• The UN Secretary General's Independent Expert Advisory Group
  • on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development
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Data Innovation: big data and new technologies

The consultation has ended and comments are closed.

The world of data changes every day and every hour. New innovations have hugely increased the quantity of data and the possibilities available to people and institutions who want to collect and use it.  The challenge, and the opportunity, is to make this new world of data useful and useable to improve people’s lives.

In defining the Sustainable Development Goals to take us through to the year 2030, we have an opportunity to discover new ways of assessing wellbeing, measuring global development and making swift interventions in times of crisis. Looking at the changes over 15 years gives us an indication of how different the world could be over the next 15.

Since 2000 when the Millennium Development Goals began, there has been a surprisingly swift uptake of technology even in developing nations. In 2014, the developing world accounts for more than three-quarters of the world’s mobile phone subscriptions.



Today, in the private sector, analysis of big data – data sets too large and complex to be studied without software- is commonplace – with consumer profiling, personalised services, and predictive analysis being used to optimise sales. Similar techniques could be adopted to gain real-time insights into people’s wellbeing and to target aid interventions to vulnerable groups.  Such innovations offer exciting new opportunities, but also throw up big challenges around privacy, public trust, and the potential abuses of data. Legal frameworks have not yet caught up with rapidly advancing technology.

Public sector bodies are also starting to use big data and new technologies. Public health researchers are gaining valuable insights from using anonymised mobile phone data on human migration and linking this to the spread of malaria and dengue fever.

The increasing use of internet-enabled devices with sensors will provide still more opportunities both to improve the way services are delivered and also to harness that data to gain faster insights into whether interventions are working. Mobile technology services are also drivers of information that can empower citizens, be it apps that tell farmers when to optimally plant crops, micro-loans for fledgling enterprises or medical information for front-line health practitioners in remote settings.

Much of the big data with the most potential to be used for public good is collected by the private sector. As such, public-private partnerships are likely to become more widespread. The challenge will be ensuring they are sustainable over time, and that clear frameworks are in place to clarify roles and expectations on all sides.

The Independent Expert Advisory group welcomes input regarding how the opportunities of emerging technology and methodologies can best be realised for public good.  In particular:

  1. Creating incentives and regulatory structures to encourage private enterprises to share data and pilot new ways of working.
  2. Encouraging links between public and private sectors to research new methods, pilot their use, and encourage dissemination.
  3. Developing privacy frameworks that protect the privacy of individuals without hampering life-saving uses of data science for public good
  4. Capacity-boosting on new sources of data and the use of new technologies in the field of international development, humanitarian assistance and statistics.
  5. Examples of new innovations and methods that have demonstrated potential for improving the frequency, reliability, accessibility and usefulness of data.
  6. Examples of success in bringing together official and non-official data sources, and traditional and non-traditional methods. What are the factors behind the success stories, and what have been some of the challenges?
  7. Supporting widespread adoption of new and innovative ways of working where proven effective.