Image credit: - Photo: 2018

UN Turns To ‘Unite Ideas’ In Support Of The Global Goals

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – The United Nations is on way to improving tools available for designing sustainable development policies, and building a search engine for people working on solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for accessing relevant knowledge on science, technology and innovation.

The UN Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) announced on February 12 that a team from the University of Southampton, a public research university in the United Kingdom, had won the Unite Ideas #SDGInsights challenge for its methodology to identify drinking water service in Liberia.

The University has provided a framework to combine multiple data sources based on geographic location, and to apply advanced machine learning algorithms to the data to discover previously hidden patterns. This, the OICT said, would go a long way to improving the tools available for designing sustainable development policies.

On January 25, the OICT announced that a team of data scientists and developers from CKM Advisors, a consulting firm based in New York City, had won the Unite Ideas #SciTechMatcher challenge. The goal, it said, was to build a search engine for people working on solutions to achieve the SDGs for accessing relevant knowledge on science, technology and innovation.

As far as the tools for designing sustainable development policies are concerned, their significance is underlined by the fact that water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the world’s population.

Ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 is an essential element of Sustainable Development Goal 6. Locating communities and individuals still using unimproved water services in a country is an important step in designing drinking water infrastructure to deliver safe and sustainable water services to those that need it.

The winning team for the Unite Ideas #SDGInsights challenge includes: Weiyu Yu, a postgraduate research student within the Geography and Environment department; Dr. Jim A. Wright, Associate Professor in Geographic Information Systems; and Dr. Nicola A. Wardrop, Visiting Research Fellow within Geography and Environment.

“Currently, disadvantaged drinking water services are often not reported [with precision],” said Yu. “However, as new datasets become available, predicting the potential spatial distribution of drinking water becomes possible. Our predictive model can fill the gaps of spatial coverage, give an indication of the potential distribution of specific water supplies and provide valuable policy insights.”

#SDGInsights was launched in collaboration with the Development Policy and Analysis Division (DPAD) in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Demographic and Health Surveys of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The challenge asked participants to use the Surveys’ data and other georeferenced datasets to better visualize progress on the SDGs, especially regarding health and family-related indicators.

The advisers for the #SDGInsights challenge noted that the winning solution matched various datasets with ease, and combined them in meaningful and innovative ways.

“The submissions for the Unite Ideas #SDGInsights challenge demonstrate the potential of using open-source technology to exchange ideas and identify paradigm‑shifting solutions to critical global issues,” said Salem Avan, Director of the Global Services Division in the OICT.

The winning solution for building Science, Technology Search Engine for SDGs, United Nations Opportunity Matcher, aggregates data from various reputable sources including UN entities and other international organizations. It allows people to find science and technology offers, requests and publications relevant to sustainable development.

Easy access to science and technology information is essential to achieving sustainable development; however, relevant and reliable knowledge is difficult to find, says the UN Office of Information and Communications Technology.

The CKM Advisors team was comprised of David Alper, Pranav Badami, Lorenna De La Parra Landa, Adam Emrich, Carolina Gonzalez, Elya Pardes, William Roberts, Alex Siega, Kyle Stanley, Spencer Stebbins, Einar Stennson and Marshall Van Loon.

“I decided to join the challenge because people in developing countries have a tough time getting access to clean and curated data,” said Badami. “I think this project is important because the United Nations provides a lot of valid data sources that can empower people in these developing countries.”

The Unite Ideas #SciTechMatcher challenge was launched by the Division for Sustainable Development in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in collaboration with the OICT. The goal was to develop a prototype for an online platform of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, which is a target of Sustainable Development Goal 17. The Mechanism is a multi-stakeholder platform to harness knowledge and innovation across both the public and private sector.

The advisers for the #SciTechMatcher challenge gave CKM’s search engine high marks for satisfying the challenge objectives and being user-friendly, while noting the accuracy of search results.

“Unite Ideas brings together skilled technologists and specialists in key areas like education, humanitarian assistance, health and environmental sustainability to build innovative solutions for improving our world,” said Lambert Hogenhout, Chief Analytics, Partnerships and Innovation in the Office of Information and Communications Technology. “This kind of open-source global collaboration was impossible only a few years ago, and our generation has an unprecedented opportunity to leverage it for social good.”

During the #SciTechMatcher challenge, once CKM Advisors had aggregated more than 7,000 data points from the websites of United Nations entities and various international organizations, the team shared its results with other participants. The generous climate further underscored Unite Ideas’ potential to foster civic-minded, open-source collaboration.

Unite Ideas is a crowd-sourcing platform developed by the OICT, mobilizing data scientists and software developers globally. It fosters collaboration with civil society and United Nations offices to create open-source technology solutions in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 February 2018]

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