UN Global Pulse is the UN Secretary-General’s initiative on digital innovation. We are funded entirely through voluntary contributions from UN Member States, foundations and private sector entities. Our role, much as the innovation landscape, is fluid which means we continuously reposition ourselves when and where it’s needed. In 2020, as our collective modus operandi was forced to change due to COVID-19, we found new ways of working. In the pages that follow, we’ve provided a snapshot of our activities, outlining their impact and their alignment with our key functions.

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Contents

UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 14

Managing
Change

A very long year.

The year 2020 was many things. UN Global Pulse (UNGP), along with the rest of the world found itself in an entirely predictable (and predicted) context. It was a year of asymmetries and competing logics. Offices, rather than being spaces for work, for creativity, and togetherness, became spaces of threat, of risk. Work and personal lives blurred, with our homes becoming makeshift offices and meeting rooms instead of intimate personal spaces. Reading a room became watching people through a virtual background and the constant fight with the unmute button.

Whilst we were adapting to a life at home, millions of the most vulnerable of our world were adapting to increased inequalities, to a stark lack of social security, to increased poverty and to death. It is in this context that we were asked by the UN Secretary-General’s office to assemble a team that could help the UN make sense of a rapidly changing world in all its complexity. This team needed to work out how technologies, partnerships, new streams of data and information, and innovation, could create new insights to fuel sensemaking and decision making.

The road has been both rewarding and challenging. From Jakarta to Helsinki, and from Kampala to New York, we learned a great deal in 2020. We got some things wrong and we were faced with failure. Some partnerships didn’t come to fruition. Funds did not flow as we hoped. In some cases, efforts to support were turned down. Data sets and algorithms didn’t always work, legal agreements stalled and timezones messed with scheduling. Some of these hurdles were acceptable because that’s the nature of innovation. You fail, but you learn.

You fail, but you iterate. You fail, but you share those lessons so that others can learn.

The good news is that there were a lot of successes. The team would build epidemiological models with UNHCR and OCHA, UCL and Durham University to support decision making in Cox’s Bazar refugee settlement. It would support WHO fight infodemics in Africa, countering often dangerous claims of cures, rumours of self-medication, and of anti-vaccine sentiment. With OHCHR the team would investigate the effects of the pandemic on some of the world’s most vulnerable people. With the Development Coordination Office (DCO) great lengths went to scaling existing tools and approaches. The Secretary-General and his Senior Management Group were briefed on progress, and the Deputy Secretary-General provided regular advice and guidance. The cadence of needs were matched with a revised approach from the UN Global Pulse team, and its partners.

Because we were not necessarily set up for crisis response, we created a Crisis Insights Team to test new approaches and ourselves and the way we worked. 

The year 2020 required us to simultaneously manage change in a pandemic and to respond to the needs emerging from the pandemic. It also made us realize that change needs to be a constant in our now normal. Among the many things we learned in 2020, some are worth including here. We learned that we lacked experience in working in crises settings, our instincts and reactions were not well-honed in terms of the cadence of demands or context. We lacked structures and the right kind of fluidity. Our back end processes, including operational support, were hugely under resourced and underappreciated. This meant that getting new team members on board, or new funding streams, partnerships, or procuring tools was incredibly difficult and time consuming.

And whilst we learned the above and we adapted, we also learned that investing in teams rather than gadgets is an important — an essential — part of transformation and reform. Critical un earmarked funds allowed us to adapt quickly and to provide security during global upheaval. Time and time again we learned the value of true innovation which requires investment in understanding challenges and problems before producing solutions.

We also learned about mental health. Our team worked on models that predicted the numbers of deaths from the COVID-19 disease. For some, this will have a profound effect on their worldview moving forwards. Many of us dealt with home-schooling, becoming teachers and educators, or becoming our own personal trainers. Some of us had to self isolate for months on end and to be alone, perhaps at times unhealthily finding solace only in work. We learned that as managers, our role must also deepen in understanding and empathy.

Building on the above and much more, we also learned that we wanted a different future for UNGP. 

This future refocuses our work but also our culture. We’re going to build on the last ten years of experimentation and engagement, and we’re going to broaden our work to include Futures and Foresight so we can better anticipate and hopefully influence the future of our world. We’re going to do more innovation that reaches beyond AI and data, so that we can contribute to an even more agile United Nations. We’re going to investigate how we can pivot towards Behavioural Science, and contribute to the ongoing digital transformation of the UN. We will innovate our operational backbone so that we can establish strong partnerships quicker. We will streamline our administration to have resources flow freely through our network to create better conditions for the network of humans to thrive.

The good news is that some of this good work has already started. Our newest team joined our network from Helsinki in 2020 and they’re already shaping what futures and foresight could look like. In Kampala, the team is using digital technologies to understand the effects of COVID on peacekeeping operations. In Jakarta the team has been fusing behavioural science and human centered design towards improving financial inclusion in Indonesia. And in New York, the team is working tirelessly with the Executive Office of the Secretary-General to tackle operational challenges, and alignment with overarching priorities.

If 2020 taught us one thing, it is that change is never easy, but always possible.

A very long year. Buf if 2020 taught us one thing, it is that change is never easy, but always possible. 

The year 2020 was many things. UN Global Pulse (UNGP), along with the rest of the world found itself in an entirely predictable (and predicted) context. It was a year of asymmetries and competing logics. Offices, rather than being spaces for work, for creativity, and togetherness, became spaces of threat, of risk. Work and personal lives blurred, with our homes becoming makeshift offices and meeting rooms instead of intimate personal spaces. 

Whilst we were adapting to a life at home, millions of the most vulnerable of our world were adapting to increased inequalities, to a stark lack of social security, to increased poverty and to death. It is in this context that we were asked by the UN Secretary-General’s office to assemble a team that could help the UN make sense of a rapidly changing world in all its complexity. 

Read more in the PDF version of our annual report. 

WHY WE ARE

Our Objectives

UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 15

Drive

exploratory research on new insights that can be gleaned from unconventional data sources, artificial intelligence, and futures and foresight.

Assist

UN entities, governments, and development partners in making better use of data and technology.

UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 16
UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 17

Advocate

for the ethical use of data and technological platforms in line with the protection of privacy.

We accomplish these objectives through a network of innovation labs which are made up of multidisciplinary teams of data scientists, engineers, designers, social scientists, communication experts, and data privacy and legal specialists who work together with development and humanitarian practitioners to test, refine, and scale digital innovation.

More about Pulse Lab New York, Pulse Lab Jakarta, and Pulse Lab Kampala

Our Impact

UN Global Pulse labs are helping UN teams, governments, and external partners close the gap between development and humanitarian priorities and the current pace of change that requires faster, better, and more streamlined solutions. We do this through research and development (R&D), human-centred design, policy development for responsible use of data, and scaling of proven approaches. Our work is guided by our collaborations, partnerships, knowledge exchange, and communications.

Methodological Impact

Covers the effects that we have on the practice and application of data science, data protection and privacy, and ethical AI. Under this definition, we research applications of big data and artificial intelligence and integrate new analytical methods into workflows to address existing and emerging challenges. We support development of instruments, partnerships, and mechanisms to strengthen privacy and data protection while encouraging an ethical approach to data and AI across sectors.

Operational Impact

Accelerates UN-wide uptake of policies, software platforms, methods, approaches, and algorithms we have developed over the years or which have been identified to achieve measurable impacts. For instance, improvements in operational effectiveness and/or efficiency due to the adoption or adaption of UN Global Pulse tools, or due to an increased understanding of policies are considered here.

Ecosystemic Impact

Is extremely important given our mandate to support digital innovation more broadly. We are conscious that we exist as part of a much more complex innovation ecosystem. Contributing different approaches to this ecosystem, for example in terms of new collaborations, partnerships, or futures and foresight, we support transformational changes envisaged by the Secretary-General for a faster and more effective United Nations.

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In Action: COVID-19 Response

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Data Science and ANALYTICS

UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 21

Epidemic Modelling of COVID-19 in Settlements

Epidemic Modelling of COVID-19 We built an approach to simulate the effect of different public health interventions against the spread of COVID-19. Although created for the Cox’s Bazar refugee settlement in Bangladesh, the model is designed to be generalizable to other settings. The results are helping professionals in Cox’s Bazar settlement

UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 23

Alternative Use of Traditional Data against COVID-19

At the end of September 2020 Indonesia had reported almost 275,000 COVID-19 cases since the first confirmed case in early March. It is the second highest number of cases in South-East Asia, after the Philippines. With numbers of people infected on the rise, parts of Indonesia have brought back the

UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 26

Need for greater cooperation between practitioners and the AI community

Solidarity should be a core principle guiding the development of innovative and ethical AI applications to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the newly published article co-authored by World Health Organization, UNESCO, ITU and UN Global Pulse experts . The article, AI cooperation to support the global response to COVID-19,

UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 27

Using speech-to-text technology to support response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has generated a vast amount of research to support detection, patterns of transmission, treatment, development of vaccines and impacts of the pandemic. At UN Global Pulse, we  joined worldwide efforts since the onset of the disease conducting research to scale high-impact data science and AI methodologies to

Responsible Data

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Risks, Harms and Benefits Assessment

UN Global Pulse has developed a two-phase “Risk, Harms and Benefits Assessment Tool,” a data privacy, ethics and data protection compliance mechanism designed to help identify and minimize the risks of harms and maximize the positive impacts of data innovation projects.   The assessment can be used at the onset of a data innovation project,

Governance of AI

The AI governance challenge is vast and complex, straddling the fields of technology, law, philosophy and ethics. As an innovator in the area of AI for humanitarian aid and development, we continued to lead efforts to ensure that the use of technology does not infringe on human rights, especially when faced with the challenges of a global pandemic.

With that goal in mind:

We continued to serve as a Co- Champion for the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation’s Recommendation 3C on artificial intelligence and as a Key Stakeholder for Recommendations 3A/B on digital human rights.

We hosted a high level event on Protecting Human Rights During the Covid-19 Crisis and Beyond, during the UN General Assembly in September.

We amplified Global South participation in the development of AI Governance processes, by supporting the Governments of Uganda and Ghana to develop Ethical Standards for AI.

We contributed to the global efforts of creating a normative instrument on the ethics of AI, led by UNESCO, and became a member of the expert working group to develop an internal ethics code for the UN System.

We worked with the Global Data Access Initiative (GDAI) to enable data sharing across the public and private sectors.

To ensure these and other AI tools enable human progress and contribute to achieving the SDGs, we need to be proactive and inclusive in developing policies and accountability mechanisms that protect human rights, including those that ensure access to reliable quality and unbiased data for training safe and trustworthy AI models. That will be UNGP’s guiding imperative as we forge ahead in 2021.

Operationalizing Our Approaches

Over the years, our network has created AI-powered products for accessing and analysing different data sources, some of which we believe have the potential to be scaled for wider purposes and geographies.

The latest in our toolkit is PulseSatellite, a web-based tool that combines cutting edge artificial intelligence with human expertise to extract the most relevant information from satellite imagery for use in humanitarian contexts. Since its development, we’ve been figuring out how we can put this product in the hands of users in the field to free up valuable time spent by analysts performing tasks that an AI can perform in a fraction of that time. Of course the challenge is combining speed with accuracy, and this is what we tried to accomplish. Use cases for PulseSatellite currently include: monitoring population displacement, settlement mapping, damage assessment, flood assessment and identifying the direct impact of earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones and landslides. To test its capabilities, we opened it up to UN agencies and started working with different teams from different agencies on select ideas. In July 2020, the flood assessment capability was successfully deployed by UNOSAT, our long term partner in this endeavour, after heavy monsoon rains around the Brahmaputra river and in the Sylher district in Bangladesh.

Another example is Qatalog, a multi-faceted tool for accessing and analyzing PDF documents, radio, and historical social media data related to specific topics, themes, and discussions. The idea for Qatalog (Query / Assign / Tag and Analyse) was born out of our own experience with products for social media analysis that existed on the market but that did not fit the needs for our sustainable development and humanitarian projects. For one, while social media is widespread across most of the developed world, it is less so in developing and least developed countries, which excludes a large portion of the most vulnerable populations. Therefore, we developed a product that incorporates alternative sources of big data, like information from radio talk shows. In 2020, we integrated radio as a data source for querying and tested its usability. In addition, after discussions with colleagues across the UN, we realized that many parts of the Organization continue to use PDF documents for reporting purposes, which prompted us to include PDFs as another source of information. To streamline the onboarding of new users, which our team spent hours doing on an individual basis, we also created interactive tutorials that allowed us to get people on board faster.Throughout the process of development, we’ve faced challenges and had to reconfigure and reshape how Qatalog functions. One of the biggest hurdles has been shifting from beta testing to regular use by multiple agencies, which required infrastructure changes for sustainable operations.

Based on this experience, the need for flexibility and continued engineering support have become evident. Even once we have scaled Qatalog and put it in the hands of UN users, we will need to make sure the product is properly maintained and that we have the right mechanisms in place to continue to reconfigure it. What is even more important is also making sure that the final insights, which would be used for reporting and presentations, adhere to our, and the UN’s, privacy policies and best practices. To mitigate any unwanted risks and harms derived from these insights, we drafted “Terms of Use” and “Privacy Policies” for the use of the product. We also created approval processes for any published reports for both internal and external use.

Using automated speech recognition to support peacekeeping operations was one of our biggest undertakings of 2020. United Nations peacekeeping missions increasingly need to operate in hostile environments, characterized by frequent attacks executed by extremists and militias directed primarily at military contingents of UN Missions, but also at the civilian population. We acted as the technical implementation partner to design, develop and deploy a technological prototype that would enhance MINUSMA’s (the UN Mission in Mali) situational awareness. The project built on our years of experience working to develop speech-to-text technology for African vernacular languages, and transcribing and analysing public discourse in Uganda and Somalia. Applying this type of technology to a peacekeeping context though presented new opportunities as well as challenges. Our team, spread across 7 countries, worked closely with MINUSMA and our project partners in the UN Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) to design and build a functional prototype, which we successfully tested with our partners on the ground in Mali. Due to the sensitive nature of peacekeeping operations, we cannot go into detail on the exact nature of this work. However, based on the results we obtained in this initial phase, we will continue to build the technology in close collaboration with our partners.

Shaping the innovation ecosystem

As we look at the speed of change around us and the new development and humanitarian challenges that emerge and evolve, we need to be able to draw from and share each other’s experiences to become more agile and better adapted. With COVID-19 throwing the world off course, our network had to quickly change and adapt our approach to provide partners with expertise and mechanisms that would allow them to quickly respond not just to the pandemic, but also to the infodemic that accompanied it. To do that, we worked inside the innovation ecosystem bringing stakeholders together through engagement in relevant working groups and initiatives, and by increasing the number of workshops and internal capacity building meetings we hosted.

Building Capacity for Data Innovation

Generating Statistics from Mobile Phone Records to Support COVID-19 Response

National Statistics Offices (NSO), which are the custodians and main producers of data at national levels, are increasingly experimenting with big data, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to requests from statisticians in Africa, our labs in New York and Kampala conducted a series of webinars to build the capacity of NSOs to use anonymised mobile phone data for decision-making in response to this pandemic and future crises.

Read more

Data Science Africa 2020

When UNGP Kampala and Makerere University first envisioned the idea of a Data Science Africa week, they wanted to create a space for youth and enthusiasts to learn about machine learning and AI and how to leverage them to advance sustainable development in Africa.

This year’s event took place between 24th July and 1st August and was held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNGP Kampala supported its organization, as is traditional for our Lab, and showcased some of the latest functionalities in data innovations that have been developed in the past years.

Even though participants were unable to interact online as much as they would have in person, the virtual nature of the event allowed more people to participate with an overall count of over 200 attendees from about 15 countries in Africa. The majority of the participants are students in Computer and Data Science associated fields.

Read more. 

Global South AI4COVID Programme

The Global South AI4COVID Programme was launched in 2020 to support multidisciplinary research focused on evidence-based AI and data science approaches to aid COVID-19 response and recovery in low- and middle- income countries. 

UNGP Jakarta serves as a technical resource hub for grantees for timely flows of knowledge and expertise and plays a key role in augmenting global communication efforts, identifying opportunities for policy linkages and facilitating mobilization for action in the Global South.

Read more. 

AIS Big Data Hackathon

Our team in UNGP New York worked alongside the UN Statistics Division, UNCTAD, Marine Traffic, and CCRi, to host the UN’s first AIS Big Data Hackathon. The challenge featured 17 teams selected from a pool of applicants from across the world who developed innovations around two primary themes: the economic and trade impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, and the environmental impacts of the shipping industry.

Read more. 

Modelling the Spread of COVID-19 in Settlements

We invited health professionals and researchers to an informal workshop to share lessons-learned and future directions from projects that used epidemic modelling techniques against COVID-19. Participants included colleagues from: DFID, ICRC, OCHA, UNHCR, WHO, the UN Asia Statistics Office, Delft University of Technology, Durham University, Harvard University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Manchester University.

For us, putting together this workshop provided an opportunity to connect with others working in this area to make sure that we coordinate our response for better decisions and stronger support for the people we serve.

Creating the Enabling Environment for Innovation to Thrive

Global Privacy Assembly COVID-19 Taskforce and Working Group

In 2020, while we continued to be an active observer of the Global Privacy Assembly, we also joined the group’s COVID-19 Taskforce where we contributed our expertise on how to ensure safe and privacy respectful data sharing mechanisms during the pandemic. This work led to the adoption by the Assembly of a Resolution on the Privacy and Data Protection Challenges Arising in the Context of COVID-19. This work will continue in 2021 under the newly formed Global Privacy Assembly COVID-19 Working Group that aims to strengthen the collective capacity of members to respond to data protection and privacy challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Smart Africa Data Protection Working Group

Smart Africa is an organization initiated under the auspices of the African government that works to harmonise data protection legislations across Africa. Because of our years of experience developing frameworks for the safe and responsible use of data, we were invited to join these efforts as a member of the working group. In 2020, the group began mapping the existing data protection and privacy frameworks across the continent to identify commonalities and points of divergence. This line of work was derailed by the pandemic and is set to continue at full speed in 2021.

Smart Africa AI Working Group

Through the AI Working Group, our network and partners are sharing policies for strong and ethical AI across Africa, fostering AI expertise and solutions to help create the enabling environment for open data to boost AI exchanges across Africa. The working group was established in 2020. Its first order of business was creating a blueprint for national AI strategies to help guide efforts of African countries. Based on this blueprint, the group will select pilot projects which will be implemented in 2021.

Global Data Access Initiative

To enable cross-sectoral data sharing mechanisms, we joined the Future Society’s AI Initiative and the Mckinsey & Company’s Noble Intelligence initiative to create a Global Data Access Initiative. This mechanism brings together some 70 companies and organizations to turbocharge innovation by serving as a platform for collaboration between governments, the private sector, academics, and international institutions. In 2020, the GDAI organized a high level event during the UN Data Forum as a first step in setting up the technical infrastructure needed to facilitate access to quality data.

Read more.

Expert Group on Governance of Data and AI

We continue to chair the Expert Group on Governance of Data and AI, which includes international leaders who serve as advocates for privacy and the human rights-centric approach to data and AI in development and humanitarian practice. Since its launch in 2015, the Group has been a key contributor to the efforts and deliverables of our network by providing its expertise and guidance, including on the development of the UN Principles on Personal Data Protection and Privacy, the UNDG Guidance Note on Data Protection and Privacy, UN Global Pulse’s Risk Assessment Tool, and our work around data protection and privacy during COVID-19.

Read more. 

UN Privacy Policy Group

The UN Privacy Policy Group (UN PPG) is an inter- agency group that UNGP founded and which we co- chair together with the UN Office of Information and Communications Technology. Throughout the years, the Group’s work has been instrumental for the UN. The UN PGG developed the UN Principles on Personal Data Protection and Privacy, the first instrument of the United Nations for the privacy protecting processing of personal data. In 2020, the Group’s work led to the development of a Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in Response to COVID-19 to help inform and guide the global response to COVID-19 across the UN system. The Statement was endorsed by UN organizations in November to reinforce our shared commitment to use data and technology in a way that respects the right to privacy and other human rights.

Read more. 

GSMA AI for Impact Advisory Board

This GSMA initiative defines the technical, commercial and ecosystem requirements to deliver viable data- driven products and services that adhere to principles of privacy and ethics. It is guided by a task force of 20 mobile operators and an advisory panel of 12 UN agencies, which we are one of. At the national level, the GSMA supports real-world implementations, replicating proven models and delivering market- shaping campaigns to unlock demand and address barriers. During the year, we continued to advise the group through regular consultations.

Read more. 

GEO-AI Working Group

UN Open GIS is an initiative of the United Nations to develop open-source technology in the field of geographic information systems. The newest working group of UN Open GIS, created in 2020, is the GEO-AI Working Group, which we co-chaired together with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In its first year of activity, the Geo-AI Working Group gathered experts from across the ecosystem and began ideating how to incorporate their common knowledge into GIS work. The Group held its first consultation in September to consolidate the expertise of its growing members. One of the Group’s objectives is to address current challenges in implementing AI into geospatial work, like reducing the obstructions of satellite imagery by cloud cover.

Read more. 

UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 46

Our Publications and Scientific Articles

Sharing What We've Learned

One of the many ways we continue to learn and share what we have learned in terms of failures as well as successes is by convening diverse groups of thinkers, or joining diverse groups of thinkers in one place at one time. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us much to ponder when it comes to attendance, in particular environmental impacts, and challenges to diversity especially when hosted in the US or Europe. We’ve embraced digital convening and will be maximising these media moving forwards, pandemic or no. We’ll also continue to refuse participation in non-diverse panels and events.

14 January 2020
Open Source Software as Critical Digital Infrastructures: Legal Technologies & Institutional Design 14 January 2020

This workshop explored how different frameworks, foundations, standard-setting organizations, and non-jurisdictional maintenance hubs might be part of the solution to address the under- maintenance of open source software. UNGP New York joined discussions around the challenges and opportunities of open source licenses as a public digital good.

14 January 2020
17-19 January 2020
Urban Motion Volume 3

The School of Architecture, Planning and Policy Development at Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) organised a panel discussion under the theme “Resilience in the Era of Disruption”. Our humanitarian data advisor in UNGP Jakarta discussed how real-time sensing from non- traditional data can help governments assist vulnerable populations after natural disasters.

17-19 January 2020
5-7 February 2020
SDG 16+ Global Technical Workshop

UNGP New York attended a workshop hosted by the Danish Institute of Human Rights and The Global Alliance for Reporting on Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies which addressed critical challenges pertaining to the national monitoring of SDG16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

5-7 February 2020
7-12 February 2020
AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence

At AAAI-20, one of the premier conferences on AI in the world, UNGP New York launched Pulse Satellite, our collaborative web-based tool that combines cutting edge artificial intelligence with human expertise to extract the most relevant information from satellite imagery for use in humanitarian contexts. The tool was built in collaboration with UNOSAT.

7-12 February 2020
17-19 February 2020
Annual Australasian AID Conference 2020

In partnership with the Asia Foundation, the research conference brought together researchers from Australia, the Pacific and Asia who are working in international development and policy. UNGP Jakarta shared research insights on how it developed MIND, a data analytics and

information management system to inform post-disaster logistics planning.

17-19 February 2020
20-21 February 2020
Conference on Data for Peace and Security

This 2-day conference organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands, highlighted the opportunities of data-driven innovation and technological developments for peace and security. UNGP New York was invited to present our work in the form of data- driven projects and policy frameworks developed to assist global peace and security efforts, including our radio monitoring tool.

20-21 February 2020
21 February 2020
Co-creating Inclusive Innovation

Taking place during the World Economic Forum, this seminar addressed questions of how emerging technologies can promote a more equitable environment for children and adults, including those suffering from mental health issues. UNGP New York was invited to speak around its work leveraging big data to decrease the digital divide, address existing social inequalities, and promote inclusive innovation.

21 February 2020
26-27 February 2020
Counted and Visible: Global Conference on the Measurement of Gender and Intersecting Inequalities

In a panel on Gender Data Governance in the Digital Era, UNGP New York presented examples from our own work around ethics, big data, and AI. Our director discussed how to approach data collection in order not to reinforce discrimination, bias, or stereotypes against individuals and groups. The event was organized by UN Women in collaboration with the UN Statistics Division.

26-27 February 2020
28 February 2020
Lab Visit: UNESCAP Delegation

UNGP Jakarta hosted a visiting delegation from UNESCAP Asia and the Pacific, headed by its Executive Secretary Armida Alisjahbana. The team shared the evolution of its data journey from working mostly with social media data in its early days to now having research partnerships with a diverse range of data providers.

28 February 2020
4 March 2020
Diálogo (im)probable. Ética y Revolución Digital

UNGP New York’s chief data scientist attended the event to share our expertise in driving policy efforts around data privacy and protection at the UN. The conversation, organized by the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (itdUPM), focused on the ethical and organizational challenges posed by digital technologies.

4 March 2020
4 March 2020
Tech Talk: From Research to Product

The Directorate of Information Systems and Digital Transformation at Institut Pertanian Bogor University invited UNGP Jakarta to share its experiential learning on bringing together academics and decision makers working in the policy space. The Lab discussed how it partners with government counterparts to develop fit-for-purpose tools and prototypes through a co-design process.

4 March 2020
26 March 2020
Privacy and Pandemics: Corporate Data Sharing Workshop

Privacy and civil liberties are increasingly a point of inflection as efforts to collect and use population data to contain, mitigate and fight the spread of COVID-19 are launched. UNGP New York joined experts for a conversation around preserving civil liberties and democratic values while allowing for ethical uses of data in times of crises.

26 March 2020
4-8 May 2020
AI for Good Global Summit

At this year’s AI for Good Global Summit, the UNGP network hosted three sessions centred on data privacy and data protection; ethical development of AI; and data for social good. The AI for Good Global Summit is the leading United Nations platform on AI, connecting AI innovators with problem owners for sustainable development. The Summit is organized yearly by the ITU and XPRIZE Foundation, with involvement from UN agencies including our network.

4-8 May 2020
3 June 2020
EduData Summit Series

The EduData Summit series explored how higher education can meaningfully use data to drive innovation for global benefit. UNGP New York shared our experience on how we can leverage data-driven innovation for education and to meet environmental imperatives. The session session gathered some 435 registrations from 67 countries.

3 June 2020
8 June 2020
CogX

To address the question: “How do we get the next 10 years right?”, this global leadership summit and festival of AI and breakthrough technology convened forward-thinking policy makers, academics and activists. UNGP Jakarta described how the Lab implements its mixed-methods approach when designing interventions, by combining human centered design with AI and data analytics.

8 June 2020
9 June 2020
Berlin Summer Dialogue 2020: Crisis Prevention: From Ambition to Action –New Pathways for the UN

The annual event organized by the German Cooperation and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) addressed the following questions: What can new technologies contribute for early prediction and warning of conflicts? How can the cooperation of international organisations in conflict prevention be improved? And finally, How can the necessary political will be generated for early detection and preventive action?

9 June 2020
16 July 2020
Data Privacy Risks and Data Protection: What Happens When Sensitive Peacekeeping Data Leaks? How Can We Prevent It?

In an internal session organized by the DPPA-DPO Information Management Unit, UNGP New York presented our data protection and privacy frameworks and shared insights and lessons learned from applying our own Risk Assessment Tool, a data privacy, ethics and data protection compliance mechanism designed to help identify and minimize the risks of harms and maximize the positiv

16 July 2020
29 July 2020
RightsCon Online 2020

Described as the world’s leading event on human rights in the digital age, UNGP Jakarta participated in a virtual roundtable that addressed the question: Can Global South institutions survive the GovTech onslaught? Highlighting proofs- of-concept from Indonesia and the wider Asia Pacific, our Data Innovations and Policy Lead explained how with appropriate checks and governance, digital innovation can help to address the COVID- 19 crisis.

29 July 2020
4-7 August 2020
UNDESA Expert Group Meeting

UNDESA, UNCTAD and ITU organized an expert group meeting around the theme of “Socially just transition towards sustainable development: The role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all”. UNGP New York was invited to share its expertise on digital governance and more broadly, data privacy, protection, and ethics.

4-7 August 2020
5 August 2020
Leveraging Data in the “New Normal”

Organised by the Australia-Indonesia Centre, the webinar considered learnings from the pandemic, how data has been collected and the role of data in disaster preparedness. UNGP Jakarta shared insights from its assessment of Indonesia’s country-wide data ecosystem in relation to the availability of publicly reported data on COVID-19, as well as some of the underlying conditions that need to be addressed.

5 August 2020
24-26 August 2020
Asia and the Pacific Transport Forum

The forum provided an opportunity for experts in the Asian transport community to meet and share thoughts on key transport issues that have come about in the “new normal”. Speaking on the theme of building resilience to future crises in transport, our team in Jakarta highlighted potential benefits of enhancing the role of big data to address changes in urban transport and shape future development of the transport system.

24-26 August 2020
2 September 2020
International Data Sharing and Artificial Intelligence Cooperation in Global Public Health Emergencies: A Virtual Roundtable

UNGP New York joined a panel discussion on Data Sharing, AI Cooperation, and the Transnational Response to COVID-19 to discuss the challenges and opportunities for transnational collaboration among researchers racing to support the response to the pandemic.

2 September 2020
2 September 2020
Mempertahankan Semanqat Keria di Tengah Pandemi COVID-19

The Indonesian Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises invited our team in Jakarta to share its work on COVID-19 response in Indonesia. UNGP Jakarta underscored why effective response calls for shifting from simply innovating for the sake of innovation, to addressing underlying challenges in the data ecosystem to ensure greater adoption and more sustainable solutions.

2 September 2020
22-23 September 2020
2020 Global Virus Network Special Annual Meeting: Epidemics & Pandemics in the Modern Era

This meeting focused on lessons learned from previous viral diseases and discussed preparedness for the second wave of SARS- CoV-2 and future pandemics.UNGP New York presented during a session on Information Mining and Validations and shared our experience working with WHO to mine online sources to understand dynamics of both the pandemic

and the infodemic.

22-23 September 2020
5 October 2020
Protecting Human Rights During the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond: Digital Pandemic Surveillance and the Right to Privacy

At the 75th UN General Assembly, UNGP New York hosted a high-level multi- stakeholder panel that delved into the implications of increased surveillance on human rights during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The event narrowed in on contact tracing, the use of biometric and health-related data, and other technological interventions. Co-hosted with UN Human Rights, Access Now, and sponsored by UN Member States, the discussions drew upon existing multi stakeholder initiatives, including the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation Roadmap.

5 October 2020
9 October 2020
Ministry of Change Innovation CoP Week

Sharing stories and lessons alongside colleagues from UNDP Philippines Pintig Lab, the Head of our team in Jakarta discussed how the team has evolved from mostly focusing on data innovation, to now embracing its emerging identity as an analytic partnerships accelerator for development and humanitarian action in the region. The event was a collaboration between UNDP and States of Change.

9 October 2020
14 October 2020
Data Science for Social Good Summit

The online summit co-organized by DSSG Portugal, SoGooD2ata and Nova SBE showcased impactful projects, provided first hand learning opportunities from global leaders and offered learn-by-doing workshops for NGOs, Government and tech-savvies.UNGP New York was invited to talk about its work applying AI to analyze public voices in support of the 2030 Agenda.

14 October 2020
20 October 2020
Safe and Trustworthy Al-Based Data Algorithms – Emerging Best Practices in the Global South and the Global North

UNGP New York organized this session at the UN World Data Forum to bring perspectives from the Global South and the Global North around the safe and trustworthy use of AI systems, especially in the time of COVID-19. Discussions not only reviewed developments in this space, but looked more specifically at how cultural approaches influence ethical considerations of AI and data algorithms and how we can develop flexible best practices for data governance and national human rights-based approaches.

20 October 2020
21 October 2020
Leveraging Data and AI to Achieve the SDGs While Moving Toward a Global Data Access Framework

UNGP New York hosted a discussion on the technical infrastructure necessary to facilitate access to quality data through the development of a Global Data Access Initiative. Building on discussions held during previous years at the UN General Assembly, the AI for Good Global Summit, and the World Government Summit, the session investigated three proposed use cases in Global South countries.

21 October 2020
28 October 2020
CDAC 2020 Online Annual
Public Forum

Under the theme Accountability in the Age of the Algorithm, the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities Network organised a public forum to discuss digital inclusivity and issues that constrain it. UNGP Jakarta talked about the importance of designing inclusive solutions that also cater to the world’s most vulnerable populations, and shared how local initiatives can offer practical solutions that can be further scaled for social impact.

28 October 2020
2 November 2020
UNESCAP Asia-Pacific Stats
Café Series

Furthering the discourse on integrating big data sources into official statistics, UNGP Jakarta presented its research results on using mobile network data to map population displacement in the Pacific following natural disasters and leveraging real-time sensing from social media data to infer commuting statistics in Jakarta.

2 November 2020
9 November 2020
Global Crises and Socially Responsible Data Responses

UNGP New York was one of the organizers of this session of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to uncover how data sharing can provide relevant tools for prevention and management of global health crises. The summary of the workshop featured a list of case studies mentioned by speakers and participants in order to provide a menu of good practices for policy approaches.

9 November 2020
9 November 2020
Gender Equality & Social Inclusion Conference Call

As part of Abt Associates’ Gender and Social Inclusion Community of Practice regular monthly call, UNGP Jakarta articulated how the Lab went about embedding gender in its After Dark research on the safety of women travelling at night and how the findings and recommendations are influencing transport outcomes for women and girls in Indonesia.

9 November 2020
22 November 2020
Indo Data Week

The week-long knowledge sharing virtual event brought together visionaries, practitioners, decision makers and researchers from the fields of data science and sustainable development. UNGP Jakarta presented in its inaugural session on how Big Data can promote data-driven decision making for effective government response to COVID-19 at the national and sub-national levels.

22 November 2020
30 November 2020
Digital Agriculture Solutions Forum for Asia and the Pacific 2020

FAO and the ITU organised the forum to share ideas on how communities can build back better through sustainable digital interventions for agriculture. Discussing its research on Identifying Potential Positive Deviants (PDs) Across Rice Producing Areas in Indonesia, UNGP Jakarta described some of the enabling conditions that are necessary to ensure that successful innovations are made accessible to broad-based users.

30 November 2020
1-2 December 2020
Big Data Forum Trinidad and Tobago – A smarter future: Exploring
Big Data opportunities for Trinidad and Tobago

The Forum illustrated the potential for Big Data to add value and reduce risk across business, social and economic spheres. It also explored the transformational potential of Big Data and looked at ways to build and promote trust, collaboration and innovation across multiple sectors.

1-2 December 2020
3 December 2020
ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium 2020

The symposium gathered government officials, regulators, national statisticians, data producers and researchers to discuss issues related to information society trends and their measurement. UNGP Jakarta shared its experiential learnings on the feasibility of leveraging mobile phone data for disaster response in the Pacific and in Indonesia.

3 December 2020
11 December 2020
Report Launch: Leveraging Digitalization to cope with COVID-19

In a public forum attended by representatives from the Indonesian Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, Indonesian Chambers of Commerce, and the Ministry of Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises, UNGP Jakarta and UN Women presented the results from their joint research which examined the difference in outcomes and coping strategies between women and men owned micro and small businesses in response to the pandemic.

11 December 2020
12 December 2020
2020 Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems

The conference is one of the largest AI virtual gatherings, where participants from across the globe get to share and explore some of the most cutting-edge AI innovations that are addressing real-world challenges. UNGP Jakarta had three papers accepted to this year’s conference, which

were featured during the virtual conference halls.

12 December 2020

Partners &
Collaborators

UN & Development Partners

Government

Private Sector Companies

Academia

Crisis Insights in Response to COVID-19

Our Crisis Insights Team was created in 2020 at the request of the Secretary-General to support UN inter- agency work on advanced analytics and artificial intelligence for responding to COVID-19 and future crises. It works in the three areas outlined in the UN’s response plan to the crisis, namely 1) The health response; 2) Safeguarding lives and livelihoods; and 3) A better post COVID-19 world.
UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 144

Modelling the Spread of COVID-19 in Cox's Bazar Refugee Settlement

We helped bring together experts from WHO, UNHCR, OCHA, Durham University and IBM/MIT AI Lab to apply epidemic modelling against COVID-19 in the Cox’s Bazar settlement. Results helped inform decision making on the ground.

Identifying Areas with High Risks for COVID-19

Part of data innovation is about finding new uses for official data that was collected for other purposes. That was the case for our work in Jakarta to identify areas at risk for COVID-19 based on their transmission risk and transmission potential.

Fighting the COVID-19 Infodemic with Radio Data Mining

We successfully tested the technology we developed to extract, transcribe, and analyse public radio discussions to unearth insights about COVID-19 in Uganda, where statistical data and other online data sources are scarce.

Forecasting Migrations Related to COVID-19 Motivated Border Closures

We worked with UNHCR and applied machine learning and econometric forecasting methods to estimate the number of displaced persons who would enter Brazil from Venezuela and their need for humanitarian aid.

Using Social Media Monitoring Against the COVID-19 Infodemic

We used social media monitoring to unearth insights that WHO used to issue recommendations and solutions for timely course correction of communications and better engagement strategies.

Governance of AI During COVID-19

We amplified our participation in the development of AI governance processes in the Global South by supporting the Governments of Uganda and Ghana to develop Ethical Standards for Artificial Intelligence.

Why We Are

UN GLOBAL PULSE IS THE UN SECRETARY- GENERAL’S INITIATIVE ON DIGITAL INNOVATION, REAL-TIME DATA, AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, HUMANITARIAN ACTION, AND PEACE.

Our role, much as the innovation landscape, is fluid which means we continuously reposition our work when and where it’s needed. Our overall vision has remained consistent since our inception. We want to contribute to a future in which real-time data, analytics, and AI are harnessed safely and responsibly for the public good. Realizing this vision means increasing the volume of applications and tools with potential for global impact, creating the right policy frameworks, and strengthening ties with the relevant communities of practice.
UN Global Pulse Annual Report 2020 145

Our Network

UN Global Pulse New York

UN Global Pulse New York, also referred to as Pulse Lab New York, established in 2009, serves as the headquarters of UN Global Pulse and is the thought- leadership and knowledge sharing hub for the network. The Lab works closely with UN agencies and government counterparts to get a better understanding of the policy and implementation issues they are grappling with and to explore how new data sources can provide useful insights that support decision makers.

UN Global Pulse Jakarta

UN Global Pulse New York, also referred to as Pulse Lab New York, established in 2009, serves as the headquarters of UN Global Pulse and is the thought- leadership and knowledge sharing hub for the network. The Lab works closely with UN agencies and government counterparts to get a better understanding of the policy and implementation issues they are grappling with and to explore how new data sources can provide useful insights that support decision makers.

UN Global Pulse Kampala

UN Global Pulse New York, also referred to as Pulse Lab New York, established in 2009, serves as the headquarters of UN Global Pulse and is the thought- leadership and knowledge sharing hub for the network. The Lab works closely with UN agencies and government counterparts to get a better understanding of the policy and implementation issues they are grappling with and to explore how new data sources can provide useful insights that support decision makers.

A New Lab:

UN Global Pulse Finland

A new Lab joined our network in 2020! UN Global Pulse Finland is made up of experts spanning the fields of innovation, transformational and change management, communications, sustainable development and humanitarian response. The Lab engages with a variety of partners to develop, co-create, and promote technology and innovation solutions which accelerate progress on achieving the SDGs. This includes cross- sector collaborations with government ministries, NGOs, development banks, academia, and the private sector.

Due to its wide range of experiences, knowledge, and skill sets, the Lab is an ideal addition to the UN Global Pulse network. Its focus areas will be on:

  • Building Futures and Foresight capabilities which will enhance the work of the UNGP network. This is in part a response to the question: How can we make the UN more agile and responsive to better address needs and new challenges, for example, preparing for and mitigating health emergencies and disasters?
  • Promoting system wide change in scaling innovation for sustained and improved humanitarian, peace and development outcomes.
  • Becoming an operational hub for experts, technical support, learning and building capacity for our development partners.

The Lab aligns with the UN Secretary-General’s priorities and with Finnish Development policy objectives such as gender equality, human rights, and climate change. It will use innovation and technology to help achieve the SDGs and other pressing global priorities. This means drawing on and sharing lessons, expertise and know-how from a much wider development community. Our hope is that this approach will create a better quality of global digital public goods which will benefit more people, communities, and systems.

A warm welcome to our new Lab in Finland!

We Multiply Impact by Tailoring Our Services

As an EXECUTOR, UN Global Pulse implements projects together with UN and other partners, contributing subject matter expertise, and helping develop projects from proof of concept to operationalization.

As a FACILITATOR, UN Global Pulse focuses on project facilitation and acts as a bridge connecting private and public sector entities.

As a TECHNICAL ADVISOR, UN Global Pulse provides highly- specialized expertise as well as advisory and technical guidance on various specific initiatives.

We Bring Partners Together

A decade ago, UN Global Pulse spurred the data philanthropy movement, which has transformed into a call to action by many governments and private sector actors for using data as a public good. Our partnerships with corporations are based around access to data, access to technology, access to expertise, or in some instances, all three. Increasingly, UN Global Pulse has been developing the mechanisms for creating UN System-wide partnerships that UN entities and offices can benefit from. Our partnerships with academia are focused on joint research, and have been very successful both in terms of discovering and explaining various aspects of data and AI, and in shortening the path from research to operational use.

We Create An Enabling Environment for Innovation

The work of UN Global Pulse is generating surprising findings, which make us constantly revisit and reimagine how we do things. At the core of our work is sharing our successes, failures and lessons learned with the wider innovation community. We do this by hosting, participating in, and presenting in workshops and events from the highest-level convenings to ad-hoc sessions with the innovation community. In addition to lending subject matter expertise, we advise on creating job profiles to find the people with the right skills and share our processes and guidelines with the wider UN System to create new ways of working and bring about greater opportunity to advance collective action on our common priorities. In 2020, as our collective modus operandi was forced to change due to COVID-19, we found new ways to connect with the community of practice, leveraging online conferencing platforms and tools. In the pages that follow here, we’ve provided a snapshot of our activities, outlining their impact and their alignment with our key functions.

A New Line of Work Focused on Futures & Foresight

While COVID-19 has thrown the world into havoc, it also presented an unforeseen opportunity to transform the ways we work to change the future. This is our momentum to accelerate positives and to anticipate emerging threats, plan for more uncertainties and take preventive action to build a better, more equal, and inclusive world. The UN Secretary-General has placed great emphasis and investment in being able to transform the UN into an organisation that can do all of the above, and much, much more.

This means shifting from single-point and mandate- driven innovation to creating value and innovating with and within global networks and driving deep connections with the broader ecosystem of UN and non-UN stakeholders. To help these transformation efforts we recently added futures and foresight as a new stream of work in our portfolio.

What does that look like?

First, we’re adding to elements that already exist by supporting the Secretary-General’s strategic priorities through a system-wide approach to futures and foresight, working together with groups like the UN Network for Strategic Futures and Foresight to contribute to assets and tools. In addition, we’ll be bringing new foresight expertise into UN Global Pulse to target the SG’s priorities by building capacity in his own office. This work includes operationalizing strategies like the Data Strategy and Innovation Agenda, providing new frameworks, models and standards to work as one, and including practical issues like sharing data across silos for better outputs.

Second, we’re going to build foresight capacities through a needs-based service offering. A service to the UN System and beyond. To do this, we can play to our existing strengths and use new technologies such as ML and other AI tools to modernize the foresight practice. We will explore new ways to help us make sense of the world, sharing what we learned and asking questions to understand what the disruptive changes mean to each mandate.
We will also work to help build capacities in terms of methodologies and processes. This will involve building awareness and educational approaches that help decision makers, managers, and others know when and how to use this service for maximum value, like in resource allocation exercises or policy formation. We’ll do this through simple steps, like making people aware of what futures and foresight is, or by making sure that insights and sensemaking carried out in one part of the UN are shared with other parts.

Third, we’re going to test what works and what doesn’t. We plan to practice what we preach and use innovation processes and methodologies to experiment: against testable hypotheses, challenging our own (and others’) assumptions around the most useful approaches. We will share learnings of mistakes as well as successes, and where we create insights and sensemaking we will share outputs and products with the broader system — across silos.

Finally, futures and foresight efforts need to be grounded in inclusion, diversity, and ethical practices. We will therefore drive the use of best practices in the uses of futures and foresight, making sure that awareness and capabilities in ethical practices are used widely. We will ensure that frameworks, policies and guidelines have data accountability and interoperability across the system. Where we do carry out exercises in sensemaking or in the design of data gathering exercises we will use diversity and inclusion as guides and tools to help us create the best insights possible and improve diversity and transparency at each step of the insight value chain.

It’s a large piece of work and there is a lot we don’t know, but it’s also an exciting and meaningful addition to our portfolio and one we think will drive transformation across our United Nations. So we’re pretty excited about it and ready to start learning.

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