Big Data in Action

Not long ago in Official Statistics the topic ‘Big Data’ was mostly discussed in a theoretical manner.


However, now more and more real, and solid examples appear and demonstrate how Big Data work and what their outcome could be.

Some of these examples come from (Official) Statistics. These institutions use Big Data as a source and start applying a new analytical paradigm.


Example 1: Global Pulse (UN)

Global Pulse is a flagship innovation initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General on big data. Its vision is a future in which big data is harnessed safely and responsibly as a public good. Its mission is to accelerate discovery, development and scaled adoption of big data innovation for sustainable development and humanitarian action. … Big data represents a new, renewable natural resource with the potential to revolutionize sustainable development and humanitarian practice.’ –>

See some examples of using Big Data below:

  • analyse social media data for perceptions related to sanitation, in order to baseline public engagement
  • use of mobile phone data as a proxy for food security and poverty indicators
  • how risk factors (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, diet and physical activity) of non-communicable diseases (e.g., cancer, diabetes, depression) could be inferred from big data sources as social media and online internet searches


‘This paper outlines the opportunities and challenges, which have guided the United Nations Global Pulse initiative since its inception in 2009. The paper builds on some of the most recent findings in the field of data science, and findings from our own collaborative research projects. It does not aim to cover the entire spectrum of challenges nor to offer definitive answers to those it addresses, but to serve as a reference for further reflection and discussion. The rest of this document is organised as follows: section one lays out the vision that underpins Big Data for Development; section two discusses the main challenges it raises; section three discusses its application. The concluding section examines options and priorities for the future.’


Example 2: CBS

In Statistics Netherlands (CBS) Big Data is an important research topic.




Several examples were studied:

  • road sensors for traffic and transport statistics
  • mobile phone data for travel behaviour (of active phones) or tourism (new phones that register to network)
  • social media data for a sentiment analysis tracking words with their associated sentiment in Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, etc.



Example 3: Report of the Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics

In March 2015, the forty-sixth session of the UN Statistical Commission received a report about Big Data in Official Statistics:

‘The report presents the highlights of the International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics, the outcome of the first meeting of the Global Working Group and the results of a survey on the use of big data for official statistics.’ …

‘The potential of big data sources resides in the timely — and sometimes real‑time — availability of large amounts of data, which are usually generated at minimal cost.  …. before introducing big data into official statistics …. it needs to adequately address issues pertaining to methodology, quality, technology, data access, legislation, privacy, management and finance, and provide adequate cost-benefit analyses.’

UN Statistical Commission Forty-sixth session 3-6 March 2015,
The full report (


Example 4: UNECE Statistics Wiki on Big Data in OfficialStatistics

A dedicated wiki offers an overview of the ever growing activities in the field of Official Statistics and Big Data. It’s managed by the Geneva Office of UNECE.2015-05-23_BIGData-UNECE-wiki

The wiki provides an interesting Big Data Inventory



‘Better Data. Better Lives’ is a very well made video about the role of statistics. Everybody agrees that data are necessary for evidence based decisions and progress. But all communication work has to deal with the problem that striking examples demonstrating this connection are not easy to be presented. Perhaps in the next video? ;-)

Broader Measures

The 46th session of the United Nations Statistcal Commission from 3 to 6 March 2015 at UN Headquarters in New York will deal with a report on broader (and better) measures of progress. This ‘report presents a roadmap for the development and implementation of an indicator and monitoring framework for the post-2015 development agenda. In particular the report discusses the development of the post-2015 indicator framework.’

My World: The new development agenda

The new development agenda of UN

To know people’s priorities and views for a better life is the aim of the global survey lead actually by the UN.

The results will help defining the next development agenda for the world after the Millenium Development Goals MDG.




Results of My World Survey by April 2014


All about

Here you can fnd more about the background of the post-2015 global development agenda


Frightfully Boring? Not at all!

Statistical information is frightfully boring, it doesn’t regard me as a person! Yes and no. Yes, official statistics is not interested in a single person, data protection forbids this. But no, on a aggregated level we can find a lot of knowledge about our own situation. Interactive applications offer this.

There’s a quite new own from UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). ‘UNESCO is making data count for the millions of children still being denied their right to education by benchmarking and monitoring global progress on education-related Millennium Development Goals and Education for All targets.’
Mind the Gap, a new online tool highlights the situation of girls and women in education.


2013-10-20_UNESCO-CH-profileABS Census Spotlight

But my favourite from a presentation view is still the Australian Census Spotlight, the new version with a personal infographic and social media link. Why? Perhaps it’s because there’s a speaker helping me navigating the information and leading me to some insights about the group of persons I belong to.


Working in the open

Open Data flourishes and more and more open-data sites are launched with sophisticated functionalities. So now

‘ presents UNDP’s 6,000+ development projects and 8,000 outputs in 177 countries and territories worldwide. It represents UNDP’s commitment to publish comprehensive, quality and timely information about aid flows and results.’

‘ enables users to find project information categorized broadly by location, funding source, and focus areas, and drill down for comprehensive project data, including budget, expenditure, completion status, implementing organization, contribution to gender equality, project documents, and more.’

An example:


Open Data is meant as an invitation to use the data by third parties.

‘Public participation and collaboration are key to the success of Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • Build and share applications, conduct analysis, and perform research
  • Suggest datasets you would like to see, and rate and comment on current datasets
  • Display data on your website and share among your networks
  • Provide feedback, comments, and recommendations on’

There’s an API to make this possible and several download formats:

‘The data used on this site is free to use under the Creative Commons’ Attribution License (CC-BY) and available in the following formats.

API for developers (JSON)

Use the following collection of API endpoints in your application or download the source.

Comma Separated Values


Latest data in IATI Data format is available at’