The Human side of Data

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

Can the hive mind save us? Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know — can you repeat the question?

What is this hive, or collective intelligence? Something that I´ve been tinkering with a lot lately. Collective intelligence in the most simple sense means “becoming smarter together” and in more elaborate terms the “utilization and interplay of people, data and technology” to achieve impact. In doing so, collective intelligence aims at enabling us to better understand the challenges & solutions we work on; empowering collective action and decision-making; gaining new insights to complex systems; and being more inclusive in reaching the people furthest behind by diversifying, increasing, and empowering the people we work with.

Of aircrafts and algorithms

One of my favorite examples of “data almost gone wrong” is the story of Abraham Wald, a Hungarian mathematician and US emigrant, and the US-Navy during WW2. The Navy, eager to find out where they would need to strengthen aircraft armor to ensure the safe return of their aircrafts, analyzed the patterns of bullet holes across their aircrafts with the subsequent conclusion that the wings and central body would need reinforcement (where most bullet holes were). Except, Abraham Wald disagreed, arguing that the nose, engines, and mid-body area would need reinforcement (the parts with the least bullet holes), because all the aircrafts that were shot in these parts didn’t make it home. The Navy didn’t look at the whole sample, but only at their survivors.

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Unearthing (waste) realities

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
  • What are the shortcomings of public waste collection practices? How are these addressed?
  • Where do data gaps persist? What do these gaps tell us?
  • Who is contributing or part of the waste value chain? What is their role?

(Don´t) Burn baby burn

Photo by Moritz Bruder on Unsplash


But there is more to the story. Looking at our Labs in Viet Nam and Paraguay, both set out to shed more light on the informal sector that has evolved in the absence of (adequate) public waste collection. The Labs have made it their mission to engage in this often misperceived and inaccessible part of the waste economy.

Context and reality

The experiences of the Labs offer insight into what potential collective intelligence can hold when you place your bet on distributed and collective action of a variety of different (and unusual) partners. Centering around the human side of data yields close-to-reality insights into complex and often intertwined systems unearthing dependencies hidden in official information.



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UNDP Accelerator Labs

UNDP Accelerator Labs

Building the world’s largest learning network around development challenges. 91 Labs in 115 countries.