, Data Collaboratives will be essential vehicles for harnessing the vast stores of privately held data toward the public good.”

In particular, our research to date suggests that Data Collaboratives offer a number of potential benefits, including enhanced:

  • Situational Awareness and Response: For example, Orbital Insights and the World Bank are using satellite imagery to measure and track poverty. This technology can, in some instances, “be more accurate than U.S. census data.”
  • Public Service Design and Delivery: Global mapping company, Esri, and Waze’s Connected Citizen’s program are using crowdsourced traffic information to help governments design better transportation.
  • Impact Assessment and Evaluation: Nielsen and the World Food Program (WFP) have been using data collected via mobile phone surveys to better monitor food insecurity in order to advise the WFP’s resource allocations….(More)