A new partnership to deploy big data analytics and cognitive technologies to help transform development approaches in Africa and around the world has been announced. The nonprofit research institute RTI International and IBM’s Africa research lab plan to explore ways of using advanced technologies to capture accurate data about challenges in areas such as healthcare, agriculture, water and education.
Drawing on the power of big data analytics, researchers will provide insight to governments, aid agencies and other organizations who are looking to make more informed decisions about investment and development while having greater visibility of results.
“A dearth of data on Africa in the past has led to misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the continent’s history, economic performance and potential. Over the past few decades, even simple facts have been misrepresented – the size of a country, its economic performance, the amount of poor people, the volume of exploitable resources,” said Dr. Kamal Bhattacharya, Vice President IBM Research – Africa. “The latest advances in mobile, big data and Internet of Things technologies have the potential to change that so that we have an accurate and dynamic understanding of Africa’s challenges, rising opportunities and incredible potential.”
The partnership comes as a rapid rise in mobile and Internet of Things technologies are producing unprecedented amounts of data. In developing countries, mobile phones, digital devices and low-cost sensors connected to improving cellular networks are reaching previously disconnected communities with the potential to produce new insight about how people live and the challenges they face.
“Rapid advancements in technology and open data initiatives mean more data is available now than ever before, offering significantly greater insights to improve lives through smarter development programs,” said Aaron Williams, executive vice president at RTI. “By combining our expertise in data science and development, RTI and IBM will apply the information newly at our fingertips to accelerate improvements in literacy, respond rapidly to the spread of infectious diseases, and discover and apply new innovations for improving the human condition in the developing world.”
Applying insights and actionable evidence from data will be key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, ambitious universal targets that will be confirmed by a United Nations Summit in September 2015. They include ending poverty and hunger, ensuring healthy lives and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education.
“By adding analytical value and insight to data production, curation and integration, RTI and IBM will help lay the paving stones for the ‘data revolution for development’ to lead the way in achieving the sustainable development goals,” said Dr. Luis Crouch, vice president and chief technical officer in RTI’s International Development Group, who has worked with various UN processes on the formation of these goals.
The sustainable development goals raise numerous global challenges for which innovative data science solutions, such as predictive analytics, sifting of massive amounts of evidence, and more agile use of citizen-sourced information and citizen feedback could help provide solutions.
For instance, in the education sector, initiatives can provide insight on building early childhood development programs that predicate success in later education and life; design early grade reading and math programs using the best instructional approaches and curricula; and inform policymakers on policies needed to support sustainable improvements in education and the data systems needed to track progress in systemic reform. In the health sector, initiatives can help track the spread of infectious diseases faster and more efficiently; provide a better understanding of the underlying causes of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer; and improve the knowledge management, oversight and accountability needed to strengthen health systems.