In the event of a disaster, ensuring timely access to updated information from the ground could sometimes be the difference between a life saved, and a life lost. At KLL, we learned this during the Nepal earthquake, as we saw how the data generated through remote mapping — using OpenStreetMap (link) and Quake Map (link) — was put to use by many government and non-government organizations.
I recently attended a workshop which shed light on how the government could make use of non-traditional data sources (mobile network data, remote sensing, and geospatial modeling) to support its data collection and dissemination efforts. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but come back–time and again–to KLL’s collective learning around the ‘time value’ of data.
The workshop, titled “Leveraging new data sources and data analytics – Producing priority data and building new skills in the statistical system of Nepal.” brought together more than 40 participants from Central Bureau of Statistics and the National Planning Commision. Jointly organized by the Central Bureau of Statistics and PARIS21 (Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century), and facilitated by researchers from Flowminder and WorldPop, it touched upon a variety of ideas, ranging from the use of mobile network data for estimating population displacement, to the use of high-resolution satellite imagery for estimating various population statistics.
Personally, I feel using non-traditional data sources could greatly help support the existing statistical ecosystem in Nepal by working as sources of frequent, albeit less accurate estimates of the ground situation. Rough assessments could be carried out in a relatively short amount of time, using only a fraction of the resources that governments traditionally use for gathering data. After all, it’s not always possible to conduct censuses and surveys, which require heavy investments in terms of both time and resources. Until then, these quick estimates could help fill potential data-gaps, perhaps those that typically occur during the inter-census period.
That being said, there are still important hurdles we need to clear, and homework that needs to be done if Nepal is to truly take advantage of ‘new data’. Participants in the workshop, who come with years of on-the-ground experience in the generation of national statistics, were quick in pointing out several challenges in making use of these non traditional data sources, including, but not limited to, the reliability and veracity of the data generated, lack of high resolution imagery, and the lack of technical infrastructure among many others.
All in all, I was very pleased to see my government acknowledging the importance of new and unconventional data sources, and collectively agreeing to make efforts for their adoption in the near future. I believe that where this workshop was successful, was in helping participants get a sense of new possibilities and that this is just the beginning, the first of many to come.