The value of Big Data for development in Samoa

Prime Minister of Samoa, Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi with UN representatives. (Image: UN)

(UN) The UN recognizes ‘data as the lifeblood of decision making and the raw material for accountability.’ The world is experiencing a profound, irreversible digital transformation where the volume of data is increasing exponentially and will continue to increase. According to the Pulse Lab Kampala, the increase in data is because it is being ‘gathered by inexpensive and numerous information‐sensing, mobile devices and because the world’s capacity for storing information has roughly doubled every 40 months since the 1980s.’

In other terms, our every day interactions through digital platforms and services such as online purchases, mobile phones, social media are passively collected sets of data now referred to as ‘big data’.

Big data and new technologies, and new analytical approaches, if applied responsibly, can enable more agile, efficient and evidence-based decision-making and can better measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a way that is both inclusive and fair.

Advances in computing and data science now make it possible to process and analyses big data in real time. New insights gleaned from such data mining can complement official statistics and survey data, adding depth and distinction to information on human behaviours and experiences. The integration of this new data with traditional data should produce high-quality information that is more detailed, timely and relevant.

The UN established Global Pulse Labs, a flagship innovation initiative of the United Nations on Big Data. The Global Pulse Labs works to promote awareness of the opportunities Big Data presents for sustainable development and humanitarian action, forge public-private data sharing partnerships, generate high-impact analytical tools and approaches through its network of Pulse Labs, and drive broad adoption of useful innovations across the UN System.

The value of big data for sustainable development is fully appreciated by the Prime Minister of Samoa, Honorable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi where he requested to the United Nations Global Pulse to establish a dedicated lab in Samoa providing data innovation services relevant to the needs of the country and the Pacific, in support of their national commitments towards the implementation of the SDGs.

Like other countries of the world, the Pacific region including Samoa lacks critical data for national development policymaking. Many governments still do not have access to adequate data on their entire populations and other development sectors. While there is data being collected what is lacking is sound data analysis and accessing and making good use of data are also considered as challenges.

However, the Pacific region produces data that can be tapped into to provide real-time sensing of situations on the ground and be used to predict humanitarian crises to in order to come up with measures to protect vulnerable communities. 

The request of the Prime Minister Honorable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is fully supported by the United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed and acting on this support the United Nations Resident Coordinators Office under the leadership of Ms. Simona Marinescu has brought in the Head of the Global Pulse Lab in Jakarta Ms. Derval Usher and Data Scientist Mr. Dharani Burra to consult with relevant partners and stakeholders to obtain feedback and  their support towards the establishment of  the Global Pulse Lab in Samoa.

The Honorable Tuilaepa believes a Pulse Lab in Samoa is crucial and will support the relevant entities with knowledge and tools for near real time data analysis, programme monitoring, partnerships on data innovation, and capacity development for stakeholders to track progress towards the SDG in the Pacific region.

Samoa also is an ideal location for the 4th UN Global Pulse lab considering significant progress it has made in enhancing connectivity through submarine cables creating the pathway for digital transformation envisioning improved service delivery and quality of life for its people.

While the Global Pulse Lab is a UN initiative, the proposed Pulse Lab in Samoa foresees an opportunity for multilateral and regional collaborations. The UN will work closely with the SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community) and the SPREP (South Pacific Regional Environment Programme) to ensure that the Pacific is served with near real time data analysis for better policy formulations and effective implementation of national development priorities. The international development partners in Samoa and the relevant government ministries, academic institutions and the private sector, in the understanding that data is part of their daily work and business are all fully supportive of this initiative. The Honorable Tuilaepa will meet with the UN DSG Ms. Amina Mohammed when in New York at the end of this week, for the United Nations General Assembly, where he will present the findings from the Pulse Lab in Samoa scoping mission and to discuss the next move for this great initiative. The Pulse Lab in Samoa will be the 4th Lab with other Pulse Labs in Jakarta Indonesia, Kampala Uganda and the headquarters in New York.

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