Call for Research Proposals

(June 2013) We are calling for proposals for short-term project collaborations between UN Global Pulse and interested UN Agencies to strengthen the ability to use digital data (specifically, online content such as news media, blogs and forums, or social media) for real-time monitoring. This includes:

  • Monitoring and evaluation which could be tied to a recent, or currently active, intervention or programme being implemented by a UN Agency
  • Early warning, or trend spotting of public opinion on a given topic over time; the project could evaluate the sentiment and occurrence of discussion on a given topic or development indicator.
  • Advocacy monitoring; the research project could focus on capturing how advocacy efforts are reflected in the digital world.


Since its inception in late 2009, Global Pulse has been investigating the viability of using new sources of digital data and real-time analytics—a phenomenon broadly known as “Big Data”—to support development goals. Through its network of “Pulse Lab’s,” the UN System and partners from academia and the private sector can collaborate to develop of a new set of technology tools, and capacities—designed to complement existing data-gathering and analysis methods—which can enhance early warning, improve real-time awareness for programme planning, and monitoring & evaluation.

As part of its mission, Global Pulse seeks to foster innovation with UN Agencies to strengthen their capacity to integrate “new data” into monitoring activities, and contribute to public knowledge on how to catalyze the use of big data for development. Big Data for Development is an evolving concept, however, a preliminary categorization of sources may reflect: 

  • "What People Say" -- Online Content: International and local online news sources, publicly accessible blogs, forum posts, comments and public social media content, online advertising, e-commerce sites and websites created by local retailers that list prices and inventory.
  • What People Do" -- Data Exhaust: Passively generated transactional data resulting from the use of digital services such as financial services (such as purchases, money transfers, savings and loan repayments), communications services (such as anonymized records of mobile phone usage pagerns), or information services (such as aggregated records of search queries). 

Call for Proposals

This call for research proposals seeks to strengthen the ability of UN agencies to use Online Content for real-time monitoring.

In order to strengthen UN Agencies’ capacity to integrate Online Content into monitoring and evaluation activities, UN Global Pulse offers to collaborate with interested UN agencies on a specific research project aimed at investigating how analysis of Online Content (like social media, blogs, news articles, etc.) could support their monitoring effort. As part of the collaboration, UN Global Pulse will provide access, training and support in the use of latest monitoring and analytics tools – which are able to categorize, track and measure large volumes of digital content. The UN agency partner is expected to identify a data gap or challenge within its unit/country office that might be addressed through online monitoring techniques and produce a feasibility report based on the research project.


The UN agency partner is expected to produce a findings and feasibility report based on the research. That report will assess the value of using Online Content in the specific context of the project and document the process, the research methodologies and findings, and recommendations on how the technique could be integrated to support decision-making within the unit or country office.

Research project 

The project could aim to test whether online sources contain significant and reliable signals that point to changes in population or public behavior in response to a campaign, programme or policy, and/or explore whether such digital "proxy indicators" could be used to track development progress or reversals. In particular, it would be related to one of the following themes:

• Monitoring and evaluation of a program or intervention: the project could be tied to a recent, or currently active, intervention or programme. (As an example, as part of a global initiative to promote the use of life saving vaccines, UNICEF has tracked the rise of online anti-vaccination sentiment in Central and Eastern Europe using state-of-the-art social media monitoring tools.)

• Early Warning or Trend Spotting: The research project could aim to perform an historical evaluation of a development indicator by analyzing digital proxy indicators reflected in Online Content. (For instance, Global Pulse investigated how social media and online user-generated content could be used to enrich the understanding of the changing job conditions in the US and Ireland by analyzing the moods and topics present in unemployment-related conversations from the open social web and relating them to official unemployment statistics.)

• Advocacy Monitoring: The research project could focus on capturing how advocacy efforts are reflected in the online world. (As a simple example, Global Pulse monitored the comments in Twitter during World Aids Day in 2010 and 2011 in US and Indonesia, to understand the main topics and trends discussed that day, as well as the evolution of perceptions about AIDS over time.)

Who can apply?

UN system agencies, including the Bretton Woods Institutions. Proposals from UN Country Teams are also welcome. Eligible agencies must be able to designate at least 1 or 2 people as the focal point on the project for its duration. These people will need to be available to provide “ground truth data” (ex: program details/data which would be used as a benchmark or guideline for the analysis of Online Content) and co-perform the research in collaboration with Global Pulse. Although physical presence at Global Pulse is not required (but encouraged if possible), frequent touch points with Global Pulse are expected.

No prior experience in online monitoring systems is needed. The research is expected to be initiated in July/August 2013. Feasibility study must be delivered by November 2013. Typical duration of the projects is 2 months. Access to a good internet connection will be needed during the period of the project.

Selection criteria

▪ Potential value of research for strengthening capacity to integrate analysis of Online Content into monitoring activities;

▪ Potential value of research for country-specific real-time monitoring priorities;

▪ Innovative and cutting edge nature of proposal; ▪ Potential for replication of research findings, including mainstreaming of approaches into existing UN and government monitoring efforts;

▪ Feasibility of proposed project idea and approach, including ability to complete research within a 2-month period. Annex I: Expression of Interest Format

The submissions should answer the following questions in no more than three paragraphs each. Projects will be evaluated and started in a rolling basis. The maximum length of the EoI should be two pages.

1. Title:

2. Focal Point(s)

3. What is the proposed topic for exploration, and how does it fill an existing information/data gap being faced by the unit or office?

4. Why Online Content monitoring could be useful for exploration to fill this gap/address this challenge?

5. What sources of Online Content, and from what geographical region and time period, would be of interest for analysis? (e. g. – French language news articles from a certain time period? Keywords related to HIV in social media content from Latin America? Russian language blogposts from 2012?)

6. Describe any available “ground truth data” (eg. data that the agency already collects) that could be used for comparison and validation of the digital data sources.

7. Expected timing and staff availability.

Contact: with questions or for more information.