TEDx talk shines light on postal big data

11.12.2014 - In a world swimming in data, postal big data could help bridge the information gap in unconnected areas, participants heard at today’s TEDxPlaceDesNations in Geneva.

"It's time to build a future where data by the people is for the people," said Global Pulse's Miguel Luengo

“We can get data from mobiles and tweets, but what about those areas that are unconnected? There are 20-odd data points on each letter. With one billion letters circulating around the world daily, there is potential for using this data to identify important human or economic trends,” said antidisciplinary scientist Miguel Luengo-Oroz, one of 11 innovators, designers, teachers, peace makers and entrepreneurs who shared what they are doing to solve today’s challenges and shape tomorrow’s world.

There are more than 650,000 post offices around the world – and many are located in remote and unconnected areas. Scientists like Luengo-Oroz, head of research at the United Nations’ Global Pulse initiative, are convinced the various bits of information letters and parcels carry, on their own or mixed with other data, could deepen their real-time understanding of what’s happening on the planet.

Posts process an average 1 billion letters and 16 million parcels around the world every day. The majority of these postal items carry barcodes and other bits of information, including the postal code and the date mark. This information is tracked on the UPU’s electronic network, PostNet. It enables Posts to exchange dispatch information with airlines and customs agencies as well as provide delivery status to their customers.

Leading the United Nations’ three big data innovation labs around the world, Luengo-Oroz is interested in discovering insights for sustainable development that can be gained from analyzing the patterns of all kinds of data, including mobile, social media, satellite, and now postal.

Shaping policy

A new collaboration with the Universal Postal Union has got him working closely with UPU economists on exploring the potential of postal big data for providing key insight into social and economic trends that could reveal early warnings of crises or other phenomena and their impact before they happen.

Under an agreement formally signed recently, the UPU and Global Pulse agree to work on analyzing postal data flows. All data will be aggregated to ensure confidentiality and data protection.

This goldmine of information, combined with data from other sources, could be critical for helping countries, the United Nations and other international organizations shape development policies, which is the goal of the Global Pulse initiative, established by the UN secretary general’s executive office.

Some 150 Posts exchange electronic messages on the UPU’s network. The UN specialized agency for postal services is urging its member countries to participate in the Global Pulse initiative by making their data available for analysis purposes.

An estimated 1,500 participants watched TEDxPlaceDesNations live, while countless others attended one of 22 viewing parties held around the world to listen to the event being streamed live.  

United Nations


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  1. Dirk at 19.01.2016
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