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At the IDB, we believe that together we can go farther. Our partnership network is making positive differences in Latin America and the Caribbean every day, and this blog is our channel for telling that story. Stay tuned for literature on partnership perspectives, stories from the field, changing trends, outlooks for development and the region, information on ways and opportunities to partner, and more. Thanks for stopping by.

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BIG DATA: Where the “D” Stands for “Development”

By and - May 28 2014

NOAA small

As the very inspiration for the title of this blog, it’s no secret that the IDB specializes in partnerships for development, working with public, private, and non-governmental entities to promote growth and fight poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Its recently launched relationship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will work to meet these same ends, but will do so through a knowledge alliance that can serve both as a model for future knowledge partnerships, and as springboard from which “big data” can gain a central role in development more generally.

A scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce that works to “enrich life through science,” the NOAA serves as a global reference for oceanic and atmospheric research. Through an action plan that focuses on training and data provision, this partnership with the NOAA will allow the IDB access to its satellite images and historical data series of climate variables in three specific areas: 1) the calculation of risks related to weather and climate change phenomena throughout LAC; 2) the use of satellite imagery to identify areas that have been subject to floods or volcanic eruptions; and 3) the exchange of satellite information related to weather, climate and natural disasters.

So what is so significant about knowledge partnerships like this one? We have identified three key points we want to share with you today:

  1. “Big Data” should be harnessed for development. Ours is often deemed the age of information overload. While it often proves difficult to sift through the noise, much of this information can guide decision-making in such diverse areas as urban transport, climate change, and rural development. Recognizing this, public organizations worldwide are actively working to capitalize on these repositories and work hand-in-hand with businesses, civil society, universities and more to develop and utilize this data to accelerate development efforts.
  2. Gaining access is just the beginning. Despite its existence, valuable data often goes untapped. Providing access to data is thus a crucial first step, but one that must be followed by investments in adoption and use. Active in promoting big data and technology as tools to inform public policy, the IDB and similar organizations can serve as bridges linking data repositories with information consumers. Another example in which the IDB fulfills this “bridging” role in the RIOS initiative, the IDB’s sustainable infrastructure alliance with Stanford University, the Nature Conservancy, and the FEMSA Foundation, among others is one that, if replicated, could give big data a big boost in the development community. Particularly crucial in productive sectors like agriculture, such partnerships can ensure that information consumers obtain the data needed to develop new financial hedges to protect them from natural disasters, tap into an adequate supply of financial products, and more.
  3. Working in partnership is essential. The above example brings us to our next point: big data for development is a space in which partnerships should, and likely will, play a defining role. The NOAA-IDB partnership is a great example in which the data of one entity, the NOAA, can be applied by its partner to protect LAC’s agricultural sector. With robust data repositories already in existence, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, but rather to match up those who have data with those who need it. In many cases, universities, research centers, and international public agencies are willing to explore shared information models with development organizations. Working in partnership is thus essential to capitalizing on existing resources, increasing their value by making them available to additional users, and accelerating wide-scale adoption of big data as a tool for development.

Keeping these points in mind, as actors working to promote development in Latin America and the Caribbean, shouldn’t we partner to encourage use and adoption of big data as a go-to tool for development? Yes. We are attempting to do so, and intend to begin by identifying, procuring and mobilizing resources to support countries affected by natural disasters, as well as to increase coordination among different actors in the public and private sector and civil society. Alliances and knowledge generation, as it is, can have great transformational effects. We continue to make progress in identifying innovative models of knowledge alliances. Any ideas on what our next stop in knowledge alliances should be?

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