1 December 2010
Press Release

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Technology Workshop Seeks to Design Real-Time Mobile, Social Technologies


for Powering United Nations Global Crisis Monitoring, 1-3 December


NEW YORK, 1 December — The United Nations Global Pulse project brings together more than 100 technology and data experts this week in a workshop to design the architecture of a software platform that will help monitor the social and economic impact of global crises in real time.

“Data used for decision-making in the development world is often two years old,” Global Pulse Director Robert Kirkpatrick said in his opening remarks to the Pulse Camp 1.0 workshop, running from 1 to 3 December in New York.  “In ongoing crises, we need to know what is happening right now and not two years ago to help Governments better target their resources to the right people at the right time.”

Established a year ago by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Global Pulse works closely with Member States and other development partners to improve evidence-based decision-making and close the information gap between the onset of a global crisis and the availability of actionable information to protect the vulnerable.

At the three-day Manhattan event, participants from the private sector, academia and the development sector will take the first steps in designing a system and architecture for real-time data and analysis.  The challenge to participants is to create a prototype design that will integrate traditional United Nations data, existing open-source mapping and visualization tools with new sources of information such as mobile phones and social networks.

Mr. Kirkpatrick noted that the recent series of global shocks — food, fuel, and financial — had revealed the importance of timely information to guide Government decisions on how to protect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.  “Validated data serves longer-term policy planning, but fails decision makers when immediate actions are required,” he said.

The software platform will be developed as a public good, and based on open design, free as well as open-source technology, and open standards.  Two major changes provided impetus for the project.  First, the technology revolution has been generating massive amounts of information about behaviour changes that were previously difficult or impossible to monitor.  Second, crises have been occurring more frequently and have taken on a global aspect; what happens on Wall Street today could affect a poor family, continents away, in a matter of weeks.

Global Pulse believes that the best approach to bringing divergent data sources together is to create a toolkit for development professionals to share and analyse information.  Such a common system requires a reference architecture, or “cookbook”, which allows the system’s users to integrate their data with that of others.  That would allow existing data-collection tools (for example, RapidSMS, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, JavaROSA and ODK), mapping (Open Street Maps), filtering (SwiftRiver, Riff, Managing News), visualization (Protovis, Gephi) and social media platforms (Diaspora) to work together in a unified system.

Pulse Camp 1.0 will produce an initial set of architectures and drafts for software requirements.  A 48-hour programming and design marathon session by the Random Hacks of Kindness will help solidify the outputs and commence development on the open-source technology for Global Pulse.

Started in 2009, the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a global volunteer community of top technology experts from Google, Microsoft, NASA, Yahoo and the World Bank who gather over a weekend “hackathon” to create open-source software solutions to help tackle global challenges.  The current event is the third RHoK hackathon and is taking place simultaneously in more than 20 countries, including Denmark, Kenya, India, Brazil, Germany, Columbia, Indonesia, Zambia, Mexico and the United States.

To get involved, sign up for the RHoK Hackathon at:  http://www.rhok.org/events/rhok-2/

For further information, please contact:  Makena Walker, United Nations Global Pulse, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, Tel: 212 457 1058 or 914 312 5293, email walker8@un.org; Chris van der Walt, United Nations Global Pulse, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, Tel: 646 283 0177, email vanderwalt@un.org.  Follow us on Twitter, twitter@unglobalpulse; join us on Facebook, http://www.unglobalpulse.org; website, http://unglobalpulse.org.

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For information media • not an official record