#GFI4SD – Post 2: Can Data Be Harnessed to Protect People, and How?

The final day of the three-day Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development raised this overarching question: “how can we protect individuals and communities caught up in shocks and disruptors?”

Data was broadly discussed throughout the various discussion and debates of the day. However, the issue of data had already been introduced the day before during the closing session entitled “Harnessing the data revolution to reach the missing millions”, which provided a forum for unpacking the data challenge underpinning the goal of leaving no one behind. Among other topics, a panelist highlighted how her institute created digital maps to visualise mobile internet activities in China, and how it analysed the gaps.

On the morning of Day 3, a couple of panel discussion led experts to tackle the issue of the role of new data in mitigating ‘shocks’ – including conflict, displacement, climate change, natural disaster, and macroeconomic crisis, and in affecting processes of social change. They addressed the following question: can data be harnessed to transform social protection and safety nets to protect individuals and communities against major ‘disruptors’ to development, and how? Topics such as data collection, data literacy, as well as trust in data were discussed.

At the end of the first plenary session, a participant brought up the matter of data harmonisation. Although it had been discarded in the 90s, he argued that data harmonisation needed to be urgently re-integrated into the agenda because issues that need to be addressed are nowadays ‘glocal’. In response, a panelist highlighted that it is not data harmonisation which is the most important but rather data contextualisation. He also recognised:

We don’t work enough with anthropologists or people who are more on the qualitative side to bring those measures to be very locally relevant.

Patrick Vinck

In parallel, two other sessions were dedicated to the issue of data. The first one entitled “Using big data to identify shocks and the impact for policy” dealt with promising practices and challenges associated with the use of big data, derived from various digital sources, to improve decision-making in relation to shocks. The second was presented as an interactive session designed to “provide participants with the opportunity to dig deep into a series of maps and data visualisations on Haiti, Nigeria, Senegal and Yemen”. Its aim was to encourage participants to consider how disasters ultimately undermine progress towards the SDGs.

Reflecting on spatial big data and mapping over the past few weeks, I found this latest session particularly interesting. It was unfortunately not broadcasted, but I was able to follow several high points of this ‘Data Dive’ through Twitter.

No doubt that these three days of discussion, debates, participative sessions and game were very rich for the persons who attended the festival, as well as online participants. Data, including spatial big data, was a core subject of most sessions, if not all. Data, in fact real data, is also the basis on which the 2030 Hive Mind game was designed. At the end of the festival, four sustainable development goals were achieved by the participants who played: gender equality, good health, innovation and climate action.


Featured Image Credit: www.globalfestivalofideas.org/