The world we live in is changing with unprecedented speed. Anticipating emerging trends and predicting the subsequent effects will be increasingly important for designing strategies that successfully address the most pressing global issues and ensure that “no one is left behind”. Anticipatory thinking will play a critical role in creating strategic options to proactively address the complex, interlinked and unpredictable challenges of the future, detect advance warnings of emerging crises and identify opportunities.
With a view to advancing innovative approaches within the United Nations system, and also in line with the innovation agenda of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the High-level Committee on Programmes at its thirty-eighth session supported the initiation of a pilot cross-pillar inter-agency predictive analytics exercise focused on the interconnectedness of displacement, climate risks, food insecurity, increased violence and threats to livelihoods in the Sahel region. The pilot exercise was launched in February 2020 under the leadership of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with the aim of delivering its findings in late 2021 on applicability and scalability of this approach to other sub-regions.
The concept of predictive analytics - using current and historical data, statistical algorithms and machine learning techniques to identify the likelihood of future outcomes - was presented to CEB at its second regular session of 2019 within the context of the Board’s deliberations on the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and the Committee’s decision to hold the pilot exercise was endorsed. An update on the pilot was shared with the CEB at its May 2021 meeting on addressing the root causes of conflict, where predictive analytics was acknowledged as a useful tool.
The pilot has consulted 22 UN entities, at headquarters, regional and field levels. It leverages data sets from different entities across the UN system, including the humanitarian data exchange, as well as sources outside of the UN such as open data and social media. It also connects expertise within the UN system and academia to build statistical models that reflect the complex and interconnected impacts of migration, climate change, food insecurity, violence, and socioeconomic threats.
The pilot is transitioning to the region under the leadership of the Special Coordinator for Development in the Sahel, in support of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the region’s governments.