The year ahead and a summary of 2010

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2011: What’s ahead

2011 will be the year that Global Pulse moves from design into implementation. 

Technology development
Sara Farmer will join the team this month as Chief Platform Architect and will spearhead the design and development of the core architecture for our technology platform, with considerable assistance coming through a series of public events in collaboration with the global community. We will publish the first public reference architecture specifications this summer and will make the first prototype of our platform publicly available for testing by the end of the year.

Building Innovation Capacity
We will open a Pulse Lab in Kampala in mid-year that will support the Ugandan Government in establishing a real-time crisis monitoring system. Team members Patrick Adengo and Gabriel White are already on the ground in Kampala identifying opportunities, partnerships and resource requirements and laying the foundation for a core team of local and international staff later in the year. We are already working on ideas for two more labs, which will be based in other regions. More about this later.

Real-time trends and retrospective analysis
We will be introducing regular reports on global shifts in vulnerability and what we are learning about how to detect and measure them.  This process will include a retrospective analysis of data that was available in real-time during the past three years of the global economic crisis, in order to discover novel impact and vulnerability indicators that could be used for real-time monitoring in current and future crises.

Upcoming: Social Media Week
In the second week of February, Global Pulse will be participating in Social Media Week, a global event that connects people, content, and conversation around emerging trends in social and mobile media that will be held in six cities. We are convening sessions on two days under the title “Open UN: Engagement in the Age of Real-time.”  On Tuesday February 8, between 9:00 and 11:00 am, one panel discussion will discuss “the evolution of the crowd” at Google Headquarters in New York. On Thursday February 10, from 11:30 – 16:30, a longer program will feature a presentation of ” The Future of Real-time”, a report surveying the global real-time landscape to identify trends and opportunities that are rapidly transforming the relationships between societies and technology. The report was co-produced by PSFK, a New York City based trends research and innovation company, and Global Pulse.Two panel discussions will follow, one focusing on real-time field operations and citizen engagement, and the second tackling the challenges facing institutions adapting to the age of real-time. Registration for sessions will shortly be available here and the events will live video streamed.

2010: The year in review

2010 was a formative year for Global Pulse.  As we move forward into 2011, we would like to share the highlights and some of the milestones we’ve passed along the way.  Looking back, a great deal has happened:

2010: The year in reviewJanuary and February were devoted to building the Global Pulse team and securing the services of UNOPs as the administrative agent for the project.  The United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) lent its expertise to Global Pulse to explore definitions of vulnerability across different disciplines.

In March Zazie Schafer Nencetti, the project’s Deputy Director on loan from UNDP, was joined by Robert Kirkpatrick as Project Director. He previously worked with the humanitarian technology NGO InSTEDD as Chief Technology Officer.  Robert worked alongside UN personnel in the field on several occasions, and he brings to the Global Pulse team expertise in designing technology for relief and development and experience building capacity for grassroots innovation at the country level. Alvin Tan and V-Khye Fan, two Harvard Kennedy School graduates, advised the project on how best to harness open innovation for the development of the Global Pulse platform.

April saw our Blue Sky Thinkers workshop in Bellagio, Italy, generously hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation and facilitated by the Meridian Institute.  We engaged a thoughtful, experienced and diverse group of experts from around the world to work though the implications of what we were undertaking and suggest an approach that would help us become operational. Their key recommendation: don’t try to build this system purely from the top down. To protect the vulnerable, you must empower them. 

May yielded a number of key developments.  We supported nine UN interagency research projects through our Rapid Impact and Vulnerability Analysis Fund (RIVAF) to explore innovative ways to collect real-time data and pilot new cross-sectoral analysis. We assembled an online, searchable library of more than 100 reports on the financial crisis.  UNDPI seconded Chris Van Der Walt as Strategic Communications Advisor, bringing the size of the team to four. Patrick Meier from Ushahidi compiled a study for us on lessons learned and best practices from existing early warning systems.

It was June when things really took off in terms of public visibility. The project was renamed “UN Global Pulse” (to positive reviews) at the creative suggestion of V-Khye, one of our Kennedy School researchers. Zago/Helsinki Group defined the look and feel of Global Pulse. We also launched our new open source Drupal website, and published the Secretary-General’s second “Voices of the Vulnerable” report on the impact of the global economic crisis.  We assembled a global inventory of mobile phone-based data collection projects and released our project roadmap for the next 18 months. The team expanded with Cassandra Hendricks joining as Project Associate and Matt Tilleard as the first in a series of very talented Australian interns.

July kicked off with our official launch party in a beautiful Soho penthouse, donated to us by OpenPlans. UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro keynoted the evening.  We spent most of the month developing our Pulse Labs strategy to explore how exactly to build in-country technical capacity for the project.  Another activity was the release of a report by Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and UNICEF on the non-technical challenges that Global Pulse will face in the years ahead. Yasemin Gaziarifoglu, a PhD candidate at the Rutgers Center for Law and Justice, developed a set of recommendations for how to apply Risk Terrain Mapping to Global Pulse.

In August, in collaboration with MobileActive.Org, we completed a 5-country mobile phone-based survey of perceptions of the economic crisis.  Our team expanded, with Christopher Fabian joining us on a part-time basis from UNICEF’s Innovation Unit.

September was a big month for the growing team: we moved out of UN Headquarters into our new offices in Midtown.  We held our Summer Analytics Workshop at Pocantico Hills, generously hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and again facilitated by the Meridian Insitute.  Makena Walker joined us as Partnerships Advisor on loan from WFP. Our second Australian volunteer, Sam Armstrong, joined the team, donating his time to Global Pulse for three months.  We also participated in UN Week’s Digital Media Lounge to discuss technology innovation and the MDGs. And we were delighted to find out that our 2009 “Voices of the Vulnerable” report, designed by WhatWorks, had won the American Graphic Design Award.

October was largely devoted to developing key partnerships and preparing for the G20 Summit in Korea. We also participated in this year’s CrisisMapping conference, ICCM2010.

In November Assistant Secretary-General Bob Orr, Robert and senior representatives from UNDP, UNICEF, and WFP gave a briefing to the UN General Assembly updating Member States on progress and seeking their guidance on the way forward. The Ugandan Mission to the UN expressed interest in hosting our first Pulse Lab in Kampala.  To explore how the project would be implemented in Uganda, we hired Gabriel White and Patrick Adengo to start working with in-country partners.  We held a tech salon with the local technology community to invite participation from Silicon Alley’s best and brightest. The number of team members had reached 10, with three more in the pipeline.

December began with our inaugural Pulse Camp, with more than 100 participants from around the world working for three days to help us define requirements for — and design the core architecture of — the Global Pulse technology platform.  The event yielded results well beyond our expectations. At the end of Pulse Camp, we co-hosted a reception for Random Hacks of Kindness in New York, where Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed a mixed crowd of hackers, technology industry executives, and UN staff and discussed the common origins of open source software and participatory development. Eva Kaplan joined the team as Programme Specialist, one of two full-time secondments from UNICEF.

We would particularly like to express our gratitude to the Governments of Sweden, Uganda and the United Kingdom for their ongoing support. Our thanks also go to our generous hosts at the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund who made their beautiful and inspiring meeting facilities available to Global Pulse.

Throughout the year we received invaluable advice from our two technical advisors, Assistant Secretary-General Choi Soon-Hong, UN Chief Information Technology Officer, and Professor Paul Cheung, Director of the UN Statistics Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat.

We are grateful to the partners with whom we collaborated in 2010 and we look forward to working with you in future.

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