This is a heroic time for data and those that love it. While businesses are becoming more and more data-centric in their decision-making, so is the global development community. In that space, many are calling it “The Data Revolution.” The idea of a new day for data has taken so much hold that the Secretary-General of the United Nations even convened an expert working group around that theme last year. You can read their analysis of the potential for better data and analytics in global development here.

One challenge, which that expert group and others have recognized lately, is the need for better systems of sharing and collaborating around data. Generating better development data is one thing, making sure people have access to it and can use it is another.

As we plan for a world of 8 billion people and beyond – a world in which we hope more basic human needs will be met every day – our collective knowledge of future human needs is surprisingly disparate. Left to their own devices, researchers and practitioners from public and private sector organizations operate somewhat in silos, rarely seeing the breadth of information that is out there and often tying strategies to data of convenience, not rigor.

I lead an emerging multi-stakeholder collaboration that is helping to change that — Project 8, as we call it, was started by the United Nations Foundation and The Demand Institute, itself a not-for-profit think tank jointly operated by The Conference Board and Nielsen. With the support of Salesforce and Accenture, we are working to build a digital commons where producers and users of human needs data will come together to share and compare information on the evolution of human demand. By bringing researchers and data together in a more centralized tool, we’ll have researchers better anticipate future demands, we’ll make their insights more visible to the rest of us and, ultimately, we’ll help the world collectively do a better job of planning to meet the needs of 8 billion people and beyond.

Late last year, we teamed up with Salesforce to make Analytics Cloud one of the engines underneath this social innovation. For us, the Analytics Cloud was appealing as a solution because of its ability to breathe new life into data that may previously have been released only in PDF tables or statistical files. It has the ability to put data in the hands of folks who may not have experience with statistical software packages. It’s appealing because of the scale of data that can be shared over a cloud environment (when you’re talking about a commons to share data on the basic needs of 8 billion people and beyond, you have to think about a platform at a whole new level of scale). And it was appealing to us because Analytics Cloud can make insights available to the global development community not just in their offices, but on their phones, out in the field, in some of the farthest flung places on earth.

A few weeks ago we took Project 8 to Davos and shared our plans with corporate and public sector leaders as they contemplated the sustainable development challenges ahead. To prove the concept, we took just two simple data sets: the United Nations populations projections and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s nourishment outlook, and placed them into dashboards using Analytics Cloud. Though these particular datasets contain “just” hundreds of thousands of cells and not millions, they demonstrate what happens when you take data previously delivered in spreadsheets and PDFs and put them into a platform that allows users to quickly manipulate and discover.

The feedback has been fairly unanimous: the opportunity to bring to life public and private sector data on global, basic human needs will have a tremendous impact on the ability of organizations across sectors to better understand and plan for the challenges and opportunities we face as the global population changes.

So our work continues. In the coming months, we’ll be working with Salesforce to bring to life a prototype of this “Digital Demand Commons,” as we call it. Focused first on data around global food demand, we’ll gather the best data we can on global food demand and invite a group of beta users, leaders in the study of agricultural trends, into a prototype to help us iterate on the concept of this collaboration commons. We’ll add Community Cloud into the platform so that researchers can establish profiles, connect on common interests and build off of one another’s work. We’ll observe and iterate through the beta test, adjust to create the biggest impact and ultimately scale the platform out to more users and coverage of more basic human needs.

So stay tuned. Or, better yet, let us know how you can help. We’re interested in speaking with organizations and individuals who see themselves as potential users or contributors of information in this commons – on food, or any basic human need – or those organizations generally interested in analytic solutions for the global development community. It’s energizing to be part of this data revolution — I hope you’ll join us.

Interact with sample UN data from Project 8 and get a taste of Analytics Cloud here.

Learn more about Analytics Cloud.

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