Sriganesh Lokanathan


While in Manila for an APCICT-UNESCAP expert group meeting (6-7 Dec 2017) to provide input into a course module on data driven smart government, I had the pleasure of also delivering a public lecture on big data for development. The lecture was held on 8 Dec 2017 and was sponsored by the Center for Local and Regional Governance (CLRG) of the University of Philippines’ National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG). The two events and in particular the public lecture was a useful opportunity to interact with diverse stakeholders such as civil servants, government officials from DICT (Philippines’ apex ICT government body and regulator), and university faculty regarding the enhanced use of data in policy making. My slides from the event are HERE.
Last weekend (3-4 February 2017), I along with my colleagues Shazna and Dedunu visited University of Dhaka. We were able to share our experiences in conducting policy relevant research on big data for development in Sri Lanka (see slides), with both faculty and students. The other objective was to meet with the faculty and staff associated with the Data and Design Lab at the university, which is a collaboration between Dhaka University and LIRNEasia. The lab is led by Dr. Moinul Zaber, who is a member of the faculty at Dhaka University and a Research Fellow with LIRNEasia.
I was invited to speak to the staff of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Seville last Tuesday (11th October 2016). Their colleagues from Ispra, Italy joined in via video conference as well. I talked about LIRNEasia’s experiences and lessons in leveraging big data for public purposes. The slides that I used are available HERE.
We have been engaging with local universities from the start of our big data work, not just to source researchers and collaborators, but also to broaden the horizons of students. That big data can be leveraged for public purposes is not something that they had previously thought of till we arrived on the scene. This week (18th October 2016) we continued those efforts, conducting a lecture for students at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura on our ongoing big data for development research. The slides are available HERE.
LIRNEasia is currently hosting  Dr Ayumi Arai from the University of Tokyo’s Center for Spatial Information Science. She is also a Research Fellow with LIRNEasia collaborating on our big data for development research in Sri Lanka. We took the opportunity to organize a lecture for her yesterday (14th July 2016) for the senior staff of the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) Sri Lanka, as preamble to a longer discussion with the department to collaborate with LIRNEasia and our partners on big data and official statistics in Sri Lanka. Dr Arai’s talk was on her ongoing Dynamic Census research work in Bangladesh which utilizes mobile network big data and official statistics to provide spatio-temporal insights on the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the population at high granularity and high frequency. The slides from her talk are available HERE.
LIRNEasia has been at the forefront of big data analysis for development in Sri Lanka, conducting in-house analysis to generate actionable insights across a range of policy domains. On 6th May 2016, LIRNEasia and the Health Informatics Society of Sri Lanka jointly convened a planning meeting on building better models for forecasting the propagation of infectious disease such as dengue in Sri Lanka. The meeting was intended to lay the foundation for a multi-disciplinary collaboration engaging health informatics specialists, epidemiologists, and data scientists to identify research priorities and opportunities. The participants included the following: Madhushi Bandara, Junior Researcher, LIRNEasia Prof Vajira Dissanayake (Health Informatics Society of Sri Lanka, Biomedical Informatics Programme – Postgraduate Institute of Medicine) Dr. M.
LIRNEasia was a core partner for Sri Lanka’s first national summit on “Foresight & Innovation for Sustainable Human Development” that was convened by UNDP and the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs. Held in Colombo from 24-25 May 2016, the summit brought together more than 300 people from government, private sector, and civil society from all over the country. Developing foresight and fostering innovation is a priority for the government and underscored by the Prime Minster’s attendance at the event. I spoke on the first day after the opening. My talk was on the leveraging both new and traditional data if the goal is to get towards real-time responsiveness and enhanced resilience.
On 18th April 2016 LIRNEasia inked its Memorandum of Understanding with UNDP on areas of cooperation for the first national summit on foresight and innovation for Sustainable Human Development titled “Visioning Sri Lanka #2030NOW”. The summit will be held in Colombo from 24-25th May 2016. In addition to LIRNEasia and UNDP, other core partners for this two day conference include The Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, the United Nations Global Compact Network of Sri Lanka, Sarvodaya, and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. Collectively the partners will work towards mainstreaming the use of foresight and facilitating innovation in Sri Lanka so as to successfully implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). LIRNEasia will help to develop the direction and outcomes of the conference and facilitate the discussion on improving the use of data and particularly big data in both monitoring as well as achieving the sustainable development goals.
Over the last few days I had the opportunity to present our thoughts on leveraging big data for development at two different venues in Ottawa, Canada. The first was at the headquarters of Global Affairs Canada on 11th March 2016, where I along with the head of UN Global Pulse spoke to an audience of about 100 people that included staff from Global Affairs and IDRC, as well as Canadian academics and researchers. The slides I used are available HERE. The second opportunity was today (14th March 2016) at the headquarters of IDRC, where I had the opportunity to share some of work with IDRC staff from different developmental domains. The slides that I used are available HERE.
It’s always a pleasure to hear LIRNEasia research cited by others.  Its even more pleasing when the person mentioning it is a senior government official (in this case the Chairman of Mongolia’s National Statistics Office) and that too at a briefing for senior government officials at Mongolia’s Parliament. Without knowing that LIRNEasia too was in the room, Chairman Mendsaikhan showcased some of LIRNEasia’s ongoing big data research as examples that were relevant for Mongolia and which should be ideally replicated. The briefing was part of a series of events on Data for Development held in Ulaanbaatar on 24th and 25th Feb 2016. The events were jointly organized by the World Bank and the Cabinet Secretariat of Mongolia, who had invited me to share our experience in leveraging big data for development in Sri Lanka.
The Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka and the Young Planners Association of Sri Lanka organized a workshop at the UDA premises on 4th December 2015 for LIRNEasia to share is ongoing research on leveraging mobile network big data for urban and transportation planning. The slides are available HERE.
Today I had the pleasure to talk about LIRNEasia’s ongoing multi-disciplinary big data for development research at the IDRC Asian Regional Office in Delhi. The work that we have been doing in this space has been funded primarily by IDRC. It was engaging talking to experts with interests in different domains (agriculture, health, governance, climate change adaptability, urban and transportation policy, electricity, livelihoods) working in India as well as elsewhere. The slideset I used is here.
This past Thursday (15th October 2015) I was invited to give my comments at event, alliteratively titled “An open dialogue on open data.” The dialogue was organized by InterNews and Transparency International and held at the Sri Lanka Press Institute in Colombo. I was part of a panel that included Nalaka Gunawardene and Sanjana Hattotuwa. I was asked to speak on the challenges and issues of Big and Open Data which itself is a bit of a misnomer in Sri Lanka, since there are currently no datasets in Sri Lanka that can be considered (or even amenable to be considered) as both “big” and “open”. As a preamble to my comments I used some brief slides to highlight LIRNEasia’s ongoing big data research that LIRNEasia is is conducting, leveraging mobile network big data to produce insights for developmental policy.
UNESCAP in partnership with the International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries (ITT-LLDC) held an Expert Workshop on ICT for Promoting Inclusive and Disaster Resilient Development, from 14-15 May 2015 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I represented LIRNEasia and shared our recently completed research enhancing the role of ICTs for Disaster Risk Management(DRM), that was led by Shazna Zuhyle. I made two presentations. The first looked at emerging trends in DRM including the use of mobile network big data for disaster risk mitigation and planning. The second looked at the role of ICTs for DRM in SriLanka.
LIRNEasia’s ongoing big data research was recently presented at the prestigious NetMob conference held at MIT from April 8-10, 2015, attended by some of the foremost academics and researchers from the world working with mobile network big data. LIRNEasia research fellows Gabriel Kreindler and Yuhei Miyauchi made a presentation on their ongoing work on quantifying urban economic activity using mobile phone data. | Presentation Slides | Abstract | Our other ongoing work on understanding land use characteristics in Colombo city (being lead by our researcher Kaushalya Madhawa) was selected for a poster presentation.  | Abstract |  
The news reports suggest that TRAI has already received nearly 1 million submissions to its recent “Consultation Paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services” that has sparked a heated debate on net neutrality. In addition to drafting a response ourselves, we also turned our attention to the problem of analyzing such a large volume of responses. Significant amount of time and effort would be required to read and interpret, as well to even formulate a basic general outline of what the public and other stakeholders are trying to say. To put it mildly, TRAI is going to have its work cut out if they are to give each response due justice. Current and former researchers from our big data team, Kaushalya Madhawa, Danaja Maldeniya, and Nisansa de Silva brainstormed a technology augmented approach to the problem of analyzing the responses.