United Nations Global Pulse

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UN Global Pulse is an innovation initiative of the United Nations to harness big data, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies for sustainable development and humanitarian action. Global Pulse works through a network of regional innovation labs, known as Pulse Labs, and with partners to build and implement solutions and to provide policy guidance and technical assistance for mainstream adoption of innovation.[1][2][3]

History and activities[edit]

UN Global Pulse is a United Nations innovation initiative that was established to assist the UN to transition development and humanitarian practice and policy implementation to more agile, adaptive ways of working that leverage real-time feedback and the power of data analytics. Global Pulse harnesses the opportunities of big data, AI, and other emerging technologies for sustainable development and humanitarian action. The Initiative builds high-impact innovative solutions for UN and Government partners and provides policy guidance and technical assistance for mainstream adoption of innovation. Global Pulse works through a network of Pulse Labs in Jakarta, Indonesia, in Kampala, Uganda, and in New York at the UN Headquarters.


The overarching objectives of Global Pulse are to:

  1. achieve a critical mass of high-potential applications of big data and AI
  2. lower systemic barriers to adoption and scaling, and
  3. strengthen the data innovation ecosystem.

Two-pillar implementation strategy[edit]

Innovation Driver

  • Work with the UN system, governments, academia and private sector partners to discover, build, pilot and evaluate high-potential applications of big data and AI to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

Ecosystem Catalyst

  • Contribute to global efforts to establish trusted frameworks for responsible data practices and ethical innovation.
  • Advocate for greater public awareness and support communities of practice across disciplines and geographies to accelerate development of big data and AI applications.
  • Provide public sector organisations with the policy guidance and technical assistance needed for mainstream adoption of innovation.

Implementation Modalities[edit]

Global Pulse employs three engagement models for working with partners within the context of data innovation. These three models are structured to address different project and partner contexts, preserving flexibility while creating greater structure.

Executor: Performs analytics and product development tasks in-house and takes responsibility for all project outputs.

Facilitator: Partners primarily perform data analysis while Global Pulse focuses on project facilitation, building a bridge between private sector capacity and public sector partners.

Technical advisor: Partners are responsible for the analytics and project outputs and Global Pulse is brought in to provide technical guidance as an advisor or for specific expertise such as data privacy regulation or data access policies.

Pulse Labs[edit]

Global Pulse brings together governments, UN agencies and partners from academia and the private sector to test, refine and scale methods for using big data and AI to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Pulse Lab New York, established in 2009, serves as the headquarters of Global Pulse and is the thought-leadership and knowledge sharing hub for the network of Pulse Labs.

The Labs consist of multidisciplinary teams of data scientists, engineers, designers, social scientists and lawyers who work together with development and humanitarian experts to prototype and implement data innovation programmes. The Pulse Labs share knowledge from innovation projects by producing reports and technical papers as well as project briefs.

Pulse Lab New York[edit]

Global Pulse's New York office is the administrative headquarters of the Initiative. As the first Lab of Global Pulse, it functions as a R&D center where team members develop projects and tools in collaboration with partners in academia, the private sector, international governments and UN agencies.

Pulse Lab Jakarta[edit]

Pulse Lab Jakarta combines data science and human intelligence to help make sense of our interconnected, interdependent, and complex world. As the first innovation lab of its kind in Asia, Pulse Lab Jakarta is working to close information gaps in the development and humanitarian sectors through the adoption of big data, real-time analytics and artificial intelligence.

Pulse Lab Kampala[edit]

The first innovation lab in Africa, Pulse Lab Kampala brings together data scientists, data engineers, partnership specialists, academics and technical experts to generate high impact data analysis tools to address development challenges. These innovative tools support UN partners and government in anticipating and responding to poverty, impacts of natural disasters, epidemics and food security by leveraging new sources of digital big data (such as social media, mobile data, online information) and real-time analytics.

Media coverage[edit]

The United Nations Global Pulse has been discussed repeatedly in The Guardian[4][5][6] and Foreign Policy.[7][8]

It has also received in-depth coverage in the New York Times,[2] O'Reilly Media,[3] and United Nations Radio.[9] It has also been mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article about Teradata[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About". United Nations Global Pulse. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Lohr, Steve (August 8, 2013). "Searching Big Data for 'Digital Smoke Signals'". New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  3. ^ a b "A global pulse of big data, applied for good. An animated introduction to the UN's Global Pulse initiative". O'Reilly Media. February 14, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  4. ^ Burn-Murdoch, John (October 26, 2012). "Big data: what is it and how can it help? Big data could change the way we see the world. This week experts have gathered in Washington DC to discuss it, these are some of the examples that came up". The Guardian. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  5. ^ Gopalakrishnan, Shrik (October 11, 2013). "Dominant methods used to evaluate the impact of aid often fall short: here's why. We've been using the same model of evaluation in global development for decades. How can we ensure our data's timely?". The Guardian. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  6. ^ "Activate 2011: Robert Kirkpatrick, director, UN Global Pulse". The Guardian. April 26, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  7. ^ Himelfarb, Sheldon (April 25, 2014). "Can Big Data Stop Wars Before They Happen? Number crunching and pattern recognition may hold the key to predicting and preventing conflicts. But first, peace-builders need to change the way they do business". Foreign Policy. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  8. ^ Friedman, Uri (October 8, 2012). "Big Data: A Short History. How we arrived at a term to describe the potential and peril of today's data deluge". Foreign Policy. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  9. ^ ""Digital smoke signals" used as disaster alert in Indonesia". United Nations Radio. April 12, 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  10. ^ "Teradata Honored by The White House for Leadership in Bringing Big Data Analytics to Governments and Non-Profits". Wall Street Journal. November 12, 2013. Retrieved June 14, 2014.

External links[edit]