Death of a survey

Before the global development community is plunged into a collective moment of panic, let us clarify: the survey is not dead. Or as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” fans might say, not dead yet.

For many years, the survey has been a tool of both choice and necessity for development. This has been partially driven by the high cost and specialized technical expertise required for alternative forms of data collection and visualization.

The result is that decision-making based on big data and sentiment analysis has often been the purview of senior officials at major organizations — a top-down phenomenon we sometimes refer to as “Data for Superman.”

Yet the dynamics are changing. The arrival of mobile phones and social media in drought-, disease- and conflict-afflicted areas opens up a brand new window into human behavior. Now, technologists and health professionals such as the ones at HealthMap can track the global spread of diseases such as Ebola and Zika with up to 96 percent accuracy by automatically aggregating more than 200,000 data sources, including Twitter and news reports.

On the conflict prevention front, PeaceTech Lab has launched a tracking and reporting tool called the Open Situation Room Exchange, which provides country-specific visualizations of fragility by mapping everything from protests and violence against civilians, to online news and social media trends.

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