Data-Pop Alliance newsletter
View this email in your browser

Data-Pop Alliance is a research, capacity building and policy think-tank on Big Data and Development, co-created by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, MIT Media Lab, and Overseas Development Institute to promote a people-centered Big Data revolution.

Newsletter – March-April 2015

Greetings from Data-Pop Alliance

It has been an intense couple of months since our inaugural Newsletter in January, with exciting projects, events, and news to report as we're (finally) entering Springtime.

We're hiring! Make sure to read below for opportunities to join our team.

Feel free to contact us with any questions, suggestions and comments at


Here is an overview of some of the events we have been and will be organizing or supporting. All of these (and more) are described in our calendar of key events on Big Data and Development.

Cartagena Data Festival 2015

April 20 - 22, 2015
Cartagena, Colombia

Data-Pop Alliance is co-organizing the Cartagena Data Festival with our partners the Overseas Development Institute (one of our co-founding institutions), UNDP, CEPEI, UNFPA, Paris21 and Africa Gathering.

The event will bring together over 400 participants from across the world and different sectors–governments, civil society organisations, technical innovators, academics and data activists–to join and shape the global conversation on the 'Data Revolution' and post-2015 agenda.

We are leading on 3 components of the Festival;

  1. The 'Big Data and Development' Track (full agenda here)
  2. The 'Data Capsule' Track
  3. 'Data and Development' cartoon competition and exhibition

Please visit the Festival website for the latest agenda, a list of confirmed speakers, side events, and more.

Build Peace 2015

April 25 - 26, 2015
Nicosia, Cyprus

Data-Pop Alliance is supporting the second edition of the Build Peace conference "Peace Through Technology: By Whom, For Whom?" to be held on April 25th-26th in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Specifically, we are leading a working session on 'Peace Data Analysis' aimed to give participants a clear sense and hands-on exposure to four methodologies presented by:

  1. Alexandros Lordos (SeeD): The SCORE (Social Cohesion and Reconciliation) Index
  2. Ulrich Mans (Peace Informatics Lab, Leiden University): Impact Tracker and Datapool
  3. Phuong Pham and Patrick Vinck (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Data-Pop Alliance): and KoBoToolbox
  4. Natalie Shoup (Data-Pop Alliance): Applications and Implications of Crime Prediction Modeling 

Please visit the Build Peace 2015 website for the conference program.

Discussion Seminar on "Technology, Policy and Development in the Big Data Era"

April 11, 2015
MIT Media Lab

Data-Pop Alliance, along with the MIT Connection Science, World Economic Forum USA and World Bank Innovation Labs, is convening a half-day discussion seminar on "Technology, Policy and Development in the Big Data Era" on Saturday 11th, 2015.

The event brings together about 30+ experts from academia, private sector, international and non-governmental organizations, to discuss the following statement and its ethical, political, technological, institutional and legal dimensions and implications:

“ What we think is happening is a race between technology and policy, where the latter, seemingly unable to keep up with the former, finds itself constantly reacting rather than anticipating. What we feel is needed is a leap-frogging of our systems to take the upper hand to lead and craft rather than trail and fix. At the heart of the response, and key to human development, is and must remain deliberative politics through open and informed debates within societies.

Read more about this event here.

UNFPA 'Big Data Bootcamp' with Technical Support from Data-Pop Alliance

February 3-5, 2015
Barcelona, Spain

We provided technical support to UNFPA's Big Data Bootcamp that took place at Betahaus Barcelona on February 3rd-5th. The Bootcamp, structured around a series of presentations, group work, collective brainstorming sessions, and networking events, used a 'design thinking' approach to help UNFPA craft its Big Data engagement strategy for the next few years. It was led by Data-Pop Alliance's Advisory Board member Bruce Campbell, Head of UNFPA Data Division, and Steering Committee member Sabrina Juran. 


Emmanuel Letouzé, our Director and co-founder, provided an overview of the state and future of the field of Big Data and Development and helped design the event's agenda. Data-Pop Alliance was also represented by our co-Director for ODI Emma Samman, as well as our Research Affiliates Julia Manske (Stiftung Neue Verantwortung Think-Tank), Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye (MIT Media Lab), Nuria Oliver (Telefonica), and Emilio Zagheni (U. of Washington).

Read more about this event on our blog.

One question discussed at the Bootcamp was whether and how Big Data could provide more accurate and timely population distribution estimates ("According to the 2005 census there are 15,000 people here", Pablo Salazar, UNFPA Technical Advisor for the LAC region; cartoon by Emmanuel Letouzé).

Bitkom Big Data Summit 2015

February 25th, 2015,
Congress Park Hanau, Germany

Emmanuel Letouzé presented on "Big Data for Social Good: Using Kaggle for Business and Social Impact" alongside our partners Tobias Pfaff from DataLook and Peter Prettenhofer from DataRobot.

Check out the full agenda of the Summit [in German].

Featured Project

To keep track of recent and upcoming projects, follow the 'Latest' on our website.

Research and Technical Assistance Program in Partnership with Colombia's National Statistical Office

Data-Pop Alliance has launched a research and technical assistance program implemented in partnership with Colombia's National Statistical Office DANE (Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística), with financial support from the World Bank. The program has two main components:

  • Technical assistance and strategic support to refine and implement DANE's Big Data strategy; with 2 planned outputs:
    • an assessment of DANE's planned modernization strategy and engagement with Big Data
    • a scoping and strategy paper the “Opportunities and Requirements for Leveraging Big Data for Official Statistics and the SDGs in Latin America”, with an emphasis on Colombia
  • Research and pilots to identify concrete options to leverage and integrate Big Data in DANE's work, in partnership with Telefónica, focusing on:
    • Poverty and Vulnerability (Pilot 1) and Public Safety (Pilot 2)
    • Sample biascorrection methods and operational integration into DANE's work process.

These outputs will be publicly released and available by December 2015, and we will communicate on the progress of the program over the next few months.

From our Blog 

We publish short thought pieces on Big Data and Development; feel free to contact us with suggestions.

Big Data and Human Rights, "a new and sometimes akward relationship" to be further explored

By Emmanuel Letouzé and Patrick Vinck, January 29th, 2015


The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Sciences) Science and Human Rights Coalition organized a 2-day conference on ‘Big Data and Human Rights’ on January 15 and 16 in Washington DC, where Data-Pop Alliance’s co-founders Emmanuel Letouzé and Patrick Vinck (who also serves on AAAS’ Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility) presented their perspectives on this critical yet still under-researched field.

As stated in the title of the event summary article, Big Data and human rights are linked by “a new and sometimes awkward relationship”. On the one hand, Big Data can help detect and fight infringements of human rights. On the other hand, the very use of Big Data can challenge core human rights—notably, but not only, privacy. Fundamentally, tensions between competing human rights are likely to be increasingly salient in the age of Big Data—as in the recent case of Ebola epidemic: should mobile-phone data have been shared as was suggested to map population movements and the spread of the disease even as it may have infringed on individual and group privacy and perhaps safety? (...)

Read the full post on our blog.


We publish research papers, white papers and primers on various topics and aspects of Big Data and Development. 

The following publications have now been peer-reviewed and will be launched and available on April 20th at the Cartagena Data Festival and on our site:

Primer on "Big Data and Development: An Overview"
By Emmanuel Letouzé, in collaboration with the World Bank and SciDev.Net

White Paper on "The Ethics and Politics of Cell-Phone Data Analytics"
By Emmanuel Letouzé and Patrick Vinck, in collaboration with the World Bank and the D4D team

White Paper on "Big Data and Official Statistics"
By Emmanuel Letouzé and Johannes Jütting, in collaboration with Paris21

We are also finalizing or developing several publications, including:

Research Paper on "Estimating Population Density, Climate Vulnerability and Sample Bias Using Cell-Phone Activity"

By Data-Pop Alliance Team and Research Affiliates in partnership with the French Development Agency (AFD)

Research Paper on "Estimating Population Density, Climate Vulnerability and Sample Bias Using Cell-Phone Activity"

By Data-Pop Alliance Team and Research Affiliates in partnership with the French Development Agency (AFD)

Research Paper on "Poverty and Unemployment in Egypt Using Twitter Data"
By Data-Pop Alliance Team and Research Affiliates in partnership with QCRI and UNDP Egypt


Book chapter on "Monitoring and Evaluation in the Age of Big Data" for SAGE
By Ana Areias, Sally Jackson and Emmanuel Letouzé

Book chapter on "Big Data and Group Privacy"
By Data-Pop Alliance Team and Research Affiliates

White Paper on "Data Literacy"
By Rahul Bhargava, Erica Deahl, Emmanuel Letouzé and Amanda Noonan

White Paper on "Big Data and Climate Resilience"
In partnership with the Earth Institute Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the World Bank

White Paper on "Big Data and Human Rights"
By Emmanuel Letouzé and Patrick Vinck, in partnership with AAAS

Thematic Primers on:

  • "Big Data and Human Mobility"
  • "Big Data and Public Health"
  • "Big Data and Energy"
  • "Big Data, Conflict, and Violence"

By Data-Pop Alliance Team, Research Affiliates and partners


Find out the latest about our new team members, consultants, Research Affiliates, opportunities to get involved with our team, and more.

Meet our new Program Manager!

Natalie Shoup joined Data-Pop Alliance as Program Manager on March 1st. Natalie graduated with a BSE in Operations Research and Financial Engineering and certificates in Engineering and Management Systems and Latin American Studies from Princeton University. Natalie most recently worked with a Big Data Analytics consultancy firm based in New York. Previously she completed a fellowship working with Developing Minds Foundation in Latin America.

Check out Natalie's full profile here.

News from our network

Julia Manske, one of our Research Affiliates, started a 2-month assignment in March out of Bogotá to develop a scoping and strategy paper on the “Opportunities and Requirements for Leveraging Big Data for Official Statistics and the SDGs in Latin America”. Julia will be meeting with various National Statistical Offices, including Colombia's DANE and Mexico's INEGI, and present the initial findings of the paper at the Cartagena Data Festival on April 20 - 22nd

Building on some of his previous work, Martin Hilbert is developing a short technical note on the "Data Deluge vs. Drought". Its main objectives are to quantify the world's global storage capacity to provide an estimate of the current upper limit in data availability, and characterize trends and patterns in data production between the 'Global North' and the 'Global South'.

Find out more about Martin's work.

Lanah Kammourieh, a lawyer, journalist and scholar specialized in law of new technologies and public international law, will be working out of London to lead and support the finalization of a series of publications on Big Data ethics and human rights; this will include a book chapter on Group Privacy, a White Paper on the Ethics and Politics of Cell-Phone Data Analytics, and a White Paper on Big Data and Human Rights in partnership with Data & Society and AAAS, to be released over next few months. 

Research Affiliate Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye along with Academic Director Sandy Pentland are principal members of a team that just launched an open-sourced python toolbox - bandicoot. The purpose of the tool is analysis - including data visualization and data verification - of mobile phone metadata and it can easily be installed and navigated via Github.

Read more about bandicoot on their site.

New Research Affiliates

Three new Research Affiliates have joined us. More details will be available soon on their involvement. Visit our website for the complete list of our Research Affiliates.

Simone Sala

Simone Sala works at the intersection between information and communication technologies and sustainable development, particularly focusing on agriculture, natural resources and security. He is currently the Associate Director of the Dr. Steve Chan Center for Sensemaking, AIRS, which is based at Hawaii Pacific University and Swansea University.

Read Simone's full bio.

Linnet Taylor

Linnet Taylor is a Marie Curie research fellow in the University of Amsterdam’s International Development faculty, with the Governance and Inclusive Development group. Her research focuses on the use of new types of digital data in research and policymaking around issues of development, urban planning and mobility.

Read Linnet's full bio

Jay Ulfelder

Jay Ulfelder is a political scientist whose research interests include democratization, political violence, social unrest, state collapse, and forecasting methods. He received his Ph.D. in from Stanford University in 1997 and his B.A. in Comparative Area Studies (USSR and Eastern Europe) from Duke University in 1991. 

Read Jay's full bio.

We're hiring!

We are opening 3 consultancy or paid internship positions to be filled as soon as possible for:

  • A Data Science Analyst
  • A Research and Publications Associate
  • A Communications and Media Strategist

See the job postings for details and feel free to share in your networks.

Data Science Analyst

Consultancy or paid Internship position in NYC,
part or full time, for 4 months
with possibility of extension

Research & Publications Associate

Full-time position in NYC
for 4 months
with possibility of extension

Communications & Media Strategist

Consultancy or paid Internship position in NYC,
part or full time, for 4 months
with possibility of extension

Please follow our new Get Involved page for more opportunities.

Data-Pop Alliance in the News

Here is a section of recent articles where the work of Data-Pop Alliance and our team members and Research Affiliates is featured.

How Smart Data Can Develop Socially Conscious Brands

By Leslie Pascaud
Forbes – Techonomy
February 4, 2015

 In recent years, organizations such as the Data-Pop Alliance and DataLook have emerged to tap data for social good. 

Big Data, Big Brother ?

Il faut encadrer la révolution des données en Afrique

By Thomas Roca
January 22, 2015

 November 17th marked the launch, in New York, of the first think tank devoted to promoting the use of Big Data for development. Emmanuel Letouzé, the founder of Data-Pop Alliance, succeeded in bringing together researchers from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Overseas Development Institute on this project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and supported by the World Bank and the Agence Française de Développement. 

Google adviser calls on tech giant to create a separate organisation for data

By Oscar Williams
The Guardian
March 25, 2015

Sandy Pentland, MIT professor and Academic Director of Data-Pop Alliance, spoke with the Guardian about “the ‘crowd-madness’ of social media and why tech giants such as Google must separate and protect users’ data”.

Our Research Affiliate Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye recently published a paper in Science, titled "Unique in the Shopping Mall: On the Reidentifiability of Credit Card Metadata", which was featured in the following articles:

With a Few Bits of Data, Researchers Identify 'Anonymous' People

By Natasha Singer
Bits blog, New York Times
January 29, 2015

 In [a study to be published Friday in the journal Science], titled “Unique in the Shopping Mall: On the Reidentifiability of Credit Card Metadata,” a group of data scientists analyzed credit card transactions made by 1.1 million people in 10,000 stores over a three-month period. The data set contained details including the date of each transaction, amount charged and name of the store. Although the information had been “anonymized” by removing personal details like names and account numbers, the uniqueness of people’s behavior made it easy to single them out. 

  “The message is that we ought to rethink and reformulate the way we think about data protection,” said Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, a graduate student in computational privacy at the M.I.T. Media Lab who was the lead author of the study. “The old model of anonymity doesn’t seem to be the right model when we are talking about large-scale metadata.”  

People identified through credit-card use alone

Analysis suggests that making data anonymous is not enough to protect consumers

By Boer Deng
January 29, 2015

 Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, a computer-security researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, and his colleagues managed to identify one individual from a sea of ‘anonymized’ credit-card data. 

 Alex Pentland, a data-security researcher at MIT and a co-author of the study, reckons that metadata with certain properties — such as having geographical location attached — are harder to anonymize. Previously, de Montjoye had shown that mobile-phone metadata, which relays information about the location of a call, could also be used to reveal callers whose identities were thought to be unknowable. 


Contact us
Copyright © 2015 Data-Pop Alliance, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Image credits:

Document by Rob Gill from The Noun Project
Calendar by Adrijan Karavdic from The Noun Project
Spotlight by SJ Holstein from The Noun Project
Blog by Luke Jarrett from The Noun Project
Newspaper by John Caserta from The Noun Project