Big Data for Development in the Global South

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We are happy to welcome you to the first edition of the Big Data for Development Network Newsletter, an initiative led by 5 Southern organizations (LIRNEasia, the Local Development Research Institute, the African Institute for Mathematical Science, The Center of Internet and Society and Cepei), with the support of the International Development Research Center of Canada. The network seeks to develop relevant research on big data for development, generating capacities among researchers from the South, and focusing on activities related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Combining global coordinated research efforts with regional centers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, BD4D seeks to represent southern voices in global policy discussions on big data for development.

The Newsletter, dedicated to big data for development, this time focuses on the Latin American and Caribbean region. We invite the statistical and data community, as well as all development practitioners and stakeholders, to learn more about the activities of the BD4D network: latest news, presentations in various scenarios, publications, upcoming events; and to consult global and regional news about big data for development, as well as our selection of publications and multimedia.

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During the last 10 years, the importance of big data for different sectors and areas, among which are private companies, public policies, statistics and sustainable development, has increase significantly. The large volumes of data, produced daily by modern technologies, such as sensors embedded in devices, automobiles, Internet searches, social networks such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, smart phones and GPS devices, which are part of our daily lives, have allowed when analyzed to generate new knowledge, innovative ideas and make better decisions. However, when we talk about Big Data for sustainable development, what do we mean? Why is it important for the global development agenda? We address these and other questions below:

What is Big Data for development (what do we mean by Big Data)?

Big data for sustainable development is defined as the transformation of large data sets (structured, semi-structured and unstructured) or the combination of these, generated by different actors, including government agencies, companies, civil society, academia, among others, to measure relevant issues that contribute to monitoring the process of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

What are the current uses and applications of big data?

Big data for development has become a strategic tool for improving and potentiating public management to fight poverty and generate welfare opportunities for society through the analysis of data from the public sector and other actors (private sector, citizens and civil society).

The use of big data has allowed countries to identify critical points of crime or vehicular congestion, as well as to define the causes of social behaviors regarding collective problems, and therefore providing key information to structure better public policies.

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For example, in the field of agriculture, projects have been developed focused on predicting the optimum climatic conditions for crops, and, in this way, reducing the risk of economic loss. In the tourism sector, the interconnection of information exposed in social networks such as likes to special pages, records of visits to places and activities have allowed to define routes to potentialize tourist destinations and local businesses.

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On regards to urbanization, the identification of migration patterns or movement through the location registered in social networks, as well as the definition of schedules and displacements through mobile networks has facilitated the detection of critical traffic points to generate mobility strategies.

Although it is a fact that numerous successful cases in which big data is currently implemented exist, there are still many fields to be explored through data analysis, in which the articulation and alignment of different stakeholders is key, especially in Latin America, to expand the available data and transform it into information that favors decision making.

Why is big data important for the Latin America and Global South sustainable development agenda?

The implementation of the sustainable development agenda is a unique opportunity for countries because it allows them to identify both their strengths and aspects to improve. Although the Latin America and Global South countries have made significant efforts in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, during the process they have faced various challenges, such as information gaps due to insufficient information, which makes it difficult for them to know the current state of the nation in some areas.

For this reason, it is important that Latin America and Global South countries use the data and big data they collect, whether it is from traditional or non-traditional sources. This allows them to close information and inequality gaps, generate evidence-based public policies, create synergies among different actors, expand their information inventory and statistical operations, make visible hidden problems and distribute resources correctly.


We hope you enjoy this first edition of the BD4D newsletter that seeks to be an informative publication to trigger debate and critical thinking around big data for development issues in the Global South countries. Welcome!