The GovLab Releases Report Analyzing How Social Media Data Can Be Utilized For Public Good

BROOKLYN, New York – Today, The Governance Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering published a new report detailing how social media data and analytical expertise can solve pressing public problems. “The Potential of Social Media Intelligence to Improve People’s Lives: Social Media Data for Good,” developed with support from Facebook, Inc., also outlines how data collaboratives—a growing form of public-private partnership in which participants from different sectors exchange information to create public value—offer the best approach for extracting intelligence from social media data. In addition, The GovLab’s new report identifies various examples along the following five value propositions for using social media data to address social challenges:

  • Social media data from Facebook and others can provide critical situational awareness. Case studies captured in the report showcase the use of data for population density assessments and disaster maps — a tool made all the more relevant with recent weather disasters in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, Nepal, and other parts of Asia.
  • Data from social media companies, along with their analysis and insights, naturally align with the process of knowledge creation and transfer and help reduce asymmetries of information inherent in decision-making.
  • Using data collaboratives to extract and disseminate social media data for public good can also lead to improved, more effective public service design and delivery — areas directly applicable to traffic considerations in major metropolitan areas, for example, or the impact of Zika, both real-life issues showcased in case studies within the report.
  • The ability to access social media data allows users of the data to predict and forecast, in new ways, capabilities applicable to myriad social concerns, such as tracking the incidents of flu or predicting future flood events.
  • Impact assessment and evaluation help put the value of social media data into context and reveal learnings than can help with replication of effort and sustainability of social media data as a resource for governments and other actors.

“Social media data has the potential to be a game-changer for how researchers, governments, NGOs, humanitarian organizations, and others can deploy data to solve public problems and become more evidence-based in how they work to improve people’s lives,” said Stefaan G. Verhulst, co-founder and chief research and development officer at The GovLab and co-author of the new report. “For its potential to be fully realized we will have to establish new kinds of public-private partnerships — which we call data collaboratives — as well as new functions such as data stewards.”

The “Social Media Data for Good” report — comprising 12 case studies—focuses on whether and how data from social media companies provide intelligence for addressing major social issues from climate change to disaster relief, security, education, health, and other areas. In particular, the report looks into how the supply and demand for social media data can be matched through data collaboratives.

To accelerate the creation of such data collaboratives, the report recommends:

  • Developing and supporting data stewards, individuals (or offices) within corporations tasked with managing the demand and supply of social media data.
  • Gathering and providing more evidence, largely through case studies that highlight best practices, and developing metrics and systems of measurement sufficient to capture the value of data collaborative.
  • Increasing understanding of methods for utilizing data collaboratives, from scaling the tool to developing toolkits to make efforts operational, to analysis and application of findings.
  • Creating a movement by growing the community of ambassadors and users of social media data — across sectors and regions — and increasing understanding of the need to use data to become more evidence-based in decision-making and in the creation of public policy.

The “Social Media Data for Good” report and detailed case studies join other findings and information about data collaboratives The GovLab has published on its DataCollaboratives.org platform, a definitive source on scholarship and case studies about data collaboratives and how the innovative public-private partnership tool can create public value and serve the needs of the public.

“Data is an important tool that not only powers businesses like Facebook, but is critical to optimizing the efforts of the public sector, governments, policy makers and others to solve major social challenges,” said Chaya Nayak, public policy research manager at Facebook. “We were eager to partner with The GovLab to unearth innovative ways of utilizing social media data for social good and are excited to join the conversation.”

“Learnings we gathered from researching this report and developing case studies could have a major impact on how practitioners tackle public problems going forward. Technology has given us new methods of identifying data. Data collaborates, in turn, enable us to operationalize this information to create public value,” said Andrew Young, knowledge director at The GovLab and co-author of the new report. “Facebook has been instrumental in the success of this project, helping us to learn more about how and why to use social media data, and we’re thrilled to share what we’ve learned.”

The full report is available at DataCollaboratives.org, and thegovlab.org.


About The Governance Lab
The Governance Lab’s mission is to improve people’s lives by changing the way we govern. Our goal at The GovLab is to strengthen the ability of institutions — including but not limited to governments — and people to work more openly, collaboratively, effectively, and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems. We believe that increased availability and use of data, new ways to leverage the capacity, intelligence, and expertise of people in the problem-solving process, combined with new advances in technology and science, can transform governance. We approach each challenge and opportunity in an interdisciplinary, collaborative way, irrespective of the problem, sector, geography, and level of government. For more information, visit thegovlab.org.

About the New York University Tandon School of Engineering
The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, the country’s largest private research university, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit engineering.nyu.edu.