Innovative Uses of Data Prepare Communities for Climate Change and Improve Resilience

By Josh Woodard

Data and resilience are two of the biggest buzz words in development right now.

Chatter is growing in the development sector about the potential ways digital data can be opened, shared and analyzed to transform decision making and accelerate development outcomes.

At the same time, there is an increased focus on the value of resilience, which manifests itself in the ability of individuals, communities and countries to respond and adapt to shocks and stresses.

Like all buzz words, data and resilience run the risk of being frequently talked about but infrequently put into action. The fact is that if we can cut through the hype and engage in complex but necessary dialogue and partnership, digital data has the potential to enhance resilience capacities.

It was against this backdrop that USAID and FHI 360 organized a two-day Harnessing the Data Revolution for Resilience Summit in Bangkok, Thailand. The Summit drew more than 90 participants with an interest in driving forward the state of data for resilience. Participants included entrepreneurs, innovators, development organizations, technology providers, donors and governments.

You brought innovators and leaders together from two different worlds – those working to strengthen the capacity of governments, NGOs and communities for development and resilience, and those who are pushing the boundaries in using new tools, technologies, and data to solve the complex problems that threaten sustainable development and erode resilience.” – Summit attendee

Leading up to the Summit, we launched the Harnessing the Data Revolution for Resilience Recognition Award to highlight case studies and new approaches using data and technology to build resilience at the individual, community, national and regional level. The award received close to 70 applications for two categories: Impact Demonstration and Early Stage Innovation. The top five finalists from each category were invited to Bangkok to make their pitch, and Summit attendees selected the winners via popular vote.

When all votes were counted, Project NOAH won the Impact Demonstration award for using data and real-time visualizations to mitigate the impact of natural disasters in the Philippines. mClinica was awarded the Early Stage Innovations award for their SnapData platform, which provides real-time monitoring tools that help governments, NGOs, and private sector companies better manage healthcare systems.

Over the course of the two days, participants heard how people are using of data to increase resilience with various levels of complexity and success. Promising examples from India, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere showed how data is empowering citizens and governments to make informed decisions that are contributing to improved resilience.

We explored the next generation of technologies including sensors, machine learning, and the Internet of Things. These innovations have the potential to open up new depths of our understanding of the world around us. In addition, we heard how both new and old forms of connectivity, such as TV white space, may open up the bandwidth required to move massive amounts of data required to extend the benefits of these technologies all the way down to the base of the pyramid.

“The Summit was so exciting because we got to learn from each other and brainstorm together during the breaks on opportunities for collaboration.” – Summit attendee

None of the innovations discussed at the Summit will be possible without breaking down silos between the development sector, governments and innovators. At the Summit, we heard from several organizations in the process of doing just that. While each of them had slightly different partnership models, there were common threads: the need to invest significantly in consensus building, promote transparency between partners, and deeply understand necessities and concerns. None of these ideas are revolutionary, but they take effort and are easy to forget when faced with other competing demands during implementation.

The Summit provided participants an opportunity to dive deep into how data is being used to enhance efforts around environmental resilience, disaster risk management, planning and governance, reducing poverty, and urban resilience. Participants divided into groups to explore the challenges that they face in effectively making use of data in each of these areas. They shared promising examples and brainstormed around actions that can be taken to further accelerate uptake. As one participant said of the group discussions:

“In the many years I’ve been working as a development practitioner on these issues, I’ve never before been in a room with the types of innovators you convened. I left the Summit with new partners, new ideas, and fantastic models for how we can use and leverage data and new technologies to enhance our work.”

While it would be hyperbolic to claim that we were able to come anywhere near unlocking the data dividend for resilience in just two days, for many of those present, the Summit represented the beginning of that path. Through the combination of interactive sessions and ample networking opportunities, we hope to have sowed the seeds for future action at this intersection of these two emerging fields of data and resilience.

For those wanting to learn more, the participant list, speaker bios, presentations, and other resources from the Summit are accessible online at: https://sites.google.com/site/dataforresiliencesummit/summit-materials.

Josh Woodard serves as a technical advisor for the mSTAR project, where he oversees technical quality and provides technical direction to several activities in Asia focused on digital development, including digital financial services. He also led mSTAR’s efforts to organize and facilitate the Data for Resilience Summit.

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