United Nations University - Computing & Society (Macao)

China, Macao Special Administrative Region

The United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society (UNU-CS) is a new research institute at the intersections of information and communication technologies and international development (ICTD) focusing on the key challenges faced by developing societies through high-impact innovations in computing and communication technologies.

The United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society (UNU-CS) is an international team of researchers from different backgrounds, working together in multidisciplinary projects which combine information and communication technologies and international development (ICTD).

UNU-CS is nurturing three ICTD research Labs which serve as our pillar conceptual research themes. Research Labs help to organize our people and work and our research projects affiliate with one or more Labs. UNU-CS Labs guide and connect our work though some experimental activities may sit outside their edges. Each Lab has a Contact Person who enables connections across projects and scholars and amplifies our communication and outreach. Our inaugural research Labs are:

Digital Peace Lab: ICTs for peacebuilding and to support human security, respond to crises, and mitigate human displacement

One-quarter of humanity lives in fragile, violent, and conflict-stressed environments. These people’s lives are often characterized by the starkest of realities: undernourishment, illiteracy, short life spans, displacement, forced migration, and lack of access to basic amenities and services. Destroyed and diminished infrastructure, corrupt institutions, and endemic mistrust and suspicion characterize conflict-affected areas.

In response to these challenges, the UNU-CS Digital Peace Lab is exploring, inventing, and informing ways that information and communication technologies can serve as a tool towards supporting peacemaking efforts by enhancing people’s capacity to acquire truthful information; strengthening their resilience to cope with conflict; alerting parties when potential conflict flares; and discovering means towards reconciliation, community building, and empowerment. The Digital Peace lab is delivering its vision through research and policy impact, innovations and partnerships, collaborations and public engagements.

Gender Tech Lab: ICTs that promote women’s empowerment and enable sustainable community led development

Gender based discrimination is pervasive around the globe, although it is expressed in different ways in different cultures. Equally diverse is the capacity to resist, overcome or transform disempowering norms, beliefs and social structures. And while information and communication technologies and the networked world offer increasingly innovative ways for connection, mobilization and resistance, the same tools are often implicated in the perpetuation of old and new forms of discrimination and victimization.

The UNU-CS Gender Tech Lab explores the gendered dimensions of the digital age in different societies, and seeks new impactful ways to use data, theory and practice to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. The broad research agenda of the Lab is to understand how the use of ICTs can be leveraged to tackle urgent gender problems such as: gender based violence, forced labor and other forms of modern slavery; as well as institutionalized forms of gender discrimination such as unequal educational opportunities, wage and leadership gaps. In addition. to identifying how women and girls in general can improve their access to, effective use of and creative capacities with ICTs for self and community empowerment, the Gender Tech Lab also explores the intersection of gender and technology within specific marginalized populations, such as migrants or rural women in low-income countries with a view to support their progress towards an enhanced quality of life. Finally, all research at UNU-CS seeks to mainstream gender into its activities, to work towards gender justice, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Small Data Lab: ICTs that create actionable knowledge from local data, empower citizens with data they trust, and improve global datasets with local data

The contemporary and increasingly popular notion of data for development is largely framed around the use of Big Data in developmental contexts, as well as for supporting social indicators monitoring. Big Data usually refers to big datasets where the sheer volume and velocity of the data challenges available platforms and algorithms for storage and analysis. Often this data is aggregated, analyzed and packaged to inform macro level (e.g. national or sub-national) decision making and action – what country has the highest income or what region has the lowest unemployment rate?

In contrast, we are exploring Small Data and sustainable development. Within the UNU-CS Small Data Lab we do not work with small datasets; indeed the volume of data can be enormous. Instead, Small Data refers to data that is processed at its finest granularity (i.e. the sampling unit and the unit of analysis are similar). For instance, in the context of social indicators monitoring, if the data is composed of individually sampled datum then the comparative analysis is between the individuals. Small Data empowers individuals and local actors with actionable insights while also assisting national stakeholders with a better understanding of the complex and diverse social phenomena. Small Data can be sourced informally and dynamically via the crowd, leveraging grassroots contributors, citizen generated data, and social media. Within the Small Data Lab we study the interplay between the various data sources, for example between social media and traditional mass media, or between grassroots and national development metrics, to provide a more balanced and holistic understanding of the nuanced social phenomena.

The Small Data Lab aims to generate research outputs and inform policy towards the mainstreaming of Small Data approaches for sustainable development, and to empower individuals and community level actors with relevant ICT artifacts.

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