Global Pulse, the UN agency devoted to monitoring "the impact of compound crises on vulnerable populations" is turning to real-time data and open-source development to stay on top of challenges.
At a recent briefing of the United Nations General Assembly, Global Pulse's director, Robert Kirkpatrick, outlined the turn his agency was making, away from static information gathering and toward dynamic, real-time streams.
Responding in Real-Time
"Global Pulse is an initiative to support governments in understanding what is happening to their most vulnerable populations in real-time. To make this possible, governments need access to real-time information on the welfare of their populations. They need new technologies to collect, filter, and analyze this information."
In advance of, crises that range from natural disasters to famine to viral outbreaks, there are indicators. Syncing up relief work with those indicators will help to rush aid, and the right kind of aid, to trouble spots. During crises, certain types of information is needed and acted upon. Getting that information out more quickly to the right people will ameliorate the severity of crises. Finally, assessing information after the fact can help to measure effectiveness of efforts.
What better way to do all of this than with information that gathered as it comes into being, in real time? But large governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations find the gathering and ordering of masses of information a challenge, as expressed at the recent #CrisisData gathering.
In his address, Kirkpatrick outlined three major ways the agency would use real-time.
- Bring together "valuable high-frequency real-time data" from 39 early warning systems into one stream
- "Mainstreaming" and promoting the use of mobile phones and other devices to report crisis information
- Analysis of governmental response departments for early-warning triggers
Open Sourcing Crisis Management
Another exciting direction for Global Pulse in particular, the U.N. in general and crisis management overall, is open source, says Kirkpatrick.
"In the past decade, we have witnessed the rise of the open source software moment . . . Earlier this year, in response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti, thousands of these technology experts joined forces online and worked night and day to create technology tools that UN agencies were able to use to coordinate delivery of life-saving interventions . . . Today, we believe we have an opportunity to harness this collective force for innovation by providing this community - many of whom are in the Global South - with an exciting role in helping us build the technology toolkit that will power Global Pulse."
To do that Global Pulse is hosting a working competition in New York on December 1-3. Participants will compete to create elements of a Global Pulse toolkit (a technology platform) for crisis response.
Pulse Lab Kampala
Finally, the U.N. is sponsoring a series of "Pulse Laboratories" in member countries. These labs would be "innovation centers" that leverage the creativity of those countries' citizens to create tools and processes unique to them, to better monitor and communicate information and needs during times of crisis; when possible, the labs will also address general development needs. Global Pulse will be able to pull from these labs to build out a more generous global tool kit.
Pulse Lab Kampala will, at the invitation of the Ugandan government, be the first of its kind.