Understanding the world through data

November 9, 2021

Markus Spiske/Unsplash

Decision-makers require reliable data to make risk-informed choices. With this goal in mind, back in 2016, a team in UNDP started building a simple information repository to support an internal mechanism on crisis prevention and response. As they presented the project, it became immediately visible that the UNDP’s needs went beyond giving staff easy access to data. The organization needed a platform where data coming from different thematic areas could be connected, overlayed, and correlated. This led to the design of the Crisis Risk Dashboard (CRD). 

The CRD helps UNDP anticipate and respond to risks at global, regional, and country levels by providing easy access to timely and relevant data visualizations and analysis, but most of all: by telling clear and compelling data stories and effectively communicating key trends and risks. Global CRD combines and visualizes primarily open-source data - such as on emerging natural hazards, live global news trends, conflict dynamics and national development indicators - serve as a resource in support of crisis risk analysis for the entire organization. This allows UNDP to translate a broad range of information into useable, visual formats to facilitate higher level scanning and understanding of trends and evolving situations at the regional and global level. Through this, the Crisis Bureau ensures that relevant and updated data is readily available to support processes of monitoring, analysis, and formulation of anticipatory measures and responses

Tailoring data and risk communication – crafting compelling stories

More than 30 country- and region-specific dashboards have been launched and many more are under development to support country offices and UN Country Team (UNCT) members at policy, programmatic and operational levels. Each country-CRD serves a distinct purpose and is designed for a particular use-case and with a specific communication goal in mind. In recent years, these dashboards are often developed in close cooperation with UNCT partners, allowing for interagency information sharing and joint analysis so that the CRD also supports UNDP’s system-wide offer on integrated contextual risk assessment – creating an enabling environment for collaboration and streamlined data management and improved evidence-based policymaking. Examples of how the tableau-based tool has been customized and used in different country and regional contexts: 

  • The Venezuela CRD informs the situational and risk awareness of the UNCT, generates early warning alerts, and supports appropriate responses.
  • In Tunisia, CRD analysis identifies geographic hotspots of unmet needs, which guides the prioritization and allocation of funds for future UN projects.
  • In Malawi, the CRD enables comprehensive election monitoring through the analysis of increases in hate speech, violence, and law enforcement misconduct, which has effectively informed prevention efforts.

Making data and statistics accessible to all users 

The CRD data warehouse is the central repository of regularly updated data that resources the majority of operational CRDs. It is managed by the UN International Computing Centre, under the oversight of the Crisis Risks and Early Warning team, while tableau specialists provide technical and organizational support to help with the deployment, sustainability, and effectiveness of dashboard solutions. In addition to thousands of indicators that are automatically ingested through APIs, UNDP users can easily upload their own datasets via Microsoft OneDrive and overlay their operational and project data with contextual datasets. This approach allows the rapid prototyping of country CRDs and allows for direct technical user access and maintenance by the country office. 

Innovations and synergies across data ecosystems

In partnership with UN Agencies, academia, and the private sector, the Crisis Risks and Early Warning team is leveraging innovative technologies as they become available and prove to be relevant and useful. For example, at a time of increasingly hostile online discourses and hate speech, several CRDs are being developed to use sentiment analysis, machine learning, and predictive technology to find patterns and detect early warning signals to develop effective programs and mitigate violence. Engaging with and integrating diverse data sources from National Statistics Offices, UN and NGO partners, and civil society groups, enables UNDP to connect with stakeholders from various sectors working with data and to support the implementation of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

This article was originally published in the United Nations World Data Forum blog.