The humanitarian power of big data
Big data can provide insightful solutions for businesses in many different industries. As a few recent projects show, big data might be able to benefit humanitarian life-saving strategies and bring peace to embattled parts of the world. As researchers and experts in many different fields are able to access and utilize big data from many different sources to inform their work, they are discovering ways in which analytics can create positive socio-cultural change.
International humanitarian advocate Patrick Meier recently wrote on Forbes about 'crisis maps,' tools for solving social problems with data. Innovations like crisis maps are fairly new, developed using open source big data insights. Real-time social communications converge with ethnographic and geographic research to provide insight during disastrous events.
"Crisis-mapping platforms display eyewitness reports submitted via e-mail, text message, and social media. The reports are then plotted on interactive maps, creating a geospatial record of events in real time," wrote Meier.
One platform cited by Meier for its influence in responding to global conflict was Ushahidi, an interactive-mapping platform that was used to gather and plot eyewitness reports for 2008 protests in Kenya that followed presidential elections, and again after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
"Once these reports were manually collated and plotted on the Ushahidi platform, they became a live crisis map of urgent humanitarian needs. For example, the map showed exactly where victims lay buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings, and where medical supplies needed to be delivered," wrote Meier.
Can big data help to keep the peace?
The precarious balance of thwarting conflict from starting and escalating is a difficult task, but CNN's Tara Kangarlou reported that the U.S. State Department has been using information gleaned from big data analysis in its strategies. The recently created Conflict and Stabilization Operations office uses sourced information to target areas where physical violence might present a threat.
"CSO analyzes 'large data sets' as well as 'civil society' generated data - essentially the sum of patterns, human behaviors, electronic signals, social media elements and everything tangible that creates masses of technological and non-technological data," Kangarlou reported.
These big data sets have furnished the CSO with fairly accurate information about many potential dangers, like timing of defections and growing factions – as well as predictions like when allies would offer support. These insights allow military operatives to quash potential violence preemptively, as a result saving lives, energy and money. The big data approach has improved communications and strategy in a top-down manner, Kangarlou wrote.