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Small Data is Beautiful, Smart Data is Sizeless – Ulula Newsletter, Summer 2015

Written by Ulula

June 25, 2015

When it comes to data, does size matter? Small data is beautiful because it captures simple and granular information that can drive practical solutions to localized challenges. Big data leverages information and technological innovation to reach new levels of data scale that can sense global patterns.

Smart data, finally, is sizeless: it combines small, localized data with big data and pro-active engagement strategies to reach new analytical dimensions that enable us to push the boundaries of sustainability even further.

Welcome to Ulula’s summer 2015 newsletter. Before everybody heads off to the beach, we wanted to take the opportunity and share the gist of our latest blog posts, offer a brief look into what we’ll be working on in the coming months, and share some of the other reads that have inspired us.

Last May, we joined hundreds of representatives and leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors gathered in New York for the Shared Value Leadership Summit 2015. The debates at the summit underscored the challenges and innovations businesses experience in measuring their social and economic impact rigorously.

We enjoyed reading Wayne Visser’s most recent book, Sustainable Frontiers, Unlocking Change through Business, Leadership and Innovation, and reviewed it on our blog. Wayne offers insightful examples of how big data and the increasingly connected world can help us reach better Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) monitoring for corporate accountability while improving operational decision making to reach new sustainable frontiers. We think that if such big data is combined with localized small data – collected with tools that can reach offline communities – the sustainability frontier could be pushed even further.

One place where one can find successful examples of corporate decision-making based on small data is in the growing field of pulse surveys that measure satisfaction and staff engagement in the office place. Similarly, pulse surveys can be used in monitoring and managing occupational health and safety in the extractive sector to reduce worker-related risk. The integration of human sensors and proactive engagement strategies with simple technology like mobile phones allows for the measurement of site-specific social impacts. When such small, localized data is combined with bigger data, like ESG indicators or social and financial event data, businesses can gain new insights on their operational impact and social risk exposure and they can make smarter, more informed, corporate sustainability decisions. These kinds of insights are becoming important for investors, too – who are increasingly looking for better quality extra-financial information to make better investment decisions.

The OECD multi-stakeholder forum on conflict minerals we recently attended in Paris further confirmed the need to leverage smaller, more granular data to enable more comprehensive supply chain monitoring systems. Initial assessments on the application of 2010 Dodd Frank Act (Section 1502) find that companies are struggling to report on conflict minerals because of high monitoring costs. Scalable solutions that leverage simple technology to link suppliers directly with companies could deliver on this data value by monitoring supply chains cost effectively. This is an application of the Ulula platform we will be paying increasing attention to.

As the momentum towards more sustainable and transparent supply chains continues to build up, we look forward to engaging business, civil society and government at the UN Global Compact’s 15th Anniversaryand to working on a new release of our platform by the fall.

Best wishes,


Interesting Reads

Build a Better Business through Creative Accountability, Ideas Lab
The Online Language Barrier, Technology Review
Effective two-way Engagement: A new gold standard for SRI Investing, MaxImpact Blog
Taking Notes on Humanity: Harnessing Big Data to Drive Social Good, Sustainable Brands
Developing User-Centered Methods for Measuring the Value of Open DataOpen Government Partnership Open Data Working Group
Smart companies now survey employee satisfaction daily, not annually, Canadian business
Mitigating Risks In Peru Requires Designing Effective ‘Shared Value’ Programs, EPM Magazine
Taking Big Data to the Next Level, Mapr
Inside GRI’s new ‘beyond reporting’ strategy, Joel Makower
Introducing What’s Working: Purpose + Profit, Huffington Post
Can You Use Big Data to Track an Elephant Poacher?, Financial Policy
Why Technology Hasn’t Delivered More Democracy, Financial Policy
Environmental Feedback: When Earth Texts Home, Sean McDonald of FrontlineSMS
European parliament votes for tougher measures on conflict minerals, The Guardian
Mobile technologies helping activists and human rights defenders, Amnesty International
The Myth of Comprehensive Data, Jay Ulfelder
Mobile in Microfinance: Not Just Mobile Payments, Huffington Post
The pioneering continent: Innovation is increasingly local, The Economist
The Disintegration of the World, The Atlantic
Can Monsanto’s big data play really help farmers and the environment?, The Guardian
ESG Disclosure: Investors’ New Obsession, Triple Pundit
Do Mobile Phone Surveys Work in Poor Countries?, Center for Global Development
ICMM Stakeholder Research Group (PDF), ICMM

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