Data for Development (D4D) Challenge at Net Mob 2013

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For the first time, a big mobile telephony database has been anonymized and opened up to the international scientific community with research teams at some of the world’s best academic institutions competing against each other to use it for social good.  Global Pulse has partnered with Orange to help deliver the challenge and is represented on the Data for Development Selection Committee. 

Here at the NetMob conference in MIT, Cambridge, the best submissions to the Data for Development (D4D) challenge are being presented and four winning entries announced later today. MIT Technology Review has the conference announcement and links to research papers. 

An unprecedented response

The response has been overwhelming with over 80 research teams around the world submitting research projects using the mobile network data and correlating it against other localized or international data sets to tackle some of the biggest development challenges.

The projects range from predicting health epidemics, to exploring the impact of droughts, to the comparison of mobile phone calling patterns with poverty indicators. Many of the submissions looked at optimizing local infrastructures such as public transportation to boost the local economy and designing new services that meet populations’ needs.

Prizes will be awarded to “Best Scientific” prize for the most innovative analysis methods, “Best Development” prize for the project regarded as most useful and “Best Visualization” prize for the clearest and most creative data visualization. An overall winner will also be announced.

Data philanthropy

So why has one of the world’s largest telecommunications operators Orange given unprecedented access to data relating to 2.5bn anonymized text messages and phone calls from the Ivory Coast? For companies like Orange, permitting the focused use of their data for development goals is a next step in Corporate Social Responsibility. The act of private companies making data sets available for public good is increasingly being referred to as data philanthropy. The first day of Net Mob conference is exclusively focused on the research findings using analysis of the users of mobiles in the Ivory Coast. This competition demonstrates how releasing Big Data sets for focused use can yield valuable insights which could help drive socio-economic development.

We’ll blog about about the winning projects once they’re announced.

Related: Read about the four winners of the Data for Development Challenge

Image credit: Population map of Ivory Coast (a) and Portugal (b). From The Differing Tribal and Infrastructural Influences on Mobility in Developing and Industrialized Regions by Alexander Amini, Kevin Kung, Chaogui Kang, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Carlo Ratti

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