News

Harnessing the potential of Big Data for Sustainable Development

29 January 2018

Roughly every 10 years’ countries start a new cycle in documenting population dynamics. Through Census data collection we get to know how many we are, who we are and where do we live whilst the government and official institutions take the lead in planning data-driven policy to address important issues based on social and economic indicators.

In the Maldives, national censuses result from a long-standing partnership between the United Nations Population Fund and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Now UNFPA Country Office and the Government of the Maldives are planning to modernize the National Statistical System by using Big Data and Census Data, as complementary data resources.

 

 

The Awareness Workshop on Exploring Big Data Collection took place on Monday 29 January at the Hulhule Island Hotel, Hulhumale’, and served as a platform for UNFPA and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) discuss new opportunities and methods of Data Collection with experts and key partners in the Maldives.

On the occasion UNFPA Country Director, Ritsu Nacken, showed concern on how little it is known about the most vulnerable populations defending the importance of bringing Big Data to assess the results of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “data is essential to make evidence-based decisions and drive accountability. It can indicate whether our investments are making meaningful, measurable change in the lives of the most vulnerable.”

 

 

To address this need, UNFPA and NBS developed a project aiming at accomplishing alternative data sources and innovative methods of data collection (besides Census data), bridging the data gaps that have been identified for the measuring of SDG progress in the Maldives and enhancing partnerships by creating a platform for alternative sources such as businesses, civil society and individuals to contribute to the process.

The idea behind Big Data, is that we can get the same data from the multitude of service providers that already are in contact with the public.

Initially the project will assess the movements of population in the capital city Male’ and the greater Male’ area will be quantified using anonymized mobile phone data. Movement patterns through mobile phone records among population groups will be mined and visualized to provide a series of mobility profiles from different areas of Male’ city and greater Male’ area.

At the workshop, the Minister of State for Finance & Treasury, Mohamed Ashmalee, announced that to develop and modernize the national statistical system “the government of Maldives is seeking to increase the use of digital data and to analyze Big Data sets from miscellaneous sources, such as mobile devices, sensors, GPS trackers, electronic messages exchanged on the internet, banking transactions, POS system records and so forth”.

 

 

The analysis of the 2014 Census identified four main population and development challenges that require action: improving youth’s human capital; reproductive health access and gender equality; capturing a potential first demographic dividend; and managing internal and international migration. Big Data is expected to provide important information to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the SDG’s implementation in the country thus improving the response in addressing population development challenges.

UNFPA is traditionally one of the more data-driven entities of the UN, according to the Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director, ”The UNFPA mandate has never been more relevant, our work and partnerships must therefore be even more innovative, ambitious and focused at country level to ensure that we leave no woman or adolescent girl behind.”

 

Tatiana Almeida