Blog post from Syed Raza, DIAL, and Jonathan Gray, Flowminder.
Timely, accurate, high-resolution information on populations distributions, characteristics and movements are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Data that can help us to understand these key features of human populations are however lacking in many low and middle-income countries. A particularly interesting new data type, that can shed light on human populations and development challenges, comes from mobile network operators. Mobile Operators register Call Detail Records (CDRs) contain the time and associated cell tower of text messages, calls and other billable events. In de-identified format, these CDRs can be used to study human behaviour and mobility patterns at large scale, in near-real time and most importantly in places where other sources of data are not available.
With the number of mobile phone subscriptions constantly increasing around the world, this provides unprecedented opportunities to improve our understanding of human populations and better answer to the needs of vulnerable populations. Worldwide, we reached the five billion mark of mobile phone subscription in 2017 – with the latest one billion subscribers being reached in only four years (GSMA, 2017). Nearly 70% of the economically bottom fifth of the population in low-and middle-income countries now own a mobile phone. Based on this enormous growth, CDR data can for example support development activities in areas such as public health, poverty alleviation and infrastructure planning, as well as preparedness and response to disasters.
In collaboration with the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), we will deliver FlowKit, an open source, state of the art and easy-to-use toolkit that will strengthen and facilitate large-scale analyses of mobile operator data for development and humanitarian purposes. Our team will be rolling out a series of releases in the Autumn 2018, alongside documentation and templates. The releases will contain our present internal code base, documented and structured to be suitable for the open source community, as well as a number of expansions to the toolkit. User groups amongst Mobile Network Operators in low and middle-income countries and leading humanitarian and development agencies will support the validation of requirements, roadmaps and functionality.
Led by engineers, data scientists and subject area experts at Flowminder, the project will empower Mobile Network Operators and organisations to use insights from mobile operator data to improve their country’s development policy and disaster response. Our team has a track record of producing insights from CDR data to support development and humanitarian community with targeted analyses for decision support, as well as publishing peer-reviewed academic work on the use of mobile operator data. We will leverage this experience to provide the community with an expandable open source system that can support diverse tools using mobile operator data. We are excited to team up with DIAL and warmly welcome developers to take part in the project as it develops.
Pioneer of the usage and analysis of mobile network data for development purposes, Flowminder is an award-winning, non-profit organisation funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID, EU, World Bank, IDB, WFP, UN Foundation and others. Flowminder’s mission is to improve public health and welfare in low- and middle-income countries using data from mobile operators, satellites and geo-located household surveys. Much of its work is focused on understanding, monitoring and predicting the distributions, characteristics and dynamics of human populations, providing insights, tools and capacity building to governments, international agencies and NGOs. Examples of previous work include support to the humanitarian community in multiple disaster response operations (such as the Haiti 2010 Earthquake, the Nepal Earthquake 2015 and Haiti Hurricane Matthew 2016), poverty mapping or analyses of migration patterns. Flowminder works to ensure that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, count. Discover more at www.flowminder.org
Within the WorldPop programme, Flowminder works together with researchers at the University of Southampton, developing and operationalising new approaches to solving developmental and humanitarian challenges. Find out more at www.worldpop.org