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Big Data Researcher

Big Data for Development

How connected is Colombo to the rest of the country? What are the intra-city and inter-city patterns of human movement and how does it vary over the time? What are implications of such movements in the population densities of different Colombo localities? What is the geographic spread of the societal relationships of Colombo residents? Can these questions be answered for different socio-economic groups and in particular for the poor? What are the collective implications of these answers for public policy?

The above, are some of the questions that LIRNEasia seeks to answer via its exploratory research using large volumes of mobile network operator data from Sri Lanka. LIRNEasia has negotiated access to months of anonymized, temporal and geo-referenced, high velocity, Transaction Generated Information (TGI) from multiple operators in Sri Lanka.  These data sets can collectively shed rich insights into the mobility, connectedness and consumption of more than 10 million people in Sri Lanka (i.e. more than 50% of Sri Lanka’s population).

Such insights from Big Data analytics can positively inform multiple policy domains (transportation and infrastructure policy, urban planning, disaster preparedness, health policy and even social policy).

Colombo was chosen as the pilot city for this research due to its cosmopolitan nature and the diverse socio-economic and demographic characteristics of its inhabitant as well as working populations.

Our technology research partners include  Auton Lab at Carnegie Mellon University and WSO2. This research is being funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada.

Research questions related to human mobility and population density

  • What is the extent of domicile and employment activities within the different localities of Colombo?
  • How do the population densities of Colombo and its localities vary over time (intra-day, daily, monthly)?
  • What is the extent of inhabitant and migrant flows within Colombo, and between Colombo and the surrounding regions over time (intra-day, daily, monthly)? What are the corresponding sources and sinks for these flows? How can these answers be articulated for different socio-economic groups? Is it possible to illuminate the pathways utilized? What are the peak travel times?
  • What are the effects of special and/or anomalous events on population movements? Some examples of such events include: major holidays such as Sinhala and Tamil New Year, inclement weather, etc.

The following will be explored only at a later stage once a sufficiently large longitudinal dataset has been collected

  • What are the trends in long-term inward and outward migration in Colombo?
  • How are the mobility and migration patterns correlated to the spread of communicable diseases?

Research questions related to human connectedness

  • What is the temporal topology of social ties amongst the habitant population of Colombo (and its localities) and the rest of the country? How does tie strength vary over time?
  • What is the geo-spatial nature of communication flows in response to special and/ or anomalous events? Examples of such events include:  major holidays such as Sinhala and Tamil New Year, inclement weather, natural disasters, etc.
  • How are the social ties of the urban poor different from the average Colombo dweller? Are they geo-spatially narrower, limited to specific localities, deeper, sparser, etc.? How do their communication patterns differ in times of crises?

Contact: Sriganesh Lokanathan

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