Global Pulse Technology Update

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Our international development colleagues sometimes describe the Global Pulse tech work as “that weird stuff over there.”  I suspect we do a little more than that, and that it’s worth explaining the tech every so often.

With that, these are the five big things going on with Global Pulse technology at the moment, and how to get involved in them:


This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on for a long time (yes, even more exciting than planetary robots). 

This tool allows users to create, share and develop hypotheses (e.g. “I think there’s a food crisis starting in Northern Uganda”), and to share evidence and data-sets to support or refute them. The lovely people at Adaptive Path are collaborating with us, and are doing a brilliant job at designing the user-experience for this tool, and we’re building out to these designs.  We do however need some help with this – UI design help and Python/Django coders would be very useful at this point.  If you want to get involved, the UN Global Pulse – User Interface Google Group is the place to connect.

Platform (code named: “Oliver”)

This is also exciting: the proof of concept for the Global Pulse platform network, starting with the data and tool repository managers. 

Graham Brooks from Thoughtworks is leading this build, and is looking for both UI design help and Ruby/Rails coders on it.  The place to connect with us on this is the UN Global Pulse – Platform Architecture Google Group.  We’re also thinking about its users and how the platform will interface with some powerful and useful existing tools and systems, including the Decision Theatre (situation awareness), UNDP’s CRMA (Crisis and Recovery Mapping and Analysis project) and CIMS (Crisis Information Management Systems – for humanitarian response coordination), and would appreciate comments on this too.


The toolkit is where we keep the analysis tools that we find (or build, if like the Hunchworks we have a need with no corresponding existing open-source tool), and connect them to the datasets and data streams linked from each platform.  We know the basic tools we need are:

  • Big data methods (text analysis, learning algorithms, network analysis)
  • Statistics (frequentist and Bayesian)
  • Collaboration tools (Hunchworks, argumentation)
  • Data preparation (cleaning, normalization, displays for user to clean data)
  • Visualisation (plots, graphs, networks)

We’re building/adapting the first visualization tools soon, and we’re watching the Global Pulse analysis projects to determine which tools are most useful to lab analysts. And we’re always open to tool suggestions.  The place to connect up for this is the UN Global Pulse – Workspace Capabilities Google Group.

New Website

Whilst few would think of this as technology, our website design (on Drupal 7) includes some powerful ideation, innovation management and community coordination tools. We’re prototyping using this as the backbone for a broader Open Innovations framework (“Code Blue”) which we are currently working out the details for.


Of course, building tech isn’t enough: we need to test and adapt the tools, to make sure they’re both used and useful in the field. That’s why we’re doing a lot of listening, both to the tech and potential user communities in the UN and the greater humanitarian space. If you want to comment on our work, or suggest new ways to do it, then the PulseChat Google Group is the place to be.

Finally, for the geeks amongst us, our technology stack is Ruby/Rails over Python, developed on MAMP and pushed to Heroku (help with the Ruby to Python hooks is also appreciated). Our code and designs are all available from the Global-Pulse GitHub repository.

This is all just the start of a long innovations journey for this team and the people who come with us.  We have some great people on the journey with us already, but we always have room in this bus for more team.

Sara Farmer is UN Global Pulse’s Chief Platform Architect.

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