Saturday, November 30, 2013

Data for development: revolution kicks off in Côte d’Ivoire

Mico Tatalovic in We live in exciting times. Hoards of data collected routinely by big telecom companies — but which are currently sitting idle — are about to hit the research community and be used for as yet un-thought of applications. The UN high-level panel recently called for a ‘data revolution’ to underpin the planning and evaluation of the post-2015 development goals.

A taste of what might be in store was presented at the European Development Days meeting in Brussels, Belgium, this week (26 November). Mobile communications company Orange has huge amounts of data on traffic between its mobile masts, and in 2012 it decided to release some of that data from Côte d’Ivoire to researchers worldwide in a challenge to make use of that data. It anticipated 40 or 50 project applications and got 260 instead, though few came from African countries or Côte d’Ivoire itself.

The results, first released in May this year, were astounding. What had been — and largely remains — locked-up data, was analysed and presented by scientists to reveal a host of information with development applications.

Examples include better understanding of disease epidemics and their control, better traffic and parcel delivery planning, and insights into social divisions.

...And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Orange is now in talks with universities and ministries in Côte d’Ivoire about following up with a closer analysis of some of that data. It is also planning to repeat the experiment in another African country though it won’t reveal which one yet. And there is so much other data it has stored away, from, say, the age of mobile-phone users to information on solar radiation intensity at its solar-powered masts across the country....

A disguised cell phone tower in Capetown, shot by Dillon Marsh, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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