Pulse Lab Kampala: New Year, New Projects

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Gathering data to inform policies has traditionally been a complex, time consuming and expensive process, often requiring researchers to choose between in-depth studies of small population groups, or superficial inquiries into large population groups. Big data analytics offers the possibility of using technologies to carry out faster and more cost-effective data gathering for policymaking.

Pulse Lab Kampala is a data innovation lab where policymakers and in-country development experts can work side by side with data scientists and engineers to explore new ways of using digital data and analytics.

I joined Pulse Lab Kampala in late 2014 as Lab Manager and spent the last portion of the year talking to UN agencies and other development partners about the information gaps they are experiencing, and how data analysis of non-traditional data sources could potentially help. Taking those information gaps as our starting point, Pulse Lab Kampala has scoped a number of research projects for 2015. (Full list below.)

These six projects are in the early stages of development, but with support and funding to grow, we at Pulse Lab Kampala think the outputs of these projects, in the form of tools, technologies and methodologies, could prove to be powerful assets to the development community both here and further afield.

Transforming Community Radio into Big Data

One project that we are particularly excited about involves leveraging state-of-the-art technology to incorporate people’s voices into policy development in Uganda.  Here, as in many countries, there remains a digital divide with some key groups – particularly elders and those in rural areas – lacking access to ICTs and social media. Community radio, by contrast, is a ubiquitous service that the majority of Ugandans can access. Culturally, local radio remains a popular place for many people to share opinions, often in the local dialect, via phone-ins.  By using technology to capture audio and transcribe the content into text, radio can become a digital big data source.

One planned application is to use data analytics to support policymakers in gaining a real-time understanding of Ugandan citizens’ concerns related to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) policies and projects. Initiated by Pulse Lab Kampala in partnership with Makerere University of Uganda and Stellenbosch University of South Africa, the project will support the monitoring and evaluation of the National Development Plans and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2016 – 2020. Ugandans will benefit from more effective monitoring and evaluation of development programmes, which in turn accelerates development gains and maximizes the use of resources.

Thanks to a new partnership with the government of Sweden, a champion in supporting innovative approaches to bring about a data revolution in Uganda, Pulse Lab Kampala has just started to develop the technology to expand sentiment analysis in the country.  We’re excited to see this project, and the others listed below, mature in 2015.

More information about the transforming community radio into a big data project 

Pulse Lab Kampala planned research projects in 2015:

  1. Using Big Data Analytics to Put People’s Voices at the Centre of Development in Uganda

  2. Strengthening Preparedness to Combat Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Uganda

  3. Mobility Calendars for Food Security and Livelihoods Analysis

  4. Making Ugandan Community Radio Machine-Readable Using Speech Recognition Technology

  5. Strengthening Accountability of Aid Delivery in Northern Uganda

  6. Supporting Mobile-based Cassava Disease Monitoring in Karamoja

About the author: Paula Hidalgo-Sanchis is the Lab Manager of Pulse Lab Kampala

Image: Creative Commons – Gates Foundation

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